Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
30 October 2016 / Ordinary Time
May God’s love be with you all.
Let us remember where we are in the story.
It is night and we are hanging out with Jesus and his disciples in an upper room — on the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested.
Here, Jesus is giving his disciples his last words.
These are the things they will need to know and believe and do in their life and ministry long after he has been crucified, resurrected, and ascended into glory.
We need to hear these things as well, so let’s pay close attention to the teachings of our Lord and Savior.
Our sermon text for today is John 14:15-31. If you are willing and able, please stand and listen to the word of God with all your heart:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.” (ESV)
The word of the Lord.
May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen. You may be seated.
It seems like the longer we linger in the upper room the lower we sink in the mire. The mood in the room just keeps changing from bad to worse. So far, this last Passover meal has been a real downer.
Everybody’s supposed to be having a good time, except Jesus keeps talking like it’s the end of the world.
He is troubled in spirit; the disciples are troubled in spirit.
He keeps bringing up dark things like betrayal and denial; and how he will only be with them a little while longer and then go away.
Even though he promises to prepare a place for them and come back and take them with him, all they can hear is that he is going to abandon them. After all they gave up to follow him, and after all they have been through together, now he is going to leave them.
You and I can relate to them. We have all been in a situation like that, where someone we love just up and decided to leave out of the blue.
All the reasons in the world don’t amount to a hill of beans. No matter how legit or crazy the reasons might be, at the end of the day, we are left with the heart-breaking fact that they are leaving us and we are staying behind without them.
As you know, I am not Jesus, but I can relate to him in a small way. Over the course of my ministry, I have had the unpleasant experience of announcing my departure and bidding farewell to people I loved and served – on six occasions. It has never felt good or right to do that. It takes a long time to get over the grief and the guilt that comes with going away.
That’s sorta like what is going on in the upper room.
Jesus is doing his dead-level best to comfort and console these heart-broken guys, but it seems that confusion and conflict are still creeping in to their hearts.
So what does he do? He reminds them to keep his commandments! Why? Because doing what he commands will fortify their hearts and keep them from sinking into self-pity. This will help them fight off their doubts, fears, and worries – and fight for others.
How? By turning them inside out. Jesus’s commands us to be extra-spective not introspective – to look out there, not look in here.
Now, I titled the sermon Love and Peace or Else after a U2 song because I listen to U2 way too much; also, because love and peace are the major themes in this story.
So I want us to explore love and peace in the story, but more importantly, I want us to experience love and peace in the Holy Spirit.
The word love appears ten times in this story. More times than not it is connected with keeping Jesus commands. Jesus says,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.
If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.
The point is that the kind of love Jesus requires is both relational and practical, but not necessarily emotional. That does not mean that feelings are unimportant and irrelevant. It just means that the way we feel about Jesus at any given moment is less important and relevant than the way we live for him at any given moment.
Sometimes you feel like obeying him; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes your heart is troubled, your spirit is agitated, you mind is confused, your will is contrary. You feel conflicted – should I obey or should I no. Am I right?
But, if you truly love him you do what he commands whether you feel like it our not. It is in willing to do the right thing that we often discover our feelings change for the better.
Now some of us hear the word commandment and we cringe. Why? We don’t like anyone telling us what to do. We think commandments are heavy burdens that are too hard to carry. If we’re really smart and “spiritual” we might say, “I don’t want to be legalistic, so I just follow the Spirit’s leading.”
But that’s not love for Christ; it’s just love for me, myself, and I. Those who live that way do not truly love the real Jesus.
The real Jesus gave us real commands that he really expects us to keep for his glory and our good.
What are Jesus’ commandments?
So far in the upper room discourse Jesus has given these commandments to his disciples:
Wash one other’s feet – do as I have done to you.
Love one another as I have loved you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust God and trust me.
Ask me for anything.
These commandments are not heavy legalistic burdens, but light gospel-centered comforts.
If you truly love Jesus you will serve one another and take care of each other, especially in hard times.
If you truly love Jesus you will trust God together, especially in sad and scary times.
If you truly love Jesus you will pray together for one another, especially in dark times.
These words are Spirit and they are life.
Why are these practical and relational expressions of love so important?
First, it is through them that Jesus Christ is manifested among us. When we keep his commands in this way, his word is made flesh among us so to speak.
Second, it is through them that we prove our love for Jesus, and the Father loves the one who loves his Son. If you want the Father to love you, you must love his Son Jesus. If you love Jesus you will obey his word. It’s that simple. Don’t even try to disregard his word and then declare your love for him. It won’t fly.*
Finally, it is through practical and relational expressions of love that we prepare a place for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to dwell with us. Jesus promised to prepare a place for us, but he also expects us to prepare a place for God as well. When we keep his commands to wash, love, trust, we are actually making ourselves ready to live in communion with God, to share a sacred dwelling place with him in deep fellowship.
Now, if these reasons don’t move you to keep Jesus’ commandments nothing will.
Another reason to express love practical and relational ways is that it promotes unity and peace.
It has been my experience among God’s people that when people love one another as Jesus loved them, there are fewer and fewer conflicts and controversies. You have experienced this in your marriages and families. And we have experienced this in our congregation over the last decade.
The more we imitate Jesus’s love the happier and healthier we become. That is shalom.
That brings us to peace.
Peace comes after love in this story and in life because peace is established by love. No love, no peace.
Also, peace comes after love because peace is a reward for obedience.
Throughout scriptures peace is granted to those who love and obey the Lord.
For example, in the Book of Numbers the Lord gave his covenant of peace to a man and his descendants after him because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel by doing hard things for the Lord. (Numbers 25:12-13 ESV)
In the Book of Isaiah, the people sang a hymn that goes: You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4 ESV)
All that is good, but there is something even better.
When Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” everyone in the upper room should have sat up and taken note that he was echoing the ancient priestly benediction:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26 ESV)
Not only is Jesus echoing the benediction, he is fulfilling it.
After all these years, the Lord is answering the prayer as the Prince of Peace whose reign of peace will have no end (Isa 9).
This is not a temporary worldly peace, but an eternal heavenly peace — a supra-natural peace that comes by knowing that God is sovereign over all things whatsoever that comes to pass; that comes by trusting that God works all things together for the his glory and the good of those who love him.
Now, at first glance Jesus’s words “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” seem like more commands – more things to do.
If you’re like me, and you already struggle to keep the other commandments, throwing two more on the pile can raise the level of stress and anxiety. In other words, it can generate more conflict and less peace.
Furthermore, if these are just more commands, the words “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” can seem sorta cold and callous.
If you’re troubled and upset, the last thing you want someone to tell you to do is “calm down.” Believe me, I know. I have made that mistake more than once.
So what’s going on here?
Remember, Jesus is the Prince of Peace and Wonderful Counselor.
The words “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” are not demands (imperatives) for the disciples to keep — they are desires (jussives) for the disciples to experience.
In other words, Jesus is not giving the disciples more things to do; and he is not just telling them to calm down and take a chill pill. He is giving them less to do by taking away their troubles. He is not trying to harm them, but trying to help them.
“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” should be heard as his prayer for them.
Think of it like this: Just as Jesus calmed the stormy seas by the power of his word, so now he calms the troubled heart of the disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, the love and peace that Jesus expects his disciples to manifest cannot arise from the flesh but only from the Spirit.
Now, it has been a minute since we heard anything about the Spirit in John’s Gospel.
Early on we saw the Spirit descend on Jesus and remain with him. Then Jesus said no one is able to experience or enter the kingdom of God unless they are born from above by the Spirit. Later we heard Jesus say the Spirit is the life-giver, the flesh counts for nothing. Finally, Jesus cried out that if anyone believes in him, the Spirit will flow out of his heart like streams of living water.
Here, in the upper room, at night, in a room full of men with pensive, doubting, fearful hearts, Jesus promises to ask the Father to send the Spirit as another Helper.
Jesus is one Helper, the Spirit is another Helper.
The notion of God as Helper has its roots in the OT. Especially in the Psalms. Here are a few examples:
O God, the helpless commits himself to you; you have been the helper of the fatherless. (10:14 ESV)
Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper!” (30:10 ESV)
The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. (118:7 ESV)
Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. (54:4 ESV)
From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (121:1-2 ESV)
The Greek word for Helper means someone who calls you to his side and puts his arm around you and holds you up. Jesus knew the disciples were going to need supernatural help, especially over the next few hours and days and weeks.
Now, before we go too far, we need to slow down and notice what Jesus does and does not mean about the work of the Helper.
Jesus said these things to his disciples in the upper room on the night he was betrayed. He meant these things for them.
Jesus did not mean that the Spirit was going to teach all disciples everywhere all the truth about Jesus, and cause all disciples everywhere to remember all the teachings of Jesus.
No! Jesus meant that the Spirit would help the eleven disciples in the upper room and teach them all the truth about Jesus and remind them of all the teachings of Jesus.
As Sinclair Ferguson points out in his book The Holy Spirit, “The Gospels contain what the [eleven disciples] were reminded that Jesus had said and taught; in the letters we find the further revelation they received from the Holy Spirit.” (p 70)
What the Spirit gave them by inspiration, he gives us by illumination. More on all that later on in our series.
Does this mean the Spirit is not our Helper? No!
The Spirit also helps us by teaching us through the words of the apostles and prophets of Christ, and by praying for us in our weakness, and by bearing fruit in us. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.
The main point to grasp now is that Jesus cared so deeply about his followers that he said:
I will send you the Helper, and I will not leave you as orphans.
They felt like he was going to leave them homeless and all alone, but that was not the case.
He gave them his word, his love, his peace, and his Spirit to comfort and console them. When Jesus gave these gifts, he was not just giving things to make them feel better – he was giving himself to make them trust more.
He promised to come back and take them away to a sacred home in the new heavens and earth. How can they know whether he will keep his promise? He gave them gifts as pledges of his return.
But first, he must go away to a place they cannot go.
The Prince of Peace must go to a garden and confront the Prince of the world in the darkness of night.
He must face betrayal and be arrested; he must stand a mock trial and endure a scourging. He must go up to the cross and die; he must be taken down and buried in a tomb.
He must go and lay down his life for his friends. Why?
Jesus was doing all these things and going through with his Father’s purpose and plan for the life of the world.
So that when it all takes place you may believe.
So that the world may know that I love the Father.
Your heart may be troubled now, but it will trust later.
The world might not understand Jesus now, but it will soon know that he did everything he did because he was driven by his love for the Father.
He gave his disciples his word, his love, his peace, and his Spirit. Soon he will give them his life.
That’s enough talk for now.
“Rise, let us go from here.”
Pastoral Prayer: Based on Psalm 25 (NLT)
O Lord, we give our life to you. We trust in you, our God! Do not let us be disgraced, or let our enemies rejoice in our defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others. Show us the right path, O Lord; point out the road for us to follow. Lead us by your truth and teach us, for you are the God who saves us. All day long we put our hope in you. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past. Do not remember the rebellious sins of our youth. Remember us in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord. The Lord is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands. Amen