John 14:15-31 The Sixth Sunday of Easter 17 May 2020
Todays lectionary Gospel Reading, which follows on from last weeks reading is John 14v15-21, but I am asking you to read John 14v15-31. John’s Gospel, chapter 13v31 to chapter 16v33 is known as the Farewell Discourse. It was given by Jesus to eleven of his disciples (as Judas had left them), and it was given immediately after they had finished the Last Supper and the night before his crucifixion.
In this discourse Jesus is preparing his disciples for their work and mission for the time that he would no longer be with them. He told them (13:33) ‘little children, I am with you only a little longer’. Their whole world had been so wrapped up with Jesus over the past few years of his public ministry, that the prospect of him leaving must have been devastating for them. The image Jesus uses is that of an ‘orphan’. He says 14:18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you’. The loss of Jesus to the disciples is like a young child’s loss of their parents. Shattering. He had tried to prepare them for this, but they could not understand it. So to reassure them He said ‘do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me’. (14:1) And ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. (14:6) These are verses we read last Sunday (John 14:1-14).
But the thought of Jesus leaving the disciples in this farewell discourse is where we are now in the calendar of the Christian Year. On Good Friday we commemorated Jesus dying on the cross, on Easter day we celebrated his resurrection and victory over death. We are now in the forty days between the resurrection and the Ascension, a period during which the risen Lord Jesus appeared to his disciples, to Mary, to crowds, etc. now Jesus says ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth…’ (14:16-17) But for the Holy Spirit to come, Jesus had to leave them. How could he do that? The post resurrection appearances of Jesus needed a definite end. But how? Jesus couldn’t die again, he had done that once. The resurrection appearances couldn’t just fade out, he couldn’t dissolve on the spot. Jesus had to demonstrate to the disciples that he was returning to the Father. Hence the Ascension, that we celebrate this coming Thursday, and the symbol of the cloud enveloping and transporting Jesus to the Father and heavenly glory. And after that Pentecost, (next Sunday week), when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in all his fullness. So there was no need for the disciples hearts to be troubled because when the Holy Spirit came, He, or the Spirit of Jesus could be with them all the time. This is true for us.
But in the section of this farewell discourse which we read today, there is another important truth that I now want to focus our thoughts on. Jesus makes the same point four times. When in scripture Jesus emphasises a point like this it is because it is important. This is what he said ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’ (v15). ‘They who have my commandments and keep them, are those who love me’ (v21). Jesus replied ‘Those who love mw will keep my word’ (v23). ‘Whoever does not love me does not keep my words’ (v24). This is a teaching that was applicable not just to those first disciples, but to all the disciples down the ages, me and you. Though we of course have the benefit of the Holy Spirit to encourage and empower us.
So what does all this mean for us today? What does it mean for us to be obedient to the commandments and teaching of Jesus? There is a story of a Jew and a Christian who were having a discussion about their particular faiths and the Jew argued that the Christians had taken everything from the Jewish faith. ‘Like what’ asked the Christian? ‘Like the ten commandments, for a start’, said the Jew. ‘We may have taken them’ replied the Christian, ‘but you can’t possibly accuse us of keeping them’!
Jesus said v15 ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’. To his immediate disciples he was saying ‘if you really love me, prove your love not by lamenting my departure, but by doing my will when I am gone’. By v21 ‘They who have my commandments and keep them, are those who love me’ For us today, the proof of our love for Jesus is our obedience to his commands, his teaching, his will, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, living holy lives, going and making disciples, etc. It is not just talking about Christian things, it is ‘living the life’. When the risen Lord Jesus said to Peter ‘do you love me’, and Peter replied ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you’, Jesus’ response was to say to Peter ‘feed my lambs’ and ‘feed my sheep’. Jesus was in effect saying demonstrate your love by doing something, following my example, by working out the Gospel in your own life.
Of course, we must not take this out of context. Keeping Christ’s commandments, doing good things cannot save us, ‘For by grace are we saved through faith, not of works lest any man should boast’ Ephesians 2:8-10. Even our best works are imperfect and feeble. But having said that, faith in the saving work of Christ must always be followed by loving obedience to the will of Christ.
We have recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day. When Hitler began interfering in the life of the churches and humiliating German Jews, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran clergyman, began to resist and protest. He refused to participate in the State churches which bowed to Hitler’s demands. Several of Bonhoeffer’s friends urged him to be more flexible, arguing that they would lose the opportunity to preach altogether if they followed Bonhoeffer’s example. He replied ‘One act of obedience is better than one thousand sermons. For holding that conviction he eventually paid with his life, he was imprisoned in 1943 and hung by the Nazi’s in April 1945.
Jesus said ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’ (v15). I want very briefly to mention how we work this out in three very practical ways.
The first , Obedience means living holy lives. The scripture says ‘as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct’ (1 Peter 1:15). Where the Holy Spirit is, there should be a holy life. John Stott, a very influential Christian leader and teacher who died a few years ago, in his final public sermon reflected on ‘what is God’s purpose for his people’. He said ‘I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is this: God wants his people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is his will for the people of God’. If we love Christ we will want to live Christ like lives. I know we all fail, but I believe that something of Jesus should be seen in every Christian.
The Second is obedience to the will of God in the big issues, global issues, environmental issues, carbon footprints, justice issues, issues of human dignity, hard issues, grey issues which impact on us in everyday ways, some of which we seem to have little control over. But we can consider some of them in every day very practical ways: eg what we recycle, our impact on climate change, how we care for and offer dignity to the elderly and handicapped and vulnerable, how we handle our own money, etc. When we do our shopping there are decisions to make. Do we buy local produce, Fair Trade, our use of plastic bags, how much of the food we buy will we waste, etc.
What we need to do is to develop a Christian mind, a mind informed with Christian principles, not a mind which only thinks about Christian things, but a mind which thinks about all things Christianly. This is why we need to study the scriptures, that we may learn the mind of Christ.
The third area is our obedience to God’s call to us. Are we obedient to what God is calling us personally to be or do? Are we open to God speaking to us? Are we close enough to God to recognise his voice? Is God calling us to some ministry in the community? Christians should be active in every area of society. Is God calling us to a new ministry within his church? It may be a ministry in the local church here or in the wider church. At the recent funeral of Pauline Lucas at which Keith Smith officiated, he spoke of how Pauline responded so positively to God’s call to her to be ordained. Not only do we need to hear the call of God, we need to obey his call. The hymn some of us used to sing ‘When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way’, has the chorus which makes the point well:
Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!