“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” What a way to start this lesson: “IF!” I wonder how the disciples took this. What do you think they thought when Jesus first said this to them? A lot had already happened to them that night. Jesus had announced he would be betrayed and Judas was named the betrayer. Jesus announced he would be with them only a little while longer and Peter boldly claimed he would follow him, even die for him; Jesus told Peter he would instead deny him. Thomas asked Jesus if he would share the way to where he was going to go and was told instead “If you really knew me, you would know.” Philip asked Jesus to “show them the Father” and received a response filled with disappointment, “Don’t you know me.”
It wasn’t a good night for them. They weren’t exactly knocking their role of disciple out of the park. So then to hear this from Jesus, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” The disciples must’ve been terrified. “Is Jesus calling into question our love? Is he angry with us?” Jesus’ words could not have been comforting. But what if I told you they were. What if I told you these words assured the disciples that they didn’t have to live wondering if their love was sincere. They didn’t need to worry if God would be with them, and they didn’t need to question the life that they would live through him. What if I told you that these words “If you love me” were the beginning of a new life where that “if” disappears, but to start off we need to get our bearings.
Do you remember Pastor Casmer’s sermon last week and how he mentioned this thought of doing “greater things than these” how it was the disciples’ time, to do great things, namely spread the life-giving gospel throughout the world and share the Savior? It is this thought that Jesus is building on. He is saying, “Look, I need you. I need you to carry out my ministry I need you to share the good news about me. Why? Because I got to go. I’m headed to the cross and not long afterwards I’ll be in heaven.”
But Jesus he doesn’t just say “Tag! I’m out, and you are in.” Look what he promises, he says “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” Now, how do you think the disciples took this? Remember they had been having this awful night: the betraying, the denying, the confusion. Is it too much to think that they were wondering if this Spirit would really come to them? Is it too much to think that these disciples were questioning if they even wanted to have this Spirit in their lives? What if they screwed up? What if they said the wrong things? Do see all the ifs? Yet, what does Jesus say next.
“The World cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” What Comfort! Jesus knew his disciples weren’t sure of themselves, he knew there were a lot of “ifs” running through their minds and so he assured them that they already knew this Spirit. He had been with them the whole time. How? Through Jesus, through him and his Words they had witnessed the Spirit’s work of creating faith, faith which they had! And once Jesus was gone this Spirit would be with them forever, coming to them at Pentecost., working through them to bring souls to Jesus, to create saving faith.
So, what about us? Don’t we so often wrestle with similar “ifs” like the disciples? Maybe right now some of you are wondering if you have saving faith in your hearts, “I don’t feel it!” Maybe some of you are questioning if God really has included you in his family, “Because, man, the way my life is going it seems like he isn’t even thinking about me.” And maybe there are some, here who are just nervous, unsure if life will continue to go as well as it has been going, and your sorta waiting for some bad stuff to happen. So, what about us?
We have this same Counselor, this Spirit of Truth. For many of us he came to us first through a little water sprinkled on our foreheads as life giving words were spoken. For others of us, he came over time through the persistent work of family or friends inviting us to worship to hear about a Savior whose blood was shed.
However it happened, the Spirit came to you. Not to replace Christ. Not to offer up new ways to enter heaven or earn God’s favor, but the Spirit came just as Jesus promised to dwell with his people forever. To dwell with us, so that by him we can believe with certainty that Jesus is Lord, Jesus is our Savior. Isn’t that comforting? God is with you revealing himself daily in your life. What does that mean?
It means that all those “ifs” in our lives don’t need to be ifs. It means you and I aren’t like those people Paul encountered in Athens, who were so confused about religion and God that they created an altar “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” just in case. We know who God is, he is the three persons we see in our lesson today, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It means when we look at the stars we don’t just see bright burning balls of gas, but we see a God whose wisdom is great and whose power is vast. It means that when we hold a newborn baby we see it for what it is, a miracle, a human being knit together by God in a unique way.
It means that when we are staring up from the bottom of a pit of our own sin and helplessness grasping at the ropes of the world that have been let down to help us, but in reality, are only quick fixes that end up snapping and dropping us further down into darkness. Jesus comes to the edge of the cliff of our despair and he looks down and says, “I told you, I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” And then he does. Through a friend who knows our struggles, or a child who just can’t stop talking about the Jesus she learned about in Sunday School, or someone or something else, he brings us back to his saving Word. He throws down that rope of the Spirit; he ties it around us and then safe and secure he brings us back to his throne of grace; he brings us back to life. The same life he promised his disciples in verse 19.
“Because I live, you also will live.” Not long after he said these words Jesus was put to death on a cross. Yet, even standing before the face of death, Jesus was able to say “I live.” Jesus knew the power of death would not hold him and he knew the same was true for his disciples because they trusted in him. And so with confidence he could say “you too will live.” My life will live in you giving you new life, spiritual life, a life free from the fear sin and death, a life that will last into eternity, “he who believes has everlasting life.”
This same life now lives in you. Jesus’ life counts for your life and his death counted for your death and by his Spirit we believe and live that life right now. And that new life allows us to do what Jesus says in verse 21 “have and obey his commands. It allows us to express our love for God by carrying out his will by doing “even greater things” in spreading his Word throughout the world! This is how we show our love for God by sharing him! And notice in the rest of 21 “He who loves me, he who loves Jesus, will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
Right here at the end of verse 21 is the key to this section. Because doesn’t it sound like God loving us depends on us loving him? It does, right? But go back to the big IF in verse 14. “If you love me.” Do you have a worship folder take it out, take your finger and cover up that “If” in verse 14. “You love me” It was never in question. It wasn’t for the disciples and it isn’t for us. You and I haven’t been living our lives wondering if we love God; we know we do! We’ve been living a life without any “ifs.”
And why can we say that? How do we know? Because “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” That love which allows us to say without any “ifs” that we love God and that motivates us to “obey what he commands”, it is from God. “We love because he first loved us.” God’s love for you brought you to faith in Jesus through the Word. The one who has this Word and faithfully keeps it has everything; the Father, Christ, and the Spirit. You are the one who has this Word. You are the one who has this love. You are the one who has the triune God dwelling in your heart, a Father who watches over you, a Son who died for you, and a Spirit who will strengthen and encourage you.
So, do you see the comfort the disciples received from that statement “If you love me.” It wasn’t Jesus calling their faith and love into question. It was Jesus encouraging them to remain and grow in the love they already had and to show it by obeying his commands – and to help them along he promised his Spirit. What an encouraging reminder for us today. We can be certain of our love for God. We can be sure of our new life with Christ and our Salvation to come, and by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives we can share with others this love and this life so that they can join us in a life without “ifs”. Amen.