Sunday, May 19, 2024

Loving Jesus

 John 14:23-31

Jesus answered and said 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 abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.  These things I have spoken to you, while abiding 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 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 heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.  You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.'  If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.  And now I have told you before it comes to pass, that when it comes to pass, you may believe."

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday                                                 05/19/24

Loving Jesus

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

All you need is love, or at least that is what John Lennon said.  Many Christians talk a lot about loving God and loving Jesus, and by that they each seem to mean specific things, or they mean to use the concept to induce people to engage in certain courses of action or behavior.  They turn loving Jesus into a law, and use the faith-driven desire of the believer to manipulate them and shape their behavior.  Certainly every child of God wants to love Jesus.  We have been treated to a lifetime of exhortations to do just that.

In our Pentecost Sunday Gospel this morning, Jesus talks about what it means to love Him, and what effect it has.  It turns out that loving Jesus is not the same as what so many preach it is.  This morning we will take advantage of the words of Jesus, and see what it means to love Him, according to His definition, and what follows upon that love.  Our theme is "Loving Jesus."

First of all, Jesus describes loving Him, He doesn't command how to do it.  In this, Jesus is speaking as He did in the Ten Commandments.  Jesus does not say, "If you love me, then you must do this and do that."  He says, "The one who loves me is the one who is keeping my Word", just as in the Ten Commandments God does not actually say, "Don't Murder!", or "Don't steal!", but "My people are the sort who simply will not take the life of another, or the personal property of another, or the wife (or husband) of another, and so forth".  In other words, Jesus is describing, not commanding.  I know that because Jesus knows, as the Scriptures clearly teach, that none of us is capable of obeying the Law by nature, and so commanding us to behave in a certain way is unfruitful.  Jesus describes instead.

Loving Jesus means keeping His Word.  It doesn't mean that we love Him by keeping His commands, but that we keep His Word as part of loving Him.  Now, we can turn it around, and measure our sincerity by looking at our faithfulness to His Word - and even use these words as a motivation of sorts to do what is good and right, but we have to remember that this is not a command, in the sense that we can do it on our own, but as revealing what God would work in us, and help us to understand which way the Lord would lead us.  So we need to consider what it means to Keep Jesus' Word.

Keeping His Word, for example, means knowing it.  Let's face it, it is difficult to be faithful to something if we do not know what it is.  This is the knowledge part of faith - what theologians like to call the "fides quae creditur".  You need to possess substance to your faith - the stuff that you believe.

Keeping His Word also means believing it.  Once you know what His Word is and what it contains, you must actually believe it - this "believing-ness" is what theologians have called the "fides qua creditur", that is, the faith with which you believe.  Luther called this "fiducium cordis", that is, the trust in the heart - the trust that all that you accept as true actually is true and that all that it means and offers applies to you and that you may depend upon it and act upon it.

It almost goes without saying, then, that Keeping His Word means sound doctrine.  You cannot be faithful to Jesus or to His Word, His teachings, without holding fast to what He said, and what it really means.  When you do not care what the truth is, you are not keeping His Word.  When it is more important to "get along" than confess the faith, you are not keeping His Word.  The appeals to the brotherhood of man, and love for another, and uncertainty in the face of the variety of opinions promulgated by the various church groups, for you to be more patient with other doctrines, or for you to be less clear and assertive with your confession are appeals to you to surrender the Word of Christ, rather than keep it.

Keeping His Word also means living out what it teaches.  This is the trust in the heart working its way out in real life.  So, Jesus died for your sins, did He?  So what!?  What does His death mean to your life?  What does His love mean to your dealing with other people?  What does the forgiveness of your sins mean to how you live, and how you deal with others?  What does the gift of eternal life mean - that is, how does it influence your thinking, and your choices, and your approach to life and dangers and sickness, and such things?

You see, if God loves you as deeply as you confess that He does - and you believe it - it has to mean something to what you think, and how you respond to life and its pressures.  The temptation that the devil wants to stumble you with is the temptation to forget the love of God and fear stuff and worry about what it happening around you, and pull in your horns, so to speak, so as not to draw any attention to yourself or your confession.  We confess that God is intimately aware of us - the very hairs on your head are all numbered - and genuinely concerned for our well-being.  We are, after all, His chosen and beloved - right?

So what difference does that make in your life, in your choices and values, in what you will dare to do and what you will refuse to do?  Remember, all of life is theological, and your life between the end of our service and, perhaps, Bible Study, this morning, and the beginning of service next Sunday, is your worship.  No moment in your life is insignificant or dismissible.  No decision, however daily and ‘secular' it seems to you is excluded from your life in Christ.  Keeping His Word means not just putting a Bible on the coffee table or bedstand, but living all of your life, even the little parts that no one sees, as though you are God's, chosen and precious, forgiven and blessed with everlasting life, and protected by the Creator of all that exists because, as Jesus says, He loves you.

When you love Jesus – the way Jesus talks about our loving Him, and not the warm and squishy, ‘feelings' oriented kind of love – certain things will be true.  I struggle with how to describe them.  First I wanted to say "results", but that makes it seem like quid pro quo - as something we cause to happen, which is not true.  I then chose the word "consequence".  But the dictionary say that this refers to cause and effect, which is not where I want to go either.  What I want to talk about is connected to our loving Jesus, and contemporaneous, but not caused by us or our behavior, since God makes us believe.  So I chose the word "accompany" - there are circumstances which Jesus tells us attach to us when we love Him and keep His Word.

The keeping of His Word is accompanied by the love of God for you.  Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him."  It isn't that God doesn't love anyhow, since God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, but when we love Him, He loves us personally, not just in general.  He claims us as His own, and counts us special and precious and privileged.  His promise to hear our prays and answer each one is an example of this special and personal relationship.

The keeping of His Word is also accompanied by God – both the Father and the Son – being with you, blessing you, guiding and keeping you (living with you).  Jesus says, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; . . . and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him" Wherever Jesus is, there must be all of His blessings and help.  We are literally in heaven - except that our sinful flesh cannot perceive it or enjoy it as it should.  It is also the will of God that we walk, for a time, by faith and not by experience or sense data.  God has a purpose for our time and life here, not the least of which is to confess Him before men and share the hope that is in us.  So He tells us what we cannot perceive, namely that He is with us, and not just aware of us, but making His dwelling-place with us and in us.  

So, when we love Jesus, we have everything we need.  We don't necessarily have everything we might want - but that is also because of our sinful flesh, which desires that which is not good for us, and which lusts after evil - and is incapable of sensing the riches of God which lie about us at every side.  So Jesus tells us of His love, of His presence, of our full and free forgiveness because of His cross and suffering.  He tells us that we have only to awaken from our graves, on that good day, and we shall live before Him in glory, and not the humility of the flesh which we have today.

And so, the keeping of His Word is also accompanied by peace - "the peace of God which passes all comprehension" - not just human comprehension.  This peace comes with faith.  It is peace in circumstances that don't warrant peace.  It is peace which comes by gift of God, not as the result of human reason, or observation.  It is the peace of God which God gives, for Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."  We have the gift and the promise of the peace, so Jesus tells us not to allow our flesh to be troubled or cause us to be fearful.  No, instead we cling to the peace which is our gift by virtue of keeping the Word of Jesus.

The keeping of His Word is also accompanied by rejoicing.  How could we not rejoice, if we really and truly believe?  Your sins are forgiven.  You will live forever.  Even the grave cannot change the will of God for you, the plan of God for you, or the love of God for you - you will rise from your tomb fully alive!  While you live here, you are promised everything you need, and blessing and guidance.  We poured that out on Kennedy Sue this morning in her baptism!  How could you not rejoice?  The only way would be if you did not keep the Word of Jesus.

The one who does not keep the Word of Jesus does not love Him.  He or she is, by definition, an unbeliever.  Whether they reject the Gospel outright, or try to change it by changing the Word and denying this or that while pretending to hold to the core - they do not believe.  If they cannot take Jesus as He presents Himself to us in His Word, they cannot do it because they do not know Him or love Him.  If they deny His gifts, they do it because they do not love Jesus.  You cannot have Jesus without His Word, just as you cannot have the Father without the Son.  The one who does not keep the Word of Jesus does not love Him, and, vice-versa, the one who does not love Jesus cannot keep His Word.

The long and the short of it is, Loving Jesus means being a Christian - the sort of Christian that is saved by grace through faith, not just the sort that wears the title like a disguise.  Some like the name, but hate the substance.  Some want the sense of religion without having to deal with the reality of it.  You can see that in some of the churches that reach for feelings and experiences in their worship, rather than for the Word of Christ, and the confession of the faith.  But only in Jesus Christ, in His crucifixion and resurrection, is there salvation.  Only in the Word of Jesus is the truth.  And only in keeping that Word is it possible to know and love Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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