Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
“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.” (John 14:15-21, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I know it sounds like a silly question, especially in light of the words of Jesus we just heard, but I’m going to ask it anyway. “Does Jesus really want us to keep the commandments?” You know it’s easy to go “all Lutheran” here and say, “Ya God wants us to keep the commandments, but we can’t so we should feel bad and turn to God for forgiveness.” And that’s true, the commandments are the law that show us our sin, they show us very clearly that we don’t live up to God’s perfect standards. Especially the way Jesus defines them. “If you are angry at your brother you are guilty of killing him.”; “If you call your brother a fool you deserve to burn in hell.” (Matt 5:21-22) Those are pretty harsh words, and if that’s what Jesus really means when he says he wants us to keep the commandments we’re all in trouble. After all, he says right here “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” So doesn’t that mean that if we get angry at someone we don’t love him? If Jesus really wants us to keep his commandments, we’re all in trouble. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been angry this week.
Maybe we should look into what Jesus is saying here just a little deeper. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Are we really talking about the Ten Commandments? Or is there some other commandment that Jesus is talking about? It wasn’t that long ago we heard Jesus say something about a “new commandment.” Remember back to Maunday Thursday (that’s what Maunday means: command). He washed the feet of the disciples and then said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have love you, you are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Does that really let us off the hook? Well actually it doesn’t. The commandment isn’t anything new in the sense of something completely different. A confirmation student could tell you that the commandments are divided into two parts. The first three are about our relationship to God. The last seven are about our relationship to other people.
Jesus was asked this very question once by Pharisees who wanted to see if Jesus really knew the law. They wanted to catch him in some hypocrisy. “Teacher,” one asked Jesus, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered by dividing the Ten into the two parts, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39, ESV) So when Jesus is talking about keeping his commandments, when he says to love one another, he’s talking about the same, The Commandments. And at first, we might think that that’s not a very good thing at all. But notice how Jesus defines them. Look at the word that he uses most in his definition: According to Jesus, keeping the commandments, all of them, is to love.
It starts with Commandment one: “You shall have no other Gods” or “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” If we could just do that one we’d also be able to do the “Love your neighbor as yourself” too. Sounds a lot like what Jesus says too, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
But our inability to completely love God isn’t our only problem. We also have a problem with understanding the commandments as love because have been affected by the definition of love that’s been floating around our culture. At the prompting of the world around us we tend to think that love is a feeling. We think it’s something that happens here… in our hearts. God makes it clear that it’s not… with all your heart, soul and mind, that’s not just an emotion that much more than that. We connect love with the euphoria that comes from personal contact with a person we want to be with. But according to Jesus, love isn’t something that’s only found here (heart) it’s something that’s found here (hands)… keep my commandments. In other words, love isn’t just a feeling. Real love is much more than emotions, real love is a promise and a choice to keep a promise.
The best example I can think of is something that you’ve all heard:
Bridegroom, will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you nourish and cherish her as Christ loved His body the Church, giving Himself up for her? Will you love, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others remain united to her alone, as long as you both shall live? [Eph. 5:29]
Bride, will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you submit to him as the Church submits to Christ? Will you love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others remain united to him alone, as long as you both shall live? [Eph. 5:24]
Marriage vows from Lutheran Service Book Agenda, (CPH, 2006)
Our picture of love comes from romantic movies. There’s always that heartfelt scene between parent and child… “I know you’re going to get married, but do you really love him?” Did you notice that’s not the question we ask at the wedding? That’s not what God asks a newly weds. The vows don’t say “do” you love, they say “will” you love. Love is stated here as an act of the will, a promise, a decision. There’s nothing there about a burning feeling in the bride and grooms heart. Love isn’t just here (heart) love is here (hands). Any long married couple will tell you that. If marriage is based just on feelings found in the heart, there’ll be trouble: feelings and emotions don’t last, they change frequently. In fact, this misunderstanding of love and marriage is probably why one in four marriages end in divorce (even among Christians!). Marriage that is built on feelings that are thought to be love will always falter. God wants more than good feelings between a man and his wife. He wants them committed to each other in sickness and health, good times and bad, wealth and poverty, anger and calm. The world says that lack of loving feelings is a reason for divorce. In God’s eyes divorce never acceptable and is always sinful. (Mal 2:16; Matt 5:32; Mark 10:9, 11; Luke 16:18; 1 Cor 7:10 etc.) True love keeps its promise. The love that Jesus commands us to do in marriage and in every day of our lives isn’t just found in here (heart), it is found here (hands). Ask any wife, she’ll tell you doing the dishes can be one of the most loving things a husband can do.
Well marriage is one thing. But there are other commandments than the one talking about marriage (6th). Our wife/husband might be our closest neighbor but what about all the rest. Jesus wants us to love them, too. Right? Well, yea.
There was this man traveling on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho… he got beat up robbers and left for dead. The people who were expected to help him didn’t. The priest and the bible teacher just walked by because they had better things to do. The Samaritan is the only one who stops and helps. The story tells us that this unlikely person had compassion on him. That compassion isn’t a just a feeling, it’s an action. The priest and Levite undoubtedly felt bad for the beat up man, but they didn’t do a thing for him. But the Samaritan’s compassion shows in his actions. He bound up the wounds and took the man to the inn. That’s what Jesus means. According to Jesus, that is loving your neighbor. He’s saying, love isn’t only found here (heart) but here (hands). And what’s more, love found here (hands), acts even if there’s no feeling here (heart). It takes away the idea that’s often in our heads that we’ve got to have good feelings for someone to love them. We can show love in our actions even if we don’t feel it in our heart.
Well, if that’s love, then we are going to need some help. It’s hard to put that kind of thing into practice. It’s hard to do things for people who don’t seem to appreciate it, or even abuse the help. It’s hard to do things for people who are different from us. We want people to earn our help, and deserve our help. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition wouldn’t be a very popular program if they were dealing with undeserving families. “Joe’s been on Welfare because he’d rather sit on his butt all day watching cable and sucking down beer. Good Morning Joe! We’re here to tear down the cockroach infested shack you live in and build you a multi-million dollar house! We’re here to fulfill all your consumerist fantasies.” Well, I admit that’s a little extreme but that’s how we feel on a smaller scale. We aren’t able to love that way.
But Jesus does. Jesus’ love is a perfect love. It has feelings, he wept over the people who would kill him (Matt 23:37), and Lazarus his friend who died (John 11). But he really shows his love in action. He healed, taught, fed, and forgave undeserving people who gathered around him. Remember he ate with tax collectors and sinners. (Matt 9:10-13) He got his hands dirty serving dirty people. He shows us love that’s here in his hands. In fact, Jesus’ love is shown right here (hands) most clearly when he allowed nails to be driven right through them. He took our sins into his own hands and carried them to the cross. He served us. Like the Samaritan on the road, he helped us when we were helpless. There isn’t any better description of God’s love than John 3:16.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17, ESV)
And remember the word “so” at the beginning means “in this way.” “God loved the world in this way that he sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sins and mine.”
We certainly don’t deserve the forgiveness Jesus works for us on the cross. But he didn’t die for deserving families (there are no deserving families, we are all sinful from the time we are born) he died for sinners and tax collectors. He died for people who don’t feel like giving a hand to other people, especially when they are different or dirty. Jesus death on the cross forgives your sin and mine, even the sin wanting to pass by the helpless man on roadside.
Jesus knows you need help. He puts his love into action. He knows you can’t get rid of sin in your life, so he dies on the cross to remove it. He also knows that you don’t always feel like helping other people, so he gives you another Helper. That’s the very next thing he says after he says, “keep my commandments.” “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (John 14:16, ESV) Just as he promised, Jesus gives you and me the Holy Spirit as a Helper. I really like the choice of translation in this text (ESV). “Comforter” in some of the other translations makes the Holy Spirit sound like someone whose been sent to make us “feel better.” But he’s so much more than that. He puts God’s love in action in our lives. He makes the love of Jesus flow from here (heart) to here (hands). In fact, the word there (helper, comforter, paraclete) can even be translated “the one who kneels beside.” Think of the Good Samaritan kneeling beside the man on the road. That’s Jesus working through the Holy Spirit in you; helping you when you need help, and helping other people through you. Jesus makes it very clear, where the Holy Spirit is He is too. He doesn’t leave us as orphans. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, ESV) He’s right there with you when you help your neighbor who’s behind on his planting. He right there beside you when you give a can of food to the food bank. He’s there when you slap a pork and bacon patty on a bun for a biker.
You see, if you love Jesus, and every Christian does love Jesus, because they know that Jesus loves them first, with his life, death and resurrection… if you love Jesus, you will keep the commandments. Jesus makes sure of it. That’s love here (heart) and here (hands). Amen.
The peace of god that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.