The last thing the young disciples wanted to hear as they sat with Jesus in the Upper Room was the burdensome responsibility of one more commandment. After all, there were more than six hundred Old Testament laws and commandments to memorize and observe already. You can almost hear the disciples asking the question under their collective breath, “Is this it? Is this the culmination of more than three years of following Jesus? Has he been leading us along just to crush us under the weight of another commandment?” But on this night, everything changed. And it wasn’t just because of what Jesus said.
The euphoria of that first Easter morning originated in the trembling, foul-smelling shadows of a dark cave that first Christmas. The Word became flesh by being born in the lowliest delivery room. As the Apostle Paul beautifully articulated in Philippians 2, Jesus emptied himself by being born in the likeness of men (vs. 5-6). But his birth was just the beginning of his humiliation, leading ultimately to the cross where he was obedient to the point of death.
To be sure, what Jesus declared in the Upper Room was not just the formal introduction of another commandment. It was, and is, the fundamental essence and resounding heartbeat of God Himself. It is the supreme virtue and most valuable currency in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the skeleton key that unlocks every heart, exposes every motive, vanquishes every heartache, and grieves with every tear.
“A new commandment I give to you,” Jesus began, “that you love one another.” Rather than leaving the definition of love in the hands of those who would selfishly attempt to transpose its essential meaning, Jesus added the following qualifier: “As I have loved you.” The child born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph entered the world as a humble demonstration of both the genius and majesty of a loving, heavenly Father. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Galatians 4:4). Eternity lovingly conspired to bring about this moment in history.
By his birth, life and death, Jesus changed love from a noun to a verb. And then he made love into a commandment, superseding and fulfilling all others.
Why is loving one another at the center of Jesus’ great command? Notice that Jesus didn’t leverage his equality with God to stir us to loving action. He anchored his new commandment to his example. “Just as I have loved you,” he reminded the disciples. In the end, it’s Jesus’ love for you, not just his authority over you, that leads you to repentance.
The disciples didn’t see Jesus seated at the right hand of God. They saw him hanging from a Roman cross. To those feeble, unremarkable men, Jesus powerfully demonstrated the purest definition of love imaginable: you before me. Armed with the sacrificial example of Christ, those men changed the world with the message of the Gospel. As you quietly and prayerfully reflect on the serenity of the nativity this Christmas, linger long enough in that moment to hear the loving voice of God’s son whisper to your heart, “You before me.”