A Maundy Meditation for the Second Sunday of Easter
You may have noticed that we got a new van. That giant Ford Transit out in the parking lot. That’s the new Loginow mobile. We look like we’re driving a European ambulance. I’ve had a couple of people ask me if the van is new. The answer is yes and no. No the van is not new. It’s a 2015. But it’s like new in that it only has 3,000 miles on it. Also, it is new to us. It’s different than what we had before. It is both old and new.
Sometimes when we come to a pericope like the one before us in 1 John 2.7-11 we can get confused over this language about “old and new.” Two weeks ago we looked at 1 John 2.3-6, which revealed to us that Christians can have assurance of salvation if they’re following Jesus’ commandments. Today the text encourages us that we can know that we’re followers of Christ by our love. The Spirit of God gives the church assurance through their charity. The big idea from the Bible this morning is that Christian love is a means of assurance for God’s people.
But first we must sort through all of this old and new business. John writes, Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. Notice first that John reminds them of his love for them as he’s going to call them to love each other. He calls them “Beloved.” He doesn’t say, “Hey numbskulls, love each other!” He models love for them. Because the whole paragraph is about love, it’s logical to conclude that the old commandment to which he’s referring in the commandment of love. In Matthew 22.36-40 Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment of all and he replies,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18 and says that the OT depends on this duel call to love. The 10 commandments can be divided into two tablets with the headings “love God” and “love people.” And they have had this from the beginning. Again, this language reminds us of Genesis 1.1. The book of Genesis is part of the law, which was written by Moses, which also included the 10 commandments, and the two-fold love command. This command is as old as the Torah. John is saying that there’s a sense in which they already know that they’re supposed to love other Christians. This isn’t a new command. It’s old. It’s a 2015.
But there’s also a sense in which the command is new. Verse 8 says, [a]t the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. How is this old commandment new? What is novel about these ancient words? What’s new is that it’s true in him, Jesus Christ. Did you know that this is the second week of Easter? On the liturgical calendar Easter isn’t merely a one day celebration, but the season of Easter lasts 40 days, from Easter to Pentecost. The origin of John’s perspective here is derived from that Thursday night on Easter weekend, the night we call Maundy Thursday.
In John 13.34-35 (same author) John tells us about the events of Maundy Thursday. Before Christ transformed the Passover into the Eucharist he washed his disciples’ feet. And before he washed their feet, he said this,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Notice that the language in 1 John 2.8 is the same as Jesus’ instruction in John’s Gospel. The word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means, “command.” Jesus’ command to love and serve is what John is reiterating. It’s new because of the gospel. Jesus revealed God’s love to us through his life, service, death, and resurrection. We see the supreme display of love in that God sent his one-and-only Son so that whoever believes in him might not die but live forever (John 3.16).
Jesus’ righteous life in your place, Jesus’ humble service of those who don’t deserve it, Jesus’ substitutionary death for sinners, Jesus’ resurrection in power, his current kingly reign, priestly intercession, and prophetic calling, and his promise to return are love to the superlative. This is what the text means when it says the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The word “true” here is the word ἀληθινὸν. ἀληθινὸν doesn’t just mean “true as opposed to false,” but means “that which is truly true.” It refers to substance as opposed to shadow. Jesus Christ is the great metaphysical light; he’s the truest of the true. And this light is already shining. The word already implies that this is surprising.
We had the laziest babies in the history of the world. Our kids didn’t start walking until late, well over a year, Jack was close to two. I remember when we first moved back to Michigan from Kentucky. My niece Skylar was 9 months old and she was walking. I remember saying, “She’s already walking!” I was surprised. That’s John’s emphasis; the true light is already shining. Jesus Christ has brought the hope of God’s good future into the present and we’re already experiencing it!
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the darkness of sin and death are passing away. That’s a present active verb. It’s continuously happening. How is this happening? Through the preaching of the gospel, through the administration of the sacraments, through the prayers of the saints and the love of the brothers. The weapons of spiritual warfare are words, water, bread, and wine, and the gates of hell will not prevail against the church.
The commandment is new in that we’ve seen Jesus do it perfectly and now it’s not only in him, but in us as well. The love of God has been perfected in us (1 John 2.5). That means that if you say that you’re in the light but hate your brother or sister in Christ, you’re actually in darkness. It is impossible to be a faithful follower of King Jesus and also hate the church. But [w]hoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. Walking in the light means loving the church because that’s what Christ does. In the light there’s no cause for stumbling. The Greek word for this phrase is σκάνδαλον, which means a “trap or stumbling block.” It’s where we derive the English word scandal. To say that you’re a Christian and to hate other believers is scandalous.
John then reiterates the blindness of hatred in verse 11. He says, [b]ut whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. To be a Christian that hates the church, that hates other believers, is to be blind. You’re stumbling around in darkness, literally blind hatred. We don’t want that, do we church? We want to see. We want to walk in the light.
On Maundy Thursday Jesus said, by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. That means that loving each other isn’t just pragmatically beneficial, or a way to promote team building. Our love for each other is literally a witness to the good news to the world. In fact, Jesus said it was the gospel witness to the world. So the challenge for us this morning is the challenge of charity. Do you love the church or do you hate the church? Do you love other Christians or do you hate some other Christians? If you hate other believers, don’t kid yourself, you’re not walking in the light. If there is hate in your heart for any of God’s children, you need to examine your heart and consider whether you actually know Jesus or not.
Don’t succumb to hatred. It is the mentality of the enemy, and it’s easy in a day that’s so tribal like ours. We’re trained to think that if someone has a different political view than me that they’re my enemy, or if someone has a different view of baptism or the millennium than me that they’re the enemy. Don’t hate your brothers and sisters; love them!
Let us be encouraged this morning Christ Community Church! Let God’s Word be a call to arms for us to stir one another up to love and good works. May we always be a people that pray for one another, eat with one another, hug one another, weep with one another, rebuke one another, comfort one another, speak truth to one another, help one another, brothers and sisters, may Christ Community Church be a church that loves one another.
Love is the essence of the gospel, for anyone who does not love does not know God for God is love (1 John 4.8). God loved the world in this way that he gave his one-and-only Son so that whoever believes in him might not die, but live forever (John 3.16). A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13.34-35).
Hate is antithetical to the gospel. Love is the gospel. Charity is Christ; hatred is antichrist. Christ Community Church, let’s pray that we’re a loving body and let’s strive to be a loving body. God’s people have been doing this since Genesis. It’s a tale as old as time, and yet is has been made new in the Kingdom of Christ. A great cloud of witnesses surrounds us as we stare at the true example of love in King Jesus. It’s old and new; ancient and relevant, just like my 2015 Ford Transit.