From John 12 to John 16, the Lord Jesus was communicating very important and relevant principles to His disciples before His impending departure.There are many but there seems to be a common ‘thread’ in the discourse of the Lord with HIs followers.
The Lord was conscious that the disciples would face trying situations after His departure; hence He took pains to share how they could be kept in the faith and in their loyalty to the Master. There was the exhortation not to be troubled; there was the assurance that they would not be alone (with the introduction of the coming of the Spirit); there was the emphasis on the need to abide in HIm; there was the assurance of His love and the love of the Father and that their sorrow will be short lived because of the joy that will come about subsequently (referring to the cross and the resurrection).
The common thread seems to focus on serving one another, loving one another, caring for one another with a humble spirit and a spirit of sacrifice, especially in the light that the world would hate them, and the enemy would seek to destroy them. Interestingly, this common thread centres on the cross and its implications for them as His disciples.
John 12 brought out the need for the grain of wheat to fall to the ground and die in order to be fruitful. This speaks of self-denial, the need for sacrifice, the need ‘to die’ in order ‘to live’ and to be fruitful spiritually – all these embody the cross and ‘crucifixion’, resurrection and ascension to the Father. And the principles of self-denial, sacrifice and the cross apply to the followers of the Lord as well, but not exactly in the same manner that the Lord Jesus undertook; for instance, we cannot die for the sins of others.
Nonetheless, the above principles are not easily understood in our day because believers are prone to settle for too little too easily in their Christian life and experience; we are liable to fall prey to the spirit of our time which substitutes mediocrity for excellence, speed for quality, shell for kernel, surface for depth. Do not be mistaken; many of us would vouch that we often feel pricked in our conscience; we may have religious feelings awakened within us, have many concerns for our souls and even shed many tears when we listen to sermons or read the Bible but alas, it may not the genuine saving ministry of the Holy Spirit that ‘hit us’ but our own emotional response and temporary ‘anxieties’.
But all these do not amount to true sacrifice, self-denial and the carrying and application of the cross.
The death of God’s Son on the cross at Calvary (which is a vivid description of the ‘the grain of wheat falling on the ground and dies) appears as folly to those who have not understood it. It actually shows how completely God, in love to mankind, was willing to hide His glory and become vulnerable to shame and dishonour. Now God in love calls men to embrace and boast of this foolish-seeming, weak-looking, event of the cross as their means of salvation; He also calls His disciples to embrace the cross after being born again, if they seek to serve God and others in love effectively and bear true fruit eternally.
The washing of the feet in John 13 gives a picturesque illustration of this truth. Jesus acknowledged that He was their Lord and Master and yet He washed their feet; He then told them to follow HIs example. The washing of the feet in those days was reserved only for the slaves to do – it was a very menial and degrading task from one point of view. Yet God, in the person of His Son, condescended to take the place of a servant and washed the ‘dirty’ feet of the disciples, truly something unbelievable and astounding. But the Lord was in effect demonstrating ‘servanthood’, sacrifice, humility and self-denial to communicate that all these are required to love others in the way He loves them.
If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride. How can we truly love like Jesus loves if we are so consumed with self, personal self-esteem, pride and the unwillingness to be treated as ‘servants’ (not just being hailed as servants of God)?? We get so easily aroused when others treat us in a way that hurts our ego; we are not prepared to go further when it involves some degree of inconvenience or when it does not interest us in the least (saying nothing about sacrifice at all).
God first humbled Himself for our salvation in the Incarnation and on the cross and now He humbles Himself for our knowledge of salvation by addressing us in and through the often humanly unimpressive words of the Bible. Similarly, God in love calls us to humble ourselves by denying ourselves and to serve our brethren in love sacrificially, and He also calls us to humble ourselves by bowing to Holy Scripture in our outworking of our Christian lives.
We are to abide in Him (John 15); we are to abide in His Word, abide in His love and to obey Him and HIs command to love one another in the manner that He loves us. Ponder upon this and soon we will realise that the common thread in the principles surrounding the cross emerges for us in the discourse the Lord Jesus had with His disciples. But it does not end there; He promised His disciples that His Father, through His request, would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them and to continue His work and ministry through them and the Church. We cannot afford to miss what the Lord Jesus sought to communicate to all His true disciples.
John Calvin, in the Institutes, concluded that knowledge of God and self are experienced simultaneously. The old adage states: “If you would know yourself, know God; if you would know God, know yourself.” In the pure light of God’s holiness, our heart becomes inescapably black. As we ponder over what the Lord Jesus revealed in His words and example in John 12-16, we would realise how far short we are, in applying the principles He desires for our lives and the life of the Church.”A new commandment I give to you, that you live 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)