READ : John 14:15-21
In today’s program David Bast looks at the most wonderful offer Jesus ever made to anyone.
The battered old car wheezed to a stop in the church parking lot, next door to our house. The bedraggled driver, a stranger, got out and headed for our back door. He was just passing through, he said, and needed help to buy some gas. Could I make him a loan? So I gave him a ten, mostly because I didn’t want him to think ill of the church. “Thanks a lot,” he said as he walked away, “Give me your name and address and I’ll pay you back.” Well, that was a fine promise, but nothing ever came of it. Promises, after all, are only words.
My father was married in 1933 after being engaged for five years, all through the Great Depression. And during that time while he was in school his wife-to-be worked and saved her earnings. A few weeks before their wedding, the banks closed and they lost every penny. The bank had promised to keep their money safe and return it with interest, but it failed. It couldn’t keep its promise. A promise is still only words, even when it’s made by a powerful institution. It’s still only as good as the character and strength of the one who makes it.
This is what makes the promises of God so valuable, because God’s promises all depend upon his character and his power. God alone, of all people and all things in heaven and on earth, is completely trustworthy. He is able to do whatever he promises, and he is also utterly dependable to keep his word. Today I would like you to consider a promise made by Jesus to his disciples in the Upper Room on the eve of his crucifixion. It is, I believe, the greatest promise Christ ever made. As we think about it together we should bear in mind Christ’s nature as “God in the flesh.”
So when Jesus makes a promise, it’s not just a decent human being who is speaking. His character, the integrity of his person which backs his promises up, is the same as God’s character. “He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips,” said one who knew him well (1 Peter 2:22). Jesus’ strength, his ability to perform what he promises, is the same as God’s strength. And that means that Jesus’ words to us are really God’s words and absolutely trustworthy. Jesus’ promises are as sure and dependable as the Word by which all things exist, the very word of God.
“If You Love Me . . .”
So here is the promise that I call Christ’s greatest. It’s found in John 14. After Jesus and his disciples had finished the Passover meal and shared the broken bread and poured-out cup together, Jesus said this to them:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper (or Counselor), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth . . . I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . . . Because I live, you also will live. . . . Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.
John 14:15-21 ESV
Did you catch the promise at the center of that? “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” But we must observe at the very outset that Jesus’ promise is not offered indiscriminately to everyone. It is introduced with a condition. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (v. 15). Whoever loves me, I will love him and manifest myself to him” (v. 23). In two places this condition is prefaced to the promise Jesus makes. His point is that obedience to him is the proof of love for him, and love for him is the condition for receiving what he promises. The promises of God are not automatic. They are not offered to everyone whether they care about God or not, whether they know him or not. Love – genuine love – for Jesus Christ is the condition for receiving what he promises.
The New Testament offers a number of tests for distinguishing real followers from false professors: have you confessed Christ publicly, do you follow the truth, can you say “Jesus is Lord” and mean it? But the most searching test is the one Jesus applied to Peter after his resurrection: “Peter, Do you love me, above everything and everyone else?” Do you love me?
But mark also the way Jesus qualifies this condition: love for him is shown by obedience to him. The love Jesus is interested in is not a matter of words only, but of doing what he says. If we truly do love him, we will show it by keeping his commands (v. 15), and obeying his teaching (v. 23). In fact, obedience is the very definition of love – “Whoever has my commands and obeys them,” says Jesus, “he is the one who loves me” (v. 21). None of those verses I’ve quoted from John 14 is in the imperative mood. In other words, these are not commands; they are all statements, statements of fact. Jesus isn’t ordering us to love and obey him here. He is simply telling it like it is. Anyone who really loves him will demonstrate that love in obedience, and if one’s professed or imagined love for Christ is coupled with a disobedient life, then it just isn’t genuine.
So here’s an important question: Before we even think about the promise, do you meet the condition which Jesus lays down for those to whom his promise is given? Do you truly love him? And are you obeying his teaching and keeping his commandments?
Christ’s Greatest Promise
What about the promise then? The promise itself is simple: it is Christ himself. “I will come to you,” he says. Christ himself is the treasure. He is our joy and fulfilment. He could not promise us anything greater than himself, because there is nothing greater, or better, or more full of joy. Jesus Christ is the substance of which every other pleasure of body or soul is merely the shadow. In promising us himself, Christ is promising us everything.
But there is more here. Listen again to how Jesus introduces his promise: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper (or Counselor), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (v. 15f.). Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Father to be with us forever. In other words he will come to us in and through the Spirit, and with the Spirit comes an attendant host of other promises. In promising the Spirit:
Christ promises us the love of God. “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him” (v. 21). Our love for God will be reciprocated by God’s love for us – it isn’t a one-way relationship. Indeed, as those who love him know, God’s love is actually prior to ours and calls it forth as a response. It both precedes our love for him as a cause and follows it as a blessing. Our love is wrapped up in God’s love, beginning to end. God does not love us because we love him; rather, we love him because he first loved us. But at the same time, the only people who can really know the love of God are those who love his only Son.
In promising the Spirit Christ promises us his help. Jesus promises not to leave us alone, weak and helpless. “I will not leave you comfortless,” says the older translation of verse18. Modern versions translate Jesus’ words more literally: “I will not leave you as orphans.” Jesus’ disciples without their Lord would be as helpless and miserable as abandoned street children. But the Lord will never abandon those who are his own. He will come to us. He will remain with us. He will protect and care for us.
In promising the Spirit, Christ promises us his life. “Because I live, you also will live” (v. 19), he says. The very next morning Jesus would go to the cross, but he could see beyond Golgotha to the empty tomb. His simple promise to share his life with us eternally can sustain us through our own darkest hour as well. It may be Friday, as the saying goes, but Sunday’s comin’ for each one of us who loves and obeys Jesus Christ!
In promising the Spirit Christ promises us the knowledge of the truth. The Spirit is the Spirit of truth (v. 17), says Jesus, as well as the Spirit of holiness. A great part of his ministry is to lead us into a true and deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ (v. 26) and the way of salvation through him (John 16:8-15).
In promising the Spirit finally, Christ promises us his peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (v. 27). This is no empty promise, no false and flimsy offer. The peace of Christ – the peace that passes understanding because it transcends anything that the world can give or offer or promise – is our Lord’s parting gift to his friends.
And all of these subsidiary promises are summed up in the central promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s presence in another way, a different person, but the same God (v. 20). Now through his Spirit Jesus can be present in all of his people all the time. “We,” says Jesus (meaning both the Father and himself), “will come to him (that is, to anyone who loves him) and make our home with him” (v. 23). He means he will come and never leave, that his residence will be permanent.
This is Christ’s greatest promise: to come to us and live with us always. Through the Spirit, we know that someday we will dwell with God forever. But right now, through the Spirit, God in all his love, power and peace dwells with us. Is this promise for you?