Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Full Extent of His Love: A Sermon Preached in Dromore Cathedral on Maundy Thursday, 24th March 2005

John 13:1-17
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him.
6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
7Jesus replied, "You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
8"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."
Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."
9"Then, Lord," Simon Peter replied, "not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!"
10Jesus answered, "A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you." 11For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord', and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (NIV)

In our reading tonight, we heard that Jesus ‘showed them the full extent of his love’ (John 13:1). It is that love that we will consider tonight, conscious that in the brief time we have tonight, we will not come to grasp the full extent of Jesus’ love – after all, it will be our theme in glory for eternity, where we will never tire of singing of his love. But I hope that we will consider it, and come to recognise and value it all the more, and thus, to be more grateful to Jesus for his great love.

Paul, writing to the Ephesians prayed that they: being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephes. 3:17-19

Oh that we would know this love in our hearts, and show it forth in our lives! We will therefore consider tonight the source of his love, the demonstration of his love, and the application of his love.

The Source of his love

1 John 4:8 tells us that: ‘God is love’. In his very essence, he is love. Love is what makes God, God. And in eternity past, before the creation of the world, God existed, with love flowing between the three persons of the Trinity – the Father, Son and Spirit. And it was this intra-Trinity love that flowed out, and was expressed firstly in the creation. This love was also central when God’s name, his essential character, was proclaimed to Moses in Exodus 34: ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation’ (Exodus 34:6,7).

This intra-Trinity love that we are thinking about was also central to the events of the passion. If I were to ask you tonight why Jesus died on the cross, you would be able to tell me ‘because Jesus loves us’. This is indeed correct, but it isn’t the full picture. Because in this, we miss out on the primary object of Jesus’ love – his Father. Don Carson writes:

We diminish the grandeur of the plan of redemption when we neglect this divine element. It is a mark of our egocentricity that we think the love of Christ has for its exclusive or even primary object human beings such as ourselves. This is not to minimize Christ’s love for us; rather it is to recognise the primacy of his love for the Father. The cross reveals how profoundly the eternal Son of God loves his Father and how utterly he obeys him and pleases him. Even in Gethsemane (Mark 14), Jesus’ anguish is spelt out in terms of coming to grips with his Father’s will, not in terms of sacrificing himself for others.
Similarly, although it is true that the Father loved the world so much that he sent his Son (John 3:16), this presupposes his love for that Son. The surprising thing is that the ministry, passion and triumph of the Son is not only the evidence of the Father’s love for us, but the evidence of the Father’s love for his Son, for it was by this means that the Father placed everything into his Son’s hands.
The Son’s will is to please his Father, not just to save us; and the Father’s will is to have all men honour the Son, not just to forgive us. To grasp these divine relationships in the drama of redemption is to humble our pride and heighten our sense of speechless privilege. To be saved and renewed, to be the recipients of new life, to be forgiven, all because we are caught up in the perfection of love among the Persons of the Godhead, is unutterably solemn, ecstatically wonderful. [1]

So the source of Jesus’ love is within the Trinity, and flows out of that love for his Father.

The demonstration of his love

We next must consider the outworking of that love. The reading tells us that Jesus didn’t talk about love, or give the disciples a new doctrine of God’s love – he ‘showed them the full extent of his love’ (emphasis mine). How, then, did he demonstrate his love? Tonight we will think of three main ways in which he demonstrated his love: birth, service and death.

Jesus was with the Father before the world began, in eternity. We can but faintly imagine the glory and honour he had, and shared with the Father and the Spirit. So to be born as a human, to give up his place in glory, was an expression of love. It is this thought that Philippians 2 conveys:

Philip. 2:6-11
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

An illustration of what this would mean for us is to imagine that the US President loved the ants in the White House garden. He really loved them, and wanted them to know how much he loved them. He would put out food for them, and would be out watching them in the garden, but still, they couldn’t know for sure. The only way he could tell them, would be if he could become an ant, and let them know. What condescension! In a much greater way, Jesus set aside the glory and riches of heaven to be born in a stable.

Lord, you were rich beyond all splendour,
yet for love’s sake, became so poor,

But Jesus wasn’t born just to live- his birth was the first part of his mission on earth, the mission to die. As we learn in 1 Timothy 15, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. In the words of a familiar hymn:

He left his Father’s throne above, so free, son infinite his grace,
Emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Love was the full extent of his healing ministry and miracles, but these were signs to show who he was, and so we come to the Last Supper, and the events of our reading tonight. The disciples and Jesus met together in the upper room, but there were no servants. Normally it was the custom for the people’s feet to be washed on arrival, due to the dusty roads, and to allow for comfort during the meal. This would be done by the lowest servant, the slave. But there were no servants, just the disciples and Jesus. And none of the disciples thought that they were the lowest, or that it was their job to do it. Indeed, the opposite was the case – Luke tells how ‘a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest’ (Luke 22:24).

And then Jesus gets up and takes off his outer clothing, and wraps a towel round his waist. Jesus, their teacher, their master – doing the task of a servant? What was going on? There was a nervous silence as Jesus began to wash their feet in turn. Thus Jesus humbled himself, the Servant King. [Peter, being Peter, started to raise an objection, but Jesus declared that he had to be washed, to have a part in him – so then Peter, being Peter, went to the other extreme, wanting a complete wash! The principle Jesus was demonstrating was that those who are ‘clean’ in him, are those who have come to faith. Thus, coming to faith is like having a bath. Only their feet need to be washed as a cleansing from sins committed after coming to faith – we need to regularly confess our sins and have our feet washed]

The job of service done, Jesus retook his place at the table. He then explained his actions, telling them, and us, that this was an example for them, and us, to follow. You see, many times in the Gospels, Jesus told the disciples that those who would be great in the kingdom should be the servant of all – and here was the demonstration of the instruction. Jesus, the Son of God, stooped in love to wash his disciples’ feet, showing the full extent of his love, and glorifying himself at the same time.

This same love took him to the cross. There he went through tremendous agony, and an awful death for our sake. To watch the film, The Passion of the Christ, is to see such pain, and such agony. But worse than the pains, which two other men went through that day as well; Jesus bore our sins – the burden of which cut him off from the Father through the dark hours on Calvary. We will never know what Jesus went through - all we do know is that he died in our place; he bore our sins, and demonstrated his love.

But do you know what is even more remarkable? Jesus showed his love to those who would betray, deny, and abandon him within a matter of hours. Jesus knew who would betray him, yet Judas was present for the foot washing. Peter, who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, would deny that he knew Jesus. The rest would turn tail and run away from Gethsemane. And isn’t it so easy to point the finger at the disciples and think… well, now, if I was in that situation, I would have stood firm… But as Romans 5 tells us quite clearly, we were all enemies of Christ when he died for us. We were in open rebellion, and maybe still are. ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).

The Application of his love

Having now considered the source of his love, and the demonstration of his love, what should be the application of his love? Firstly, and most importantly, we should accept his love, and what his love achieved for us – by trusting in him, and repenting of our sins. We should ‘have a bath’, washed by Jesus’ blood shed for us. But this confessing and cleansing is more than a once-for-all thing. As Jesus said ‘a person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet’ (John 13:10), and we need to regularly confess our sins, and be right with God. If you had a bath, you wouldn’t go and take another one ten minutes later if you had your hands dirty – you would wash your hands. Indeed, this is what Holy Communion can be a visual reminder of. Every time we celebrate it, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes, remembering his passion, and the benefits he won for us at Calvary, and being restored, through faith in him.

From this acceptance of God’s love for us, we therefore come to love God. Love for God is our primary method of obedience to God, because, as Jesus told us, the first and great commandment is to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. So the next challenge to you is this – are you loving God as you should? Are you obeying him? Are you honouring him?

Flowing from this love for God, comes our final application. We must obey his new commandment to us – ‘love one another’. As Jesus served his friends and showed them his love, so we should also demonstrate our love in practical acts. Or as 1 John 4:11 tells us: ‘Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’ And again, in 3:16, ‘this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.’ God’s love for us is both the model and the motive of our love. I’m not saying, though, that the way of loving others is by actually washing their feet – this was an example of humble service, in putting the needs of others ahead of our own. A good example of this is Streetreach – faith expressing itself through love. So if you can possibly be free next week, get involved. But there are so many ways you can love one another. Follow the example of Jesus, and put the needs of others before yourself, and humbly serve those around you.


Jesus knew that this was his last night on earth with his disciples, and so he ‘showed them the full extent of his love.’ As I said earlier, those who accept Christ’s love through faith will spend eternity singing his praise. May we all be in that number, for the glory of God, having come to know in our hearts, and showing forth in our lives ‘the full extent of his love’
[1] Don Carson, 1995, Jesus and His Friends, Paternoster Press, pp 84,85.

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