Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world to the Father…
The text should perhaps read "to the uttermost" — expressing the depth and degree rather than the permanence of our Lord's love. It is much to know that the emotions of these last moments did not interrupt Christ's love. It is even more to know that in some sense they perfected it. So understood, the words explain for us the foot washing, the marvellous discourses, and the climax of all that High-Priestly prayer.
I. Look at that love as A LOVE WHICH, WAS NOT INTERRUPTED, BUT PERFECTED BY THE PROSPECT OF SEPARATION.
1. "He knew that His hour was come." All His life was passed under the consciousness of a Divine necessity laid upon Him, to which He cheerfully yielded Himself. On His lips there are no words more significant, and few more frequent, than "I must!" And all through His life He declares Himself conscious of the hours which mark the several crises of His mission. No external power can coerce Him to any act till the hour come, or hinder Him from the act when it comes. And thus, at the last and supreme moment, to Him it dawned unquestionable and irrevocable. How did He meet it? "Father! save Me from this hour Yet for this cause came I unto this hour." There is a strange, triumphant joy that blends with the shrinking that the decisive hour is at last come.
2. Mark, too, the form which the consciousness took. The agony, the shame, the mysterious burden of a world's sins that were to be laid upon Him; all these elements are submerged in the one thought of leaving behind all the limitations, humiliations, and compelled association with evil which, like a burning brand laid upon a tender skin, was an hourly agony to Him, and soaring above them all, unto His own calm home, His habitation from eternity with the Father.
3. This marvellous consciousness is set forth here as the basis and the reason for a special tenderness, as He thought of the impending separation.
(1) Does this not help us to realize how truly flesh of our flesh, and bearing a heart thrilling with all innocent human emotions that Divine Saviour was? We, too, have known what it is to feel, because of approaching separation from dear ones, the need for a tenderer tenderness. At such moments the masks of use and wont drop away, and we are eager to find some word, to put our whole souls into some look, our whole strength into one clinging embrace that may express all our love, and may be a joy to two hearts forever after to remember. The Master knew that longing, and felt the pain of separation; and He, too, yielded to the human impulse which makes the thought of parting the key to unlock the hidden chambers of the most jealously-guarded heart, and let the shyest of its emotions come out for once into the daylight. So, "knowing that His hour was come, He loved them then unto the uttermost."(2) But amidst all the parting scenes that the world's literature has enshrined, there are none that can be set by the side of this supreme and unique instance of self-oblivion. This Man who was susceptible of all human affections, and loved us with a love like our own human affection, had also more than a man's heart to give, and gave us more, when, that He might comfort and sustain, He crushed down Himself and went to the Cross with words of tenderness and consolation and encouragement for others upon His lips.
(3) And if the prospect only sharpened and perfected His love, the reality has no power to do aught else. In the glory, when He reached it, He poured out the same loving heart; and today He looks down upon us with the same face that bent over that table, and the same love flows to us. "Knowing that He goes to the Father, He loves to the uttermost," and being with the A LOVE WHICH IS FAITHFUL TO THE OBLIGATIONS OF ITS OWN PAST Father, He still so loves.
II. HAVING LOVED, HE LOVES. That is an argument that implies Divinity. About nothing human can we say because it has been therefore it shall be. Alas! we have to say the converse, because it has been, therefore it will cease to be. They tell us that the great sun itself, pouring out its rays exhausts its warmth, and were it not continually replenished must gradually, and even though continually replenished, will one day be a dead, cold mass of ashes. But this heart of Christ, which is the Sun of the World, shall endure after the sun is cold. He pours it out and there is none the less to give. "Thy mercy endureth forever."
III. A LOVE WHICH HAS SPECIAL TENDERNESS TOWARDS ITS OWN. These poor men, who, with all their errors, did cleave to Him; who, in some dim way, understood somewhat of His greatness and His sweetness — and do you and I do more? — were they to have no special place in His heart because in that heart the whole world lay? Surely, because the sun shines down upon dunghills and all impurities, that is no reason why it should not lie with special brightness on the polished mirror that reflects its lustre. Surely, because Christ loves the outcasts and the sinners, that is no reason why He should not bend with special tenderness over those who, loving Him, try to serve Him, and have set their whole hopes upon Him. The rainbow strides across the sky, but there is a rainbow in every little dew drop that hangs glistening on the blades of grass. And there is nothing sectional, narrow in the proclamation of a special tenderness of Christ towards His own, when you accompany with that truth this other, that all men are besought by Him to come into that circle of "His own," and that only they themselves shut any men out therefrom. The whole world dwells in His love. But there is an inner chamber in which He discovers all His heart to those who find in that heart their heaven and their all. "He came to His own," in the wider sense of the word, and "His own received Him not;" but also, "having loved His own He loved them unto the end." There are textures and lines which can only absorb some of the rays of light in the spectrum; some that are only capable of taking, so to speak, the violet rays of judgment and of wrath, and some who open their hearts for the ruddy brightness at the other end of the line.
IV. A LOVE MADE SPECIALLY TENDER BY THE NECESSITIES AND THE DANGERS OF ITS FRIENDS. "Which were in the world." We have, running through the discourses which follow, many allusions to His leaving His followers in circumstances of peculiar peril. "I come unto Thee, and am no more in the world, but these are in the world. Keep them through Thine own name." The same contrast between the certain security of the Shepherd and the troubles of the flock seems to be in the text, and suggests a reason for the special tenderness with which He looked upon them. As a dying father on his deathbed may yearn over orphans that he is leaving defenceless, so Christ here is represented as conscious of an accession even to the tender longings of His heart when He thought of the loneliness and the dangers to which His followers were to be exposed. It seems a strange contrast between the emperor, sitting throned there between the purple curtains, and the poor athletes wrestling in the arena below. It seems strange to think that a loving Master has gone up into the mountain, and has left His disciples to toil in rowing on the stormy sea of life; but the contrast is only apparent. For you and I, if we love and trust Him, are with Him in the heavenly places even whilst we toil here, and He is with us, working with us even whilst He sitteth at the right hand of God. We may be sure of this, that that love ever increases its manifestations according to our deepening necessities. The darker the night the more lustrous the stars. The deeper, the narrower, the savager, the Alpine gorge, usually the fuller and the swifter the stream that runs through it. And the mere enemies and fears gather round about us the sweeter will be the accents of our Comforter's voice, and the fuller will be the gifts of tenderness and grace with which He draws near to us. Our sorrows, dangers, necessities, are doors through which His love can come nigh.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
WEB: Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his time had come that he would depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.