Since Jesus is not with us physically, is it harder to believe in Him and to live the Christian life?
23 Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24 "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me. 25 " These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. 27 "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 28 "You have heard Me say to you, 'I am going away and coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going to the Father,' for My Father is greater than I. 29 "And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe.
Jesus left no portrait. There is no emphasis in the Bible on the exact locations of events. This does not mean that Jesus is not physical. It does mean that faith is a system of esoteric ideas. Our faith is in real people and events that happened and are happening in real time on this real earth. But Jesus never told the disciples to build shrines, preserve relics, or assemble other tangible proofs upon which faith could be built. There was something else at work in the hearts of those disciples that is also at work in our hearts today. Faith is the result of truthóthe result of Godís word impacting our lives. This impact is the work of God the Holy Spirit. Today we listen, just as the disciples listened long ago, to Jesusí explanation of the work of the Holy Spirit. As we listen, we realize how important the Holy Spirit is to us and how He continues to work in our lives through the Word of God.
There is an old sermon illustration that helps to show us how important the work of the Holy Spirit is. Itís about a little girl who was afraid of the dark and had trouble going to sleep. Her mother told her many things to comfort her like, "everythingís OK. Iím in the next room. We can leave a night light on for you." But finally she said, "And remember, Jesus is always with you." As she was leaving the room her daughter said, "But Momma, I want a Jesus with skin on it." We have all felt that way at different times in our life.
The desire for a physical, tangible Jesus, seems to be the answer for all our doubts. The conversation that we are listening-in on in John 14 took place on the night of Jesusí betrayal. He is in the upper room after the celebration of the Passover and the Lordís Supper. Judas, not Iscariot, asked a very serious question: "How is it that You will manifest Yourself to us and not to the world?" The answer that Jesus gives is our Gospel lesson and the focus of this message. From Jesusí perspective itís all about the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.
1. Keeping Godís Word (John 14.23-24a)
Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love Me, does not keep My words."
Notice that right away Jesus puts the emphasis on the word. He is manifesting Himself to the world through the word. The disciples may not have realized it, but it was the truth that Jesus taught them that really helped them to see who He was. So Jesus urges us to keep the word of God. The word "keep" here does not only mean "do." This is not to be read as though one merely obeys the commandments of God and therefore earns intimacy with God. The word "to keep" also means "to guard." Everyday the word of God is impacting people and trying to make its way into their hearts. And every day people are shoving it away, trying to avoid it, and otherwise refusing it the possibility of becoming the heart and center of their life. As far as Jesus is concerned hearing and believing is the key. But where there is the believing there will be the doing. We wonít do everything perfectly, but we will be "doing" the things Jesus wants us to do. The Bible teaches us, "Faith comes by hearing" (Romans 10.17). And "receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls" (James 1.21).
Think of it this way: A father and son may enjoy a nice game of catch. Back and forth, back and for they toss the ball. There is usually something else that is being tossed back and forth at the same time: a conversation. It is this "game" of conversation that really establishes the intimacy. In the same way Christians become Christians when they accept the "conversation" from God that comes their way. You may have all the physical presence in the world, but without this conversation there is no intimacy.
Right now, as you worship, you are sharing this intimacy with God Ė this conversation with Him. You are listening to His word and responding with your prayers and praises. The good thing about this conversation is that itís not limited to this time of worship on Sunday morning. This is the one thing that Jesus would urge us who wonder whether we need to see Him physically in order to believe and obey. He would say, "keep the conversation going." God wants to keep the conversation going on all through the week. There are a lot of ways to do this. One thing that might help is the little booklet called Portals of Prayer. It is available in the entryway of the church. I would encourage you to continue in the conversation with God Ė that is the "keeping of Godís word" every day.
2. The Clarity of Godís Word (John 14.24b-26)
What is God really like? Thatís a question sometimes people ask. Jesus would say, "listen to Me." Earlier in this same chapter the disciple Philip asked Jesus to show us the Father. Jesus simply said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (14.9). In another place Jesus said regarding the FatherÖ "We are one" (John 17.22).
Now Jesus goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit, the Helper, will bring all the words of Jesus to us. This is one of the great works of the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit gave us the Bible as we read in 2 Peter (1.21) "Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Spirit. In all the pages of Scripture the Holy Spirit is painting for us a portrait of God. Jesus speaks the very word of God and so do His apostles. It is a good word, a clear word. He we see what Jesus is like: He is firm. He doesnít mess around with sin. He is kind and gracious. He came into our world to suffer and die on the cross for our sins. When we have questions about our faith, Jesus simply says, "come back to Me in the words of the prophets and apostles." Here we have a clear portrait of Jesus and all we need to know for our salvation.
3. The Comfort and Peace of Godís Word (John 14.27-29)
Why do we want tangible proof of Jesus in the first place? It is really a trick of the devil. He knows that there will never be enough tangible proof to satisfy our sin twisted reason. Think of what happened in the Old Testament. The people of Israel saw many miracles when God led them out of Egypt. Yet many of them turned away from God because they turned away from Godís word. In Jesusí day the Pharisees saw many miracles. But they always demanded more. There will never be enough miracles if we are going to reject the miracle of Godís words.
The reason for this is very important. Faith is something that is created by God deep inside of us. There are no tangible things capable of penetrating the thick wall of of sin and confusion. The Bible tells us that Godís word is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4.12).
My mother loves to quote Bible verses. She had other ways of getting me in line. Sometimes she would pinch the short hairs on the back of my neck, and she could pretty well get me to go where she wanted and do what she wanted. But this form of discipline did nothing to me on the inside. I might do what she wanted, but that didnít necessarily change anything on the inside. For that mom would quote the Bible. Thereís nothing like a well-spoken Bible passage at the right time to cause a person to stop and consider what they are doing. The word of God penetrates deeply and deals with the sin that is there. It not only puts down the rebellion, it also heals the wounds and the distress caused by sin.
Iíve been studying Psalm 119. This is the longest psalm in the Bible. It is a psalm that praises God for His word and explores all the different ways the word works in our lives. Verse 34 says, "Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your word. Indeed I shall observe it with my whole heart." The word of God brings its own power with it to bring about the good that God desires. Think about the beautiful portrait of God that we have in the Good Shepherd who goes out to find the lost sheep, carries it on His shoulders, and returns it to the safe place. Or remember the Good Samaritan who stops to bandage the wounded man, places him on his own donkey, and takes him to the inn for healing and renewal. Is it easier to believe in Jesus if you have a physical person to look at? Or, is it easier to believe in Jesus, when You really know and understand who He is?
This is what brings Godís peace. In a few minutes weíre going to sing a beautiful song about that peace. It was written by Horatio Spafford. He was 43 years old and living in Chicago. He and his family were grieving the loss of their son who had died recently. In order to help get over their grief they decided to go on a vacation. Being of some means they decided to go to England. Spafford put his wife and four daughters on a ship and sent them ahead. He would catch up as soon as he could. Tragically that ship was lost at sea. Spafford received a cable from his wife that simply read, "Saved alone." As soon as he could he boarded a ship for England. Somewhere along the way the captain showed him where the earlier ship had gone down and where his four daughters had died. It was that night that he penned some of the words of this great hymnÖ "When sorrows like sea billows rollÖ It is well with my soul." (From the One Year Book of Hymns, by Robert K. Brown and Mark R. Norton, [Feb. 4]).
Only Godís comforting words can bring out that kind of peace in the soulóa peace that can manage even the worst of outward, physical tragedies. It is the peace of the soul that knows God is in control. He has dealt with our sin when His Son died and rose again. It is the peace that Jesus gives. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2004
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2004
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