If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. (John 14:15-21)
Our first item of business this morning will be to wash our mouths of the Law. We need a good Gospel rinse to freshen our breath, brighten our smile, and improve our vocabulary and understanding of this morning’s Gospel text. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Now for a gargle, rinse, and spit, if you please. If you love me, you will treasure, cling to, hold fast to, keep close to you, my commandments, my mandates, the things I have entrusted to you, my words. “If you love me you will cling to my mandates.” “Whoever has my mandates and clings to them, he it is who loves me.”
There. That tastes a lot better, doesn’t it. If we’re not careful, we’re going to make Jesus sound just like Moses with his commandments. The last thing we need is more commandments to keep; we can’t even manage the original ten from Sinai.
If you love Jesus, you will cling to every word He gives you. And when you cling to every word He gives you, you will love Him in the way He wishes to be loved. That makes sense. When you love someone, you cling to their every word, right? You love Jesus, don’t you? Of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t be here this morning. And if you love Him, you will cling to His mandates. Mandates such as “He who believes in me has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day.” Or “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has live and I will raise HIm up on the last day.” This is what love of Jesus means. To love Him is to receive His gifts. And the one who receives HIs gifts is the one who loves Him.
Jesus spoke these words at the table in the upper room where He had washed His disciples’ feet and given them His own Body and Blood in anticipation of His sacrifice. It is the night before the day He would be lifted up and draw all men to Himself in death. This is the sermon that went with the Supper on the night He was betrayed. This is the Word of “word and sacrament.” Jesus prepares His disciples for His coming death and resurrection and ascension, in which He would be seen no more and yet seen; in which He would depart and yet come to His disciples. And if it seems a bit like a riddle, it would only be that way for forty days, and then the disciples would understand.
With Jesus there is always more from HIm to give and more for us to receive from Him. He was about to give all that He had, His own life, for the life of the world, for the sin of the world. He was about to rise from the dead, conquering death and the grave. He was about to ascend to the right hand of Majesty from whence He came, disappearing in a cloud not to be seen again until His appearing in glory to judge the living and the dead. And here, on the eve of His death, He speaks of something more, Someone more. “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, another Helper, to be with you forever.
Not only do you get Jesus and the Father, you also get another Helper, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. What the Spirit is good for, Jesus will spin out a bit later. The Spirit will convict and convince the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement. He will lead and guide into all truth. He will take what is of Jesus and make it known, delivering all that Jesus has to give. The Spirit is the One by whom we are born again from above in the water of Baptism, which, as Peter reminds us, “now saves you” by granting you a clear conscience before God.
The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit, for it neither sees Him nor knows Him. The world, that is, the unbelieving world, deals only with what is seen and knowable by reason and senses. The world is a world of science and reason and measurements. But the Spirit is like breath or wind. You can’t see HIm but you can see His effects, like the leaves rustling in the wind.
Spirit, breath, and wind are all the same word. The Spirit is the breath of God, the wind that blew over the waters of the Deep in the beginning. The wind that blew over the sea when it parted in the Exodus. The breath that came from the Jesus’ mouth with His words on Resurrection Day. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The wind the rushed through the church at Pentecost. The same breath that breathed new life into you at your Baptism where the Spirit came upon you. “You know Him,” Jesus says. “For He dwells with you and among you.”
There is a tendency to make something other of the Holy Spirit than He is. There is the “late-inning reliever” approach, in which the Father started it all, the Son clinched the game, and the Spirit comes on in the final innings as the closer. But Jesus has gone anywhere in His ascension. As He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” So He’s gone nowhere. He’s disappeared from our sight, yes. And good thing too, because the sight of Jesus shining in majestic glory as the Lord of heaven and earth would fry us poor, miserable sinner to a crisp. You don’t want that, nor does He. So He hides Himself in the cloud, under the Word, the water, the Bread and Wine. And He sends the Spirit from the Father to be your Helper and Comforter in this in-between time of not-seeing yet believing.
There are those who make the Holy Spirit the main thing. Jesus did His thing, now it’s the Spirit’s turn. But just as the Son and the Father are one, so Father, Son, and Spirit are one even as they are distinctly three. So when you receive the Spirit, you also get Jesus and the Father. Never one without the other two, each distinct but inseparable. We’re getting a little warmup for Holy Trinity Sunday three weeks from now.
There are also those who make too little of the Spirit, or who “spiritualize the Spirit” by making Him some sort of power to do good or some sort of gas that oozes into the believer like radon gas from the church basement. But the Spirit described by Jesus is a “person,” he has an identity all his own, He is sent as another Helper, someone other than Jesus who dwells with and among us.
He is called the Spirit of Truth. He is in the truth-telling, truth-delivering business. He reveals the truth of our sin, how we are conceived and born into a condition of sinfulness from which we cannot save ourselves. He hold the mirror of the Law up to our eyes so that we can see the symptoms for ourselves – our idolatries and adulteries and murders and lies. He shows our hearts for what they really are – stony, hard, loveless hearts that refuse to let God have its way with us. He shows us our sin that He might show us our Savior. He takes what Jesus has and delivers it to us – the absolving Word, the water of Baptism, forgiveness, life, and salvation in the Body and the Blood of Jesus.
We must never doubt that the Spirit is at work. Where the Word is there the Spirit is. You hear people say sometimes, “I could just feel the Spirit of God at work in this place.” They probably weren’t in a Lutheran church, especially one of a traditional bent. No feeling the spirit around here. Oh, maybe once and a while a tickle when the preacher says something that hits you a certain way, or a favorite hymn gets dialed in and the organist nails it. But that’s not the point. Where the Word is preached and heard, where the Supper is being given out, there the Spirit is at work.
Our Confessions say that through the preaching of the Word and through the sacraments, the Holy Spirit works saving faith “when and where He pleases” in those who hear the Gospel. I am acutely aware of the “when and where He pleases” part. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it pleases. I have watched the effects of the Spirit as the Word brings repentance, sorrow, contrition over sin, and as the Word of the Gospel brings faith in Christ and the joy of freedom in sins forgiven. I’ve seen it over and over that it is not by might, nor by power, nor by cleverness or gimmicks or methods but by the Spirit working through the Word that people come to faith and are kept in faith.
The explanation of the third article to the Creed is a fine summary of what the Holy Spirit is up to:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and keeps me in the one, true faith;
In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
In short, the Holy Spirit is busy making us holy – calling us, gathering us, opening the eyes and ears of faith, delivering forgiveness to our ears, the Body and Blood of Christ to our mouths, preparing us for the world’s Last Day and eternity’s endless Day when the Spirit of life breath life into our bodies once again, and we will rise to the life unending that is already ours in Jesus.
In the name of Jesus,