6th Sunday of Easter
6th Sunday of Easter
Title: You are a Keeper.
Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Ascension of Jesus to the side of God the Father. The Ascension of Jesus has almost become a forgotten holy day which is a shame, for it is in Jesus' ascension that we truly learn of the reason for the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today's Gospel, though, gives us a little preview of Pentecost.
Have you ever heard someone say, "Talk is cheap"? It's easy to say you love someone. It's easy to say, "I will stay faithful to you until death parts us." And it is really easy to say, "I love God." It is easy to say those things, but much harder to live them.
Talk is cheap. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. And according to today's Gospel, Jesus knows it. He doesn't say, "If you love me, then say so," but he says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." And a little further in our reading, "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."
That puts us in an awkward spot, to say the least. For we know deep down that even though we have a good shot at outwardly keeping God's Commandments, we fail miserably at keeping them in our thoughts. It leaves us in a dilemma. What are we to make of his command, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." and "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."?
It is very easy to misunderstand these two verses because they don't translate as well as they could in English. According to the oldest Greek Bibles, there are two separate words for the "keeping" of the Ten Commandments, as in the Old Testament, and the "keeping" of Jesus' commandments in the New Testament.
The keeping of Jesus' commandments is not a New Testament rehashing of the Old Testament Mosaic Law. The New Testament itself warns against this in Galatians 3:10, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." This is New Testament writing. Cursed are those who do not do everything written in the book of the Law. No wiggle room there. Then to what is Jesus referring by the word "keep"? The Word used here is not the Word for keeping the law, but a word that describes keeping a treasure. It's not "keep" in the sense of going down a checklist of dos and don'ts, but "keep" as in taking care of something very important.
Here is a little illustration to show you what I mean. When a Christian couple gets married, they make vows to love each other. They carry a sign of their love by wearing wedding bands. They honor each other when they are together and when they are apart. At the same time, no Christian husband or wife, at least, shouldn't expect the perfect fulfillment of what they expect the other to maintain. Instead, there is constant forgiveness in the marriage and striving daily to do one's best for the other.
That is the picture Jesus is describing in our text. Because you love him, you really do strive to honor him. His "commandments" are the living out of his gifts of Word, worship, and your neighbor. When you love him, you will take care of these things and keep them with the highest care and devotion.
The problem that arises as we strive to honor Christ in keeping his commandments, is that on account of our sins, we fall short of keeping God's gifts to us, as we wish to do. We neglect devotion to His Word, which is supposed to be the lamp for our feet and the light for our path. We do not always hunger and thirst for his body and blood in His Supper as we ought to. We do not love our neighbor as we should.
This is a terrible offense because in whatever way you neglect your neighbor, you neglect Jesus Christ, for he tells us in Matthew 25:35 and 36, "For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me." And we all know how often we don't do those things, don't we?
Thank God that Jesus knows that the only way we can even begin to keep his gifts holy and sacred is if we receive help outside of ourselves, so he promises that he will send another helper, another advocate, the Holy Spirit who acts on his behalf.
What does this mean for us who are living long after the promise of the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples? Besides the Holy Spirit's main function which is to give faith, he is like a public defender. He helps us with our weaknesses. He does this by bringing into our memory the words of Jesus, bearing witness to Jesus, and taking what Jesus is and showing it to us. He helps us by giving us the true knowledge of God and by remaining alongside us and in us. Think of it this way. Imagine a courtroom in which you are the defendant. The prosecuting attorney is the devil. He has brought before the court a whole list of serious crimes you have committed. You are guilty of each and every one of them. You don't want to admit to it, but you are guilty.
You need the best attorney there is, which naturally is the Holy Spirit. He makes his appeal directly to God the Father, who is sitting in the seat of judgment. Your attorney, the Holy Spirit, calls on Jesus the perfect Son of God who, while standing before God the Father with his nail-pierced hands tells God the Father that you are not guilty, not because you have not committed sin, but because he has already taken your punishment. Just who do you think will win the case; Satan or the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit of course! But he does even more, for when you have him in you; that is on your side you have Christ in you. To have Christ is to have victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil in this lifetime! Having Christ, then, is to live in faith, as Luther has described it: "From this you must learn, as the disciples did that day, to know of and think of life alone.
But it does not even stop there, for when you have Christ in you, you also have the Father. For Christ, while being one of the persons of the Trinity, is God. He is in you now, even though you are not completely obeying his commandments, for in your baptism you were sealed forever with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.
But you say, "How do I know that?" You know because Christ manifests himself to you through love, your loving of God, and your loving of neighbor. For you see, your loving is not something you do on your own, your loving is always a result of his loving you first, and his love for you gives you life.
Jesus didn't just say that he loved you, that he was going to point you to the truth, or that he would show you the way, so you can find life. As we learned last week, he loves you because he is the Truth, the Way, and the Life. There is no other Way, Truth, or Life
He keeps you from being destroyed by sin when he died for you, he keeps you from being destroyed by death when he rose for you, and he keeps you alive today in His Word and in His Spirit. As a result, you now love him and keep his Word. Amen.
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Rev. Dennis Rhoads
Vacancy pastor. LCMS