Sermon for Sunday May 21st, 2017, Rogation Sunday (Fifth Sunday after Easter)

 

The Lessons: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

The Text: John 14:15 – 21

The Topic: Proof that one loves the Lord Jesus Christ is shown by keeping His commandments.

INTRODUCTION

In one of his sermons, Pastor Robert J. Morgan gave this illustration of obedience:

My daughter Hannah and I had a Great Dane named Samson that we dearly loved, and Samson, as it turns out, was well named, for he was big and strong and muscular – and, like his namesake, he also had a penchant for wandering. We built fences, we tried chains and dog runs, we tried everything to keep Samson at home. But he’d dig under the fence or climb over it, and it drove us to distraction.

So we bought the best-selling book on the market on the subject of training dogs. No Bad Dogs was written by the famous British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse, who raises Great Danes herself. One night when I went upstairs to tuck in Hannah, she had a sad expression on her face, and she said, “Dad, I know now what Samson’s real problem is. Let me read you this paragraph.” This is what she read me out of No Bad Dogs by Barbara Woodhouse:

In a dog’s mind, a master or a mistress to love, honor, and obey is an absolute necessity. The love is dormant in the dog until brought into bloom by an understanding owner. Thousands of dogs appear to love their owners: they welcome them home with enthusiastic wagging of the tail and jumping up, they follow them about their homes happily and, to the normal person seeing the dog, the affection is true and deep. But to the experienced dog trainer this outward show is not enough. The true test of real love takes place when the dog has got the opportunity to go out on its own as soon as the door is left open by mistake and it goes off and often doesn’t return home for hours. That dog loves only its home comforts and the attention it gets from its family; it doesn’t truly love the master or mistress as they fondly think. True love in dogs is apparent when a door is left open and the dog still stays happily within earshot of its owner. For the owner must be the be-all and the end-all of a dog’s life.

 

The real test of our Christianity is found in this – when we have an opportunity to wander away, to disobey, to leave his presence, do we choose instead to stay close to him, to abide in Christ, to obey? [1]

Our Gospel Lesson today begins and ends with the same theme: love for the Lord Jesus Christ is shown by obedience to His commandments. The passage is part of the Farewell Discourses in the Gospel according to St. John. As such, it contains commands and truths that the disciples must bear in mind and implement in their lives, in view of both the approaching departure of the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of his death on the cross, and his ascension into heaven. The test of the disciples’ loyalty is their love for Him when He is physically absent from them. How will they show that love?

The importance of expressing love for the Lord Jesus Christ by keeping his commandments is a theme which ties in with the theme of Rogation Sunday and Rogationtide. Rogation Sunday receives its name from the Rogation Days, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day. These days in the Church Calendar are days of “solemn supplication” for good harvests, for rain, for the success of commerce and industry. Their theme is prayer for God’s blessing on agriculture, commerce and industry. The Gospel Lesson is relevant to this because the whole passage itself begins immediately after the verses in which the Lord Jesus tells his disciples that if they ask anything in His Name, He will do it (John 14:13-14). Our Lord’s statement here, though, implies a relationship of love and trust. In practical terms, neither a church nor a nation can expect the Lord Jesus Christ to do what it requests, if it does not love its Lord and Savior. Such love is demonstrated by obedience to the Lord.

JOHN 14:15-21: LOVE FOR CHRIST SHOWN BY OBEDIENCE TO HIM

To put this passage in its context in the discourse, the Lord is showing both the necessity of faith in Himself and the necessity of a love for Him that is expressed through obeying His commands. He was also countering the idea of a superficial, sentimental love dependent on His physical presence. Indeed, He was teaching not only the Apostles, but the whole Church that heard these words and would read this passage, the nature and requirements of true love for God.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15, KJV). This is the reading that the King James Version reflects. There is a variant reading in the ancient manuscripts. This reading will be translated thus: “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.” Some interpreters argue that the future tense “will keep” is the better reading, since it expresses the act of keeping Christ’s commandments flows willingly from a true love for Christ. But this willingness appears more evident from verse 21 than from this verse, where it is more likely that Christ commanded his disciples to show their love by keeping His commandments.

Some will ask, “What are these commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ that we must obey?” It is clear that they are the commands which the Lord endorsed in His teaching, the moral commandments, including the Two Great Commandments (Matthew 22: 37-40; Deut. 6:4-5; Lev. 19:18), the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:6-21), the command to love one’s fellow Christians (John 13:34-35; 15:12), the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), and all the moral commandments of the Old and New Testaments, as viewed through the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17). Again someone may object, “Does this not turn love for the Lord into legalism?” To this I answer that salvation in Christ is by grace and faith alone, but genuine faith in Christ and sincere love for Him are demonstrated by obeying His commands. Article XII of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion also bears witness to this:

Albeit that Good Works, which are the Fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

 

The verse following the command to keep Christ’s commandments implies that the coming and presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians follows from their willing obedience to His commands. This agrees with verse 23, where Jesus explains to Judas that anyone who loves Him will keep His words, and the result of this will be that the Father and the Son come to stay with him. If the Father and the Son make their home with everyone that obeys Jesus’ commands, it follows that the Holy Spirit will make his home there too. The Comforter promised as the Father’s gift to the disciples is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (v. 17).

Since disobedience to Christ’s commandments characterizes the world which is opposed to God, such a world does not know and cannot receive the Holy Spirit, who strengthens God’s people in their love, faith and hope in God. Because of the coming of the Holy Spirit, Christians are not left “comfortless” (lit. “orphaned”), but they have the Holy Spirit living in them to guide and direct them to keep Christ’s commandments and do all of God’s will.

Verse 21 repeats the truth with which our Gospel Lesson began, that the person who knows and keeps Christ’s commandments is the one that loves Him. This results in the Father’s love for that person in a deep way, and the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ to him, as well as the presence of the Holy Spirit.

APPLICATION

Will you show proof of your love for the Lord Jesus Christ by keeping His commandments, even when it is much easier not to do so?



[1] p. 589, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.

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