Scripture: John 14:1-17
Sermon by Rev. Henry Jonker
Jesus was about to take his final trip to Jerusalem – to suffering, crucifixion and death. John prepares us for this story in his gospel in the previous chapter where we read that Jesus announces to his disciples that someone will betray him(John 13:18ff). In that chapter Jesus even predicts that unpredictable Peter will deny him no less than three times! (John 13:13ff) And in John 13:33, Jesus tells his disciples, “I will be with you only a little longer.” Immediately following this announcement, Jesus said, “…a new command I give you: love one another.”
These words of Jesus were troubling to the disciples and Jesus, in turn, acknowledged their troubled feelings. It is this theme of feeling troubled that “frames” our Scripture reading of this morning. In John 14:1 Jesus says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” But then later in verse 27 he says, “Peace I leave with you…don’t let your hearts be troubled neither let them be afraid.” It is within this frame that two issues get expanded on: faith and love.
1) John 14:12 expands on the matter of faith. It records Jesus making a statement beginning with “Amen, amen I say to you” (You are probably used to hearing words such as “verily, verily” or “I tell you the truth” but the actual wording in the original is “amen, amen” - that is to say: so shall it be!) “Amen, Amen I say to you: anyone who has faith in me will DO what I have been doing.”
2) John 14:15 expands on the matter of love. Jesus says: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Now ask yourself this: what did Jesus, in summary, command his disciples? Isn’t it “love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself?” (Matthew 22:36) Now Jesus says here: “He who does not love will not obey my teaching.” Literally it says: “will not obey my words.”
How in the world would the disciples and, by extension, we today, be able to live in that kind of obedience? Well…says Jesus…you’re gonna get some help! When I’m gone another Counselor will come – “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). And that Spirit of truth “Teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).
You know, I often hear people say something like this: “when I read the Bible it’s mostly just words, words and more words. It’s just not grabbing me.” We’ve all been there at one time or another. Maybe you’re in that kind of space right now. Let me ask you this: have you been sincerely praying to let the Spirit speak to you through whatever you’re reading in the Bible?
Historically we Christian Reformed folk have had the practice of regular family devotions at our meal times. It is a practice that for the most part, I would suggest, has fallen out of favor. In part, because it had become a custom which failed to ask the deeper question of how to apply what was being read to our lives. Happily there are many who engage in regular personal devotions. Yet, they too often feel dissatisfied with what they’re doing. Somehow it just isn’t moving them forward. A big part of this may well be that we’re not prayerfully engaged with whatever Bible reading we’re doing.
At Luke 11:13, for example, Jesus says, “If you then who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” The Heidelberg Catechism says, “we are to pray continually for the gifts of God’s grace and Holy Spirit” (Q/A 116). As a matter of fact the older translation of answer 116 is much more dramatic. It says that we are to “with hearty sighing unceasingly BEG him for these gifts.” When’s the last time you begged God for his grace and Holy Spirit so as to better understand his Word? You see, it is through our begging that God begins to realize that we are really serious about wanting to know and do His word. Serious about wanting Jesus realized in us.
Speaking of begging let me take a brief detour to another passage in the Bible, Luke 11:9 – “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Do you catch the beggar’s theme in this verse? The context is persistence in asking for bread. Any of us who have had encounters with beggars will know this: they are not afraid to ask. Go to any professional sports event or concert and you can be sure that a beggar near the venue will ask you for a hand out. When, upon asking, they do not receive - you’ll find them rummaging through garbage cans and garbage bins. Should they still not find anything, you may be sure they’ll knock on someone’s door. Why? Because their singular focus is to find something to eat. They’re not going to quit until then. It is that kind of persistence that needs to be evident in our praying for the Holy Spirit as well.
We are in desperate need of the inspiration and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Without this empowerment, chances are that we will be reading words, words and more words. Without this empowerment we will not be in any shape or state of readiness to love God or Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Take note of how the complete verse reads: “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your strength and with ALL your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27 – emphasis mine HJ). To love God in this sense is to love him in the totality of our being. Loving God this way translates into obedience. For, “if anyone loves me, he will obey my word” (John 14:23).
Obedience … now that’s pretty well a dirty word these days isn’t it? Not much has changed in the history of humanity. Everyone seems to always want to do what’s right in their own eyes (cf. Judges 21:25). Yet we hear the clear call to obedience here don’t we?
The obedience that we are called to however, is a thankful obedience. The Heidelberg Catechism gives us a good “heads up” about this when it discusses the 10 commandments under its third heading - “gratitude.” e are called to thankfully obey him who calls himself “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus is the truth personified! And…says Jesus (who is the truth!)…”when I am no longer with you, I will pour out my “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17). Notice the order here in John – love to obedience: “if anyone loves me (heart, soul, mind, strength), he will obey my word.” We may even read this verse this way: “if anyone loves me, he will maintain my word.” How? Through obedience.
People today quite often ask: “how do I know that I have received the Holy Spirit?” One of the reasons for the degree of uncertainty that exists is the considerable emphasis on special manifestations of the Holy Spirit in North American Christianity. The church in North America has gone through three significant phases of Pentecostal renewal. Pentecostalism was influential in the early 1900’s. In the 1970’s neo-Pentecostalism hit the church. Now, more recently, we are influenced by “third-wave” Pentecostalism. You have, no doubt heard of Vineyard churches started by John Wimber. In Canada, there’s the Toronto Airport church. Then there’s Peter Wagner’s “spiritual warfare” ministry. Christian bookstores feature hundreds of self-help books and the writings of the likes of Frank Peretti and Tim LaHaye.
What are we to make of this? I don’t pretend to have complete answers. There is however sufficient concern in our CRC denomination that Synod 2004 appointed a study committee to help guide us in being discerning in these matters. This is especially important in a time when many Christian readers tend to read rather literally whatever they do read and so accept rather uncritically whatever they read or experience. This much may be said: to limit evidence of possessing the Holy Spirit to those with supernatural abilities or gifts is to do injustice to the overall teachings of Scripture concerning the Holy Spirit.
To limit ourselves only to our Bible reading for this service, we come to know that the evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit is visible in and through those who practice their Christian faith out of love for God.
Thank you prayers alone are not enough. Our thankfulness is to express itself in the everyday comings and goings of life and living. It is to express itself in unconditional love. As one author succinctly put it some years ago: “orthodoxy without orthopraxy is not enough.” The practice of our faith is what’s important. Jesus made that point very clear in his Sermon on the Mount. His concern for Christian practice “frames” practically the entire sermon. Jesus near the beginning of his sermon says: “…whoever PRACTICES and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). Then, when we come to the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus comes back to this very issue of the practice of faith. He tells the well-known parable about the wise and foolish builders who built on sand and rock respectively. Have you noticed how the man who built on rock is described? We hear Jesus saying: “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” The Sermon on the Mount is framed within Jesus concern that his followers practice their faith - practice the word and will of the Lord. And that won’t happen without a good dose of God’s grace and Holy Spirit.
Does this mean that we minimize the miraculous? No! Miracles do happen. Special manifestations of the Spirit do occur. But, to make them the rule of thumb is to diminish the significance of all those Christians who faithfully and out of a deep love for Christ seek to obey him with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind and with all their strength.
In our Scripture reading, Jesus makes clear that, to fill the void of his physical absence, the Holy Spirit would be sent to empower his disciples (and us) to live lives of love and obedience. That is how others will see Jesus realized in us.
Others see Jesus realized in us when we follow in Jesus steps. Christ left us an “example that (we) should follow in his steps” (2 Peter 2:21). James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so DECEIVE yourselves. DO what it says.” And that takes a rich measure of the Holy Spirit.
So don’t just ask but, if need be, beg God for his grace and Holy Spirit. Be persistent. God wants to know you’re serious about wanting to love him with ALL your heart (spiritually), with ALL your soul (emotionally); with ALL your mind (intellectually) and with ALL your strength (physically). In other words, he wants all of you, he wants all of me. Amen.
Order of Service
Call to Worship:
Jesus said: “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23
Prayer: Lord, we thank you for gathering us in worship. We pray that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit may truly be experienced among us as we worship you together. Amen
Greeting Each Other or Passing the Peace (the peace of Christ be with you…and with you)
A Time of Praise Singing
“Take Us to the River”
“Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.”
A Time of Confession
Reflection: Jesus in his high priestly prayer (John 17), prayed for the church saying: Holy Father protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one. This is the spirit in which Christ seeks us to live within his body, the church. It is only when the church is one that she can truly get on with the mission Christ called her to. Therefore we need to put away any false pretenses, any false humility any motivations to want to make a church after our own image. May we be led by the Spirit. Romans 8:13ff says: if we live according to the sinful nature, we will die; but if by the Spirit we put to death the misdeeds of the body, we will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
O Trinity of love, God in community, holy and one, hear us as we come to you in prayer. (pause) Where there is falseness, smother it by your truth. Where there is coldness of heart, kindle the flame of your love. Where there is joy and hope, free us to share in it together. (pause) And…make us one, as you are one. Amen. (adapted from: Iona Abbey Worship Book, p 183)
Singing: “Spirit of the Living God.” Ps.H. 424
Assurance: 1 John 2:3ff
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. Those who say, “I know him,” but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in him. But those who obey his word, God’s love is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
Singing: “O Master Let Me Walk With Thee” Ps.H. 573
We Give Thanks to God Through:
We Listen to God’s Word
Scripture Reading: John 14:1-7; 15-21
Heidelberg Catechism: Q/A 116 (optional)
Sermon: “Jesus Realized in You”
Move among us O God; give us life
Let us rejoice in you.
Make our hearts clean within us
Renew us heart, soul, mind and strength
Give us again the joy of your help:
With your Spirit of freedom sustain us. Amen (Iona Abbey Worship Book, p. 17)
Singing: “When We Walk With the Lord” Ps.H. 548
Leaving to Love God and Serve Our Neighbors
May God write a message on your heart,
May he bless and direct you,
then, send you out
living letters of the Word
(from Iona Abbey Worship Book, p. 87)
Doxology: “To the Great One In Three” Ps.H. 246:4