Sunday, January 27, 2013
The Comforter has Come!
Introduction: You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule, as it applies to churches: 80 percent of the work that gets done in churches is done by 20 percent of the people. That may or may not be accurate, but isn’t it true that in the church there is often a core of individuals that are dedicated to the Lord and to the mission of the church, who work tirelessly and selflessly behind the scenes, that carry the brunt of the service of the church, yet often go unnoticed? Since we live across the parking lot we have a pretty good idea of what goes on in this building, but even so, much, probably most, of the work that is done is largely unnoticed. The walks get shoveled, the church gets cleaned, the babies are cared for, that meal was delivered to someone in need, the infirm were visited, the wall got painted, the window got repaired, who did it? The truth is, most of these people like it that way. They do what they do because they love God, and they love God’s people. There is another person among us that has gone largely unnoticed in the church that really should be recognized. He is at every meeting, He is in every hospital room, He appears at every work day and is at every prayer meeting. He’s in the board meetings, in the nursery, in the office, and in the janitor’s closet. In fact He has His hand in everything that matters now and everything that will matter 100 years from now. Who is He? The so-called third person of the Trinity, God, the Holy Spirit. Jesus in this context tells his disciples, “It’s to your advantage that I go away…” How could that be? What could be better than God walking among us? How about God living in us, 24/7/365? A few years ago our mission publishing house in Brazil hosted a Bible Conference. The title was somewhat provocative: “O Espirito Santo: O Deus Esquecido,” “The HS: the Forgotten God.” Are we guilty of forgetting about the Holy Spirit of God?
The Big Idea: The Holy Spirit is God, present with us and in us, to guide us on the path toward knowing God intimately, loving Him passionately, and serving Him joyfully.
I. God’s Plan: He will Provide Help in Our Need: The Promise of the “Comforter” (5-7). Jesus promises the presence of the Holy Spirit. "But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, 'Where are You going?' 6 "But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”
Jesus is reaffirming here what the reader of John already knows: God had a plan, and the hour was approaching for Jesus to depart, through his death and resurrection. But that would not be the end of the story – it would be a new beginning! Recall what we read in John 7:37-39 “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." 39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” The “glorification” of Jesus had to happen before the Spirit would be sent. That is a reference in John to his being “lifted up,” crucified, and resurrected. Jesus, the glorious Son, at the right hand of the Father, would send the Comforter, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would be with us and in us.
It is interesting how the New Testament writers complement each other without any contradiction (this is one more evidence of the inspiration of the Bible). They simply point to different aspects of divine truth that their audiences needed to hear.
- Luke emphasized the dawning of a New Age and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We read the words of John the Baptist as he speaks of his own ministry in light of the coming One: Luke 3:16 "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” It is a “New Beginning” as the church is born on the day of Pentecost and called to carry out its mission empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:1-21; cf. 11:15).
- Paul talked about the work of the Spirit in us and through us. So we are sealed by the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit, and filled with the Spirit. He keeps us and transforms us and the evidence is the fruit of the Spirit. He also gives us spiritual gifts so that we can work together to carry out His mission.
- John emphasizes the unity of God, and the presence of the Spirit as the presence of God. As surely as Jesus was present with His disciples, God the Holy Spirit was sent by Him from the Father and is present with us and in us.
Jesus was saying His departure was not cause for mourning. It was part of God’s plan. And the best is yet to come! I read this week a post on Facebook that described a touching scene, a daughter saying goodbye, perhaps for the last time, to her mother. Their farewell was one that had been passed down in their family, “I love you, I wish you enough.” They meant that there would be enough sorrows to keep them thankful, enough joys to give them hope. So they would say, “I wish you enough.” Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples, and He has promised them, and us, enough! Weeping my last for a night, but joy comes in the morning! The abiding presence of another comforter, forever. The Holy Spirit is God, present with us and in us, to guide us on the path toward knowing God intimately, loving Him passionately, and serving Him joyfully.
II. God’s Spirit will expose unbelief and lead believers: The Convicting Work of the Spirit (8-11). Jn 16:8-11 "And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 "of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
The root meaning of the term “convict” is to expose, to bring to light. It’s the same word Jesus used in John 8:46 "Which of you convicts Me of sin?” We see it also in John 3:20 "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” Only righteousness could be exposed in Jesus. But the world hated Him because his very presence shed light on sin. We saw in the previous context the truth that the world is in rebellion against God, and so it hates Jesus. He was a light shining in darkness, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. Light exposes what is hidden, it brings to light the true character of a person and his/her conduct. He was soon to depart, but the Spirit of God would take over. There are two sides to this conviction, we can see both illustrated in the book of Acts…
In Acts 2:36-37 we read “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’" We might call this positive conviction, it leads to repentence and faith.
In Acts 7:54 we see a different side of conviction, “…When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth.” (see vv. 51-54). We all know the result. They stone him! Their unbelief was exposed.
He would convict the world “…concerning sin …because they have not believed in me…” The response to Jesus exposes the heart of humans. The principle choice confronting sinful humans is simply this: what will you do with Jesus? Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Either we choose to ignore him, or reject him, or, we recognize our need, turn from our sin, and turn in faith to the One who died so that we could live. Anything else is unbelief, and our sinful hearts are exposed by our rejection of Him. John 3:18 says "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
He will also convict the world “…concerning righteousness…” Jesus was about to leave them, but they would not be left alone. He would send the Helper, the comforter. Whereas Jesus “exposed” righteousness before through His presence and example, the Holy Spirit would now have a transformational influence on the followers of Christ. Of course our only righteousness comes from Him. Paul said that we, now, are the Temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us. One result is, that Holy Presence changes us, it brings forth “Fruit,” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control. People will see a difference, they will know that we have experienced something real, something supernatural, when they see Jesus in us.
He will also convict “…concerning judgment… because the ruler of this world is judged…” Do remember back in John 12, after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week, we read: "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." (John 12:31-32). Satan’s power was broken, he is already judged and his sentence will be executed at the appointed time. Warren Wiersbe says, “Satan is the prince of this world, but he is a defeated prince!” In the meantime Jesus is building His church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This church age is the age of the Spirit, present and powerful working out God’s plan in history. And by grace we are a part of that! The Holy Spirit is God, present with us and in us, to guide us on the path toward knowing God intimately, loving Him passionately, and serving Him joyfully.
III. The Spirit Reveals the Word to the Glory of God (12-15). John 16:12-15 says "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 "He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 "All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you."
Two things I want to point out here: first the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Helper, glorifies JESUS, not Himself. Father, Son, and Spirit, one divine essence, three persons, perfect in unity.
Secondly, Jesus, the living Word, would no longer walk among them. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, would now bring God’s revelation to them. 2 Tim 3:16 says “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (God-breathed), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” 2 Peter 1:21 says “…holy men of God spoke as they were moved (carried along) by the Holy Spirit.”
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Holy Spirit is God, present with us and in us, to guide us on the path toward knowing God intimately, loving Him passionately, and serving Him joyfully. We should affirm His presence and His work. We should recognize our dependence on Him.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? It’s been said that people wake up in different ways. Some say, “Good morning Lord!” Others mumble, “Good Lord, its morning!” Will you choose to live conscious of the presence of God in your life? Some years ago I came across a prayer in a devotional book (unfortunately I don’t recall the name of the book or the author). I often recite it as part of my morning devotional time: Come heavenly Spirit, breathe upon me here. Heart, mind, and soul, in thy pure love ensphere. Breathe now the fragrance of thy love divine, and my whole nature permeate with thine. Live in my living, think through all my thoughts. Will through my will until only thine is wrought. Move through each impulse, temper each desire, cleanse all my motives in thy heavenly fire. May it be our prayer that the Spirit of God would fill us, control us, empower us, mold us, and use us. Amen.
Monday, January 21, 2013
This week we were pleased to have Joel and Sue Morley from CareNet with us for Sanctity of Life Sunday. Joel brought a message emphasizing the value of human life created in the image of God, and also the truth of grace and forgiveness found in Jesus. If you know a young woman who might need some godly Christian counsel concerning an unplanned pregnancy, this ministry can help. See their web site at http://carenetme.org/ or call 207-725-5433.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Pastor’s Report – January 2013
So far our winter weather has been relatively mild and the fellowship at Boothbay Baptist Church has continued to be warm! The Advent season was another opportunity to reflect on the gift of the Son and also a call to reaffirm our focus on Him. We want to make much of Jesus! In December we had a joint Christmas Eve with Boothbay Region Community Fellowship, an excellent Christmas play entitled “One Bethlehem Night,” and a great New Year’s Eve service, as we read through the entire book of Revelation, sang songs of praise (led by Fay Christy), and had a time of fellowship together. The reading and hearing of the Book of Revelation is a powerful experience, and specifically promises to be a blessing to those who participate. Revelation 1:3 says “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” As the time draws nearer still, I hope to make it a practice to invite our church to join together on New Year’s Eve for this experience. In January I resumed my preaching series in John’s Gospel. It is my hope and prayer that this study is drawing us into a deeper relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I’ve been posting the text of my studies (but not a word for word transcript of the Sunday messages!) on our blog, the “Pastor’s Corner,” which can be read online at www.boothbaybaptist.blogspot.com . Discussion of the study questions included in the bulletin each week is especially invited!
I’ve continued to be available for counseling for couples and individuals as needed. On Wednesday mornings we also have a devotional and prayer time (along with coffee!) for men at 6:30 AM. On Wednesday Evenings we have a devotional study (currently working through the Book of Psalms) and prayer time at 6:30 PM. Thursday night we have a small group meeting at the parsonage at 6:30 PM. Our starting point for discussion has been the study questions included in the bulletin each week with the sermon outline. Your presence at any of these meetings would be welcome!
One area of focus for the next quarter and beyond will be an exciting process called “Ministry Mapping.” We’ve all had the experience of trying to plot our course from our current location to some desired destination, be it in a shopping mall or on a highway. We need to understand where we are before we can effectively plan the best route to where we would like to go. Randy Keeley and his team at CBMissionNorthEast will be helping us in the process of reorientation as we take a careful look in the mirror over the coming weeks, and then they will come alongside us as we seek to sharpen our focus on the future. We covet your prayers and participation through this entire “Ministry Mapping” process. We want God’s will to be done in our lives and in our church as we look ahead. What a privilege it is to be part of God’s family and to be included in His mission!
Your Co-workers in Christ,
Pastor Steve and Mary Ann
The Persecuted Church?
Introduction: On Tuesday of last week, it was announced that an evangelical pastor, Louie Giglio, was selected to deliver the benediction at the presidential inaugural on January 21st. He accepted, saying it was a great honor to be invited. Then the left began their research and found a sermon he had given 15 years ago that called homosexuality a sin. The uproar started. By Thursday, Giglio withdrew his acceptance of Obama’s invitation, it was too distracting. Obama’s team went to work trying to find someone who would better reflect their inclusive vision for America. The only thing that surprised me about this story was that Giglio, like Rick Warren in 2009, was invited at all. When we talk about the persecuted church and the question of suffering for our faith, the truth is most American Christians have difficulty relating. We are a country founded on the principle of religious freedom, and historically the center of missionary outreach. For most of us “persecution” is the stuff of history, or something to do with news reports and far away. What kind of unfairness or mistreatment have we ever experienced because of our faith in Jesus? It may be coming.
The truth is, that worldwide, persecution against the Church of Jesus Christ, has intensified over the last century. According to one source I checked, over 45 million Christians were martyred in the 20th century, more than in the first 19 centuries of the church combined. And that intensification of hatred and violence against Christians has only increased since the dawn of the 21st century. We need ministries like Voice of the Martyrs to keep us updated and praying for brothers and sisters in Christ who are being beaten, imprisoned and killed in the Mideast, some countries in Africa, and in parts of Asia. We need to pray for the Persecuted Church!
Though violence against Christians is thankfully something that is rare in our context, we have no guarantees that it will stay that way throughout our lives. it is certainly true that Christians are experiencing increasing “push-back” if they take a stand for their faith, is it not?
It is getting to be more and more common to see Christians, especially born-again Christians, mocked or ridiculed or discriminated against in the media. At times it seems that the one minority that its ok to “pre-judge” as narrow minded, bigoted, and unthinking, it is evangelical Christians. They are pictured as obnoxious and closed minded, prideful, and intolerant. They think they are better than anyone else! Or at least that is the picture the media would present. What is going on? Should any of this surprise us? Not according to Jesus. We should expect it.
The Big Idea: As surely as Jesus was rejected by “the world” we should expect opposition when we point to Him as the only hope for sinful humans.
I. PERSECUTION of GOD’S PEOPLE: Opposition to our mission is inevitable (15:18-24).
As Jesus was hated by the world, so will be those who He has chosen (read 18-20). "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…”
- First of all, Jesus, the Master Teacher, is gently preparing his disciples for what would soon happen. The hatred of the world would reach a climax against Jesus as He is rejected and handed over to be crucified. That hatred would be manifested against His followers after his departure. If they were going to persevere He would have to prepare them.
- Jesus makes a point: Their treatment by the world would be in sharp contrast to the love that is normative for church. Verse 17 flows right into verse 18. For the believer, love is a choice that we make that flows out of God’s love for us. But Jesus is also preparing his disciples for what they are going to receive from the world. The fact is we shouldn’t be surprised by the hatred of the world. If Jesus was hated, so would those who are identified with Him.
- By the way, who or what is “the world” in this passage (contrast Jn 3:16!)? “World” here is used in a narrow sense of the inhabitants of this planet who are in rebellion against God and his Kingdom. It’s the rebellion against God and his anointed that we see in Psalm 2:1ff, “Why do the nations rage… against the LORD and against His Anointed…” If Jesus was despised and rejected, even though He only told the truth and did good, it shouldn’t be surprising that those who are identified with him also are rejected.
- V.19 makes it clear that we are aliens, we are ALL from away, we are citizens of Heaven and strangers and aliens in the world – we just don’t belong. Have you ever been in a setting where you just felt that to be the case? You are just not one of them so you are viewed with suspicion, even contempt. I recall when I first got saved I didn’t know any Christians, I wanted to share with everyone I met the “Good News.” It did not always go so well. Sometimes it was surely my fault, you have to have some discernment in how you share and with whom! There is a difference between being persecuted for being obnoxious and being persecuted for righteousness sake! Have you been there?
-V 19b To make matters worse, we’ve been chosen by Jesus. John earlier said, “Men love darkeness rather than light because their deeds are evil…” We are identified with the Light of the World that unregenerate humans would rather avoid! They hate Him. If we remind them of Him, they are not going to warmly embrace us either!
The rejection of God’s revelation in Christ, including our witness, exposes those who don’t know Him (21-24). "But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me…” The truth is, apart from Christ humans are deaf, blind, and dead to spiritual things.
- The World rejects Christ followers because they reject Jesus – they reject Jesus because they don’t know God. God has revealed himself to the world in Christ, and there is no excuse for unbelief.
- N.B. Jesus “spoke” to them, He spoke the truth. The Light shined in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not. N.b. v.24, the works revealed his identity, the signs were evidence and yet they chose to reject the evidence. They are guilty of the sin of unbelief; guilty of rejecting the One who reveals the Father and who came to provide the way to Heaven. Jesus, God incarnate, walked among humans, spoke the truth, acted only in love, and was rejected! When we preach the offensive message of the Cross, when we dare say that Jesus is the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, we shouldn't be surprised by opposition. Hatred shouldn't shock us. As surely as Jesus was rejected by “the world” we should expect opposition when we point to Him as our only hope.
II. PROOF AND PROPHECY: Even the rejection of Jesus and His followers is a fulfillment of prophecy and so vindicates the Truth (15:25). "But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'”
This is a citation from Ps 69:4 a psalm of the Righteous Sufferer. Jesus is reminding his disciples, and us, that everything that happened this week of the Passion, or for that matter the widespread rejection of Jesus that was manifest throughout his earthly ministry, had all been predicted in the Scriptures. God sent His Son not only to visit the world and to reveal himself, but to give His life as a ransom for many. He came to die. Here, He was telling them before hand, even though they didn’t understand, so that when it happened it would actually be a further vindication of his identity. By warning that they too would be rejected he was preparing them, telling them not to be surprised as the story unfolded.
This is part of the “apologetic” of the early church. If Jesus was the Messiah, how could it be that He was rejected by His own people? And why, after the resurrection, did most of the nation, indeed most of humanity, continue to reject Him? The answer would be almost shocking if you were hearing it for the first time: The rejection of Jesus was part of God’s plan. It led to the cross, and resulted in our redemption through his blood. The rejection of Jesus by most of humanity was no surprise, it had in fact had been predicted and so vindicates his claims. And know this: As surely as Jesus was rejected by “the world” we should expect opposition when we point to Him as our only hope.
III. POWER TO PERSEVERE: Spirit empowered witness is at the heart of our mission, enabling faithfulness in the face of opposition (15:26-27).
These verses might seem out of place on the surface until we think about what Jesus is saying: The Holy Spirit, the “Parakletos” from the Father, He will enable Christians to persevere under trial, and to be faithful witnesses in the face of hatred and rejection. He’ll teach us more about the Spirit as we get further into chapter 16 – In Acts 1:8 He gave a great summary: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses to me…”
Jesus encouraged his disciples not to be surprised by persecution and not to be discouraged by rejection. He mentions the Spirit here to remind them that our mission is a “co”-mission, i.e. we don’t engage the enemy alone or in our own strength. God is on our side. The Holy Spirit testifies, amazingly, through US. The presence of the Spirit in the Church is a truth that sets this age apart from all others in the unfolding Drama of Redemption. Now, today, we are the Temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in us. And it is up to Him to open the hearts of rebellious, sinful, humans. As we live in the world and carry out the mission He has entrusted to us, we can be assured that as surely as Jesus was rejected by “the world” we should expect opposition when we point to Him as our only hope.
IV. PREJUDICE and PERSECUTION: The time will come when it will be politically correct & socially acceptable to persecute Christians (16:1-4).
We know that with respect to the Islamic world that Christians are considered infidels and so the persecution of Christians is considered a good thing. But what about living in a country with religious freedom like the USA? Is there a sense in which it has become socially “acceptable” to discriminate against evangelical Christians?
Why is it OK to have a WICCA club or TM meeting, but Christians are discouraged from gathering for prayer or Bible Study in the public schools? Why is it unacceptable to generalize about any minority, be it racial, religious, sexual orientation or whatever, but Christians in the media can routinely be presented as ignorant, intolerant, unthinking, narrow minded bigots? We are not of the world.
What is God saying to me in this passage? As surely as Jesus was rejected by “the world” we should expect opposition when we point to Him as our only hope.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Are you encountering “push back” as you seek to walk with the Lord? Don’t be intimidated. If God is for us, who can stand against us? Don’t be obnoxious – but don’t be intimidated. God is with you. He calls us to be His witnesses, in Boothbay, in Lincoln County, to the ends of the earth. You are God’s missionary, placed exactly where you are by the Sovereign King of the Universe. Are there five people in your sphere of influence: family members, neighbors, co-workers, who don’t yet know the Lord? Can you commit to pray for these people, asking the Lord to open their hearts and to lead them to repentance and faith? Will you look for opportunities to share with them the truth that God is real, and that He has made a difference in your life? Will you look for an opportunity to invite them to church, to your small group, or into you home? Let’s see what the Lord will do! Amen.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Jesus loves me this I know; but my neighbor? He can go!
With this cold snap we’ve been comfortable over in the parsonage – the baseboard hot water heat works very well. When I was a pastor in NJ we lived in a nice, old house, it had steam heat. Every now and then the old pipes would leak and the steam boiler would lose pressure. There was a glass tube that serves as a gauge on the side of the boiler that would let you see the level of the water inside. How do you know if you love God, who you cannot see? Look at the gauge. Your love for your brother is a measure of your love for God. An unbelieving Greek writer of the 2nd century AD named Lucian observed the warm fellowship between Christians said “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator, Jesus, has put it in their heads that they are brethren.” That theme is at the heart of today’s passage.
Review: This section in John, 13-17, is often referred to as “the upper Room discourse.” Following the first 12 chapters which emphasized the “signs” that Jesus did, this is an extensive section emphasizing His teaching, given to His disciples, as the Cross drew near. Jesus knew His departure was at hand and He was preparing His disciples to continue on with His physical presence. So he taught them about servanthood in Chapter 13 as He, their Master and teacher, washed their feet, and predicted his betrayal and the Cross. He told them that He was the Way to the Father in John 14, and that He was going to prepare a place for them. He also spoke of another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who would come after his departure. Chapter 15 started with the images of a vine, a vinedresser, and some branches. We learned that we are dependent on God for life and can only be “fruitful” or effective, as He works on us, in us, and through us. As He continues to prepare His disciples to go on without Him being present, in this paragraph He emphasizes one characteristic, one fruit of the Spirit that should be present in the life of His followers: love. As Jesus was loved by the Father, so He loved us. That love should overflow in our relationships with one another.
The Big Idea: Because God has so loved us we ought also to love one another.
I. The Foundation of God’s Family is Love (15:9-11). The starting point is the love of the Father. Think about this: The measure of Jesus’ love for His disciples, His love for us, is the Father’s love for Jesus. The Father, Son, and Spirit were in intimate, perfect union for all eternity. No sin, no selfishness, no misunderstanding. God’s love. “As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you…” There are times when the love of our parents or our spouses or our brothers and sisters might be uncertain, but God’s love is unquestionable, unbreakable, unconditional.
“…abide in my love…” The word “abide,” i.e., “remain, continue,” takes us back to the Vine and the Branches in 15:1-7. The branches remain or continue in the vine, they depend on it for sustenance, life, and fruitfulness. It calls us to remain conscious of His love which is ever present, and never changing.
“If you keep my commandments, then you will abide in my love…” We have to understand this in its context. It can’t be saying that obedience is the condition of experiencing God’s love, or that God will love us if we obey Him. That would undercut the doctrine of GRACE, God’s unmerited favor, which permeates this passage and the Bible as a whole. Obedience to Jesus, specifically, obedience to His commandment to love one another, will allow us to recognize and experience more fully His love toward us. We are enabled to “abide in His love.” Because God has so loved us we ought also to love one another.
II. Friendship with God means choosing to love each other (12-14). Have you heard it said that we don’t choose our family, only our friends? God has done both! Loving God is something we affirm, we embrace. Loving one another – we can struggle a little more with that. Remember the old ditty: “To live above with saints I love will certainly be glory! To live below, with those I know, well that’s another story!” People are not always “lovable” but love is a choice!
V.12 says "This is My commandment, that you love one another…” That should sound familiar, if we look back to 13:34,35 we read, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." Jesus loves us as He is loved by the Father. We are called to love one another as He has loved us! His disciples didn’t yet understand the extent to which that would go, Jesus alludes to what’s coming in v.13 when He says, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends…” He loved them to the end, to the cross. It’s similar to what Jesus said in John 10:11, “…the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” It’s the same verb (“lays down”), the same object (“his life”), the same preposition (“for”). Substitution. He loved us so much he died for us, He laid down his life for us.
A famous example from literature is found in Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. You remember the famous scene where Sidney Carton slips into the cell of the condemned Charles Darnay, drugs him, changes clothes, and then goes to the guillotine in his place. “It’s a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done before…” We are not going to be asked, most of us, to literally lay down our lives for another. It does mean choosing to love. Considering the needs of our brother or sister before our own. John writes a lot about this in his first Epistle:
1 John 2:9-10 The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
1 John 3:14-16 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
1 John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…”
There is much more, but you get the idea? We are not usually going to be called to literally lay down our life for another… That was the attitude of the early church. The church father Tertullian said: “It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of our opponents. “Look!” they say,. “How they love one another! Look how they are prepared to die for one another!”
It does mean however that we put others first. This passage talks about ‘joy’ in verse 11. Do you remember the acrostic for JOY: Jesus first, others second, yourself last! We choose not to be selfish. We choose to go out of our comfort zone to help someone else. To look out not for our own personal needs, but also for the needs of others. Often the greatest sacrifice is our time. Because God has so loved us we ought also to love one another.
III. Friendship with God means receiving the Word of Christ (15:15). We have the revelation of God, His Word in written form! The Creator of the Universe, invisible, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, has spoken, He has told us about himself, He has laid out in human language what He has done for us and what He expects from us. There is much we don’t know about God, but what He has revealed is true and trustworthy. And He invites us to call Him “Father” (I John 3:1).
Servants don’t know what the master is doing – they follow orders, they do as they are told. God has revealed His plan to us, we even know the end of the story! We read through the Book of Revelation, all 22 chapters, on New Year’s Eve. It took us a little less than two hours. Spoiler warning: Hold your ears if you don’t want to hear the ending: JESUS WINS! God is at work, carrying out His mission in the world, and He has chosen to use us. And He has revealed His plan to us. William Barclay wrote:
“This phrase is lit up by a custom practiced at the courts both of the Roman emperors and of kings in the Middle East. At these courts, there was a very select group called the friends of the king, or the friends of the emperor. At all times, they had access to the king; they even had the right to come to his bedchamber at the beginning of the day. He talked to them before he talked to his generals, his rulers and his statesmen. The friends of the king were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with Him…”
The NIV says, “I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” That’s a pretty comprehensive statement – it’s an evidence of His love, His trust in us. We are part of the family. He has given us His Word, His “love letter,” a true and reliable revelation of who He is and guidebook to learn what He expects from us. One of the best New Year’s resolutions you could make is an intentional decision to be in the Word on a daily basis. His Word is a Lamp to our feet, a Light to our paths. It implies here that it is a demonstration of the truth that we are a friend of God: “I have called you friends for everything… I made known to you.” Because God has so loved us we ought also to love one another.
IV. Friendship with God means we have been chosen by Him for a mission (15:16-17). The most loving thing we can do for our brothers and sisters is intercede on their behalf, in the name of Jesus. Certainly the most loving thing we can do for our neighbors is point them to Jesus. Bruce Milne calls this “the ultimate encouragement in mission.” He said: “We go, not because we are worthy, or equipped, or attractive, or skilled, or experienced, or in any way suitable and appropriate. We go because we are summoned and sent. Since he has called us he will equip us and enable us for our witness” (The Message of John, p.223).
What is God saying to me in this passage? Because God has so loved us we ought also to love one another.
What we He have me to do in response to this passage? I hope the title to this message is not misunderstood: “Jesus loves me this I know, but my neighbor? He can go!” That’s not the message! The point is, that should not be our attitude. If Jesus so loved us, we need to love one another. That means choosing to invest ourselves in each other’s lives. It means bearing one another’s burdens. It means watching for those who need a ride, or need a meal, or need an encouraging word. Is someone missing this week? Give a call, ask is there something you can pray about. Someone sick? A visit or a call would say so much at a time like that. “By this men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”