Read John 13:31-35
Have you ever tried to remember what the Ten Commandments were? I usually get stuck around seven or eight. There are the easy to remember ones like not coveting your neighbours donkey, not murdering anyone, committing adultery or stealing, then theres the one about not worshipping any other gods .. listen to the list again
Read Exodus 20:1-17
Yes, I always forget the neighbours ox! Well, most of them fairly straightforward, I suppose, if slightly dated in their language and interpretation. Trouble was it didnt end there, as throughout the Old Testament there are hundreds of rules concerning almost every aspect of life - from the treatment of lepers to the offence of assault and battery or fraud, lost property, sacrificing children, tattoos the list goes on.
Gods Laws for His people. Yes, God is a great believer in law! In the Old Testament we see that, following the covenant he made with Moses, his Law (the Torah) was given to the people of Israel so that their lives might express the truth that they were the children of God.
At the beginning the Torah was not intended to be simply a list of dos and don'ts. The Hebrew word means 'instruction' and it was always simply intended to be a framework for life, a gift of grace so that Israel might become what they already were as the people of God. Unfortunately, such is human nature that we are apt to turn a benefit into a barrier and this happened with the Law.
By the time of Jesus the Pharisees had hedged the covenant around with 613 laws which the Jews were expected to keep. It seems to have been so important for those in authority to cross every t and dot every i, to leave no loophole through which anyone might stumble, intentionally or not.
What was it someone said? "Most of us spend the first six days of each week sowing wild oats, and the seventh praying for a crop failure" And thats about as near as todays society gets to having its conscience pricked by Gods Laws, His Commandments or instructions.
Jesus knew all about the rules and regulations that governed peoples lives. Hed spent a long time in the temple studying the Law. He knew that people were almost shackled to the Law - it was almost to the point of having a permanent ball and chain fastened to your ankle. He condemned the legalists who had made a prison camp of God's Law: "The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses' seat... (but) they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders."
You couldnt do anything in life without first thinking whether or not the Law permitted it. No wonder the Pharisees and the Scribes followed Jesus around and tried to catch him out. They tried on several occasions to get him arrested for breaking the strict rules on the Sabbath - healing and plucking grains of corn to eat for example.
It almost seems that Jesus was deliberately trying to push the Law to the very limits - to invite the arrest. And yet he was always able through his words to diffuse the situation by challenging the very law that he was being accused of breaking.
Jesus attitude to the Law is interesting. On the one hand he was prepared to ignore it and even criticise it. Yet, on the other hand, he commended it and obeyed it as having divine authority. Its a contradiction, but we understand through our reading of Scripture that Jesus believed that he had come, not to condemn or abolish the Law, but to fulfil it, to live it and take it to its ultimate conclusion.
And that, in a roundabout way is the context in which we find Jesus sharing words with his disciples just before his betrayal and arrest. He had just bid farewell to Judas according to Johns Gospel, and now he turns his attention to the future. In doing so Jesus lays down his own Commandment, his own Law, his own instruction and framework for life
Of course, the New Testament is full of instructions for life, isnt it? Well, certainly the writers of the various letters and epistles had their say on the way that that the early Christians should live, and the way that the affairs of the fledgling Church should be conducted. But if you look hard in the Gospels I think you will find that although Jesus had a lot to say to his disciples, when it came to laying down the letter of the Law there were two (possibly three) Commandments that Jesus left by which his followers should base their lives.
"But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you."
John 14:15; "If you love me, you will do as I command."
John 14: 21; "If you love me, you will do what I have said, and my Father will love you."
John 15:10; "If you obey me, I will keep loving you, just as my Father keeps loving me, because I have obeyed him."
Matthew 28:19; "Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you."
Acts 10: 42; "God told us to announce clearly to the people that Jesus is the one he has chosen to judge the living and the dead."
1 John 3: 23; "God wants us to have faith in his Son Jesus Christ and to love each other. This is also what Jesus taught us to do."
As I see it, what it seems to boil down to is this: -
Rule 1: Love one another, as I have loved you
Rule 2: Go out into the world and spread the Good News
Rule 3; Obey rules one and two
Is it as simple as that? Could Jesus really have summed up the 600 + rules and regulations that governed the way people lived and breathed in such a succinct and simple way?
Of course, life is never that simple is it?
"Love one another" said Jesus. Well, thats not so bad. I get on all right with my family, work mates and close circle of friends, and those that I dont I can easily stay away from to avoid any sort of conflict. In fact I quite like the idea of avoiding conflict. Back to the 60s and Flower Power and all that sort of thing. That would be rather nice, rather cosy. I could deal with that.
Of course, loving is conditional - I would expect any love that I show to be returned in equal measure - thats only fair, after all. A bit of give and take is whats needed.
Oh, and spreading the Good News? I suppose I could get used to doing that, given the right set of circumstances of course and as long as it didnt involve me getting embarrassed.
Trouble is, if thats our attitude, and in a general sort of way that seems to be the attitude of the world at large, then weve totally missed the point of what Jesus was saying.
"But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you."
Its not simply a case of scattering a bit of concern and brotherly love around. Jesus told his disciples to love in the same way that he loved. They were to become imitators of Him. And why?
"If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples."
I said earlier that the Hebrew word torah means 'instruction' and it was intended to be a framework for life, a gift of grace so that Israel might become what they already were as the people of God. Jesus is saying very much the same thing here. His disciples must live out this new commandment in their lives so that they might become what was always intended for them, to be Gods people, Gods family.
Jesus came into a world that had distanced itself from God. He came to make it possible for mankind to enjoy a close relationship with the Creator once again, to return like the Prodigal Son into the open arms of a Heavenly Father who is the source of all Love. Into a world where the evidence of sin was in the brokenness of lives, Jesus came in order to enable those lives to be made right and whole again.
Loving as Jesus loved is not easy. Its not the superficial smile or casual query about someones health. Its not the giving up of your seat on the bus to someone older or disabled and feeling that youve done your good deed for the day (and how many times have we said that?)
Loving as Jesus loved is a sacrificial love. It is a love that gives and gives and continues giving without ever once asking for that love to be returned. It is a love that meets needs in people that wed rather not be involved with. It is a love that makes demands on our time, our resources and our lives. For needs dont happen at the most convenient times.
People dont always want a word of comfort or reassurance at a time that suits us. People dont always fall ill and need our prayer or assistance when its convenient to us. Jesus gave love where love was needed, even to the robber on the cross when Jesus himself was hanging in agony. Even at the point of death he gave love, as he asked forgiveness on those who had committed that terrible act.
Thats the love that Jesus calls his disciples to show to one another and to the world. They are to live out his love day by day in their lives, and if they do so then Jesus told them and indeed tells us " everyone will know that you are my disciples."
He also commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, to tell it out and teach it and show it. Theres a wonderful quote attributed to St Francis which Im probably misquoting, but goes something like this "Share the Good News of the Gospel, and if necessary use words."
If we live our lives as disciples, as followers of Christ; if we want to be known as members of Gods family - and if not perhaps we should seriously ask ourselves the question Why not? - then the Commandments that Jesus gave do make demands on our lives.
But unlike the Laws that the Pharisees imposed on the people, Jesus does not shackle us into obedience. The choice is ours. We can say "No thank you, Im quite happy here in my quiet little corner. Id rather not get any more involved that that, if you dont mind."
Or we can live out the Love of Jesus in our lives, and receive the blessings that come in return.
John14:21 "If you love me, you will do what I have said, and my Father will love you."
We can love and be loved; we can know what it is to belong to the family of God and know the love of our heavenly Father in our lives. But just remember that Jesus didnt give his disciples an option when he gave them that commandment. There was no It would be good if youd show a bit of kindness in the world.
You MUST love one another as I HAVE loved you.
Only then would the world see the difference, and only then would they know the difference in their lives.