Vicar Joel Hering – Easter 6 – May 21, 2017 – John 14:15-21
Comforting Promises for a Problematic Command
15“If you love me, keep my commands. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Conditionals can be very disheartening. A conditional is an if-then statement. If this is true, then this happens. These if-then statements can really bring you down. For example, “if you are smart, you will get an A+ on the test.” So if you don’t get an A+, does that mean you are not smart? Or “if you are a talented sports player, you will win.” So if you lose, does that mean you are not talented? Or how about this, “if you work hard, you will make lots of money.” So if your bank account is not as big as you would like it to be, that would mean that you are not a hard worker. See what I mean, conditional statements can be very disheartening. In the Gospel for today, Jesus gives to his disciples and us a conditional statement. “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (v 15). At first glance this conditional is disheartening, but Jesus does not just give his disciples this conditional statement. He gives this seemingly problematic command with comforting promises. He promises to enable his disciples to love him, and promises that they are members of the loving family. I pray that as we look at what Jesus tells us, you will be comforted instead of disheartened by the conditional sentence Jesus gives to you.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” It sounds like work righteousness. If you do good, you will be saved. But that is not at all what Jesus is saying here. We have to look at the context, the words before and after this statement, to understand what Jesus is saying. Jesus said this to his disciples Maundy Thursday night, right before he was arrested, put on trial, and crucified. So in these last few hours with his disciples, Jesus wanted to comfort them. The heading over chapter 14 is “Jesus comforts his disciples.” So to comfort his disciples he says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command?” This is anything but comforting. In fact, it must have been terrifying for the disciples. The disciples would have been quick to say, “Of course, Jesus, we love you,” but looking at their past or soon into the future, they would be afraid. They did not always keep Jesus’ command and only a few short hours later, they would abandon him when he needed them the most. Since they did not obey what he commands, then the conclusion would be, they do not love Jesus. Those who do not love Jesus are going to hell. How can this conditional statement be comforting?
Do you love Jesus? Of course you do. He died for your sins. He suffered hell, so you wouldn’t have to. He has given you eternal life in paradise. All of this is a free gift to you, the greatest gift of all time. You need to do nothing to earn it. How could anyone not love Jesus? But then why don’t you obey his commands? Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” I know you obey Jesus’ command sometimes, but not all of the time. Even as a baptized child of God, you still let yourself fall into sin. I don’t know about you, but I get so ashamed of myself because of my sin. Despair and sorrow creep over me, because no matter how hard I try, I just can’t always keep Jesus’ commands. Do I not love Jesus? The evidence would say no. My guess is that it is the same for you.
But remember, in this section, Jesus comforts his disciples, so listen to his comforting words. Jesus then said, 16“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” Jesus did not just say “If you love me, you will obey what I command, good luck. He enabled the disciples to keep his commandments by promising them the Holy Spirit. The nickname for the Holy Spirit is the shy member of the Trinity because we don’t hear or see him in action as much as the Father and the Son, so I think we don’t realize how amazing and comforting the Holy Spirit is. The Holy Spirit is another helper. The Greek word used here is Παράκλητον or Paraclete which means “one called to the side of.” The Holy Spirit is called to come to the side of people to help them and guide them. And the Holy Spirit is not a new or different helper, he is another helper which means there was a first helper, Jesus. Jesus was there at the side of the disciples to show them how to obey his commandments and guide them. Now the Holy Spirit is another helper to do the same thing for the disciples. He is there to guide them and show them how to obey Jesus’ commandments. Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to them to enable them to obey his commandments because they could not do so on their own.
Jesus also gives you the Holy Spirit enabling you to keep Jesus’ commandments. It is like this. Some of you know that our member Jerry Rovey has a large cotton farm. Imagine if he hired you to pick by hand an entire field of cotton by the end of the day. That would be impossible on your own. But then he gives you the keys to his tractor which picks and packages the cotton and the tractor has automated GPS driving. All of a sudden, picking a whole field on your own becomes doable. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has given you the Holy Spirit to help you do the task of obeying Jesus’ commands. Galatians 5:22-23 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the fulfillment of Jesus’ commands. Jesus commanded you to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor. He also commanded you to pray, believe, and share the gospel, repent of your sins, and hold to the truth. All of these commands are impossible for you to keep on our own, but Jesus has graciously given you his Holy Spirit who enables you to obey his commands.
And Jesus does not stop there with his comforting words; he promises that he, too, will enable his disciples to obey his commandments. He said, 18“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” I love the picture Jesus paints for his disciples. He will not abandon them like orphans. Your heart goes out to orphans not only because they are left all alone, but also because they are left lacking love, shelter, and a family. But Jesus promised his disciples he would not abandon them and leave them lacking. Jesus would come to them enabling them to obey his commandments. Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live.” This is another comforting promise of Jesus enabling his disciples to obey his commands. Because Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples, too, would live eternally and spiritually. A dead person can do nothing, but a person who is alive can. The disciples were made spiritually alive because Jesus lived. And because they were spiritually alive, they could obey his commandments.
Jesus does not leave you as orphans, either, as you show your love to him by keeping his commands. Even when you fail, you can see Jesus and his work in Scripture. He paid for all of your sins even when you failed to keep his commands. He rose from the dead making you spiritually alive. You are not dead making it impossible to do anything that pleases God. You are alive through faith to obey the commands of Jesus.
When Jesus said, if you love me you will obey my commands, he did not say this to dishearten you. He said it to encourage you. Your salvation does not depend on your obedience of the law. Your salvation depends on Jesus who has already given you salvation. Instead of thinking, “if I don’t keep Jesus’ commands, then I must not love Jesus,” think, “it is because I love Jesus so much, I keep his commands with the help of the Holy Spirit living in me and Jesus who has made me alive.”
Jesus promised to enable the disciples to keep his commands. He then gives them the motivation to keep his commands. Jesus said, 20“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” Look at the relationships Jesus talks about. I am in my Father; you are in me; I am in you. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father; I will love them, too. In other words, we are all one big loving family. Jesus has died and paid the debt in full for all of your sins. You are now a child of God, loved by God. And families show love to each other. I can remember my Dad telling us kids, “When mom is happy, Dad is happy, and when Mom and Dad are happy, everybody is happy.” Usually he would tell us that right before giving us a long list of chores to do, but instead of grudgingly doing them, we would be happy to do them because we knew it would make mom happy. It was our way to show our love to our mom. The same is true in the family of God. We want to obey Jesus’ commands because it makes God happy. It is how we can show our love to God and Jesus. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father.” Now we can see that Jesus’ command to obey his commandments was not to earn our salvation, it is a comforting command giving us a way to show our love to God. And when God’s children do this, it makes the Father happy. Because we love Jesus, we will obey what he commands.
Now, I don’t want any of you coming up to me after the service all upset saying, “I thought it says in the Bible, we love because he first loved us, but here it says, the one who loves will be loved by the Father. So which comes first, God’s love for us or our love for God? Is the Bible disagreeing with itself? Let me just answer that question now. God’s love comes first and after. God first loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for our sins. But when we love God by obeying his commandments as his dearly loved children, he loves it because it pleases him. It is just like how mom loves her children all the time but loves it when they vacuum the house, wash the dishes, and have supper ready before she gets home from work. How amazing is God’s eternal love for us that he would send his Son to take away the punishment for all of our sins, even when we disobey Jesus’ commands as children of God. Doesn’t that just motive you to show your love to God by obeying what Jesus commands? And guess what, God loves it when you do.
Thanks to the promises of Jesus, his conditional statement is no longer a problematic command. If you love me, you will obey my commandments. Jesus enables us to love him by making us spiritually alive and giving us the Holy Spirit to do just that, keep his commandments. And we are motivated to keep his commandments because that’s what family does, they love each other. So as you live your life, take advantage of the opportunity to show your love by obeying Jesus’ commands. Amen