“No One Has Love Greater Than This”
1-4. (a) What happens when Pilate presents Jesus to the angry mob gathered outside the governor’s palace? (b) How does Jesus respond to the humiliation and suffering, and what important questions are raised?
“LOOK! The man!” With those words, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate presents Jesus Christ to the angry mob gathered outside the governor’s palace in the morning on Passover of 33 C.E. (John 19:5) Just a few days earlier, Jesus was hailed by the crowds when he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the divinely appointed King. On this day, however, the hostile crowd has a very different view of him.
2 Jesus is decked with a purple robe like that worn by royalty, and he has a crown upon his head. But the robe, draped over the ribbons of bleeding flesh on his scourged back, and the crown, braided of thorns and pressed into his now-bloodied scalp, are in mockery of his royal status. The people, incited by the chief priests, reject the battered man standing before them. The priests shout: “To the stake with him! To the stake with him!” With murder in their hearts, the people cry out: “He ought to die.”—John 19:1-7.
3 With dignity and courage, Jesus endures the humiliation and suffering uncomplainingly.a He is fully prepared to die. Later that Passover Day, he willingly submits to a painful death on a torture stake.—John 19:17, 18, 30.
4 By surrendering his life, Jesus proved himself a real friend to his followers. “No one has love greater than this,” he said, “that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) That raises some important questions. Was it really necessary for Jesus to go through all that suffering and then to die? Why was he willing to do so? As “his friends” and followers, how can we imitate his example?
Why Was It Necessary for Jesus to Suffer and Die?
5. How did Jesus know the specific trials that awaited him?
5 As the promised Messiah, Jesus knew what to expect. He was aware of the many prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that foretold in detail the Messiah’s suffering and death. (Isaiah 53:3-7, 12; Daniel 9:26) More than once, he prepared his disciples for the trials that awaited him. (Mark 8:31; 9:31) On the way to Jerusalem for his final Passover, he specifically told his apostles: “The Son of man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to men of the nations, and these will mock him and spit on him and scourge him and kill him.” (Mark 10:33, 34) These were no empty words. As we have seen, Jesus was indeed made fun of, spit on, scourged, and killed.
6. Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer and die?
6 Why, though, was it necessary for Jesus to suffer and die? For several profoundly significant reasons. First, by keeping loyal, Jesus would prove his integrity and sanctify Jehovah’s name. Recall that Satan falsely claimed that humans serve God only out of selfish interest. (Job 2:1-5) By remaining faithful “to the point of death . . . on a torture stake,” Jesus gave the most conclusive answer possible to Satan’s baseless charge. (Philippians 2:8; Proverbs 27:11) Second, the Messiah’s suffering and death would provide atonement for the sins of others. (Isaiah 53:5, 10; Daniel 9:24) Jesus gave “his life as a ransom in exchange for many,” opening the way for us to have an approved relationship with God. (Matthew 20:28) Third, by enduring all manner of hardships and suffering, Jesus had been “tested in all respects as we have.” He is thus a compassionate High Priest, one who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses.”—Hebrews 2:17, 18; 4:15.
Why Was Jesus Willing to Give His Life?
7. How much did Jesus give up when he came to earth?
7 To put into perspective what Jesus was willing to do, think about this: What man would leave his family and home and move to a foreign land if he knew that most of its inhabitants would reject him, that he would be subjected to humiliation and suffering, and that he would finally be murdered? Consider now what Jesus did. Before coming to earth, he had a favored position in the heavens alongside his Father. Yet, Jesus willingly left his heavenly home and came to earth as a human. He made this move, knowing that he would be rejected by the majority and that he would be subjected to cruel humiliation, intense suffering, and a painful death. (Philippians 2:5-7) What motivated Jesus to make such a sacrifice?
8, 9. What motivated Jesus to surrender his life?
8 Above all, Jesus was impelled by deep love for his Father. Jesus’ endurance was evidence of his love for Jehovah. That love caused Jesus to be concerned about his Father’s name and reputation. (Matthew 6:9; John 17:1-6, 26) More than anything, Jesus wanted to see his Father’s name cleared of the reproach that had been heaped upon it. Jesus thus counted it the highest honor and privilege to suffer for righteousness’ sake, for he knew that his integrity would play a part in sanctifying his Father’s good and beautiful name.—1 Chronicles 29:13.
9 Jesus had another motive for laying down his life—love for humankind. This is a love that goes back to the very beginning of human history. Long before Jesus came to earth, the Bible reveals that he felt this way: “I was especially fond of the sons of men.” (Proverbs 8:30, 31) His love was clearly evident when he was on earth. As we saw in the preceding three chapters of this book, in many ways Jesus showed his love for humans in general and for his followers in particular. But on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., he willingly gave his life in our behalf. (John 10:11) Truly, there was no greater way for him to demonstrate his love for us. Are we to imitate him in this regard? Yes. In fact, we are commanded to do so.
“Love One Another . . . as I Have Loved You”
10, 11. What is the new commandment that Jesus gave his followers, what does it involve, and why is it important that we obey it?
10 The night before he died, Jesus told his closest disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples—if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) “Love one another”—why is that “a new commandment”? The Mosaic Law had already commanded: “You must love your fellow man [or, neighbor] as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) But the new commandment calls for a greater love, a love that would move us to give our own life in behalf of others. Jesus himself made this clear when he said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:12, 13) The new commandment, in effect, says: “Love others, not as yourself, but more than yourself.” By his life and death, Jesus certainly exemplified such love.
11 Why is it important that we obey the new commandment? Recall that Jesus said: “By this [self-sacrificing love] all will know that you are my disciples.” Yes, self-sacrificing love identifies us as true Christians. We might compare this love to an identification badge. Delegates attending the annual conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses wear badge cards. The card identifies the wearer, showing his name and congregation. Self-sacrificing love for one another is the “badge” that identifies genuine Christians. In other words, the love we show one another should be so noticeable that it would serve as a sign, or badge, telling observers that we are indeed true followers of Christ. Each of us does well to ask himself, ‘Is the “badge” of self-sacrificing love evident in my life?’
Self-Sacrificing Love—What Does It Involve?
12, 13. (a) How far must we be willing to go to demonstrate our love for one another? (b) What does it mean to be self-sacrificing?
12 As followers of Jesus, we need to love one another as he loved us. This means being willing to make sacrifices for fellow believers. How far must we be willing to go? The Bible tells us: “By this we have come to know love, because that one surrendered his life for us, and we are under obligation to surrender our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16) Like Jesus, we must be willing to die for one another if necessary. In times of persecution, we would rather sacrifice our own life than betray our spiritual brothers and thus endanger their lives. In lands divided by racial or ethnic strife, we would risk our own lives to protect our brothers, regardless of their racial or ethnic background. When nations go to war, we would sooner face imprisonment or even death than take up weapons against fellow believers—or anyone else for that matter.—John 17:14, 16; 1 John 3:10-12.
13 Being willing to lay down our life for our brothers is not the only way to show self-sacrificing love. After all, few of us are ever called upon to make such a great sacrifice. However, if we love our brothers enough to die for them, should we not be willing to make smaller sacrifices, going out of our way to help them now? To be self-sacrificing means to give up our own advantage or comfort for the benefit of others. We put their needs and welfare ahead of our own even if it is not convenient. (1 Corinthians 10:24) In what practical ways can we show self-sacrificing love?
In the Congregation and in the Family
14. (a) Elders are called upon to make what sacrifices? (b) How do you feel about the hardworking elders in your congregation?
14 Congregation elders make many sacrifices to “shepherd the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2, 3) In addition to looking after their own families, they may need to take time during evenings or on weekends to care for congregation matters, including preparing meeting parts, making shepherding calls, and handling judicial cases. Many elders make additional sacrifices, working hard at assemblies and conventions and serving as members of Hospital Liaison Committees or Patient Visitation Groups. Others serve as Local Design/Construction volunteers. Elders, never forget that by serving with a willing spirit—spending your time, energy, and resources shepherding the flock—you are showing self-sacrificing love. (2 Corinthians 12:15) Your unselfish efforts are appreciated not only by Jehovah but also by the congregation you shepherd.—Philippians 2:29; Hebrews 6:10.
15. (a) What are some of the sacrifices made by the wives of elders? (b) How do you feel about the supportive wives who share their husbands with your congregation?
15 What, though, about the wives of elders—do not these supportive women also make sacrifices so that their husbands can take care of the flock? Surely it is a sacrifice for a wife when her husband needs to devote to congregation matters time that he might otherwise spend with his family. Think, too, of the wives of circuit overseers and the sacrifices they make to accompany their husbands from congregation to congregation and from circuit to circuit. They forgo having a home of their own and perhaps at times have to sleep in a different bed each week. Wives who willingly put the interests of the congregation ahead of their own are to be commended for their generous expressions of self-sacrificing love.—Philippians 2:3, 4.
16. Christian parents make what sacrifices for their children?
16 How can we show self-sacrificing love in the family? Parents, you make many sacrifices to provide for your children and to bring them up “in the discipline and admonition of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) You may have to work long hours at exhausting jobs just to put food on the table and to be sure that your children have adequate clothing and shelter. You would rather do with less for yourself than see your children deprived of life’s necessities. You also expend much effort to study with your children, take them to Christian meetings, and work along with them in the field ministry. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) Your self-sacrificing love pleases the Originator of family life and may mean everlasting life for your children.—Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 3:14, 15.
17. How can Christian husbands imitate the unselfish attitude of Jesus?
17 Husbands, how can you imitate Jesus in showing self-sacrificing love? The Bible answers: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and gave himself up for it.” (Ephesians 5:25) As we have seen, Jesus loved his followers so much that he died for them. A Christian husband imitates the unselfish attitude of Jesus, who “did not please himself.” (Romans 15:3) Such a husband willingly puts his wife’s needs and interests before his own. He does not rigidly insist on having his own way, but he shows a willingness to yield when there is no Scriptural issue involved. The husband who shows self-sacrificing love gains Jehovah’s approval and wins the love and respect of his wife and children.
What Will You Do?
18. What motivates us to follow the new commandment to love one another?
18 Obeying the new commandment to love one another is not an easy course to follow, but we have a powerful motivation for doing so. Paul wrote: “The love the Christ has compels us, because this is what we have concluded, that one man died for all . . . , and he died for all so that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised up.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15) Since Jesus died for us, should we not feel compelled to live for him? We can do that by following his example of self-sacrificing love.
19, 20. What precious gift has Jehovah given us, and how can we show that we accept it?
19 Jesus was not exaggerating when he said: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) His willingness to surrender his life in our behalf was the greatest expression of his love for us. Yet, someone else has shown us even greater love. Jesus explained: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) God loves us so much that he gave his Son as a ransom, making it possible for us to be delivered from sin and death. (Ephesians 1:7) The ransom is a precious gift from Jehovah, but he does not force us to accept it.
20 It is up to us to accept Jehovah’s gift. How? By “exercising faith” in his Son. Faith, however, is not just words. It is proved by actions, by the way we live. (James 2:26) We prove our faith in Jesus Christ by following him day after day. Doing so will bring rich blessings now and in the future, as the final chapter of this book will explain.
a Twice that day Jesus was spit on, first by the religious leaders and then by the Roman soldiers. (Matthew 26:59-68; 27:27-30) Even this contemptuous treatment, he took without complaining, fulfilling the prophetic words: “I did not hide my face from humiliating things and from spit.”—Isaiah 50:6.