The Lord Jesus Christ has come down from the Father in heaven to love you. And He does. He has, and He will, even to the end.
Consider that His Father has given all things into His hands. And then consider what He does. He uses what He has to serve you in love. He comes down from heaven, and He gets down on His hands and knees, in order to serve you with His own hard work and the fruits of His sacrifice.
Although you’ve heard it all a thousand times, realize just how remarkable all of this really is. The almighty and eternal Son of the living God, in flesh and blood like yours, hands Himself over to His death upon the Cross. And even as He does so, He cleanses His disciples of their sins with water and His Word; He gives them His Body to eat, and pours out His Blood for them to drink.
He does such remarkable things for these men who bicker and compete with one another, who will abandon Him and scatter when it all goes down. He does what He does for Simon Peter, who will deny that he even knows this Man. He loves and serves even Judas Iscariot, who is betraying Him.
This is the Glory of God in Christ: To love and serve sinners. To love and serve even you.
From the beginning to the bitter end — which is really not the end but the beginning of a new creation in the crucified and risen Body of Christ — everything proceeds in divine love, which far-and-away surpasses whatever this old world calls “love” and thinks it understands by that word.
It is solely for the sake of His divine love that the only-begotten Son of God has become true Man, and humbled Himself as the Servant of all men, becoming obedient even to the point of death.
All of this He has done for you and all, while you were yet His sworn and bitter enemy in your sin.
It is likewise in His love for you that He has made you God’s own child in your Baptism. In love that He returns you daily to the cleansing waters of Baptism through the forgiveness of your sins. And in love that He feeds you with His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion.
Everything proceeds in love, and everything centers in the Cross and Passion of this Lord Jesus Christ. For He is the Passover Lamb of God who has been given in your place and sacrificed for your sins. And He is the firstborn Son who is put to death, in order to bring you out of Egypt.
You are baptized into His death, in order to be raised with Him in His Resurrection to newness of life through the forgiveness of all your sins. So also, by His Word of the Gospel, especially by His Word of Holy Absolution, He washes your feet and restores you to fellowship with Himself.
So it is that you are His disciple and His friend, and a member of His Body and Bride — the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church — by these ways and means of His steadfast love for you.
And as you thus belong to Him by grace, so also love your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves you.
In point of fact, this is no optional matter. It is the Lord’s Commandment, and He’s not joking. For love is of God, and the one who does not love, does not know God.
If you are a disciple of Christ Jesus, then come down off your pedestal, and love and serve your neighbor in peace. Set aside your own interests, let go your privileges, and use your prerogatives to help your neighbor, instead of spending all of your time and energy taking care of yourself.
And do not even think of saying, “It’s not fair,” in light of the Cross of your Lord Jesus Christ!
Of course, it is one thing to love your own family and friends, which is often just another sort of selfishness. But you are to regard all of your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus as your own dear family. And you are to befriend the stranger and alien, the widow and orphan, the down and out, and, in short, everyone for whom your Teacher and Lord gave His life. So that excludes no one.
You are to love the person who snubs or insults you; the person who ignores you, picks on you, or hurts you; the person who has no use for you, and the person who stabs you in the back.
Not simply with pious platitudes and polite formalities, but with genuine, self-sacrificing service. Not begrudgingly, with a chip on your shoulder, but gladly and willingly, for love’s sake — for Jesus’ sake. Not expecting anything in return, nor with any sort of conditions or contingencies.
This is how the love of Jesus works and lives. This is how He loves you and all of your neighbors. And as He lives and loves in you by grace, the world will see and know that you are His disciple; that you belong to Him; that He is your Teacher, and that you are His good and faithful student.
But if you do not love your neighbor: Repent. I’m not talking about your feelings, but about your words and actions. If you do not love your neighbor in deed and truth, as the Lord Jesus loves you and has commanded you to love: Repent. Do not suppose that it is a small or incidental matter. Your lack of love is sinful, a fruit of unbelief, and left unchecked it will devour and destroy you.
Judas loved money more than God or man, and you have heard and know how his selfish greed opened his heart to the devil, so that he betrayed the very Lord who lavished such love upon him.
How often is money your priority? Or some other interest a greater demand than your neighbor?
Do not imagine that you are beyond temptation, or that you could never fall from grace. Instead, repent of all your sins, and flee to the Lord Jesus Christ, who washes your feet with His Gospel.
No slave is greater than his Master. No student is greater than his Teacher. You will never learn to love your neighbor, nor will you be able to do so, except by the love of God in Christ for you.
Learn from this Holy Gospel, and bear in mind, that God’s love for you in Christ is not some cozy feeling in the air or in your heart. And His love for you is not a one-shot deal, once upon a time.
Christ Jesus loves you with His Gospel, His Word and Sacrament, His means of grace. As He loved you by His death upon the Cross, so does He now love you by the fruits of His Cross: By the preaching of His Gospel; by His spoken Word of Absolution; by the prevailing waters of your Baptism; and by His Body given and His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins.
It is by and with these means of grace that Jesus loves you. Not because you are good, nor because of your good intentions, but solely for the sake of His own Love. Because Love is who He is.
He loves you with these means of grace by forgiving all of your sins. And with that forgiveness of sins, He renews and strengthens your faith, and He teaches you, as well, to love your neighbor.
Peter was at first ashamed to have the Lord Jesus wash his feet. Then from one extreme to the other, he wanted more than what his Lord had spoken. How difficult it is to accept and be content with the simple means of grace that Jesus provides! And yet, Peter needed the loving service of his Lord Jesus, even more than he knew or could bring himself to admit on that night.
Learn from that example, that you should repent of yourself and your sins and rely upon the Lord and His Word to you. Be neither too ashamed nor too proud to be served by the Lord Jesus in the ways that He has chosen to love and serve you. Do not think yourself too good to need Him, nor think yourself too bad to be worthy of Him. It is no question of your worthiness, but of His love.
If you do not love your neighbor: Repent. But do not despair. Rather, return to the Lord your God, to your dear Savior, Jesus Christ, who is the Wellspring of Life and the Fountain of all true Love.
In His love for you is the forgiveness of all your sins. And in His love for you is your strength and your song, your life, and your salvation. For He has opened His great heart of love to you, to bring you out of Egypt, to lead you safely through the desert, and to gather you into Paradise forever.
His love for you does not falter or fail. Even in the face of your betrayal, denial, and fear, your lack of love, and whatever other failure you have made, He washes your feet, and He feeds you.
Indeed, with such a Meal does He feed you! His own Body given for you. His own Blood poured out for you. Here is divine Love in the flesh, in Person, and for you. Here is Love that never ends.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.