In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Fellow-Redeemed in Christ our Crucified and Risen Lord:
Just imagine a bridegroom swapping out vows to his bride for an announcement to her and all in attendance at the wedding ceremony: “You will love me and you will obey me.”
And just imagine a bride exchanging her wedding vows for a proclamation to her bridegroom: “You will love me and you will do what I tell you to do.”
That would make for an interesting marriage ceremony and an even more interesting marriage.
Because any marriage, any relationship instituted by the Almighty himself quickly disintegrates into a game of self-fulfillment when the measuring stick is just obedience to the rules sinful, fallen people happen to set up for each other. What I have to do in order to get what I want out of a marriage or a family or a church family. What others must do to avoid my anger and the threat to walk away.
That’s why we have not only divorce lawyers but, now, marriage attorneys. That’s why more and more Christians are signing pre-marriage contracts, so that there is legal recourse when we are not loved or obeyed to the standards we have set for those God has placed in our lives. “Sweetheart, I love you. Here’s the contract I’ve drawn up. Sign here.”
Because, as this dark and dying world teaches us — as our old, sinful nature reminds us, our beloved is our beloved only insofar as they hold up their end of the bargain — only as long as they love and obey and do what we have told them to do.
This is the approach of so many we have crowned “marriage expert” and “family therapist” and “relationship guru.” What is family? What is marriage? It’s whatever we define it to be. It’s me and my self-chosen partner (or partners).
That way of thinking has led to redefining marriage and the family in our courts and in our classrooms and in our congregations. “Well, as long as they love each other.” has become the mantra of the day. And each of us demands the right to define love and family and marriage any way we want.
So what do we do when our Lord Christ stands before us and says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”? Will we play Humpty Dumpty and re-define and re-interpret his words to make them mean whatever we want them to mean? Or will we acknowledge that Christ himself interprets what he says to us and to the world? Does the world make sense of the Word of God or does the Word of God make sense of the world and each of us here this morning?
God forgive us for our constant attempts to suit Jesus’ words to our own pre-conceived understandings. God forbid that we make ourselves the final word on our Lord’s Word as it comes to us through his prophets and apostles. God send his Spirit to us anew to hear the Word made flesh with sanctified ears and a cleansed heart. Amen
So, what is Jesus telling not only the disciples but every one of us who receive him by God-given faith when he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”? (John 14:15 ESV) Is Jesus simply laying down the law in the same way people in our age agree that we’ll be family, we’ll be a church family, we’ll be friends just as long as I hold up my part of the agreement and (more importantly) you do the same? Is our Lord making a legally-binding-in-court contract with the Twelve and with each of us? “Do these things, and then you will be the object of my blessing?”
Well, if we read it, if we hear the words of Christ in that way, how are we performing according to Jesus’ do this and then I’ll do that for you agreement? Are we measuring up?
Our old nature things we’re doing a pretty respectable job. We go along with much of what Jesus tells us, at least when it comes to our behavior in public. Like the Muslim who gauges the possibility of earning heaven on how well he or she “submits,” our old nature works overtime in minimizing the commands of the Law so that we have some chance of squeaking through the pearly gates.
Yes, we break the commands of the law not only by what we do but even more by what we say, by what we think, but we try to console ourselves that at least our performance is better than that other person — that other person who has no chance, no possibility of climbing their way into heaven.
But how are we really measuring up to the Law still faintly written in our hearts but revealed clearly through Moses on Mt. Sinai? Remember those Ten Commandments? Remember what they really mean? Remember, for example, Martin Luther’s meanings from the Small Catechism? All that stuff about fear, love and trust in God above all things and service to neighbor — to wife and husband and parent and child and employer and employee and next-door neighbor and community and church family simply for their sake, for their welfare and well-being without counting any personal cost to ourselves?
How are we really doing when God holds up the mirror of his holy will and law? How would we be doing if it really was, as our old nature thinks: “Christ will love us only if we first obey his commandments.”? How are we really performing if Jesus is saying, “I will love you, but only if you would first love what I have commanded you.”
Deep down inside we know we have failed miserably. We know that from that small voice of our conscience, those remnants of the Law written into our own heart and mind. But we know we have failed miserably in the face of the clearest and most powerful revelation of the extent and enormity of our failure to love Christ and his command: the extent and enormity of sin Christ himself bore for us upon the Tree. That wasn’t Christ’s sin; that was our sin. That was our sin that Christ made his own. That’s what our sin, our disobedience, or rebellion, our failure looks like as heaven’s wrath is poured out against human transgression.
Calvary is the clearest indicator of the enormity of our sin. Each of us has to acknowledge that. And if you can say “that was my sin Christ bore unto the poor and miserable death of the Cross,” then the Word of God is working repentance and contrition in you — then you are ready to hear unexpected, unbelievable Good News this morning.
For Christ’s cross is not only the revelation of the severity of our sin — of your sin and my sin — but it is the clearest revelation of God’s gracious, unmerited forgiveness for sin. Not for some of it, not for a part of it, but for every bit of it, even for the sin you cannot forgive yourself of.
In Christ, it’s forgiven. It’s buried in the depths of the sea. It has been dragged to Christ’s tomb never to rise again.
And if that wasn’t enough, Christ gives you the gift of faith. Not some kind of whistle-in-the-dark faith, but a sure and certain confidence in Christ and his promises — especially those promises that our old, sinful nature never sees and will never put its trust in.
And what’s the hidden promise for all who repent and turn to Christ and his redemption in their place?
Never getting sick? Never experiencing heartache or loss? Never having to ask for Christ’s forgiveness ever again?
No. Something greater and much more glorious. For in those words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” there is a great and eternal promise.
Christ is saying, to you, “As I have sent my Spirit into your heart, your new nature will love me, will treasure me, will keep me, will cherish me, will forever hold me close.
Just as you will will love and treasure, keep and cherish my Word — now and always.”
We pray in the words of Martin Luther:
Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.
Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend Thy Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.
O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.