I’ll never forget the first day I walked in to Mr. Hall’s Algebra I class. Ninth grade.
And here, our introduction to Mr. Hall came. We learned that we would be there one minute early. The lights will be off. He will walk in at exactly on the hour, the lights will come on. You will sit quietly, you will not talk in the minute before he arrives, you will have a Number 2 pencil, you will have nothing on your desk but your homework that is completed. If it’s not completed, you will not stay there. And you will learn math. “My name is Mr. Hall and you can call me Mr. Hall.”
I was scared to death of that guy. And I should have been.
From that day on, I arrived early, I brought a Number 2 pencil, I cleared my desk, I always did my homework, and then something happened.
Math was a dreaded subject for me up until ninth grade. I hated it. But day after day, week after week, he began to put x’s into the second power and over y, minus y. And all of a sudden I realized, for the first time in my life, someone helped me understand what it was. I sheepishly started coming in a little early and asking him a few questions.
My academic career turned in ninth grade largely because Mr. Hall took me where I had never been before. I actually learned and now love math. You know why? Because from day number one we all took Mr. Hall very seriously.
And as we start, here’s the question I have: How seriously do you take Jesus? On a scale of one to ten, and you do it privately, you know? Ten being totally sold out, you take Him very, very seriously. He’s the center of your life. Your actions, your thoughts, your dreams, your time, your finances. One: “I think about Him now and then, mostly on weekends. Some weekends.”
How seriously do you take Jesus? Go ahead, rate yourself. You don’t have to tell anybody. Give yourself a number.
Now, I know some of you are not going to do this and you’re saying, “Wait a second. You can’t really do that. How can anyone really know how seriously they take Jesus? Come on. This is one of those introduction, communication deals where they sort of trick you and give you these numbers and no one can ever know what number.
Often that’s true but this isn’t the case. According to Jesus, you can know exactly how seriously you take Him. Did you know that? I’m going to show you something in just a minute, you can know here in about thirty seconds exactly how seriously you take Jesus because by His own words, from His own lips, He gave a litmus test of who takes Him seriously and who doesn’t.
Let me read just a few, I could give you dozens, but let me read just a few selected passages from the lips of Christ and as I read these, see if you can’t evaluate how to know how seriously you take Him.
From John 8:31 and 32, a group of people, Jews, had just come to believe in Christ. Jesus, therefore, was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My Word,” the word “abide” means, “to take in the Scripture for the purpose of putting it into practice on a regular basis.”
“If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Next passage, John 14:21, Jesus on the last night, speaking to His closest followers, “He that has My commandments and keeps them, He it is that loves me. And he who loves Me will be loved of my Father and I will love him and I will disclose,” or, “reveal Myself to Him.” Do you see the pattern yet?
Well, it gets obvious in the last one. Matthew 7:24 and 26, He’s closing out the Sermon on the Mount. He has just talked about kingdom living and He makes a summery statement.
Matthew 7 verse 24, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house on the rock.” Contrast, verse 26, “But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”
You inductive thinkers have got it, don’t you? There’s a thread that goes through all three passages and I could give you dozens more. You know how you know how seriously you take Jesus? Very simple. Taking Jesus seriously means we take His words seriously.
According to Jesus, you can know! You can know how seriously you take Him because according to Jesus, to whatever extent you take His words seriously, to that extent you take Him seriously.
According to Jesus, if you hear what He says and put it into practice, you take Him seriously. If you honor His Word, you take Him seriously. You remember the very first parable, Mark chapter 4? It’s an amazing little line, I don’t know if you’ve missed it or not.
Mark chapter 4, the parable of the seed and the soil. There are four responses to how people respond to God’s Word, the words of Jesus. Remember, three of them are not so good and one is very good?
Do you remember privately what He told his disciples? He says, “If you don’t understand this parable about response to My words, you can’t understand any of the parables!” Did you get that?
The most axiomatic reflection of your relationship and my relationship to Christ is how you respond to God’s Word. There are lots of other things but the most important, according to Christ, about taking God seriously, is how do you respond, how do I respond to Him, His Word?
So what’s the sixty-four dollar question today?
What did Jesus say? Once we find out what He said, how seriously we take that word will tell you and will tell me how seriously we actually take our relationship with Jesus.
Not how seriously we think we take it, not how seriously other people may think we take it, not how we feel, but when we see what Jesus says and how we are or are not responding to what He says, we can know.
Now, the next question that ought to come to your mind is, “Chip, He said a lot. Where do you begin? He said so many things, this could take us down a trail that could take years.” Well, that’s true.
But on the very last night He lived on the earth, He took all that He said and He pulled it all together and He went to the top and said, “If you don’t remember anything else, closest followers, if you don’t get anything else I’ve ever said, here is a new commandment.”
He never said that any other time, “Here is a new commandment. Here is something that goes to the very top. All the teaching, all the miracles. You’ve seen Me raise people from the dead, you’ve seen Me walk on water, you heard the Sermon on the Mount, we’ve had late night discussions. But, hey, guys, push all that to the side. Here is a new commandment. If you don’t do anything else, this is what I want you to do.”
John 13:34 and 35. It says, “A new commandment I give to you.” Now, what is that? “That you love one another.” How? “Even as I have loved you,” now repetition for emphasis, “that you also love one another.” Why? Why is this so important?
Verse 35, “By this,” by what? By how we love one another, the way that He loved us, “By this all men,” the whole world, “by this all men will know that you are My disciples,” condition, “if you have love for one another.”
Now that’s not a very long passage, is it? I don’t think there’s anything in all the Bible more important of what Jesus said.
So let’s do a little Bible study, okay? Let’s just, together, get a pencil out if you’ve got it and let’s just do some Bible study and ask some penetrating questions of this passage so we really understand what’s going on here.
The first question that’s most obvious to me is: What is the “new commandment?” I mean, what does He mean by “new?” You might take a little pencil and circle the word “new.” There are two words in the New Testament at least for “new.” One has the idea of chronology, you know, something is old chronologically and now it’s new. That’s not this word.
This is a word for “new” as in “not born out.” “New” as in “unused.” The word is used, remember when Jesus went into a tomb? Now, it was a tomb that was carved out of a rock but it was called a “new tomb.” Why? Not because it hadn’t been there a long time but it was unused.
This is new. This is fresh. This is something that’s going to bring about refreshment and impact and it’s going to be a new paradigm, if you will.
And you gotta ask yourself, “Okay, well what is that command?” It’s to love one another. Now, you Bible students, especially some of you that have been in the Old Testament for a while, your mind clicked back, I’m sure immediately, to Leviticus 19:18 and it says what? That we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves.
So, what’s new about this? Jesus is saying we’re to love one another, the Old Testament said we’re to love one another. What’s new about this? Here’s what’s new. The how, the measure. Before, we were to love one another in the way that we wanted them to love us. Or we were to love one another - how? The way we would want to be loved.
The new part of the commandment is Jesus takes the ante and He puts it all the way up here. He said, “No, this new commandment is not about loving people the way that you want to be loved.” That’s not the litmus test anymore. What is it? What’s the text say? “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Wait a minute, you mean Jesus actually wants us to love one another the way He loved them? You bet. Well, what’s that look like? Open to John chapter 13, let’s get a little context here.
John chapter 13 verses 1 to 5, He begins to give them a little idea. It says, “It was just before the Passover,” the last night of His life, “Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and to go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world,” get this line, “He now showed them the full extent of His love.”
What He’s going to do this night, with His closest followers, knowing this time the next day He will have been crucified, He’s now going to show them the full extent of His love.
Verse 2, “The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.” Get this, the next line is critical why Jesus could love in such a radical way. “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His control, and that He had come from God and that He was returning to God;” notice the purpose clause, “so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, wrapped a towel around His waist, and after that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”
Now, we don’t understand. You can’t quite get what’s going on here. He’s the Lord, He’s the rabbi, He’s the teacher, right? He’s now going to show them the full extent of His love.
He was secure, He knew God was sovereign, in control, nothing to lose, nothing to gain, no one to impress. He knew where He came from, He knew where He was going. Out of that security, He’s going to show them the full extent of His love, and He is going to do what not even a regular servant did but only a bondservant did and the bondservant, was at the bottom of the heap!
These guys had all walked in and because there wasn’t a servant at the door where the big canister type thing was where you would wash your feet, and the way that they ate in the Middle East, you would kind of lounge on these little couches.
And so, when you’re lounging here, someone’s feet are pretty close to your face. They were all so proud because someone else was on the pecking order, in fact, we learned what? They were arguing on the way to the Lord’s Supper tonight about who was the greatest.
So, what’s it mean to love like Jesus loves? It means to willfully not regard position or status or how people perceive you, and to lay aside ego and security issues, and to give to other people what they don’t deserve to meet their greatest need, even when their hearts may not be open to you.
And He says, “That’s how I want you to love one another.” In fact, flip over to chapter 15. Chapter 15 verse 12. You need to understand chapter 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17, all this is happening one evening.
It’s God giving us an inside picture. It’s like there was a camera there that last night with the disciples. And we’re getting to see and hear what was going on and what Jesus is thinking and their fears and their struggles. And then they let us know what’s going on.
Verse 12 of chapter 15, “My commandment is this: Love each other” - how? “as I have loved you.” And then He defines it. What’s that mean? “Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friend. You, My disciples, are My friends if you keep My commandments, if you do what I command.”
So, what’s this new command then? Well first, it’s not new as in something that’s never been heard of. It’s new in terms of our love for one another is to be at the level of sacrifice, of dying to our own self, of putting other people’s agenda – it’s a crucifixion of the “me first” mindset and it is a commitment to other-centered, grace giving, Spirit empowered, “I’m going to do for you what you don’t deserve if it costs me my life.”
The early Church believed that there had to be a willingness to literally, physically die for one another. That’s how literally they took this passage. The call for us, the mark, the signature, the litmus test of all followers of Jesus for all time, is this. It’s not how much they know, it’s not what church they go to, it’s not how well they can teach.
The mark of a Christian, the signature of the body of Christ, the litmus test for your life, my life, and every believer of all time is very simple: The degree to which you love other believers with the radical, self-sacrificing, putting them first, and death to the “me first” mindset that you put into practice on a daily basis. That’s the mark of a Christian.
That’s what the new commandment is. Now, we have alluded to the second question. Well, when was this given? Why did He say this? I mean, when was this given? Add some real octane to what’s going on in the passage. This is the last night He is going to live. This is the Lord’s Supper.
And as I referred to, the disciples, were walking ahead of Christ, according to one of the other gospels, and Jesus came in a little bit later. And they had this argument. And He asked them, “What were you guys arguing about?”
And they got kind of sheepish as they all are there in their dirty feet. And what are they arguing about? “Who is the greatest among us?” One guy was sticking out his chest going, “Hey, man, I went to the transfiguration! You guys didn’t see that.” “Yeah, but I got to hold the money.” “Yeah, well so what? I was chosen before you. I’ll tell you what…”
They didn’t get it. Now, to get some context here about why He gave this command, think of this, the God of the universe took on human flesh and He did a lot of things with a lot of people but these twelve got more of Him than anyone.
These twelve saw things that no one has ever seen. They walked together; when they had a struggle, they had late night talks; three of them have seen at least two or three people raised from the dead; they’ve heard sermons like no one has ever heard; they’ve seen miracles, they’ve been a part of miracles as they passed out the loaves.
Now, imagine being Jesus and thinking you’re going to entrust the mission, the revolution to these twelve. In fact, You know it’s only eleven. You know one is going to bail out. He’s going to betray You.
Can you imagine on the very last night that You’re on the earth and You’re thinking, “This is the group that’s going to take the message. We’re going to entrust. And the number one point on their agenda is who is the greatest? Is this how to get discouraged before You go to the cross? I mean, is this like, are they ever going to get it?
See, the context is important because it came on the last night, it came on the Lord’s Supper, it came at a time here where they were arguing, and it came after He had washed their feet.