I recently heard this joke. I thought it was funny – if you’ve heard it before, thanks for your patience. A little boy came home from Sunday School and his mother asked him what he learned that day. The boy said, “We learned about Moses and how he led the Israelites out of Egypt.” “Anything else?” The mom asked? “I also learned that when Moses and the Israelites got to this big red sea and they crossed it by building a floating bridge. And then the Egyptian army tried to chase them but the floating bridge collapsed and the entire army was washed away in the sea.” “Are you sure that’s what your teacher said?” The mom asked with concern. “Wasn’t there a different way Moses and the Israelites crossed the sea?” “Oh Mom! The boy said. “You wouldn’t believe the story my teacher told!” You wouldn’t believe…You wouldn’t believe it
You know I wonder as the disciples were there with Jesus in our lesson if they didn’t believe it. I wonder if they didn’t believe that they could live up to the standard that Jesus set before them in these verses. Now maybe we should get our bearings. Jesus was leaving, no not to ascend into heaven. We’ve actually gone back in time. It is Maundy Thursday. We are in that Upper Room, Judas Iscariot, has left at this point, and now it was just Jesus and those eleven. For them soon the most important person they knew would step out of their lives, in a few hours he would hang dead on a tree.
It was in these few hours before the great culmination of Jesus’ work, that the Lord spoke these difficult words to his disciples. Verse 23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” “Love me” Jesus said. “Love me and my teaching, my Word, and you’ll always have me. You’ll never forget me, in fact I’ll come to you.” And maybe that doesn’t sound too bad at first glance but notice two things here. First, notice that word teaching. It is singular. Jesus was treating everything he taught as a package deal. You can’t divide Jesus’ teaching into stuff we have to follow, stuff we can sorta follow, and stuff we don’t want to follow. It is unified. His whole Word is to be obeyed – that is love for him. Second thing to note: Jesus wasn’t done, he went on to add, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” Jesus looked at all of his teachings and he said, “It’s all important” and, if you fail to obey one thing that I have taught, you fail to love the Lord, you fail to love me.
Now, put yourself in the sandals of Jesus’ first disciples. These words from Jesus were difficult, burdensome even. To prove their love for Jesus, they would need to obey – something they struggled to do even when Jesus was with them. What is more, they didn’t have a New Testament like we do. I doubt they took detailed notes or had a voice recorder on every time Jesus opened his mouth. How could they ever hope to remember, let alone obey, everything Jesus had taught them? And if they couldn’t do it, did that mean they didn’t love him? Jesus gave them an impossible task, and I wonder if they believed that they could do it. Can we love you Jesus in this way? Can we obey your teaching? I don’t believe it.
I don’t believe you and I can do it either. This task is impossible for us too. I mean, here is a Bible. I am willing to say with confidence that we all own one or have a Bible app. Some of you have had this book much longer than others and have sat in church pews like these for numerous years. As far as I know, all of you have been instructed in some sort of Bible Information or Catechism Class be it as an adult or as a young child. Now, say Jesus came up to you today and said “If you love me, you will obey everything I have taught you. If you do not love me, you won’t obey.” So, do you love Jesus?
Recently, I was talking with someone interested in membership at Christ the Lord and they asked me if I believed that we had it all right. What he meant was do we as WELS Lutherans really think we are the only ones who teach God’s Word in its truth and purity. I answered him, “Yes, I believe we teach God’s Word in its truth and purity; we present it just as it is, God’s Holy Word, but we aren’t the only ones, and this definitely doesn’t mean we are perfect.”
As much as we regret to see other segments of Christianity in this world that are willing to compromise with the ways of society and set aside teachings of God’s Word that are inconvenient, the truth is we do it too. Every time we sin, every time we break what we might consider one insignificant command, every time we set aside a teaching of Christ that we determine to be unimportant or inconvenient, every time…we are telling Jesus we don’t love him. The worst part is, I think for many of us, we really try. We try to obey. We try not to give in to the sin. We try to fight it, but we lose. We fail. “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” How those words burn in our heart.
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that I can do it.” I think that was running through the minds of some of those disciples. For over three years they had been with Jesus. He was like a pair of glasses for them. He gave them sight. He helped them see but, again, he was leaving. And he knew that once he was gone, the task he gave them was one they wouldn’t be able to carry out on their own. They wouldn’t just have blurry vision without him, they would be spiritually legally blind without him. They needed help. They needed someone to give them sight in the darkness of sin, so he gave them a gift. He gave them new glasses. Not just any glasses, he promised them the Holy Spirit. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” With these glasses, they not only would be able to see and obey his teachings, but they also would see and receive something much, much more personal, his peace.
“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus proclaimed, “My peace I give you.” What peace did Jesus have as he knew he was about to be brutally murdered on a cross? He had the peace of knowing he was God’s beloved Son. It was that peace that he came to bring and to give to his disciples – the peace of seeing and believing that they too were God’s beloved children. Through the Spirit, we are given that same peace and we need it.
We know our real and personal failures to obey everything we have been taught. We know deep down that we do not love God perfectly, we can’t. On our own this is all we see. But now we have the glasses. Now we see the forgiveness repentant sinners have in Christ and the peace he offers us all. It’s ours. It’s yours. Jesus left the peace of heaven to bring it to you. For you, he allowed himself to be born into a world of conflict and ruin. For you, he stayed on that cross and endured the hostility your sin deserved. For you he ended the war that you had already lost with sin. He made you a victor; he gave you peace with him and with his Father.
But now say I take my glasses off because I think I don’t need them. I believe I’m wise and capable enough on my own. Well, if I take these glasses off what happens? Things around me become blurry. Your faces are unrecognizable. On our own, our spiritual sight is terrible. On our own, we will begin to doubt and be unsure. On our own we will lose the clarity of God’s teaching and the peace that we need. So, always, always, remember your glasses!
By the Spirit, see the peace Jesus brought to this earth. See him standing there as a woman cried at his time, and with one word brought her peace, “Mary.” See him walking on that road to Emmaus with two forlorn disciples and watch him leave them with joy and peace. Look with Thomas at the hands, the side that showed the scars of his battle with sin and be at peace – he won! Listen to those private words of forgiveness and peace he shared with Peter, his denier. For 40 days Jesus showed himself to sinners and doubters. Today, he comes to you.
Remember you glasses. By the Spirit, see the way he looks at you. Your failures, your disobedience, your blindness, that’s not what he sees – all of that has been removed, gone! No, he sees you, his child, one whom he loves. And what do you see? You see your Father. You love him. You obey him. You wear the glasses he gave you, and you see, now, ha, now you see why he, Jesus, left. To prepare a permanent peace for you with him forever.
Without God and his Spirit, all of this seems impossible, and it is. “I don’t believe it!” That’s why God gave you this gift, his glasses, his Spirit. With those shiny lenses all the headache of sin, all the blurriness of life is removed, and you see everything that is now possible. You believe it. You can obey, you can love, and you can live the teaching of Jesus. But above all you can see, the real peace you have right now through Christ, and the eternal peace that you will one day receive with him in heaven. Don’t ever lose these glasses. Amen.