There are those things which as a parent you say to your child that you hope they remember, especially if something should happen to you. I came across a story of a girl who did just that. Laughing as she put on her coat, this girl said, “My father always told me to wear a coat.” The thing about this situation is that it was a beautiful day outside. She didn’t need to wear a coat. But her comment, and the joy in which she said it, it reminded her of the love her father had for her. The tragic part of this story is that this girl’s dad passed away when she was young. But, if he were to see his daughter following his advice, he would have smiled. Her life was filled with small moments that would make her father proud.
It is a bit of an understatement but following the rules is not something we do well in our culture today. Here’s just one of many examples we could use to illustrate this.
If you have ever flown, you know what I’m talking about. Just watch the people who board the planes with their carry-ons and you can see how easily people don’t follow the rules. There are signs all over the place about how many carry-ons you are allowed to have with you on the plane. There are boxes at the ticket counter and throughout the airport for you to put your bag in to make sure it isn’t too big. There are even pictures of how you are to properly store your carry-on in the overhead compartments. Yet, despite all this, there is always at least one person, that one person who has one too many carry-ones, or their carry-on is two sizes too big. So what do they do? They stand there, delaying the flight, trying to get that oversized bag into the overhead compartment.
In our culture, people do what they want and they pretty much tend to do it when they want, regardless of what anybody says. Such radical expressions of personal freedom only create more rules and regulations. Our public spaces become filled with more signs, more warnings, and more instructions. And yet we only see more chaos as individuals resist the laws in a willful expression of their individual freedom.
To know how someone really feels about rules and regulations, just listen to what they say. How many of you have heard the phrase, “Rules are made to be broken”? Yeah. In our culture, a good number of people live by that saying and do whatever they want.
So with that message constantly ringing in our ears … it makes it really hard to hear what Jesus has to say today in our gospel reading. It’s really difficult to listen to Jesus and understand what He says because Jesus is talking about rules. He’s speaking about commandments and the mere mentioning of commands causes resistance to rise and the shutting off of our ears.
But in all of this from Jesus, notice one thing. … When Jesus speaks of commands … He does so in the context of love.
Jesus tells His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). A little later He repeats this idea. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (14:22). Love is connected to keeping the commandments. The commandments are kept not because of fear, fear in the sense that we are scared to break them. The commandments are kept not because of force, not because of threat, not because of punishment. No, instead the commandments are kept because of reverence awe and love for God. Love leads to a delight in God’s Law.
How strange does that sound to us today living in a world where the “rules are made to be broken” is the common mentality? Rules are made to be broken, not kept. And when it comes to keeping the rules, we do so only because of the consequences which come from breaking them. We keep the rules because of the penalties and policing. If you get caught speeding, you will get a ticket. If you get caught stealing, you may have a fine to pay and even may have jail time to serve. But notice … does Jesus say anything about consequences or penalties? … No! Jesus doesn’t even mention consequences, penalties, or policing. Instead, Jesus talks about love. About a deep and everlasting love which leads those who follow Him to want to obey His commands.
As odd as this may sound, we need to understand the context in which Jesus is saying this. You see, our gospel reading takes place on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Jesus in that Upper Room is preparing His disciples for a time of deep sorrow. These disciples have been with Him for three years, they have experienced His love, and Jesus has loved them in return. But soon He says, He will be going away. Jesus is about to go and show them the radical nature of His love.
Later that evening in the garden, Jesus will be betrayed. The next day He will be mocked, beaten, and spit upon. Jesus will endure the suffering of the cross. Jesus will endure the punishment of all of man’s sin. Jesus will be crucified and buried. The disciples will lose the One who loved them unto death.
But this same Jesus, He will rise from the dead and reveal the power of the everlasting God. Sin, Satan, death, as Paul says in Romans 8, they can’t separate Jesus or his love from His people. He will rise from the dead, He will ascend into Heaven and there, as we confessed earlier in the Creed, there He will sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty and rule over all things. Jesus’ rule, though, will not, not be imposing laws, and rules, and regulations on people. No, Jesus will rule through a relationship, a relationship of love.
Jesus promises to each of us an intimate, an up-close and personal relationship of love with Him. Jesus promises to send His Spirit to live within His disciples, to live within each of us. His Spirit, He will be our helper in times of trouble. He will be our counselor in times of difficult decisions. He will be our comforter in times of sorrow. He will be our advocate, speaking for us when we need defense. His Spirit reminds us of Jesus and draws us closer to Him. This Spirit recalls His words to our minds and His works to our hearts.
So, when we hear the words, the commands of Jesus, they are not words of someone who is wanting to control us; they are not words of someone who wants to restrict us from living our lives. No. The words and commands of Jesus are words of someone who loves you with the deepest possible love imagined. To bask in this love is to live in His Word and to follow His commands.
Unfortunately, though … Christians, you and I, we sometimes approach the commands of God more like travelers in an airport and less like the girl with her coat. In other words, we Christians can find the commands of God to be burdensome. When we talk about the Ten Commandments we talk about them as rules that we have to keep, we talk about them in ways which make our travel in this world burdensome, to be regulating, to be policing our actions. All which restrict our freedoms and make our lives less fun.
Jesus in our gospel reading … He invites us into a way of life that is more like the girl and her coat. She recalls the words of her father, she remembers his love, and she follows his commands because they draw her closer to him. They draw her closer to his desires for her. They draw her in and assure her that in what she does in life … she remains under his protection and near to him.
“If you love me” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments” (14:15). Our life of following Jesus is not done to earn His love, nor is it to win His approval. We don’t need consequences, penalties, and policing to get us to follow Him. And why not? … Because we have His love.
Loving Jesus, we delight in following His commands and living our lives in Him. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.