Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)
May 29, 2011
Text: John 14:15-21
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!
Our Lord says to us this morning, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; ESV). It makes sense. If you love the Lord Jesus, you will want to do what He says, both to please Him, and because you know that if He commanded it, it must be good for you. But there is a problem. You don’t keep His commandments. Even as a Christian, you try to keep them, you want to keep them, but as St. Paul says of himself in Romans 7, you do not do what you want to do (Rom. 7:15). The old sinful flesh continues to get in the way, and again and again you fall into sin. It’s very frustrating. And then a terrible thought enters your mind… Does this mean you don’t love Jesus? You begin to question your own heart, because you know after all that your heart is deceitful. “I think I love Jesus… don’t I? But I don’t keep His commandments. I try, but I fail. Maybe I don’t love Him.” Beloved in the Lord, recognize these thoughts for what they are… Lies of the devil! The devil is great at quoting Scripture to his own advantage. He knows the Bible better than you do. And he is very good at twisting it, taking what happens to be quite true from the Scriptures, and turning it against you to lead you to doubt and despair. Of course you love Jesus. How can you not love Him after all that He has done for you, giving His very life into death for you after suffering all the torments of the holy cross and hell itself, in your place? He is risen, and He continues to give Himself to you as He comes among you here in His gifts in the holy Church. Of course you love Him. But it is true, your fallen flesh continues to drag you down into sin. You do not keep His commandments. And for this, for these many and grievous sins, you are heartily sorry and sincerely repent of them. That godly sorrow, of course, is a fruit of your love for the Lord Jesus. So don’t let the devil misinterpret this text for you and thus lead you to despair. It is rather imperative that you gain a right understanding of this text so that you can revel in the treasures your Lord here presents to you in His Word.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But don’t stop reading there. Take careful note of what Jesus promises in the very next verse. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper” (v. 16). Paraclete is actually the word, and it can mean Helper, Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, and really all of the above together. Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. Because if you are to keep His commandments, or even begin to desire to keep His commandments, this must come from the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Jesus is promising Pentecost here, which we will celebrate on June 12th, which for us is also Confirmation Day. And Jesus is here promising that you also, in your Baptism and in hearing the Word of God and in the Holy Supper, will receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus asks the Father, who sends the Holy Spirit through the Son. It is a Trinitarian action. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. He is the Spirit of truth (v. 17), and will guide you into all truth (16:13), ever pointing you to Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), your only Savior. The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit, because they are unbelieving. But you believe. You have been given faith by the Holy Spirit, and you receive the Holy Spirit by that Spirit-given faith through the divinely appointed means of such reception, the Word of God and the visible Word of God, the holy Sacraments. By these means of grace you know the Spirit, and He dwells with you and in you (v. 17). He calls you to faith by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies (which is to say, makes you holy) and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers, and He will raise you up to eternal life on the Last Day. That is what Jesus promises the Spirit will do and is even now doing.
So if you are to demonstrate your love for Jesus Christ by keeping His commandments, you must have the Holy Spirit, whom the Father pours out on you through the Son in your Baptism and in the other means of grace. It is important, also, however, to understand what is meant by the word “keep,” as in “you will keep my commandments.” This doesn’t mean simply to obey the commandments, but to hear, heed, honor, observe, consider, meditate upon, believe, and yes, put into practice. And not just the Ten Commandments summed up by Jesus’ admonitions to love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31), but the whole instruction of the Lord, the whole Word of God, Law and Gospel. Through which Word alone, by the way, the Spirit of God works, not because He couldn’t work otherwise, but because He has graciously tied Himself to the Word, to the means of grace, so that you can always know where to find Him, and always know how to discern between the Holy Spirit and other, sinister spirits.
We sang in the Introit: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). That is because through the Word of God the Holy Spirit enlightens us so that we believe in Jesus, love Him, and actually begin to do what He commands. We prayed in the collect that by God’s inspiration (literally His putting the Spirit into us) we may think those things that are right and by His merciful guiding accomplish them. Having been forgiven of all our sins in thought, word, and deed, we now pray that our thoughts, words, and deeds may be right, righteous, sanctified, made holy. We are not forgiven or saved by our good works, but we are always concerned to be doing good works and putting sin to death within us. We are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. It is always active in love and good works. It is always returning to Baptism to put the old sinful flesh to death.
Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The Christian’s keeping of the commandments comes not from fear of punishment, but from love. And this love comes from faith. For Jesus’ words here are not a threat, but a promise. If you love Jesus, you will keep His commandments. He will make it so. So you see, sanctification, too, is by grace alone. It is God’s gift to us, God’s action in us. It is a gift given and nourished in God’s Word and Sacraments. You come to church to be forgiven all your sins. But you also come to be strengthened in your Christian life. Because by the gifts of Christ, the Lord frees you from sin, from damnation, from the threats and punishments and compulsion of the Law. He frees you to love. He frees you to keep the commandments according to that same love. It is the love of God poured out on you and flowing through you in concrete good works. Now, you will never do this perfectly in this earthly life, as you well know. Again, this is because you always have the sinful flesh to contend with, which you continually need to crucify. But don’t let that stop you. Remember, Jesus died for you. All your sins are forgiven! Christ is risen. You have eternal life! All of this is by grace, without works, received by faith alone. So now you’re free to go do works without worrying about whether they are perfect (because they’re not!), or rightly motivated (because they’re not!), or whether they please God (they do, not because they’re so wonderful, but because they are the fruit of faith). Just go out with joy and serve your neighbor in love. Just rejoice that you are a child of God, and live the life of a child of God. That is what the forgiveness of sins does for us. It frees us from bondage. To forgive actually means to release. You’re released, freed from all bondage, when Jesus forgives you your sins. What a marvelous life of freedom and joy the Lord has given to us.
And He is with us in this Christian life. He does not leave us as orphans; He comes to us in His blessed Word and Sacraments (John 14:18). The world no longer sees Him, because His visible presence has been removed from us in His ascension into heaven. But He is still with us, just as present with us as He was in His visible earthly ministry. Now we see Him by faith. He is in the Father, and we are in Christ, and Christ is in us (v. 20). His Spirit is in us and moves us to keep His commandments. The Christian life is that life in which God is active in His Christians. And this is a gift bestowed by the Father in love, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. Of course you love Jesus. Don’t let the devil tell you otherwise. You love because He first loved you (1 John 4:19), and gave Himself for you, that you might be God’s own child. You love Him, but more importantly, He loves you and has redeemed you by His death. But He is not dead. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! And that means you are not left in death. You have eternal life now, a life of love and the sanctification of the Spirit. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.