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“The Third Commandment”

John 13:33-34

The World Today

A group of co-workers were invited to a holiday meal hosted by their boss. Having worked at his side for three years, enjoying a unique relationship with this man of notoriety, they thought nothing of his invitation. On the appointed night, they dined together in an exclusive setting. From the beginning, the meal was traditional fare for the holiday; however, some of the events of that evening created a feeling of uneasiness among the dinner guests. It began when their host referred to the bread and the wine that he shared with them as something more, something vague, a reference not totally unexpected in light of the stories he often told to illustrate his thoughts.

While those references were mostly overlooked, two actions of the host could not be ignored by the subordinates. First, he arose from the meal and proceeded to wash the feet of each of them. Next, the host dipped a piece of bread in a dish, handed it to one of the subordinates, and spoke to him, saying, “What you are about to do, do quickly” causing the worker to get up from the table and hurriedly leave. Just as suddenly as the dinner became a little weird, the host spoke to the rest of those gathered with clarity, sanity and purpose. Words that would not soon be forgotten by the attendees included these: “I will be with you only a little longer. . . I give you a new commandment: Love one another” (John 13:33-34).

Obviously, the host for that Passover holiday meal was Jesus. The co-workers were His disciples. The bread and wine He referred to as His “body” and “blood.” The one with whom He shared the bread dipped in the dish was Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him that very evening. In the midst of these familiar details of that evening, one which is oftentimes overlooked in retellings of the The Last Supper was His admonition to “Love one another” – the words of Jesus that I would like for us to recognize and consider this morning as “the Third Commandment.”

The Word Revealed

Well known to us are what is commonly referred to as the two Great Commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). It was in the context of the Last Supper that Jesus shared a third commandment to the Twelve alone – not even to His other followers nor to the religious establishment of the day – “Love one another.” The love Jesus spoke of in this commandment was not a brotherly love or a romantic love, but a love of sacrificial devotion, a love that led Him to the cross.

On one level, the significance of limiting His words to the Twelve was the role they would play in the birth and extraordinary growth of the Church, the body of Christ, following His death and resurrection. They had become more than a group of men who followed Jesus, they had become a family – members of the body of Christ – what could be referred to today as a church family. On a much more important level, in their expression of love for one another, Christ expected these men to create a cohesive, unshakeable foundation for the work of the Kingdom of God in His absence.

In that statement alone, today we recognize the irony of that challenge to these men. They were by no means perfect – following the Transfiguration, a number of the disciples argued among themselves as to which of them would be the greatest (Mark 9:46). When pressured to admit his association with Jesus, Peter denied Him three times (Mark 14:66-72). Judas Iscariot committed the ultimate betrayal, all for only thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-15). After Jesus appeared to all of the disciples but Thomas, he vehemently expressed his doubt of the resurrection (John 20:24-25). These are but four examples of the human frailty of these men who agreed to leave everything behind and follow Him, those who in spite of their frailty and sinfulness were among His most trusted.

Yet another consideration of the Third Commandment, as given to the Twelve, was their diverse backgrounds. They were mostly what we would call blue-collar workers today. None had any religious training, none were anywhere near the Temple when they were called to follow Jesus, none had giftedness or experience that would qualify them as one who could start new churches. Apart from living and working alongside Jesus 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the only commonality they shared was their limited qualifications, their diversity in background, and their unity in calling.

Applying the Word to the World

That brings us to an all-important question – what is the significance of their story to our story? More importantly, what is the significance of the Third Commandment to the shared faith journey that you and I begin today as individuals, as a church?

  • Like the Twelve, we are by no means perfect – not one of us!
  • Like the Twelve, we are a hodge-podge of backgrounds and live experiences. Such a diversity can divide; however, when the diversities we share are complementary, the result can be a much stronger unity than other wise possible.
  • Like the Twelve, we are a family – members of the body of Christ, the Church – nothing less than a church family. What binds us together are the vows we have professed. Every name on our membership rolls – whether those named are present today or not – represents individuals who have stood before this congregation at this very altar. Standing before this church family, they publicly professed their faith in Christ and took the historic vows to uphold and support this congregation with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness. In so doing, they became a part of our church family, a family that enjoys unique privileges while claiming equal responsibilities. All this in the words of a common vow that speaks of our relationship with God, our relationship to this church, and our relationship to one another.
  • Like the Twelve, and all who have read and heard the Savior’s admonition throughout the centuries, we are commanded to “love one another” –
    1. in spite of our shared sinful natures,
    2. in spite of our diversity in so many aspects of our public and private life, and
    3. because we are more than a family, we are a church family.
  • We are commanded to do nothing less than to “love one another,” to faithfully live out the Savior’s Third Commandment.