Incarnate Love: A Sermon for Maundy Thursday on St. John 13:1–15, 34-35

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Sermon audio here.

During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper (St. John 13:2–4a).

So here’s Jesus, sitting around the table having what appeared to be a perfectly nice meal with His disciples. But He knew better. Things aren’t always as they seem. Satan had already put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus. Before the night is through, Satan will enter into Judas and join them all for dinner.

Now you can’t tell by looking at someone if they’re possessed by Satan, but make no mistake about it: every sinful act is the work of Satan. Christians love to talk about how they have they’re filled with the Holy Spirit, but that’s not all they’re full of. Last time I checked, selfishness wasn’t a fruit of the Spirit. Neither is gossip. Or holding grudges. Ever have an unclean thought? Say or do something evil? That’s the bitter fruit of Satan.

The pagans aren’t the ones who need to worry about Satan, it’s you. Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel next door. On Maundy Thursday, Satan found himself a place at the Lord’s Table.

So what did Jesus do? He was more than aware of what was about to happen: “Jesus, knowing… [that He] was going back to God, rose from supper.” Of course He rose from supper! Who could just sit there? If you knew one of your closest friends had sold you into the hands of murders, who would just sit there and make small talk?

Let’s say you even had evidence that your friend was about to betray you: maybe you overheard a conversation about it or found your name etched on the blade of the knife that would ultimately be used to stab you in the back. Who, when faced with the prospect of being murdered and had the evidence to stop it wouldn’t call the police and let justice be served?

Our Lord, that’s who. He could have called upon His Father and He would have at once sent Him twelve legions of angels (St. Matthew 26:53). Jesus rose from supper, but it wasn’t to get help. Instead, knowing full well what was going to happen,

He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him (St. John 13:4–5).

Jesus was about to die, but only so that His enemies might live. Our Lord’s only problem on Maundy Thursday was figuring out how to use every last moment to show His enemies how much He loved them. Jesus doesn’t just feel love; He shows it.

Christian love isn’t something you feel in your heart. Christian love is always embodied in action, and it’s a love that does not discriminate. When your so-called “love” remains locked up in your heart, or when you only show that love to your friends, Satan will say to you: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”

Jesus doesn’t say, “I died on the cross for your sins, so it’s all good. Do what you like! You just keep sinning, and I’ll keep forgiving.” No. He says, “Do the impossible.” “You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (St. Matthew 5:48).

Say what you will about the Catholics being legalists. Nobody knows quite how to abuse the Gospel like Lutherans. If you don’t care about sin or living a holy life, you aren’t a Christian, much less a Lutheran. Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples,” (St. John 13:35).

Hypocrites can wear beautiful gold crosses or go to church. The weeds grow right along with the wheat (St. Matthew 13:24–30). You can fake faith (at least when it comes to other people; God isn’t buying your act.), but you can’t fake repaying evil with good.

And that’s what Jesus has done for you in Holy Baptism. That’s what He continues to do for you tonight at His altar. You have repaid His goodness with sin after sin, but still Jesus continues to demonstrate His love for a congregation filled with Judases. Here He forgives your betrayal, washing you clean again and again and again. Jesus loves you, and He never leaves you to wonder about it. His love is an Incarnate love; it’s always embodied in action.

So what shall you render to the Lord for all His benefits to you? (Psalm 116:12). Don’t take His grace for granted. Don’t believe Satan’s lie that love is a feeling. As St. Paul says (Romans 12:9–21):

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.1Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. John 13:1–15, 34-35
Maundy Thursday, 2015: “Incarnate Love”
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Immanuel, Hodgkins:
Steadfast Throwdown:
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