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Fifth Sunday of Easter
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, May 2, 2021

How Is Our Love for Jesus Measured?

Text: John 14:15–21

As many of you know our son Ben and his family live in Colorado Springs. One of the places that visitors often want to see is Pikes Peak. On our first trip to visit, Ben drove us up there. It’s important to remember that even in Colorado Springs you are at a little over 6,000 feet above sea level. I noticed that as I carried our luggage up the stairs, I was surprised at how winded I was. However, when you go up to Pikes Peak the elevation is 14,115 feet above sea level. There is a visitors’ center at the top where for only $5 you can get a hit of oxygen at the oxygen bar. Whoever got that idea was a real opportunist because almost everyone struggles to get enough oxygen. It’s also a good idea to bring a coat because the difference in temperature was extreme. It was in the ’70s when we left the Springs and 27 degrees at the top of Pike Peak.

Every year there is the Pikes Peak Marathon. There aren’t many marathons like it. With a 7,800-foot vertical climb, the course takes runners from Manitou Springs, which is at approximately 6,900 feet, along Barr Trail which is narrow and rocky, to the summit of Pikes Peak at 14,115 feet, and back down for a total of 26.2 grueling mountain miles. This is from the online brochure for the event:

The course for the Marathon is unique and very physically demanding when compared to other marathons. Beginning in downtown Manitou Springs, the course proceeds along approximately 1.5 miles of road before joining Pikes Peaks Barr Trail.  This is where the real adventure begins.  With an average grade of 11%, the trail is often narrow, winding, or steep and may be gravel, rock or dirt with sharp turns and abrupt changes in elevation or direction. However, there are no exposed ledges, so there is little danger of falling off the trail! Keep in mind, there is no vehicle access to most of Barr Trail, so to ensure the safety of our runners and volunteers, all participants are required to complete a qualifying event before registering.

It’s recommended that you arrive 1–2 weeks before the race, depending on where you are coming from, so you’ll have time to get acclimated to the altitude. On one of our later trips to Colorado a gentleman from Arkansas was seated next to me on the airplane and we struck up a conversation. He told me that he was going to compete in the Pikes Peak Marathon which was only two days away. I asked why he was arriving so late considering the difference in altitude between Arkansas and Pikes Peak. Most of Arkansas is around 500 feet above sea level and even the highest peak is Mount Magazine at 2,753 feet. He told me that, yes, he was cutting it close, but he felt he would be alright. I wished him well but thought to myself that he likely wouldn’t even qualify, much less complete the course.

I thought about that fellow this week as I considered this morning's passages. The treacherous course that he was planning to run would not show him any special favoritism just because he hadn’t had the time to prepare. It was the responsibility of those who ran the race to respect the course and be ready to make the run. There would be one winner of the race and the person who won would have done so because they knew what was expected of them and arrived to compete.

This morning I want to compare the message that God spoke through Moses in Deuteronomy 4:32–40 and our Gospel reading from John 14:15–21. Our goal is to be reminded that the race we are running towards the prize of eternal life with God in the new Heavens and new Earth comes with instructions concerning what it means to run the race and receive the prize. To ignore that is to forfeit the prize, which has dire consequences.

Let’s begin by considering Deuteronomy. This is the last book in the section of the Bible called the Pentateuch, which are the five books normally attributed to Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number, and Deuteronomy. During the wilderness wanderings of Israel, Moses wrote down the words given him by God so that this chosen nation would know about the God who went with them and showed them miraculous signs, provided for them in amazing ways, and went before them to defeat pagan nations who attempted to stop them. These words were written to encourage Israel to faithfully follow the God who was their creator and protector and to trust that where He was leading would be a greater blessing than they could conceive of.

Deuteronomy was written as the children of Israel were preparing to enter the Promised Land. Moses was writing to the second generation of the exodus. Their faithless parents had died in the wilderness as a punishment from God for their arrogance and constant disobedience, but he had spared the children in order to preserve a holy people and to maintain the promises made to their forefather Abraham. Moses was not going to be allowed to enter the Promised Land, so before he died he restated God’s law in order to guide them into covenant renewal under Joshua. He wanted to exhort the new generation to avoid the sins of their parents and to commit to the law of God so that they would experience his blessing instead of his judgment. What God was offering was his love and favor, but it would require that they remained faithful to his commands. Deuteronomy is best understood as a series of addresses from Moses calling Israel to remember God and their experiences under the leadership of Moses.

In this morning’s passage he reminds Israel of all that God had done in their midst. Moses was asking Israel to think back to all that they had heard about God since he created man on the earth and to remember all that God had done before their eyes and spoke into their hearing. Had they ever before heard of any god who spoke to his people in such profound ways or who rescued them from other nations as God did for Israel?

Moses encouraged them to remember the experience of hearing the voice of God thundering from Mount Sinai speaking to them from out of the fire and smoke. Did any other nations experience their gods like this? Had they ever heard of any gods choosing a nation to show special favor to, or who defended them from other nations? From the very beginning of time who had ever heard of such a thing and yet Yahweh, their God, had revealed himself to them in so many ways in signs and wonders and in war. He had struck terror into the hearts of their enemies and with a mighty hand and outstretched arm had performed these things before their eyes. God had proven His love for Israel so many times and even other nations had been in fear of Israel’s army because of the favor of their God. In verses 36–38 Moses reminded them that God had demonstrated his power and glory through his mighty presence and had driven out before them nations who were greater and mightier than they were so that they could take possession of all that God had promised to their forefathers, beginning with Abraham.

Their response to all that God had done for them should come from what they knew about Him and what he had commanded them to do. There should be no hesitation on their part to follow God if they would only consider what he had already done in their midst and on their behalf. Moses sums it all up in Deuteronomy 4:39–40,

know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.

I want to share with you a quote from John Piper in his book, Desiring God.

If you don't see the greatness of God then all the things that money can buy become very exciting. If you can't see the sun you will be impressed with a street light. If you've never felt thunder and lightning you'll be impressed with fireworks. And if you turn your back on the greatness and majesty of God you'll fall in love with a world of shadows and short-lived pleasures.

I think this is exactly what Moses is reminding Israel to remember as they enter into the land. Remember what you have seen of God; remember what you have heard from God; remember what you have experienced with God and remain faithful because of who God is. Be in awe and wonder that this glorious, all-powerful and majestic God has reached out to you in love to establish a relationship with you as a nation. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Moses, who had dwelt in the presence of God on top of Mt. Sinai for weeks at a time, who had beheld God in his glory and lived, now stood before the children of Israel longing for them to be as persuaded of the love, power, mercy and character of God as he was. His was about to restate to them the law of God that had been given him by God on the mountain and they were to let it be written on their hearts, they were to teach it to their children and their children’s children so that Israel would never forget who their God was and all that he had done for them.

As we all know, as long as Israel remembered these things they prospered as a people but when they forgot, it only took one generation for them to begin the decline and eventually become like the pagan nations around them. Their God ceased to be even a memory for most.

They forgot but God did not. Because God remembered we are in the season of Easter and heading towards the celebration of Pentecost. We are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and remembering that all he taught about the resurrection and promised kingdom did come to pass in the sending of the Holy Spirit. There are striking similarities in the words of Jesus in John 14:15–21 and the exhortation of Moses in Deuteronomy 4:32–40.

Let’s read again John 14:15–17,

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 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.”

Just like Moses, Jesus is equating love with obedience to his commandments. In verse 12 of John 14 Jesus had promised,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

So when Jesus makes the statement that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” it is not so much a promise as it is a definition of love itself. Jesus is not really referring to his ethical standards, which, unlike Matthew, John doesn’t list many, but it is to be the response to the whole of Jesus’ teaching, including his way of life. As the Apostle John would later write in 1 John 2:6, “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

The model that Jesus had given his disciples was that he was completely dependent on and obedient to the Father. He had told them that he only did and spoke what he received from the Father. In doing this he is modeling the life of loving obedience to the will of the Father and that is what he is instructing his disciples to follow. Faith and love unite disciples to God and make it possible for them to do the “greater things” than Jesus because they will have access to all the resources of the kingdom of God. The promise, then, is that if you will pursue obedient love then, 

“I will ask the Father and he will send you another helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive.” 

Jesus, the divine presence on earth, was going to go back to the Father and be the human presence in Heaven on our behalf. The Spirit was to be the Helper, as opposed to the enemy who was the accuser of the brethren. The Holy Spirit would come to take the place of Christ with the apostles to lead God’s people into a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth. This would give them the ability and strength to be the presence of Jesus to those around them, so it would be as if Jesus himself was still present in his humanity.

Jesus, in coming to earth, ushered in the kingdom presence and through the Holy Spirit the disciples were to continue the mission that he had begun. The Spirit would also give them the power to overcome and undergo the trials and persecutions that would come in opposition to the divine kingdom coming to earth. Jesus tells them that they will struggle, and it will happen because, 

“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 forever.”

Again, we see a similarity between Jesus’ word in John 14 and the exhortation of Moses in Deuteronomy 4. Jesus was announcing that the divine presence would inhabit, live within, those who chose faithful obedience to the commands of God. Now it would not merely be God dwelling in the midst of His people like with Israel in the wilderness, but God dwelling within his people through the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s holy presence would now be within his people in a way never before known or conceived of who had ever imagined or heard of such a thing?

The next statement firms up the relationship with the Father that Jesus is securing for them. Let’s read John 14:18–20,

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

Some have suggested that Jesus is assuring them that he was not abandoning them as orphans but would come back to receive them. I think much more is involved here. Jesus is the only way to the Father and without him, they would be orphaned. However, he is promising that he will come back, not signifying the second coming but after the resurrection. It was then that he would impart to them the Holy Spirit in power. He would ask the Father to send the Spirit in the same power that brought about the resurrection and when that happened, they would be united to him by the Spirit and come to share in him who is “the resurrection and the life.” This indwelling is what would enable them to do the “greater things” spoken of in verse 12. What had been true of Jesus would now be true of them—not that they would be the unique Son of God, but they would continue as those who were created who would share in the divine life. Jesus the Son of God condescended to come to us as a human being so that those who were created would become one with the divine presence indwelling them. Jesus then ties all this together by repeating his description of those of whom this would be true. Let’s read verse 21,

“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.”

Can you see the promise here? Jesus isn’t suggesting that he and the disciples will merely agree on ideas or have similar feelings, they will share life together. The love is to be reciprocal: “he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him.”  They are invited into the same love that unites the Father and the Son. In his ascension Jesus was not merely departing and returning to his previous life with the Father but He would stay united in power and love with his disciples as they come into an eternal relationship with the Trinity. Again, this should cause us to declare with joy and amazement, “Who has ever heard of such a thing?” Who could have imagined that God would offer those whom he had created a relationship with him that is so complete?

The Apostle John affirms this promise 55–65 years after Jesus speaks these words. He had lived in the joy of the relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as it had been the source of his strength and power as an apostle. He had been used of God to grow the early church and could declare at the latter days of his life. (Let’s read again 1 John 3:22–24),

…and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

The apostle had lived out the promise of Jesus and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit for many years. It caused him to be an effective witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ and to the Spirit of truth that indwelled him as an obedient follower of Jesus and his commands. He had given his life to proclaiming this message and I can only imagine that he felt the same way as Moses when he declared to the children of Israel the necessity of obedience to the commands of God in Deuteronomy 4. What John and Moses understood, they knew deeply and were hopeful that their readers or listeners would see the awe and wonder of their message. The news of God’s love and desire for a relationship with his creation was so profound and yet so life-giving that rightly understood would cause men and women to cry out, “Who ever heard of such a God as this” and bow down and worship him in faithful obedience. The reason for the believer to be obedient to God’s commands is not a prerequisite for salvation, but the response and definition of love itself. Jesus wasn’t referring to his teachings on ethics, which John doesn’t record many in his gospel, but to the whole of his teaching, especially seen through how he lived his life and who he lived it for.

Does this description of life lived now with Jesus describe your life? Our life?

That’s the question before us this morning, isn’t it. For whom and for what do we live our lives? Are we living before God as an expression of our love for him? Is he the primary focus of our thinking and do we seek to bring glory and honor to God through our decisions and actions? Fortunately, these questions are rhetorical and I’m not asking for you to give me the answer but to join me in bringing these questions before God in prayer. Do we really want to see revival and the Holy Spirit being poured out in power? If the answer is yes, then we must begin by asking God to speak to our hearts and to change us, and whatever the cost to raise us up for his own glory.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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