John 13:31-38- The Love of a True Disciple and the Sifting of Peter
Explanation- Judas has departed to do what was afore prepared for him. It is now that Christ begins His final teaching to His true disciples. This sections and those that follow will be the message that the disciples will take to the nations upon Christ’s resurrection.
How then does our Lord begin this final discourse? Does He instruct them in the way of sound doctrine and preaching? Yes, I suppose in a way He does. Or does He send them off with a systematic understanding of the end times? No, He does not. What Christ imparts to His disciples at the beginning of this final discourse is a message of love. He tells them that they must love one another as He has loved them. This sort of love is contrary to the love of the world which says seeks a mutual offering on the part of both parties in order to remain intact. This is a love that transcends the material and physical. This is a most holy love. So much so that Christ says that people will know that, ‘you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ Elsewhere in John 15 Christ speaks of the fruit of this love, namely that it will cause a man to lay down his life for his friend. Christ could have begun this teaching with any number of things, but He chose to comment on love. Why? I believe it is because this kind of love is one of man’s most difficult attributes to attain. I would go even further to say that this kind of love is impossible apart from the Spirit’s work in our lives. Love is not merely a feeling that we feel toward another once in a while, but it is a general disposition that we are to have toward each other at all times despite how we may feel. I have heard it said that love is a verb and not an adjective. It is not meant to describe a way of feeling, but is a call to sacrificial action. Later on Paul would say that we are nothing and we gain nothing without love. If this be the case, it is no wonder that Christ chose to begin His final discourse in such a way.
We next encounter the infamous account where our Lord predicts Peter’s denial. Many sermons have been preached and many pages written on this very subject. With all that could be said about this account, there are two main observations I would like to comment on.
First, when approached with the prediction Peter is shocked and arrogantly denies the Lord’s words. He is quick to announce His undying devotion to Christ when the sea is calm, but it will be an entirely different story when the waves began to rise. I believe that Peter was relying more-so on his own grip of Christ rather than Christ’s grip on him. I would say that Peter’s pride allowed him to believe that he was able to follow Christ even when no one else would.
Second, I believe entirely that it was the providence of God which allowed Peter to deny our Lord. As we look to the book of Acts we see that Peter was a pillar in the Church at Jerusalem. He was one of the original 12 who had witnessed firsthand the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. To put it simply, Peter had a purpose that stretched beyond the events of the crucifixion. If Peter’s assertions were true, then he would have been crucified alongside our Lord. Now could the Gospel have still gone forth without Peter’s involvement? Of course, but this was not the will of God. If we look to Luke’s account of this conversation we are given a bit more insight. Jesus says to Peter, ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’ (Lu. 22:31-32). Here we are given unique insight into the will of God. Satan had demanded to sift peter. In this respect, to sift is to examine something thoroughly so as to isolate that which is most important or useful. In a very real sense this is exactly what Satan demanded of God in the account of Job. But as we know from Job’s account, this sifting only helped to better display the glory of God in Job’s life. Such it is with Peter. It was Satan’s demand to sift Peter, but it was God’s will that Peter be sifted. To what end? To the end that Peter may eventually strengthen his brethren.
Application- When we think of the kind of love that Jesus has called us to it can be intimidating. The love that I often feel in myself is cold and conditional. This is in stark contrast to the unconditional, self-denying love that Christ has called us to have. Christ has called us to love as He loved. His love was sacrificial, unconditional, and perfect. If we are to attain this kind of love, then it will not be by our own gumption. The kind of love that Christ has called His people to is a supernatural kind of love. It is a love that can only flow from the abundance of a life spent in Trinitarian fellowship and communion. As we draw near to God through prayer and the study of His word and as we experience more and more of His presence in our lives we are in turn conformed to His very image. As true disciples we are called to be conformed to our Master’s image. His characteristics begin to form in us as a natural byproduct of our abiding in Him. Our entire hope and assurance for this work rests in the ability and will of God to perform it on our behalf. There can be no failure in the life of the saint because the entire work of regeneration, sanctification, and glorification belongs to our sovereign Lord and it is impossible for Him to fail!