I hope and trust that you were blessed this week meditating upon the Comfort of Christ in John 14. I know I have. We’ve spent the last hour looking into the detail so let’s now zoom out for a moment and imagine the scene. Remember we are in the last supper discourse. Jesus has withdrawn himself from the world and is speaking to His disciples, to believers (or soon-to-be believers!). He has just finished washing their feet and is now teaching them what will happen and how they should live after He is gone.
These disciples are understandably afraid. Their leader, the one they left everything for, the one in whom they had placed all their right and wrong messianic hopes is leaving seemingly before He had done all they hoped he would do. So Jesus is comforting them: He will not leave them as orphans, he will go and prepare a place for them, He will send them a helper, they will be with Him and be one with him and the Father.
Jesus’s comfort to them is actually remarkable because, in the words of Don Carson, each and every disciple is about to “catastrophically fail” Jesus. We see a foreshadowing of that in Jesus predicting Peter’s denial at the end of chapter 13. We will see that after Jesus is arrested, they all flee for their lives and seem to have utterly lost hope in Jesus and His promises. And yet here is Jesus loving them, comforting them. What a beautiful picture of God’s love toward sinners. Jesus was about to die for catastrophic failures – friends who would deny and desert Him. In the words of John many years later, “We love, because He first loved us”.
We could meditate on the beauty of that for eternity. And I think we will! But that’s actually not what I want to think about today. As I was reading this passage of great comfort, I was struck by the repetition (3x) of Jesus saying that if we love him, we will keep his commands. It must be very important if he repeated it three times (in 15, 21 and 23), and yet that phrase doesn’t have the same note of comfort as most of his other words here. Read wrongly, it can make Jesus look like a dictator as if we must earn His love or favor by our obedience. But actually there is comfort in obedience because our obedience only proves that His love is already at work inside of us.
To help us understand properly the link between loving Jesus and obeying Him, I’d like to look at three examples of obedience in this passage: Peter’s obedience, the believer’s obedience, and Jesus’ obedience. I hope by examining these, we will grow in our understanding of what it means to love and obey Jesus, and that we would have our souls comforted by him.
First, Peter’s obedience. Let’s read this short section at the end of Chapter 13 starting with verse 36: 36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
Peter, enjoying the comforts of food, Jesus’s company and the safety of the upper room talks big. “I’ll lay down my life for you” he says. But Jesus calls his bluff. It’s not only that Peter won’t die for Jesus right then, he won’t even be able live for Jesus. We will soon see that he will deny even knowing him to a lowly servant girl. But besides the fact that Peter’s promise is empty, his intended obedience is not in accord with God’s Word. Look at what Jesus is saying, “Will you die for me Peter?” In other words, who is dying for whom here? Cause last I checked, I was dying for you. No, Peter. Your cavalier, independent zeal is not according to God’s plan. You are not the sinless savior whom God sent because He so loved the world.
Sometimes I think we can be guilty of this too. We may have zeal to obey Jesus in some way, but our zeal might not be consistent with His word. If we long to do something for Jesus, but it goes against what he has taught in His word, then we are actually not obeying Jesus. In my zeal for Jesus, I may want to get involved with some ministry at church or in our city, but if my husband and children feel neglected and unloved by me because I’m doing it, then I am not obeying God. He has commanded me to prioritize my family in Titus 2 among others. So let’s be careful in our “obedience” to examine His Word.
So then, What is His word that we should obey? That leads us to the next point – A Believer’s obedience. As we’ve said before, Jesus tells his disciples here three times in this passage that if they love Him, they will obey his commands. So what are his commands? This passage itself doesn’t say actually. Some scholars think that it refers back to what Mary L. spoke on last time – the new command Jesus gives to love each other as Jesus has loved us. And it may include that, but since “commands” here is plural, most scholars think it means more than that. So what if we look through John as a whole to find Jesus’ commands, what do we find? You might expect to find things that we should do, like the ten commandments of sorts. But John Piper notes there are only two behavioral commands from Jesus’ lips in John – the new commandment to love from chapter 13 and when Jesus says to Peter later, “Feed my sheep” later in chapter 21.
The rest of the commands in John? Here they are: ““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 commands that are all over the Gospel of John. So now think again of the phrase, “If you love me, you will obey my
commands”. If the commands 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.”’
What comfort! These are Jesus most important commands to us – to believe and abide in Him because we love him. He is no slavish and selfish dictator. He wants us to love him and to believe in Him, not to work for His approval. The work of God is this – to believe in the one whom He has sent. We must believe Jesus. None of the other commands in scripture matter if we don’t first obey Jesus in this way. This begs the question – why doesn’t the New Testament just stop there with the command to believe, why does it discuss these other more behavioral commands for believers like loving others and being thankful, and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, and not committing adultery, etc? It’s because obedience in these will come naturally (though not necessarily easily!) out of a heart that obeys Jesus commands in the first way – to love him.
Jesus says in verse: 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,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. If we believe, Jesus will give us the Holy Spirit to live inside of us and give us a heart to obey the commands of scripture. Now, that’s not to say that we always feel like obeying or that it’s easy or we do it perfectly, even with the Spirit living inside us. We must work hard to put to death sin in our lives. But all the while knowing that it is God who works in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure. And if we are walking in step with the Spirit, obeying Christ, we can actually find great comfort and rest for our souls. That seems obvious, but I have found it hard in practice.
A few months ago I came across a really good post on this topic on the girltalk blog. How many of you have heard of or follow the blog? Just curious. It is an excellent blog on Biblical womanhood written by Pastor’s wife Carolyn Mahaney and her three grown daughters. I encourage everyone to read it – they have an excellent archive on many different topics for women. Anyway, the post discussed the OT scripture verse Jeremiah 6:16 which relates to our topic today: ““Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. God is telling the Israelites, “Walk in my way”, obey me, it is good and you will find rest in me. Jesus echoes that comfort in our passage. If we walk in His way, He will be with us. And in another gospel he says28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Finding rest in obeying Jesus seems logical and obvious. But it so hard to do when I am tempted to think I will find rest in venting my anger, or my anxiety or critiques or blame toward my husband, or in complaining or gossiping or speaking negatively of a sister in Christ (only joking of course!)? I have to remind myself, No Ashley. You will not find rest in these things. You will find rest in obeying Christ alone. Instead of the brief pleasure of sin, I would enjoy the lasting comfort of a clean conscience and assurance of His love inside me.
It is so easy for me to find discouraging examples of my own failures like those I’ve talked about. It’s harder for me to recount the many ways that I have obeyed God, by His grace, starting with obeying him by believing in Jesus. And I don’t think that’s because God’s grace has not been active in my life. I think it’s because I don’t treasure His grace enough. I don’t see myself as someone who has God the Spirit living and working within me enough. I am so focused on my failures and what I’d like to be, that I don’t take time to see how far I’ve come. John Newton has a wonderful quote on this:
“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”
When was the last time you meditated on the ways this week, this month, or this year, that you have obeyed God? How are you different than you were five years ago? Some of you may not have even been a Christian five or ten years ago. That is God’s love at work in your life! Think on these things – not to puff yourself up, but to be comforted by His grace and goodness in your life.
But our obedience is only possible because of the obedience of Jesus. And that’s Point 3 – briefly: Jesus’ obedience. Verse 31 says 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.
And earlier in John we read that Jesus always does and says what the Father has told Him to. Jesus’ obedience is perfect so we know that He has loved the Father perfectly and with a costly love that followed Him all the way to the cross. In fact, we know from earlier in John also that Jesus and the Father are one in their own perfect love relationship. But now for the first time here in 14:20 we see that we can be one with the Father and Son the way that they are one. How can that be? Unlike Jesus, our obedience will fall short of God’s commands. But Jesus paid for our disobedience on the cross so that when the Father looks at us, He sees Jesus. So we can rest in that and praise Christ for His perfect obedience…now credited to us!
As Christians we really have the best situation. Though it is not easy to always obey God, we can have the comfort of the assurance of His love as we obey and the Holy Spirit growing our desire to do so. And when we fail, we have a Savior who purchased our forgiveness with His blood and whose perfect life is credited to us. Let’s pray.
I’m sure many of you have more study to wrap up so please feel free to finish that and remember to save some time for prayer. But if you have finished your study discussion and you have some time, go around your table and tell one way you have grown in obeying God by His grace this past week or year…or decade!