John 14:23-29 (NRSV)
23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
My text this morning is written in John 14:23
“… Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. …”
For John, love is the basis of everything: God loves Jesus, Jesus loves God; God loves humanity, Jesus loves humanity, humanity loves God through Jesus; humanity loves each other; all is based on love!
But once again we see another important issue: not only is everything based on love, obedience is also important, for it is “Those who keep my word …” that are especially loved. Love is proven by obedience. Barclay suggests that obedient, trusting love leads to two things:
(i) It leads to ultimate safety: Whatever happens in the life of the Christian, we feel safe and secure in the love God has for us;
(ii) It leads to fuller revelation. The revelation of God is a costly thing and it is for the people who keep his commandments. No evil person can receive the revelation of God. Barclay explains: “It is only to the man who is looking for him that God reveals himself; and it is only to the man who, in spite of failure, is reaching up that God reaches down.”
John Marsh explains: “The eternal dwelling of God with men begins now. Jesus continues that the man who does not love him will not keep his word; so we may deduce, the Father cannot enter into the same relationships with him as with the loving and obedient disciple.”
There are some questions that cannot be answered simply using reason and human intellect. We can only know certain things, the most important things of life, its meaning and purpose, by allowing God to dwell within us and in our lives. This is only possible for those who love the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ and who are obedient to His teachings. Marsh continues: “It would not be possible, indeed, for the Father to dwell in the hearts and lives that did not honour the Son.”
When people totally reject God and close their hearts (and more importantly their minds) to His prompting and leading, God can do nothing for them; in fact the whole notion of God seems ridiculous to them. I am not surprised that people like Richard Dawkins and other atheists find God, and especially Jesus, ridiculous.
This is why truth is linked to the presence of the Spirit in the life of a person that must be the yardstick: people are attracted to the message of ‘good’ people, and it is only possible to be really good when the Holy Spirit enables us to live the life of Christ.
Fellowship with God and the revelation of God are dependent on love, and love is dependent upon obedience. Barclay adds: “… the person who walks in His way inevitably walks with him…”
I am reminded of some of the hymns I used to love as a young Christian: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of His word … Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey …” (This seems to be a recurring theme in the lectionary because I can remember thinking of this before, quite recently).
Those who follow the ways of Jesus are given a special promise, (verse 23 continues) “… and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
God, in Christ, through the Spirit fills our lives – something we can never fathom – but we can experience it. J C Ryle writes: “… holiness [being obedient in love to our Lord’s teachings] brings eminent comfort with it, and that no man has such sensible enjoyment of his religion as the man who … walks closely with God … There is more of heaven on earth to be obtained than most Christians are aware of …”
If we are not happy, we need to ask: “Are we being holy?” This is a vital question. If we are following God in obedience to the teachings of Jesus, the Spirit will fill our lives with peace and joy, even in the midst of all the challenges that life brings. Ryle adds: “If we want to be eminently happy, we must strive to be eminently holy.”
The Holy Spirit is the presence of Christ in the here and now and also teaches us all things. This is not a one off experience that the disciples knew on the day of Pentecost, it is a continuous process, because the Holy Spirit leads us deeper and deeper into the truth of God. Barclay makes the important point that ‘… there is never any excuse in the Christian faith for the shut mind …’ The Christian who feels that he has got things sorted, and has nothing more to learn ‘… is the Christian who has not even begun to understand the doctrine of the Holy Spirit …’
I am troubled by those who think they have it all figured out; I am disturbed by those whose arrogance leads to them publishing their own personal study bibles and who claim to have an answer for every question. I keep on saying that the greatest threat in the 21st century is certainty, because it is this that closes the door to the Spirit’s leading and teaching. Jesus explained this as recorded in Luke 11:35: “Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness.”
Jesus continues to speak of how the Holy Spirit reminds us of what he said. I know there are difficulties in the Scriptures, but this to me is one of their strengths. I believe the authors of the Gospels were guided by the Holy Spirit to remember what God wanted to be written of the life and teaching of Jesus. I do not believe that complete precision and so-called accuracy is what God wants, because it would lead to the very fundamentalism that is so dangerous. The things of God (the things of Jesus) have to be mysterious. We have a wonderfully diverse and rich expression of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and we need to help of the Holy Spirit to discern the meaning of Jesus’ message for today. Barclay adds: “… the Holy Spirit saves us from arrogance and error of thought …” In addition, it is the Holy Spirit that will keep us right in matters of conduct as well.
Once more Jesus gives the disciples the gift of peace – the Hebrew – shalom. This is much more than the absence of trouble, it means everything which makes for the highest good. Nothing can happen in the life of the Christian that ever disturbs a deep sense of inner peace – that which only the Holy Spirit can give. I remember this well when I was so ill with a pancreatic tumour. Even in my darkest time, there was a very real sense of peace.
Jesus makes it clear that his ways are not the ways of the world. He is going back to the Father and says that if the disciples really love him they would be pleased. He was going to be released from the limitations of this world and to be restored to his rightful place in glory. If we really understand this we too would be glad when those we love, go to be with God. We would be gutted with sorrow, but even in our sorrow and loneliness we ought to be glad for them, for they have gone to be with our Lord which, as St Paul puts it, is ‘better by far’.
This is so difficult. I am dealing with two people who just cannot get over their loss and while I know this theory, their pain is so acute that they cannot hear it yet. Yet on the other hand, another colleague who was devastated by the loss of his wife about two years ago now, is now delighted as he has met and fallen in love with someone new, who was also bereaved a few years ago. It is difficult and complex.
J C Ryle suggests that this passage contains truths that ‘… no man can understand except he that receives and experiences it …’ but adds that what we can know is that ‘… eminent holiness brings eminent comfort …’ Happiness, joy and peace come from obedience to what Jesus taught because this is how we love him in practical action. We are helped in this because to try to do it alone only leads to failure; and so we are given the Holy Spirit – the Comforter – to remind us of all Jesus did and taught and inspire us to action as Ryle suggests: “He can keep in our minds the whole system of truth and duty, and make us ready for every good word and work.”
What Jesus can give us is peace – not money, worldly satisfaction or prosperity – because these are temporary. What Jesus gives the world is incapable of giving. But it is sometimes difficult to find because our humanity is so weak and frail.
Once again this truth is not to be experienced by our trying harder and harder, because this never works; it is experienced when we try less and rest in the grace of God, as we allow the Spirit to fill us and flood us with God’s peace.
Jesus ends with an explanation that he will be going away, but only to return again to be with them and bless them in the power of his spirit and to explain that he was teaching them in this way so that they might believe, because none of these wonderful promises would be possible unless he too was obedient to the end of what he had come to do – offer himself up on the Cross so that the world might come to him.
We can know God’s peace, which is real, deep and meaningful, not the peace of the world, the ‘peace of God that passes all understanding’. We can also know joy and purpose in our lives, but it requires us to do something. We need to love Jesus, and this is not some superficial, sentimental experience, it is practical and significant – we need to be obedient to what he calls us to do. When we do this, God comes to us and makes his home within us. Jesus put it this way:
“… Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. …” (John 14:23)