There was a house in ancient Jerusalem, near the center of town, which had a large upper-story guest room. The room was well furnished and perfectly suited for a private gathering. We don’t know much else about the house, and nothing really about the owner, but it was at that house, on the eve of his death, that Jesus enjoyed his last supper with his disciples. It was Thursday. He would be killed on Friday.
During that meal, the erstwhile Feast of the Passover, Jesus was present and attentive like he always was when he was with his friends. But there was something markedly different about him. Sure he ate and drank. He talked and listened. But as he leaned his left arm on the table, as was the custom, and with his right, he dipped his bread into the dish of oil, he shared the same bowl with the man who would betray him.
This was an incredibly painful moment. Jesus presumably locked eyes with the man who would hand him over to be killed, doing so in the most deceptive and disarming of ways: with a kiss. The evangelist, John, tells us that this whole ordeal left Jesus “deeply troubled” (John 13:21).
But Jesus did not have hatred in his heart. He did not let evil determine the agenda of the evening. In fact, it was on that same night that Jesus humbly washed his disciples’ feet and issued them this imperative. “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” (John 13:34).
The Thursday of Holy Week is commonly referred to as Maundy Thursday. This comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means “command” or “mandate.” On this day we reflect on Jesus’ mandate to “love one another.” We might call it “Command Thursday.”
But the command is only part of the equation. More importantly, we are also reminded of the love that Jesus has for us: “Love one another,” Jesus says, “just as I have loved you.” And how did Jesus love?
Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung says this: “There was never any love like the dying love of Jesus. It is tender and sweet. It serves. It loves even unto death. Jesus had nothing to gain from us by loving us. There was nothing in us to draw us to him. But he loved us still, while we were yet sinners. At the Last Supper, in the garden, at his betrayal, facing the Jewish leaders, before Pontius Pilate, being scourged, carrying his cross, being nailed to the wood, breathing his dying breath, forsaken by God—he loved us. To the end.”
The mandate that Jesus issues in John 13 is a command that should be remembered this Holy Week and obeyed in perpetuity. But it is an imperative that can only be followed if we understand, receive, and are empowered by the love that Jesus has for us. Unless we are resting in the unchanging affection of Christ, we will be unable to love those who wrong us, despise us, and use us for their advancement. But when we receive by faith the benefits of Jesus’ cross work, namely the unalterable approval of God in Christ, we are then enabled to love others, and thereby fulfill the “new” command that Jesus issued on the eve of his death.
May God deepen our grasp of that love this week, as we consider the death, burial and triumphant resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
Resting in Him,