Before I pray, let me say a word about where we are going in the preaching this summer. If the Lord wills. Today and next weekend I would like to finish the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. Then on June 17, I hope to address the issue of homosexuality and so-called homosexual “marriage.” Then we will have a guest on June 24, Ed Stetzer, on 1 Peter 4. And in July and August a nine-week series on 2 Timothy: “To Him Be Glory Forever and Ever”: Unashamed of Christ and Ready to Suffer: A Summer in Second Timothy.
The plan is for me to do five of those nine and when I am on vacation for other pastors to do four. Summer is for seeing and savoring and showing Christ. Keep Christ at the center. Wherever you go, don’t neglect worship with God’s people. The point of today’s sermon, and my experience in Bucharest and Geneva and Hamburg, is that Jesus Christ will be with you, and manifest himself to you wherever you are.
Enjoying the Risen Christ
I serve a risen Saviour,
He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy,
I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him
He's always near.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and He talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He live, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.
My prayer is that when this message is over, you will be able to sing that song with more conviction and more joy and a sweeter experience of fellowship with the risen Christ than you’ve ever known before.
“Loving Jesus is not the same as keeping his commandments. It precedes and gives rise to keeping the commandments.”
Disciples in Need of Encouragement
These words in John 14:15–24 were spoken just hours before the greatest event in world history — the greatest act of love in history — namely, the death of the incarnate Son of God in the place of sinners so that everyone who receives him and believes on him will be forgiven all our sins and be accepted as righteous by the creator of the universe into the neverending joy of eternal life. What Jesus is saying here assumes that. He is, as he said in John 10:15, about to lay down his life for the sheep.
And these sheep — these eleven precious friends, apostles — are very confused and fearful and in need of much encouragement because of what they are about to face in the loss of Jesus. And that is what Jesus does for them, and not only for them, but for you — for everyone who believes in his name.
And his message here to them, and to us, is that when he dies, he will live again, and he and the Father and the Holy Spirit will come to us and be with us forever, and never leave us, no matter where we are, or what is happening to us.
God’s Special Love for His Own
Let’s make two introductory observations about what Jesus says here.
First, he makes explicit that the gifts he is promising to us here are not given to the world. Or to say it another way, the love that he promises us here is not a love that he has for the world. There is the John 3:16 love of God: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes will not perish but have eternal life.”
But here there is a love — there are gifts — that God reserves for his own. Look at verses 16–17:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
And verse 19: “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.”
And verse 22: “Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’”
So it is clear from verses 17, 19, and 22 that the gift of intimacy and help and love being promised in these verses is something the world cannot see, does not know, is not given, and does not experience. What is promised here is something so personal, so intimate, so reciprocal and relational that the world cannot receive it.
That’s the first introductory observation.
His Beloved People’s Love for His Son
The second is that those who do receive these gifts — these promises, this love — are not simply called Christians or believers, they are described repeatedly — four times as those who love Jesus.
Verse 15–16: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”
Verse 21: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father.” This is not a love God has for the world. This is a personal, intimate, relational, affectionate, committed love from the Father only for those who love Jesus.
Verse 23: “Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him.’” We know from Romans 5:8 that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God didn’t wait for us to love him before he loved us. And we know that’s what John believed too, because in 1 John 4:19 he says, “We love because he first loved us.” No doubt about it. Gloriously true.
“Loving Jesus isn’t a matter of doing excellent things. It’s a matter of delighting in an excellent Savior.”
And now here is another glorious truth. Verse 21: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father.” Or again in verse 23, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him.” In other words, God’s love precedes and enables our love (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:19). And God responds to our love and loves with a unique, personal, intimate, affectionate, caring, committed love that belongs only to those who love his Son.
Those are the two introductory observations. The promises of these verses are not for the world. They can’t see them, know them, or experience them. Rather, this love is for those who love Jesus.
Now just two more questions. What does it mean to love Jesus? And what are we promised if we do?
1. What does it mean to love Jesus?
Jesus tells us four times that this love is of such a nature that it results in the keeping of Jesus’s commandments, or, more generally, his word.
- Verse 15: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
- Verse 21: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”
- Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.”
- Verse 24: “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
The first thing to notice is that loving Jesus is not the same as keeping his commandments. It precedes and gives rise to keeping the commandments. Keeping his word is the result of loving him, not the same as loving him.
- Verse 15: “If you love me, [the result will be that] you will keep my commandments.”
- Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, [the result will be that] he will keep my word.”
So, what is this love for Jesus that gives rise to keeping the commandments of Jesus? Jesus has no defects. He has no demerit. Therefore, we cannot and dare not love him graciously, the way God loves us. We dare not love him with a love that overcomes some fault or ugliness or sin in Jesus to treat him well. No. Love for Jesus is entirely deserved. He is infinitely worthy of being loved. He is perfectly lovely. He is loved not in spite of what he is, but because of all that he is.
Which means that love for him is a response to beauty and greatness and glory. It is not a response to need or weakness or defect. Which also means that love for Jesus is pleasurable. It’s desiring him because he is infinitely desirable. It’s admiring him because he is infinitely admirable. It’s treasuring him because he is infinitely valuable. It’s enjoying him because he is infinitely enjoyable. It’s being satisfied with all that he is, because he is infinitely satisfying. It’s the reflex of the awakened and new-born human soul to all that is true and good and beautiful, embodied in Jesus.
In short, loving Jesus is not a matter of doing excellent things. It’s a matter of delighting in an excellent Savior. Jesus says doing excellent things — keeping my word — is the result of delighting in the excellent Savior. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.”
Love: Wanting, Desiring, Enjoying, Preferring
Two confirmations that we are on the right track. The word love in John’s Gospel is used like this. For example, John 3:19 says, “People loved the darkness rather than the light.” That is what they wanted. They desired it. They enjoyed it. They preferred it. They didn’t love the darkness out of duty. They loved it out of craving.
The same kind of love is in John 12:43: “They loved the glory of man more than the glory of God.” They wanted it. That’s what loving it means. They longed for it. They craved human praise. That’s how they “loved” it.
Or consider the Father’s love for the Son John 3:35: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” Remember the words of the Father at the baptism of Jesus and at his transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
This is the only way to love the Son: to be pleased with him. To feel pleasure in him. To esteem and admire and enjoy and treasure and stand in trembling, happy awe of him.
That’s one confirmation. The word “love” is used that way. The other is to ask: What are the commandments Jesus has in mind when he says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
The “Commandments” in Jesus’s Mind
When you read through the whole Gospel of John just looking for specific moral-behavior commandments, what do you find? You find about two explicit commandments that you might call moral-behavior commandments: the new commandment to love each other as Jesus loved us (John 13:34–35), and the command to Peter: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:16).
But Jesus didn’t say, “If you love me, you will keep my moral behavior commandments.” He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (verse 15). So if you read through the Gospel again, what you find is lots of commandments like: “Receive me” (1:12). “Follow me” (1:43). Get up, crippled man (5:8). Rise from the dead, Lazarus! (11:43). “Believe in the light” (12:36). “Believe in God” (14:1). “Believe me” (14:11). “Abide in me” (15:4). “Ask whatever you wish” (15:7). “Abide in my love” (15:9). “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22). These are the commandments that are all over the Gospel of John.
Now how does that confirm the way we have understood love for Jesus in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”? Because if the commandments in the Gospel of John are overwhelmingly receive, believe, ask, abide, then it makes perfect sense that Jesus would say, “If you love me — if you desire me and delight in me and treasure me — then you will receive me, and believe me and abide in me.”
“The Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus will be with you forever. They will never forsake you no matter where you are.”
In other words, if you have been born again so that you treasure Jesus above all other treasures, and he commands you, “Receive me,” “Take me,” “Have me as your treasure,” we will. If we have been born again so that we find him supremely and wonderfully trustworthy, and he commands us, “Trust me,” “Believe me,” we will. And if we are born again so that we long to be with him, and he commands us, “Abide in me,” we will.
So my answer to the first question: What does] it mean to love Jesus in John 14:15, 21, and 23 is that it means to treasure him above all others, to desire him, long for him, enjoy him, be satisfied in all that he is.
2. What are we promised if we love him?
Now the last question is what does Jesus promise such people, a few hours before he goes to die for them?
The sum of the promise is: The Father, the Holy Spirit, and I will be with you forever. We will never forsake you no matter where you are. But to say that, Jesus piles up an amazing array of expressions. Let’s walk through and spot them.
Verse 16: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” When he calls him “another Helper,” he means that this Helper is not the Father and he is not me, because I am the first helper. This second Helper is the Holy Spirit (verse 26). When Jesus returns to heaven, the Father will give the Holy Spirit, another helper. He promises.
Verse 17: “Even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of truth. That is, he will help you by opening you mind and heart to glorious truth about Jesus. He is with you now, in my presence, and he will be in you in a new way when I pour him out after my ascension.
Verse 18: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Not only will the Holy Spirit come. Jesus will come. And he will give us what orphans need: they need protection and provision and guidance. Jesus will be all that and more, now, in this life. He will not leave us without help.
Verse 19: “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” In three days I will rise from the dead. But I will not start my ministry over again on the earth before the world the way I have ministered for three years. I will appear to you. You will see me. I will assure your hearts by a bodily resurrection that you will see. And because I live, you will live.
Verse 20: “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” You will have assurance. I will give it to you — assurance that I and the Father are one. And that you and I are bound together forever, I in you and you in me. If death couldn’t sever it, nothing will sever it.
Verse 21: “And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” My Father and I have a special, close, family love for you. And in that love I will manifest myself to you. I will show you things about me that the world cannot see or know. They are experienced by those who love me and treasure me and receive me. And keep my commandments.
Verse 23 in answer to the question why this manifestation will not be for the world, Jesus simply says again: It’s for those who love me — “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.”
Heaven on Earth
I end with this. The word “home” is used only one other time in John, namely, verse 2, “In my Father’s house are many rooms [same word as “home” in verse 23]. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Which means: If you love me and keep my word, my Father and I will come to you and — in all your suffering and trials — give you heaven on earth.
We have prepared a dwelling for you in heaven. We are that dwelling. And if you have me and keep my word, we will come and be that dwelling for you now.
Love Him, Receive Him, Abide in Him
Therefore, love him. Keep his sweet commandments to receive him and abide in him. Overflow with his fullness for others in love. And he will come to you, and the Holy Spirit will come and the Father will come, and they will protect you and provide for you and lead you — you won’t be an orphan. And they will comfort you, and love you in a very personal way the world does not know, and they will manifest Jesus to you, and make you their home.