Posted by: Johnold Strey | May 9, 2013

Sermon on John 14:23-29

THE LORD’S LAST LESSON BEFORE THE ASCENSION

Text: John 14:23-29

Introduction

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

I know what you’re thinking. “Why, oh, why would Pastor Strey torture us with a ten-stanza-long old German Lutheran hymn right before the sermon on a communion Sunday?” All kidding aside, “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice” has been the appointed Hymn of the Day for the Sixth Sunday of Easter for decades because the last two stanzas of Luther’s hymn match very nicely with the Gospel reading that is also appointed for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. In those final two stanzas, Luther paraphrases Jesus’ words to his disciples on Maundy Thursday which were read from the lectern just before we sang the hymn.

Maybe that raises another curiosity question. Why are we listening to stuff Jesus said on the night before he died when we’re supposed to be talking about Jesus’ resurrection now that the Easter season is six weeks old today? That’s also a good question. You probably noticed that Jesus’ words on Maundy Thursday were preparing his disciples for his Ascension when he would physically leave them, and also for the day we call Pentecost when Jesus would send the Holy Spirit on his disciples to equip them to carry out the church’s work. Jesus said, “I am going away and I am coming back to you. … I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.” Since we are four days away from Ascension and 14 days away from Pentecost, Jesus’ Holy Week words fit today’s service well, even if they don’t seem at first as if they fit into our Easter season timeline. In a sense, Jesus’ words contain his last lesson for the disciples before the Ascension. And on this Sunday before Jesus’ Ascension, the Lord’s last lesson before the Ascension is also fitting for us to consider.

Exposition

And here is the Lord’s last lesson before the Ascension: “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’ last lesson before the Ascension directs his disciples to hold on to his teaching. Our translation uses the phrase, “He will obey my teaching.” Another translation says, “He will keep my Word.” The idea behind the Greek word here for “obey” or “keep” is to guard and protect something so that it will be preserved. And that’s what Jesus wants his disciples to do. Love for Jesus means holding on to his “teaching.” Notice the word is singular. Jesus is treating everything he taught as a package deal. You can’t divide Jesus’ teaching into the stuff that we have to follow and the other stuff that isn’t as important. It is a unified whole. 

In contrast, Jesus says, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” Our English translation uses the singular, “teaching,” although the original is plural, “my teachings.” Now Jesus has us look at everything he ever taught and he says, “It’s all important.” Every last teaching and truth Jesus gave us is important, and to not uphold any one of them is to not love the Lord who gave us those teachings in the first place.

Put yourself in the sandals of Jesus’ first disciples. This seems like an awfully difficult assignment! They didn’t have a written and recorded New Testament like we do. How could they have any hope of being certain that they would even remember everything Jesus had taught them? To be sure, we are talking about people who lived in a very aural culture. You learn to remember what you hear and are taught much more effectively when your brain never has an opportunity to rely on a crutch like an encyclopedia or a library or a Google web search. Jesus’ disciples probably would have remembered his words better than someone from today, simply for the cultural reasons I just mentioned.

But Jesus also promised them a miraculous gift that would help them remember his teaching. He said, “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 term Jesus used to refer to the Holy Spirit is interesting here. In The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), some hymns about the Holy Spirit used the term paraclete to refer to the Spirit; that’s the term that is used here in the New Testament’s original language. The word is translated a variety of different ways because there are a variety of images conveyed by this word: counselor, advocate, helper, comforter, encourager.

The Holy Spirit would assist them because he “will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.” One theologian has called this the gift of “total recall.” We know that the writings of the apostles are the inspired Word of God because Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, and whose resurrection proves that his words are true, said that the Holy Spirit would place into their minds everything that Jesus had taught them. That gives us tremendous assurance today that the Scriptures we have are not some ancient tradition but that they are the true, inspired, living Word of God!

Along with that gift of total recall, the apostles would receive a second gift from the Holy Spirit: peace with God. Jesus said, “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.” Jesus’ last lesson before the Ascension included his promises of peace from the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ disciples heard straight from him that the hostility that existed between God and mankind was going to be removed. Jesus would do everything to remove that barrier over the three days that followed these words. And in place of that former hostility, a divine quality of peace and harmony with God would be theirs because his death would pay the penalty for mankind’s sin and would end the war that sin had caused in the first place.

 Application

Last week NBA player Jason Collins made news when he publically announced that he was gay. Collins is the first professional athlete in a major American sport to say that. And that led to controversy—not controversy because of his announcement, but controversy because—gasp!—there are actually people in our world today who think that homosexuality is wrong and sinful in the eyes of God. After Collins’ announcement, TV sports network ESPN aired a segment with two of their reporters—one who believes in traditional biblical morals, and the other who himself is gay. Analyst Chris Brossard boldly stated on national TV that he believes what Scripture taught, that homosexuality is sinful. He stated what he believed on a segment in which he was supposed to state his Christian beliefs in contrast to the other analyst who stated his opposite views. And for that, some have called for Brossard to be fired—for doing what he was told to do and expressing his biblical viewpoint about the announcement from Jason Collins.

How ironic it is that those who call for tolerance have so little tolerance for anyone who expresses the traditional values of historic Christianity. But this example from last week’s headlines also shows us just how strong the temptation is to compromise with the world and its unbiblical views and values. Just a quick glance at social media last week was all that it took to reveal the level of ridicule that Christians will endure for their faith and values.

In a sermon on this section of John’s Gospel, Luther said, “Wherever God erects a church, the devil builds his chapel or tavern next to it.” Sometime later an English writer took Luther’s oft-repeated slogan and turned it into a poem:

Wherever God erects a house of prayer,

The devil always builds a chapel there;

And ‘twill be found, upon examination,

The latter has the largest congregation.

But as much as we may lament the intolerance we feel from the world, how well do we stand up to it? How well do we keep Jesus’ Word and guard his teaching? As much as we regret to see the segments of Christianity that are willing to compromise with the world, how often don’t we tacitly compromise our faith with the world by hiding our confession from the world? Remember what Jesus said in our reading: “He who does not love me will not obey (or ‘keep’) my teaching.” Sadly, if we are honest with Jesus’ words, we must admit with repentance that all too often we want to be loved by the world instead of confessing our love for Jesus.

Truth be told, Jesus’ apostles were no different. Apostles or not, they were still sinners who often failed to be the perfect proclaimers and protectors of the faith. And yet Jesus still said to them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” And Jesus still went to the cross for them within 24 hours of speaking these very words.

And it is no different for us. Jesus gave his apostles the gift of “total recall.” To us he has given the gift of his perfectly recalled and recorded teachings in the Bible. And what is the main message we will encounter in the Bible? One way to put it is in the words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Jesus’ message for imperfect but repentant sinners is that he left the perfection of heaven and was born in a manger to start his mission to undo the eternal consequences of our sin. Jesus’ message for us is that he won peace for the world on the cross when he endured the hostility our sins deserved and ended the war that had been waged between God in heaven and us on earth. Jesus’ message for all of you is that his resurrection proves that peace with God has been won for you and is now given to you who believe in his resurrection. Jesus’ message for you, dear friend, is that he rose from the dead to assure you of peace with God and he ascended back into heaven to prepare your eternal home where you will enjoy permanent peace with God in paradise.

Conclusion

Last week’s sermon was also based on words Jesus spoke on Thursday night of Holy Week. If you remember those words, Jesus strongly encouraged his people to show love to one another. Today we’ve considered another section of Jesus’ words on Thursday of Holy Week, and in these words Jesus encourages us to cling faithfully to everything he has taught. Love one another; keep my teachings. Those are two commands of Jesus that are often pitted against one another. Both are part of the Lord’s last lesson before the Ascension, but which one is more important? The correct answer is, “Yes!”

The world will tell you otherwise. The world will tempt you otherwise. But Jesus shows us that love for others and faithfulness to his Word aren’t opposites; they naturally go together. If we love other people, we will faithfully share all of God’s Word with them. And when we faithfully proclaim God’s Word, we are showing love for others by telling them of the Savior who loved them and went to the cross to rescue them from sin.

Jesus gives you a peace that worldly compromise cannot give. He loves you with an everlasting love, a love that planned your salvation before time began, a love that served you by suffering for you on the cross, a love that conquered the grave for you at his resurrection. Jesus loves you with a true and active love, a love that counts for you because Jesus delivers his forgiving grace to you personally in this pulpit, at that font, and again today at this altar. And so godly desire we have to love others and cling faithfully to God’s Word is the beautiful result of this central Christian truth: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.

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