THE LORD’S LAST WORDS
Obey my teaching
Wait for my Spirit
Receive my peace
Text: John 14:23-27
Mom always had some final words before you left the house, didn’t she? “Don’t stay out too late!” “Drive carefully!” “If your friends start getting into trouble, just come home right away.” “If there are any problems, call us right away and we’ll help.” Maybe we didn’t like it when mom had to have the last word before each excursion out on our own when we were young, but the fact is that mom’s words were probably appropriate, well-meaning, and genuinely concerned—like any good mother would be!
In the Gospel for today, Jesus has some last words for his disciples. These are words he spoke on the night before his death, but they are words that prepared his disciples for his physical departure from them 40 days after his resurrection. We call that event Jesus’ Ascension, and it occurs this week Thursday (although we’ll celebrate it in worship next week Sunday). The words Jesus spoke the night before he died projected into the future and prepared the disciples for his physical departure—and that’s why his words fit nicely in today’s service, as we stand just days away from the Ascension of Jesus. The Lord has some last words for his disciples—words that were appropriate, well-meaning, and genuinely concerned for their spiritual well-being. And the Lord’s last words for his disciples certainly have something to say to us today. We could summarize these last words of Jesus with three thoughts:  Obey my teaching,  wait for my Spirit, and  receive my peace.
In last week’s sermon we studied 1 Corinthians 13, the great love chapter of the Bible. The biblical description of love we learned about was not really an emotion; it was an action. Christian love often goes into action even when our emotions don’t feel all that loving. Among the many important points we learned from that chapter, I hope you went home with a sense that love is not primarily an emotion; love is primarily a self-less and self-giving action.
In the midst of the Lord’s last words to his disciples on Maundy Thursday, Jesus talks about the love that his people have for him. Just as we learned last week, Jesus tells us that love is not primarily an emotion; love for the Lord shows itself in action. “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”
Jesus tells us that the person who loves him will “obey [his] teaching” (NIV). Some translations say that those who love Jesus will “keep [his] Word” (ESV). “Keep my Word” is a little closer to the original Greek phrase. Jesus wants his followers to keep or preserve everything he has said and taught. He wants us to obey his commandments, and he wants us to preserve the good news of forgiveness and peace with God through faith in his saving work along with everything else that accompanies that good news.
One point I found interesting in this section was the way Jesus switched from the singular to the plural. He says that the one who loves him will “keep my Word.” He treats his teachings as a package deal. It’s all important, and it ought to be treated as a unit. But when Jesus talks about the one who does not love him, he says that such a person “does not keep my words” (ESV). Lest someone think that a general agreement with Jesus is good enough, Jesus points out that disagreement with any of the many teachings passed down to us in his Word is tantamount to a lack of love for the Lord. When it comes to love for the Lord, obedience and faithfulness to his teaching is not negotiable.
Sometimes people who call in to a radio talk show will say something like this to the host: “I agree with you 99 percent of the time, but on this topic I disagree.” There’s a Christian variation on that. “I agree with the Bible most of the time.” That statement has plenty of variations, but they are variations on a common theme. “I’m not so sure about this church fellowship business. Can’t we agree that some teachings in Scripture are more important than others?” “I’m not so sure about this old biblical idea that God has specific roles in mind for the genders. Isn’t that a little behind the times?” “I’m not so sure that we want to emphasize this old idea that Christ is the only way to connect with God. Look at how sincere so many other people are in their faith! Can we really claim to have the only ticket to heaven?”
Pick your variation on that theme. Perhaps it’s something just mentioned; maybe it’s something entirely different. But ultimately, aren’t these thoughts just an all-too-vivid example of what Jesus said in verse 24: “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching”? Jesus says that rejecting selected sections of God’s Word and teaching is tantamount to a lack of love for God. Our sinful nature does not want to take God’s Word as a package deal. We’d rather pick and choose what’s in and what’s out – the hallmark of every heresy the church has ever seen. That error exists as a “default setting” in our sinful hearts. And that error puts our soul’s future in peril, because it fails to take God seriously.
A good number of you can remember the days when The Lutheran Hymnal was the main worship book in our pews. If you remember those days, you might recall Pentecost hymns that used the word Paraclete to describe the Holy Spirit. Paraclete is the Greek word that is used to describe the Holy Spirit in these verses; it’s translated “Counselor” here. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
The Lord’s last words for his disciples included a command to wait for the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Counselor. The Holy Spirit would be someone who stood beside them to guide and comfort and counsel and direct them after Jesus left their presence physically. But we should be careful not to read our own ideas into that statement. The Holy Spirit wasn’t going to counsel them like a “life coach” or inspire them the same way that we might talk about an “inspirational speaker” today. Jesus said the Spirit would “remind you of everything I have said to you.” Some have called this the gift of “total recall.” When the apostles preached and taught, they preached and taught the Word and will of Jesus because of this special gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ last words to his disciples included the direction to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift that was given on Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.
This special gift of the Spirit was something promised to Jesus’ disciples in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday; this is not a gift he has promised Christians of all times and places. But there is still something in this promise for us. When Jesus told his disciples to wait for the Spirit, he was promising them that their words, preached and recorded in the New Testament, were the very words of God, directed by the Holy Spirit.
I spend time in most of my Easter Sunday sermons defending the facts of the Bible, particularly the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Defending the facts is important, especially in our day and our culture. But knowing the facts is only half the battle. The Bible records more than facts; it records God’s truth. The Bible is not just a story, but it is the story of our salvation inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is not just a biography of Jesus, but the Spirit-inspired record of God’s unconditional love in action for you. God meant it when he looked ahead to Jesus’ work and said through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.” Jesus meant it when he said, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The Holy Spirit meant it when he said through the Apostle Paul, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live. … But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
People don’t like change. I was reminded of this during a workshop I attended a few months ago for the Bible software I use on my computer. The software company had just released a major upgrade to their product. Suddenly everything in their product seemed “new.” The program did what it had always done, and much more, but everything was arranged differently, so it was unfamiliar even to loyal users. The workshop presenter kept talking about “teddy bears.” He would introduce a feature we were familiar with and said, “Here’s another teddy bear.” In other words, here’s something familiar to you; here’s something you already know and are comfortable with; you just need to know that it has a new name or is in a different spot, but it’s still in the new software. These “teddy bears” were standard features users were familiar with. Even people used to changing technology appreciate it when things stay the same. Even the most progressive person likes something he can count on and rely on.
As Jesus spoke to the disciples in the Gospel, it was obvious that things were about to change. Jesus’ words looked to his Ascension – his return to heaven 40 days after Easter – and beyond. On the verge of this major change, Jesus left his disciples with a “teddy bear” of sorts. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” I suppose that “teddy bear” is too trivial a description of Jesus’ words here. The Lord’s last words promised his disciples that they would receive his peace after his Ascension. This wasn’t a worldly sort of peace—the kind of peace that was temporary, just talk, and merely emotional. Jesus said, “My peace I give to you.” Jesus came to end the war and hostility between God and humankind. Jesus’ work in the next 24 hours following these words would make that peace a reality. And it was faith in those facts and trust in that truth that would keep the disciples’ hearts calm at a time when they would otherwise feel shaken and disturbed.
There are plenty of things in our world that can shake up and disturb our lives. Job stability isn’t so stable anymore; our retirement savings aren’t so safe anymore; our health may not be so healthy. Volcanoes, tornados, floods, earthquakes, massive oil spills, and international political instability make watching the evening news a disturbing experience!
But then look at what Jesus gives you. He says, “Receive my peace.” Peace was proclaimed at his birth by the angels who announced the arrival of God’s Son into this sinful world. Peace was accomplished at the cross when Jesus paid the penalty for the sins that put you at war with God Almighty. Peace was secured when Jesus rose from the dead on the third day to proclaim his victory and our forgiveness. Peace is read to you in Christ’s Word and spoken to you in worship. Peace was given to you when you were baptized into the family of God and peace is assured time and time again when you come as a member of Christ’s family to his altar. Through faith in Jesus Christ, you have the peace that comes with the forgiveness of sins and promise of heaven that no trouble, terror, or turmoil can take away.
In a sermon on these verses from John’s Gospel, Martin Luther said, “Wherever God erects a church, the devil builds his chapel or tavern next to it.” Wherever the Holy Spirit gathers God’s people around the Word, the devil is hard at work to have the last word, to lead us away from the Word, and to get us to lose our faith in that Word. But the Lord’s last words today have lasting value. Jesus’ has the last word on the importance of his teaching, the promise of his Spirit, and the gift of his peace. Let your faith cling to these “last words” of the Lord, because they have a lasting promise that will give you heavenly peace now and entrance into heaven’s paradise forever. Amen.