For just a brief meditation tonight, I want to draw your attention to the thirteenth chapter of John – thirteenth chapter, when our Lord on the last night He was with His disciples, gathered with them in the upper room. A familiar portion of Scripture, this event covers 13, 14, 15, and 16 of the Gospel of John.
But I want us to look at the opening few statements. According to verse 1, it is before the Feast of the Passover. It is actually on Thursday night of Passion Week. “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” I have read that verse for many, many years. I have cherished that verse for many, many years. That is an amazing view into the heart of Christ – into the heart of Christ. That’s what it is: a window into the heart of Christ at a moment when He would have had every right to be self-absorbed. Knowing what awaited Him that night – betrayal, arrest, mock trials, crucifixion, sin bearing - all the horrors that were anticipated to such a degree that you literally sweat, as it were, drops of blood – under the stress of anticipating this, his capillaries began to disintegrate in the garden. And yet, in the face of that, because that’s exactly what verse 1 says, “Knowing that His hour had come,” what is He thinking about? He’s thinking about His death. In the face of His death for sin – His death for sinners - we might project of our own attitudes into that and assume that there might have been a moment for resentment there that He was having to do this because of sinners.
And the sinners with which He was most familiar were surrounding Him at that very time. They were part of the great core of people who lived through all of human history whose sins He would bear. They were the ones who put Him there. And especially those men whose sins He dealt with on an hourly basis for three years, wouldn’t there just be a moment of resentment? Wouldn’t He be allowed a moment of disgust, even a moment of anger toward the sinners who were bringing about His horrible death? Death was on His mind. But bitterness? That wasn’t on His mind. Hatred? That wasn’t on His mind. Anger? Resentment? None of those things were on His mind.
In fact, when you look into the window of the heart of Christ, at this very moment, what is on His mind is love. Love. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. He’s thinking about them. He’s going to the cross with a heart of love. There’s no bitterness and no resentment. In fact, just the opposite.
His thoughts not only were on the cross, but His thoughts were on the joy that was set before Him after the cross, His reentry into heaven. He was thinking about the great reunion that was going to happen when He went back to the Father. In fact, it was so much on His heart that that same night He prayed this, “Father, the hour is come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is the eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on Earth, having accomplished the work which You’ve given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” What’s on His mind? Horrible death and a subsequent reentry into the glories of heaven. His humiliation left behind, in exalted glory He will be face to face with the Father again.
The anticipation of the cross was a crushing sadness. The anticipation of heaven was an exhilarating joy. This was a time when we would be giving Him an opportunity to think about Himself, to deal with His own sorrow, to deal with the coming joy. But His heart is not on His suffering – not totally. And His heart is not on His glory – not totally. His heart runs toward those who belong to Him. And that’s what I love about the first verse of chapter 13. It says, “Having loved His own who were in the world” – His own – tous idious is the Greek, near and dear. Those who belong to Him - very personal expression.
There’s another expression used in John 1, “He came unto His own” – that’s the word for His own things that He had made. These are His own people, each one of them a love gift from the Father, each one chosen by the Father, each one a divine expression of affection for the Son, each one beloved by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He’s not thinking about His own which were in heaven. Some of His own were in heaven of course. The saints throughout all of redemptive history had died and gone on to glory. They were His own, too, because they were all purchased by His sacrifice on the cross and secured by His resurrection. They’re not on His mind. The ones that are on His mind are His own who were in the world.
So, there He goes to the cross when we might expect Him to have some bitterness against the sinners for whom He was having to suffer this. Or He might be consumed with the overwhelming reality of His coming glory in some way to mitigate the pain of His coming suffering. But He is thinking about His own who were in the world.
Again, there were spirits of just men made perfect, as they’re called, the believers who have already spiritually entered into heaven. But his heart goes out to those that are still here and the struggle that they have.
In the seventeenth chapter of John, later that evening as He prays, in verse 15, He says, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” His love desires that they be protected. His love also desires that they be perfected. “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.” He prays for their protection; He prays for their purification. His heart is on His own who are in the world.
And “He loved them to the end.” It’s a great phrase in the Greek; it means to perfection, to the consummation, to the infinite capacity of divine love. You might simplify it and say, “He loved them fully and forever. He loved them with all the love with which God can love and forever.” They’re on His heart; we’re on His heart.
Indeed, it is a cross of love, but it was love all the way along and ever since. Christ loves His own. For that very moment, His concern is for them. He wants them to know He love them. How can He do that? How can He show them His love? He does something wonderful. He “got up from supper” – in verse 4 – “laid aside His garments; took a towel, girded Himself, and went on to wash His feet.” That was the lowliest task that a servant could ever be given, to wash filthy feet in a dusty, muddy part of the world. He washed their feet, humbled Himself to do that. He lowered Himself to do that.
You might have suspected, if you listen to modern-day preachers, that if He really loved them, He would have made them rich. If He really loved them, He would have guaranteed that td never be sick. If He really loved them, He would have given them a lot more influence in society than they had. If He really loved them, He would have made them successful. Or if He really loved them, He might have made them more attractive physically. But He loved them so much that He served them humbly. What a picture. Out of the depths of His own pain and suffering, anticipating His own dying for sin, and then anticipating the unbelievable, infinite heights of His entry back into glory, His heart is as wide as His own, and He embraces them all, and He feels love for them.
A reminder of what Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, through your own suffering and your own exaltation.” He will condescend to be a servant, a slave. There is a beautiful picture that He gives, in the fourteenth chapter, that I want to draw you to that ties in with how much He loves us. It’s a kind of singular love, and it is paralleled here to a marriage. When a man looks over all the possibilities and options and picks one and says, “I love you singularly; I love you uniquely; I love you and no one else; I commit my life to you permanently.” That’s the singular kind of love that is in the analogy of chapter 14, verse 2, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Now, just stop right there. What is going on here? I’ll tell you what’s going on here. The picture is of a bridegroom. This is a bridegroom. This is all about a bridegroom. When the preparation was done, when a section in the father’s house was complete, the bridegroom when to find his bride and bring her to the father’s house. That’s the picture. When all of the anticipation was fulfillment, when the new section of the father’s house was complete, that’s how they did it; around a courtyard, he went to get his bride. It’s time to come and get the bride.
By the way, you don’t send for your bride; you go get her. You come to take her. You come to take her to the place you’ve prepared for her. Love descends. It goes and finds its objects. The bridegroom is saying, “I will not – I cannot live without you. I must have you with me.” And so, he goes to get her.
And Jesus said, “I’ve prepared a place for you, and when I come again, I’ll take you to be with Me, and we’ll be together forever.” And that’s what He prays later on in the seventeenth chapter of John. He prays that they would all arrive safely in His presence. Verse 12, “When I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You’ve given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.
“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so they may have My joy made full in themselves. I’ve given them Your Word; and the world has hated them, because they’re not of the world, even as I’m not of the world. I don’t ask You to take them out of the world, but keep them from the evil one. They’re not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth” – He’s praying over His bride here that she would be kept and protected. In those days, the Father chose the bride. Right? And the bridegroom went to take the bride his father had chosen – I want to bring them.
Verse 22, “The glory which You’ve given Me I’ve given to them, that they may be one, just as We are One; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity so the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am” – I want My bride; I can’t live without My bride. “I want them to be with Me where I am so they can see My glory which You’ve given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
In the meantime, before the place is prepared and the Bridegroom comes to take His bride, there is an engagement, a betrothal time. And during that betrothal time, which I guess you could say, in one sense, is our time on Earth, what does the Bridegroom do with His bride? He’s betrothed to her; He’s engaged to her. The wedding hasn’t happened yet, and there is a great symbolic wedding, bridal event in the future, but upon entrance into heaven of any believer, there is a union between the Bridegroom and the bride.
But what happens before that, what happens? What does the Bridegroom do for the bride that’s still here? The Bridegroom lavishes the bride to whom He is engaged with gifts of His love - gifts for the joy, and the comfort, and the blessing, and the protection of His chosen bride. And they are described in chapters 14, 15, and 16. And it’s a sermon of love. It starts out, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to perfection,” and this is what His love does. It prepares a place to bring His bride; it prays for the protection and the purification and the blessing of His bride. But in the middle is this lavish list of promises, pledges, gifts.
In chapter 14, as Jesus is talking to the disciples who are representatives of His bride, He promises them power. He promises them resources. Anything they ask in His name, He’ll give them. He promises them another comforter like Himself: the Holy Spirit. He promises them truth - the knowledge of the truth. He promises them peace – His own peace. He promises them fruit – much fruit. He promises them suffering – the perfecting power of suffering. And He promises them joy. But most of all, He promises them that He’ll come and take them to be with Himself.
This whole evening that He spent with them is a window into His heart – a window into His heart. His heart is loving toward His bride. That love is also indicated to us in the fourth chapter of Hebrews. For those of us who are still in the world, here is another portion of Scripture that describes the heart of Christ toward His own. We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. We have a sympathetic Bridegroom. A sympathetic Bridegroom who’s also a High Priest, who understands our weakness and intercedes for us and provides for us all resources.
The imagery here is just beautiful. It is the image of the highest level of love that we know and experience in life between a bride and her Bridegroom. A marriage has been arranged by God alone. The Bridegroom is Christ; we are the bride. And He loves us. He loves us so completely that it can only be described with the Greek expression that means He loved them to the infinite capacity of divine love.
Someday, we will see the full expression of that love manifest to us when we enter into the Father’s house and we see what He’s prepared for us there, but until then, we enjoy constant, lavish expressions of love as He gives us gifts for our joy, our peace, our fruitfulness, our knowledge, our wisdom, our power, our assurance, and all our needs. He takes care of us in every way. Was this a cross of love? Yes, but not just the cross; He loves His own to perfection. That is cause for thanksgiving. Amen? That is cause for thanksgiving. Let’s bow in a word of prayer.
Father, as we come to this time to express our gratitude, come around Your Table, we ask that You would fill our hearts with joy over being so loved as we are and so unworthy. It is as if the Bridegroom went into the slum and found the worst men and the worst women, the lowest of the low, the chief of sinners. It’s like Hosea going into the slave market and buying a bride, paying an unimaginable price for an unworthy bride.
How could we not be thankful that we have been rescued out of the slave market of sin, that we have been bought, chosen by the Father , price paid by the Son, and now we are engaged to Him. We have a ring, the arrabōn of the Spirit who is the engagement ring, the guarantee that secures the coming wedding. And one day, in heaven, that wedding will be complete, and we will be with the One who loves us as His everlasting bride. But in the meantime, we’re being lavished with all the gifts of His endless, infinite love.
Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down His life. And therein, indeed, was the epitome of His love. He gave Himself; He paid the infinite price of His own life to purchase His bride. As we remember His work on the cross, the purchase of this unworthy bride of which we are a part, we find our hearts filled with thanksgiving, gratitude. And may that thanksgiving overflow through these days as we think about the things we’re thankful for. We’re thankful for temporal things, earthly things, but they’re so small, so insignificant compared to the spiritual realities that are given to us by our heavenly Bridegroom who truly loves us – infinitely loves us, will not live forever without us. What grace.
So, fill us with gratitude and love in return. May we love Him because He first loved us.
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