Listen for God’s word to you from John 14:15-21…
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
This is one of those passages of Scripture that makes me feel as though I have stepped into a swirling mist, albeit a comforting one. These statements by Jesus do not consist so much in logical steps. It is more like a voice speaking from a mountain top.
Another way to describe what Jesus is saying here is that it is like a crown made of individual vines. Each vine, each statement, is attached to the next one, but then the whole thing circles back around to where it began.
Let us look at each of Jesus’ statements here and see what we can make of them. First, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
The love that Jesus speaks of here is agape. It is that contra-conditional love that God has for us. It is the love demonstrated in Jesus. And we are to respond to Jesus with this same love. It is a love expressed in action. Love leads to the keeping of Jesus’ commandments.
And what are Jesus’ commandments? The one commandment that Jesus gives to his disciples in the Gospel of John is that they should love one another as he has loved them. (John 13:34; 15:12)
And how has Jesus loved us? Ultimately, he has loved us by laying down his life for us. (John 10:11)
When I think of Jesus’ commandments I also think of the time when Jesus was asked: what is the greatest commandment? And Jesus answered,
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Thus, Jesus’ commandments are all about love—loving God, loving our neighbor, loving ourselves. How are we doing at these three things?
If we are honest, then we must admit that we are imperfect at loving God, loving our neighbor, and at loving ourselves. Keeping Jesus’ commands is challenging in a way far beyond mere moralism.
Robert C. Roberts once wrote…
There’s something comfortable about reducing Christianity to a list of do’s and don’ts, whether your list comes from mindless fundamentalism or mindless liberalism: you always know where you stand, and this helps reduce anxiety. Do’s-and-don’ts-ism has the advantage that you don’t need wisdom. You don’t have to think subtly or make hard choices. You don’t have to relate personally to a demanding and loving Lord.
While keeping Jesus’ commandments is challenging, the good news is that Jesus promises to give us help to carry out his commands.
He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.”
Who is this Advocate that Jesus talks about? Jesus also calls this Advocate the Spirit of truth. Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is like an Advocate, a Comforter, someone who comes alongside of us and puts his arm around us to strengthen us. Jesus says that this Advocate will be with us forever.
When I was about four or five years old, my parents went away on a trip to Europe with some family friends. They left me and my siblings in the care of another family friend who came to live with us. After my parents were gone for a few days, I concluded in my own mind that they were never coming back. But being a shy little boy, I did not mention this to anyone.
One day I laid down on my bed in tears. I felt so all alone, despite my siblings being with me. And in that lonely despair I heard a voice. It was not an audible voice, but rather a voice in my head saying, “I am with you now and I will never leave you.” I knew it was the voice of Jesus.
Well, my parents did eventually come home, and normal life resumed. But I never quite forgot that voice that spoke to me and comforted me.
That is what the Holy Spirit does for each one of us. He promises, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
But the next thing that Jesus says about the Spirit can seem a bit disconcerting. He says, “The world cannot receive him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.”
What does Jesus mean by this? Well, it is important to understand the meaning of the term “world” in the Gospel of John. In this Gospel that term has a special meaning. It refers to the world system that is set against God. So, this is sort of like Jesus saying, “Those who choose not to receive the Spirit won’t receive him.”
God is a gentleman. He will not force himself upon us. We can choose to receive his Spirit or not to receive him.
William Barclay puts it this way, “A person who has eliminated God never listens for him; and we cannot receive the Holy Spirit unless we wait in expectation and in prayer for him to come to us.”
On the other hand, listen to what Jesus says of his disciples who are open to the Spirit: “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
If we want to know the Holy Spirit, we can know him. He is the one who comes alongside of us, puts his arm around us and lives with us. And not only does the Holy Spirit live with us, he can live in us, if we invite him into our hearts and souls. And once the Holy Spirit is living in us, he will speak to us and guide us from within.
Isaiah 30:21 says, “And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” That is what the guidance of the Spirit is like.
Now, not only does Jesus promise to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts, he also says, “I will not leave you orphaned; Iam coming to you.”
How does Jesus come to us? Well, I believe he comes to us in many ways. He comes to us through Scripture, through the Spirit, through Holy Communion, through the fellowship of other Christians. There are many ways that Jesus can come to us and speak to us. And one day, Jesus is going to come on clouds of glory to judge the world and establish his eternal kingdom.
But the specific way that I think Jesus is talking about here, in John 14, is that he is going to come to his disciples through the resurrection. Notice the rest of what Jesus says, “In a little while the world will no longer see me.” Jesus is talking about his death.
But then he tells his disciples, “you will see me.” And they did. They saw him and spoke to him and even touched him after he rose from the dead.
And then Jesus makes an even greater promise: “because I live, you also will live.” Because of Jesus’ resurrection we too can experience his resurrection power. He gives us new spiritual life now, and one day he will give us a new bodily life that shall never end. The new life that Jesus will give us will be both spiritual and physical, just as his own resurrection was both spiritual and physical, though what Jesus is emphasizing here is new spiritual life, Zoe, not Bios.
Jesus goes on to say, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
On that day… what day is Jesus talking about? Well, he says it is “in a little while”. So, once again, I believe Jesus is talking about the day of his resurrection. After he is raised from the dead, everything will become clear to his disciples—that he is in the Father (God) and his disciples are in him (spiritually speaking) and Jesus is in them (again, spiritually speaking).
This is very mystical language indeed. I like C. S. Lewis’ description of it. He calls it “the Christ life”. The Christ life will be in us and we will be in it. In fact, it can be that way right now because Jesus is risen.
The wonderful thing about Jesus’ language here is that if one way of describing this experience doesn’t make sense to us, he gives us another image to convey the meaning. Jesus says, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
As I said at the beginning, Jesus’ whole conversation here is like a grand circle or crown of vines. In another way, it is almost like a circular dance. And we are invited to step into the dance. As Augustine said, the Father is the lover; Jesus is the beloved; and the Holy Spirit is the love between them. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are engaged in a great circular dance around each other, and we are welcomed into that dance.
Thus, Jesus circles back to what he said at the beginning. “Those who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.” Loving Jesus and keeping his commands are one and the same thing. And if we love Jesus then we can be sure that we are loved by the Father, and Jesus will love us and reveal himself to us.
That is really the only way any of this works. We cannot know God unless God chooses to reveal himself to us. We cannot search out God with a telescope or a microscope. God remains hidden to us unless he chooses to reveal himself.
I have found it interesting how biblical words end up in the news at a time like this. I think because this pandemic has made some people think the world is coming to an end, the news media starts using words like “apocalyptic”.
But the thing is, the news media does not even know what the word “apocalyptic” means. The book of Revelation at the end of the Bible is sometimes called the Apocalypse. And so, people naturally associate the Apocalypse with the end of the world.
But the word “apocalypse” means “an unveiling”. That’s how we come to know God. We come to know God when he pulls back the veil and reveals himself to us.
And I believe the biggest, most important way that God has done that is through Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus shows us who God is. And when we let Jesus define God for us, that changes everything.
Have you experienced the revelation of Jesus? Have you experienced his love? If not, it can happen today, through the power of the Holy Spirit coming into your heart. All you have to do is open your heart, your soul, your life, to him. The Jesus whom John’s Gospel talks about is, as I said last Sunday, for everyone…
Allow me to close with this story from Os Guinness…
Arthur F. Burns, [former] chairman of the United States Federal Reserve System and ambassador to West Germany, was a man of considerable gravity. Medium in height, distinguished, with wavy silver hair and his signature pipe, he was economic counselor to a number of presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. When he spoke, his opinions carried weight, and Washington listened. Arthur Burns was also Jewish, so when he began attending an informal White House group for prayer and fellowship in the 1970s, he was accorded special respect. No one in fact quite knew how to involve him in the group, and, week after week when different people took turns to end the meeting in prayer, Burns was passed by—out of a mixture of respect and reticence.
One week, however, the group was led by a newcomer who did not know the unusual status Burns occupied. As the meeting ended, the newcomer turned to Arthur Burns and asked him to close the time with a prayer. Some of the old-timers glanced at each other in surprise and wondered what would happen. But without missing a beat, Burns reached out, held hands with others in the circle, and prayed this prayer: “Lord, I pray that you would bring Jews to know Jesus Christ. I pray that you would bring Muslims to know Jesus Christ. Finally, Lord, I pray that you would bring Christians to know Jesus Christ. Amen.”