Jesus and His disciples were gathered in the Upper Room. The disciples were looking forward to sharing a traditional Passover meal with Jesus. Everything had been prepared. But this evening was not going to be what the disciples were expecting. What Jesus had in store for them would change their world forever.
They first began to realize the evening would be unlike any other when Jesus–their Master and Lord–wrapped a towel around His waist and took on the role of a servant to wash their dirty, smelly feet.
They were dumbfounded.
They were embarrassed.
They didn’t know what to say… Except for Peter, of course.
Peter blurted out what they were all thinking, “No! This isn’t right! Don’t wash my feet!” But Jesus assured Peter that it was necessary and Peter, in his usual flamboyant manner, was ready to strip down and be washed from head to toe, if necessary. I can imagine a grin on the Master’s face as he assured Peter that his feet were enough for now.
They sat at the table together and everyone settled in, relaxing into the familiar and beautiful traditions of the Passover meal. But Jesus had more unsettling revelations for them. One of them would betray Him!
Once again they were dumbfounded.
They couldn’t imagine anyone doing such a thing.
They even questioned their own motives, “Surely, not I, Lord!?!”
But the betrayer knew who he was and Judas Iscariot left them to accomplish what he had determined to do.
Before the meal was finished, their world was rocked once again as Jesus revealed that He would soon be leaving them, and that where He was going, they could not follow.
Why? Where was He going?
Why couldn’t they follow?
As they puzzled over this latest revelation, Jesus explained that He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house, and then He promised He would return for them so that they could also come and dwell with Him.
And He began, in the short time He knew He had left, to teach them and prepare them for what was to come.
John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. 16 “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.
John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. 20 “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. 21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”
Consider Jesus’ statement: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
The first thing I want you to notice is that it is a statement of fact, not a command. I think sometimes we hear it this way:
“If you love me, I expect you to prove it to me by keeping my commandments.”
But that is not what Jesus said.
Some of us have had parents, spouses, or other loved ones with whom we have had a “prove it” kind of relationship. They may not have said it in so many words, but the message was this:
“If you love me you will prove it to me by <fill in the blank>.”
“If you really loved me, you would <fill in the blank>”
“You don’t really love me, because you <something>
… or because you DIDN’T <something>”
We see and hear so much conditional love:
“I would really love you if …”
“I really love you when …”
“I love you because …”
And whether the speaker intends it that way or not, the message we receive is:
“As long as you meet the condition, I will love you.
But if you don’t meet the condition, I won’t love you.”
God’s love is not like that. He loves us unconditionally. He loves us at our very best, but He still loves us at our very worst. He loved us enough to die a horrible, humiliating, and painful death in order to give us a chance at life. Romans 5:8 says,
But God demonstrates His own love toward us,
in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
So what did Jesus mean when He said,
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments”
Well, I can tell you that:
He will not love you more when you keep His commandments.
He will not love you less when you fail to keep His commandments.
He loves you whether or not you love Him in return.
Jesus does not expect you to prove your love for Him by your obedience.
And He does not measure your love for Him by your performance.
So why did He say, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments?”
I think we can find a clue by looking at what He said in the following verses.
Jesus said He would send a Helper, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, of Whom He said,
You know Him because He abides with you and will be in you
In other words, they would recognize the Holy Spirit when He comes because He had been abiding with them-living with them, hanging out with them–the whole time they had been with Jesus. But now the Spirit would be abiding within them, not just among them through Jesus.
In verse 20 Jesus continued,
“In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”
On the day of Pentecost, when they received the Holy Spirit, they would finally understand what Jesus meant when He told them that He and the Father were One, because they would experience the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the same way that Jesus had.
Finally, Jesus restates what He had said before, but from a different perspective:
21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”
Let me summarize what I think Jesus is saying in these verses:
When we love God, we abide in Him,
And the natural consequence of abiding in Him is that we will keep His commandments.
What does it mean to abide?
Basically, it means to live with, to hang out with, or to spend time with.
Have you ever lived with someone,
and spent time with them
day after day
and hour after hour,
until you began
to think like them
and talk like them
and act like them?
Until you found yourself picking up mannerisms
and repeating favorite phrases… ?
When you really love someone who really loves you,
not just in words,
but really loves you unconditionally,
you become like them
and you want to do things that please them.
That is what Jesus is talking about!
When you love Jesus, you will be in that kind of a love-relationship with Him.
When you love Jesus, will keep His commandments,
not out of duty or obligation,
not out of fear,
but out of sheer, delighted love
because it has become a habit, second nature
as a result of being in His presence.
So I want you to do something for me. When you hear anyone talking about the need to be obedient to Christ and to keep His commandments, I want you to think FIRST about your relationship with Him.
Think about spending time with Him
and hanging out with Him,
listening to Him through His Word,
and in personal worship time.
When you are faced with the temptation to act in a way you know He won’t be happy about, remember that Jesus is not standing with a clipboard keeping track of whether or not you will prove your love by your obedience, but He is standing beside you, walking with you, encouraging you, supporting you, and providing you with all the grace you need to overcome.
Here is the plain truth. If you are having a problem with obedience to Christ, the problem is not your lack of willpower. The problem is your lack of spending time with Jesus.
The doing comes out of the being.
A branch does not bear more fruit by working harder, but by having a greater connection to the vine from whence it receives the life-giving flow.
Obedience results from abiding in Jesus Christ through the Word of God and through prayer. And by prayer I don’t mean just giving God your to-do list, but being in His presence and listening and resting in His presence throughout your day.
Is God speaking to you? Then take the time to be in His presence and listen!
[Adapted from a sermon originally preached May 29, 2011.]