Today we are going to conclude our preaching series focusing on three pivotal sayings of Jesus Christ that are sources of great instruction, incredible wisdom, and lasting hope. These sayings are for us a way to draw closer to our Savior, while at the same time allow us to come to a deeper and more connected understanding of the nature of Jesus. We began the series with the saying, “I Am the vine and you are the branches” as we sought to better understand the importance of having Christ in our lives, of the fruitfulness that results from that, and the role our actions play in those endeavors. Last week we spent our time on the words, “I am the way and the truth and the life”, as we unpacked those words to explore what Christ is the way towards, what truth He is claiming to be, and what life He is calling us towards. Today we are going to look at the words, “I will not leave you” as we look to this promise from Christ, our responsibility because of this promise, and the hope that can be ours as a result of all of this.
Are You Obedient?
A young man was running hard for a second term as governor in his homestate. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes (and no lunch) he arrived at a church barbecue. It was late afternoon and he was famished. As he moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.
"Excuse me," the young man said, "do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?"
"Sorry," the woman told him. "I'm supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person."
"But I'm starved," the governor said.
"Sorry," the woman said again. "Only one to a customer."
This young man was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around. "Do you know who I am?" he said. "I am the governor of this state."
"Do you know who I am?" the woman said. "I'm the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister."
This lady, this obedient lady, is modeling the behavior that I believe is at the heart of our Scripture lesson this morning. Jesus talks about many things in this passage. He talks about love, eternal life, about how He will interact with the world, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and His eventual return. I mean the theological nuggets in this passage are vast! But if we take time to look at this, really examine the underlying issues here, I think you see how obedience is paramount.
He starts out right in the beginning, verse 15, and says, “If you love me, keep my commands.” Right off the bat we see a call to obedience. Verse 21 we see it again, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
He continues in verses 23-24, “Jesus replied, 'Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”
And He is not done yet, verse 31, “but he [The Holy Spirit] comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”
So why this focus on obedience? To some, this is God pulling out the dictator hat. To others this is infringing on our free will. But is it really either of those? Today we are focusing on the words, “I will never leave you.” And while that promise is true and wholly accurate, there is a caveat. We can decline it. We can refuse it. We can turn Christ down. So how can we accept this promise and claim it for ourselves?
If you love Him...obey Him
The best way is to love him. William Barclay writes, “First and foremost there is love. 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; heaven and earth, humanity and God, person and person are all bound together by the bond of love.”1
Love is the connecting piece of this whole thing. Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we will obey him. Now this is not one of those 'if you loved me then you would do it' type of things. That mindset is centered in a control by guilt mode. There is no guilt in this. Jesus is not trying to guilt anyone into anything. It is quite the opposite. Jesus is trying to help us.
How many of you have been around a small child when they have been told that they cannot do something or go somewhere? Last week Wesley wanted to go outside, by himself, and ride his bike. He is at that age where his independence is really starting to exert itself. He wants to do everything by himself. Anyway I told him that he could not do it by himself. It was not because he was not capable of riding his bike alone, he rides very well. It was because he would be alone next to a busy road where a whole myraid of bad things could happen. Those were reasons that this three year old, who desperately wanted to ride his bike alone could not grasp. He was not happy. Can you see how this can play out in each of our lives?
Jesus tells us what to do. Jesus guides us on what not to do. And for whatever reason, we do not understand the big picture, we cannot see all of the factors, and we get upset and possible disobey. Christ is telling us here, listen to me. I know what is best for you. I am not telling you to listen to me out of some sense of ego or from a place of demanded respect. I am telling you, if you love Me, if you trust Me, then listen to Me. I know what is best and that is what I want for you.
For John, obedience was the only proof of love and I think there is great wisdom in that. After all if you love someone you seek to make them happy. You strive to gain their approval. You seek to live in harmony with that person. If you do not obey someone, does that make them happy? Does that encourage them to think highly of you? Does that create a sense of harmony between the two of you? No!
Therefore, if you love Jesus, you seek to listen, to trust, and to obey. As the ol' hymn goes, “Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
If you obey Him...He will live in you
Now that we see how obedience is sparked by love and how it is a direct result of love, what happens next? What happens next is that you have prepared a place for Jesus to dwell. Again we go back to verses 15-18, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
This is the crux of our passage this morning, “I will not leave you.” This is the promise that Christ made not only to a group of stunned and scared disciples, but still holds true today. Jesus tells us that if we love Him and keep His commands, He will ask the Father to send the Advocate, the Spirit. If the Spirit is here, so is God, so is Christ. If God sends the Advocate, it is not for a time or an event. It is permanent for us.
“The Holy Spirit gate-crashes no man's heart; He waits to be received. So when we think of the wonderful things which the Holy Spirit can do, surely we will set apart some time amidst the bustle and the rush of life to wait in silence for his coming.”2
The Holy Spirit is the way God will communicate with us, teach us, urge us, love us. It is through the Holy Spirit that we can stay in touch with God, be transformed by God, feel loved by God. God was present and active in the lives of the people we read about in the Old Testament; Abraham, Noah, Jonah, and Job, just to name a few. Then God came as Jesus to be with us in another way. In a way that we could relate to and bond with. Now, with Jesus at God's right hand, we have the Holy Spirit. God has never, and will never leave our side. Trials...God is there. Pain...God is there. Fear...God is there. Celebration...God is there. God is there through everything, for everything, and all we have to do is allow it. Allow it through our obedience.
If He lives in you...others will then be able to see Him
Now here is our responsibility. If you obey God, and the Holy Spirit dwells in you, then you now have the responsibility of showing that to other people. If you are living with the wonderful gift of having God dwell within you then you have the responsibility of telling others about it. Why? Listen again to verses 19-21, “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
Who did Jesus show Himself to after the resurrection? Pilate, the Pharisees, or was it Mary Magdalene and the disciples? He revealed Himself to those that loved Him and obeyed Him. Jesus says as much, “The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” If we love Christ, obey Christ, then Christ will show Himself to us. If we then teach others, witness to others about Jesus and we get them to love Christ and obey Christ, then Christ will live in them. It is a process. A process that we are called to be an active part of because Christ is reveled within believers, not non-believers.
Are you a Vessel?
So my question for all of us today is, are you a vessel? Have you poured yourself out so there is more room for Christ? Are you doing all you can to be so full of the Holy Spirit that people cannot help but see the love of Christ through you? That is our challenge. I know that none of us can be all those things at all times. The key is be those things more times than not. To be those things when Christ call us. To be those things when we are moved by the Holy Spirit. We do not know the time when Christ will need us to be His heart, His hands and His feet to another. But there will be a time. Do your best to be ready at a moments notice so you can be a vessel for Christ. Christ made a promise to never leave us and therefore we not only have a responsibility in that, we can find eternal hope in that.
If you love Him...obey Him, because if you obey Him...He will live in you, and if He lives in you...others will then be able to see Him.
This whole series was intended to show you the importance of having Jesus be the center of your life; reveal to you the hope that Jesus will lead you to life eternal; and give to you the peace that Jesus will never leave you. Do not hide these revelations. Do not bury that peace and hope. Go. Go and share with others, that this may not be a world of darkness but a world illuminated by the love of Christ that dwells within each of you.
1 Barclay, William. The Gospel of John, Volume 2. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press) p. 169.
2. ibid, p. 168.