Sixth Sunday of Easter
April 27, 2008
Text: John 14:15-21
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!
Our Lord Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; ESV). But the first question that enters our minds and hearts is, “How am I going to keep Your commandments? How will this prophecy come true? Because I am a sinner. And I know that of myself I can do not good thing. I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I cannot even make a beginning of Your commandments, so how is it that I will keep them?” And of course, you’re right, if you say this within your heart. Of yourself, you cannot keep the commandments of God. And thanks be to God, your salvation does not depend on keeping the commandments. As a good Lutheran, you know that you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Works play no part in your salvation. Ah, but works do result from your salvation. Works come after justification. And you are only free to love God and desire to keep His commandments after the Holy Spirit has regenerated you. And that is the key. Since you have been redeemed from sin, death, and the devil by the precious blood of Christ, and since the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel and enlightened you with His gifts, the Word and the Sacraments, you are no longer God’s enemy. You love Him. You are no longer spiritually blind and dead. You are spiritually alive in God and have been given the gift of spiritual sight. And out of love for God, you desire to fulfill His commandments.
But again, how do you do that, since even though you are a redeemed and enlivened child of God, you are at the same time a sinner as long as you live in this earthly life? The Holy Spirit, again, working in the Word and Sacraments, keeps you in the faith of Jesus Christ, and gives you the power, out of love for God and your neighbor, to do the works of faith, keeping the commandments of God. Notice that this love for God does not come from within you. The power to keep His commandments does not come from within you. It comes from without. It comes from God Himself, who through His Son, pours out His Holy Spirit like living water into your hearts. That is the promise of Jesus. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (vv. 16-17). The Holy Spirit is called here a “Helper” in our translation. The Greek word is παράκλητον, or Paraclete, literally One you call to your side in the day of trouble, as a child calls his mother when he is hurt. The word is variously translated as Helper, Comforter, or Counselor, all of which hit upon some part of the Holy Spirit’s role in the lives of His Christians. He is the Spirit of truth, sent by the Father at the request of the Son to guide us into all truth by His Word. And Jesus is the Truth to which He guides us. The Holy Spirit brings us Jesus. That’s what Jesus means when He says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (v. 18). It’s not just that Jesus will come at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead. That is certainly true, but that is not what Jesus is talking about here. Jesus continually comes to us. The Holy Spirit brings Him to us and us to Him in the means of grace, the Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. In this way He keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, kindles our love for God, and empowers us to do the works He commands. Love for God and obedience to His commandments, and even faith itself, do not come from our own resources. God Himself fills us with these through His Holy Spirit.
The world does not know the Spirit. The world cannot receive the Spirit “because it neither sees him nor knows him” (v. 17). This is demonstrated when St. Paul preaches in the Areopagus in Athens. The Greeks, being connoisseurs of philosophy and rhetoric, wanted to hear this “new teaching” that Paul was presenting (Acts 17:19). The Athenians spent “their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new,” so addicted were they to the latest in philosophy and learning. Naturally, then, they wanted to hear this strange teaching about Paul’s God. Paul even uses their own poets and their own altar “To the unknown god” (v. 23) to convince them. But as we learn if we read the verses immediately following our first lesson, many of the Athenians simply could not get past the idea of the resurrection from the dead. “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this’” (v. 32). Those who mocked betrayed their allegiance to the world and their inability to see or know the Holy Spirit. Here the Spirit was speaking through the blessed apostle Paul, calling the Athenians by the Gospel, seeking to enlighten them with His gifts and gather them into His Church. But they would not. You see, the Holy Spirit never forces anyone to believe. There is no such thing as “irresistible grace.” The Holy Spirit never forces a person to leave the world and be joined to Jesus Christ. Before you are converted by the Holy Spirit, you do not have the freedom to choose God or make your decision for Jesus. But you do have the freedom to reject Him. The Athenians who mocked St. Paul rejected the Holy Spirit and the Gospel. They did not know Him. And so many in the world today reject Him. They do not know Him either.
But you know Him. For Jesus has not left you an orphan. He comes to each one of you in His Church, by means of the Word and Sacraments, by which the Holy Spirit calls you, gathers you into His Church, enlightens you, sanctifies you, and keeps you. You have been given a great gift, you who believe. Because you, too, were of the world, which neither sees nor knows the Holy Spirit. But by His grace, without any merit or worthiness on your part, the Holy Spirit has given you faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit comes to you in Baptism, in His living and active Word, and in the Holy Supper, to deliver Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, and all the saving benefits your Lord Jesus Christ has won for you. All thanks and praise be to God!
So if you love Jesus, and you do, because the Holy Spirit has filled you with that love, you will obey His commandments. This is not the kind of conditional statement that says you have to prove your love by obeying the commandments. It is a prophecy, spoken by the surest Prophet there is, our Lord Jesus. If you have been brought to faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit, then you will love Him and you will want to obey His commandments. That’s who you are now in Christ. So several things need to be said about this new status as those who love Jesus and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to keep His commandments. First, you will never keep the commandments perfectly in this life. You will fall and you will fail, because in this life you have to continue to struggle with the old sinful flesh, the attacks of the devil, and the temptations of the world. But don’t let that deter you. When you fail, repent, and know that in Christ Jesus you have the full and free forgiveness of all your sins. And when the holy angels usher you into heaven, then your sanctification will be perfect, and the image of God fully restored in you. Second, and closely related, don’t allow your sinful flesh to pull your new man down into spiritual laziness. It’s very easy for the Christian to say, “Since I am saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, it doesn’t matter if I continue in this or that particular sin. After all, works have nothing to do with my salvation.” It is true that works do not cause your salvation. But they do result from it. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:1-4). Repent, therefore, and put away your sin. Claim the new life that is yours in Baptism. Third, you need to know that if you are to love God and show it outwardly by obeying His commandments, you will suffer for it. For not only does the world not see or know the Holy Spirit, it is also hostile to God and to Christianity. But take heart. It’s okay if you suffer for Christ. In fact, it is a privilege if you are called to suffer for His Name’s sake. Blessed are you. This is why St. Peter reminds us in our Epistle lesson, “even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15). If you are called upon to suffer at the hands of the world, do not despair. The Holy Spirit is with you. Jesus will not leave you an orphan, but will come to you. You are loved by the Father. The world can only kill the body. It cannot kill the soul. So be prepared to suffer, and be prepared to give an account for the hope that is in you, the hope given you by the Spirit in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Love for God is a gift of the Holy Spirit. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). This love comes from faith in Christ, which is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. And from this faith and love come the works of faith, obedience to the commandments of God. Jesus says, “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 14:21). Beloved in the Lord, you have been given faith by the Holy Spirit, filled with love for God by the Holy Spirit, and given the power and promise of keeping His commandments. The Father loves you. The Son loves you and manifests Himself to you. He has not left you an orphan to fend for yourself in this world. He comes to you with His forgiveness and gives you new life in His resurrection. Which is the same as to say, He gives you His Holy Spirit. “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (v. 17). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!