Text: John 14:15-21
Date: Easter VI + 5/21/17
In the annual celebration of Easter Christians are to learn that faith is not only a nice set of religious principles to be followed but is rather a living, active thing that changes us and gives life. St. Paul drew otherwise knowledgeable people in Athens from their blind religion of mere human philosophies to faith in the one and only true God, unknown to them until Paul spoke the word of God, telling of the Creator, Sustainer and Savior of all pointing to the man Jesus who died but was raised from the dead. That is, this thing called faith is actually how God Himself dwells in us, renews and strengthens us. It is not something we somehow conjure up in ourselves on our own, but is the result of God the Holy Spirit commandeering our spirit, mind and soul, enlightening us through the truth of God’s word as we prayed in today’s Introit, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). It is Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ that opens our hearts and minds to be able to hear, to understand and believe the Gospel.
Anyone can read and inspect the facts of God’s acts throughout history in the Bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments without discovering and understanding that none of it makes much sense or difference until you discover that it is all about how God loves His world and specifically how God loves you.
That’s why in this Easter season, having heard of Jesus’ resurrection as attested to by the first disciples, we now go back to retrace Jesus’ teaching and words, once only confusing and mysterious to us, now with the key to understanding them, namely, the resurrection. Last week we began to revisit Jesus’ words on the night He was betrayed, that Holy Thursday before His sacrifice where He tells us that He goes to prepare a place for us and will come again to take us to Himself, as He said, “that where I am you may be also.” Today we continue to hear His words from that holy night. In these words He is preparing us to learn what it means to live as His disciples though we do not see Him. He tells us that He is sending the Holy Spirit and in this way He Himself will be with us to the end of the age. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, is at the same time the Spirit of Christ and His Father.
Today He uses a word that may be confusing at first. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” Of course, love is a huge word. But that’s not the word that tripped me up. Rather, what does Jesus mean by keeping “my commandments”? The word can also be translated “precepts.” We might be tempted to file through the words of His teaching and begin to list as His commandments things like, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” and “Love one another” as He said that night, first demonstrating it in the simple task of washing His disciple’s feet, but then most of all in His giving of His life for His friends on the cross. But if we try to make a list of Jesus’ commands where does it end? And even if we have a nice tidy list, like a “bucket list,” that we can just check each item off when we think we have accomplished them, well, we’re once again well on our way to the blind, dead end of salvation by works.
These commands or precepts are not admonitions of the Law of God. They are not “commandments” in any Mosaic sense alone. But they do include the Ten Commandments. Remember what Jesus said about them in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said,” “you shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” and so on. Then with each of these he says, “but I say to you” and gets to the heart of the matter. And what is the heart of the matter? What is the true and only fulfillment of the Law?
Remember when a lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:35-40). So says St. Paul to the Romans, “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:10). Notice the connection between love and the commandments here. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That is, loving Jesus is the keeping of the commandments, all of them, the entire revelation of God in His holy Word. What are Jesus’ commandments? All of His words, His teaching.
Our sermon title today comes from the Hymn of the Day that rehearses God’s entire plan of salvation (which is why it is so long!). After confessing our need of forgiveness of sins and my own inability to save myself, in love God determined to save us.
God said to His beloved Son:
“It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
And bring to all salvation” (LSB 556:5)
Jesus, God’s beloved Son is the bright jewel of the Father’s crown sent to bring salvation, to set us free from sin and sorrow, to slay bitter death and give to all eternal life.
Listen to Martin Luther who wrote this hymn. He says these commandments are, “that you faithfully preach concerning me, have my Word and Sacrament laid upon you, keep love and unity among yourselves for my sake, and suffer with patience whatever on this account comes upon you…. For I do not mean to be a Moses to drive and plague you with threats and terrors, but I give you such precept as you can and will keep without commanding, if you indeed love me” (Erlangen edition, 49, 131-2, cited in Lenski, John, p. 972). To “keep” His commandments is not a slavish thing but more with the attitude of watchful care, of cherishing and holding as a treasure, to make sure you not lose them, or let others violate them. So you see the “keeping” or “obeying” of Jesus commands is the result of this love rather than its cause. Listen to this sentence again. It is not that keeping Jesus’ commandments is the way to His love. It is rather, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
The love for God, for Jesus, and for neighbor is a gift of faith. What does the apostle say is the fruit of faith? Notice the very first fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love…against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23).
So on this day of our Easter celebration, the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, our Lord prepares us for His ascension and His living and ruling for us at God’s right hand, the Spirit creating and sustaining the gift of faith, the faith that grasps the forgiveness of sins won for us by His Cross, the faith that receives, recognizes, knows and lives love. “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”