|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||A Religion of Love|
|Text||John ch.14 v.21 |
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Now let us turn together to John's Gospel chapter 14 at verse 21. John chapter 14 verse 21. The words of Jesus Christ our Lord: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14, 21).
These chapters in John: 14,15,16 and 17 are a holy of holies even within the Bible itself. You will know that the Bible is the Word of God. You will understand when I say it is divinely inspired, all of it. The Old Testament was divinely inspired in Hebrew and a small part of it in Aramaic. The New Testament was divinely inspired in the Greek language. And as these were originally delivered by God, these words were absolutely reliable; they are what we call infallible. These words were given from very mouth of God and they are utterly reliable. And our translation is most reliable, most sure and we can have the uttermost confidence in the trustworthiness of our Bible. So we never need to come to the Bible wondering if we can really rely upon this section or that section. We can. However, even within the wonder of the Bible itself some passages are more profound, more heavenly even than other passages. And what I have said at the beginning is that in John chapters 14,15,16 and 17 here we have, as it were, the very inner sanctuary even of the Bible itself. It is a holy of holies, the inner sanctuary. And what we have here is the Lord speaking to His disciples and oh friends, what words; listen to this: "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid" (John 14,27). Where on earth shall we find words to compare with those words for a troubled world? Where shall we get such support, encouragement to go on living for God in this world, but words as we find in such a passage as this?
Now you understand that in heaven we shall be face-to-face with Christ and those who leave this world in Christ, as Christians, and are immediately with the Lord; this is the kind of conversation they are having: it's all about heaven; it's all about God. Heaven will be dwelling close to Christ and hearing His words. Words of infallible truth, words of sublime divinity and oh what joy and elevation of heart they give to all those blessed spirits of just men made perfect, who are now before the throne. Now we are not there yet, but if we trust in Him we soon shall be. And my text comes within this passage of Scripture at verse 21 "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him" (text).
Let me announce three headings which I wish to look at from these words. My very dear friends first of all Christ is here telling us what is the first and principal duty of every Christian. It is that we should love Christ. He puts it like this: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me, and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father" (text). And then secondly we discover here what love to Christ really involves and He explains this in the words "He that hath My commandments and keepeth them"(text). And then thirdly He tells us what is the reward to those Christians who love Christ and who keep His commandments. He says as their reward "he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him" (text).
So here we have the great Christian duty of love to Christ; and secondly here we have a definition of what is involved in this love to Christ; and thirdly we have the reward which every true, careful believer will receive who loves Christ. Let's take those three points in that order.
First of all then we look at the principal duty of the Christian: "He that loveth me" (text). You will find those words twice in the text "he that loveth me" (text). So clearly the first and great duty of the Christian life is that we should love the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is certainly so. Now there are many duties of the Christian life and I could compare the duties of the Christian to the shape of a tree: a tree has many branches and these branches have little twigs which get smaller and smaller the further from the trunk you go. And it is like that in the Christian life; there are many duties and some of them are small duties and some of them are bigger duties. But now the trunk of the tree, the supreme, the absolutely overwhelmingly important duty of the Christian life is to love the Lord Jesus Christ "he that loveth Me" He says "he that loveth Me" (text). So here is one duty above all other duties: love to Christ. Let me show you how He makes this point very clear Himself, as does the rest of Scripture, by many wonderful and most important statements, to clarify this point. You will remember that in discussion with a certain lawyer, the lawyer asked our Lord this question he said "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" (Matthew 22,36). He knew very well that there are many commandments. All sorts of commandments, in the Old Testament: laws dealing with sacrifice; laws dealing with worship; laws dealing with civil duty and obedience, and so forth. Now looking at all the welter of commandments this scribe said to our Lord which is the great, which is the supreme commandment? And I am sure you remember what our Lord said, he said the first and great commandment is this "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind" (Matthew 22,37), there is none other commandment greater than this. Well that is exactly what our Lord is saying, if you love me then here is the central duty of the whole Christian life.
Well then we have the same thing comes out in another passage of Scripture; you well recall that Simon Peter that great preacher, wonderful man of God, that in a moment of weakness he had denied the Lord three times with oaths and cursings. Oh can't we be so inconsistent sometimes! Peter was a great man, a great Christian, a great preacher, a wonderful man. And yet through too much self-confidence he found himself in a situation in which he was afraid of the company he was in; and because he was on his own in hostile company he did not like the question which is being pressed upon him "Thou art also of them" (Luke 22,58). And you well remember that Peter said with increasing affirmation and emphasis "Man, I know not what thou sayest" (Luke 22,60) and he denied our Lord with oaths and cursings. And when the Lord rose again from the dead in that most touching passage, John 21, where Jesus was at the side of the Sea of Galilee and Peter and the others were fishing and he came to shore, Peter swam ashore because he knew it was the Lord who was going to welcome them. What was it that Christ challenged in Peter? Did he say, 'Peter you weren't obedient'? Well, that would have been true. But he didn't put it that way. Over and over again you recall His question was, Simon, Son of Jonas, do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? And it broke Peter's heart because he did love him and he said "Lord, Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love Thee" (John 21,17).
Well, that is the first duty, without that we haven't begun to be Christians. Love to Christ is first. And we get the same thing in 1 Corinthians 16,22 these words which are perhaps not so well recited and rehearsed as they deserve to be: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ. Let him be Anathema Maranatha" (text). Not if anyone does not believe, but "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ. Let him be Anathema" (text), which is the Greek word for cursed. Let him come under the divine curse of Almighty God as he certainly will, sadly. So it's the same teaching exactly. Peter says "Whom having not seen ye love" (1 Peter 1,8). And when Jesus found fault with the Christians in the church at Ephesus, you remember in Revelation 2, what was it He said about them? He said you have done many good things: your service is very good; and your orthodoxy is excellent; and you have many excellent qualities as a congregation, but I have got one thing against you, He says, you have left your first love. Now that was His rebuke and it is a terrible rebuke to a Christian. Other people wouldn't even notice it is a rebuke to them, that means nothing, but to the real Christian it comes with a piercing force: "thou hast left thy first love" (Revelation 2,4). And of course all our service really evaporates into worthlessness if it doesn't arise from love to Christ. Isn't that the case in all our relationships? If you know somebody who loves you, you can put up with everything; they may not be able to do much for you, they may be perhaps in many ways incompetent, they may be forgetful, but if you know that they love you then everything else is forgotten. But if they do many things for you and you have a sneaking realisation deep down that they don't really love you, then all that they do really becomes almost worthless. So it is with Christ our Lord, He gauges our devotion to Him by our love to Him.
Now in what way then are we to love Christ? I mention three ways on this occasion. First of all we are to love Christ as God; God the Son, the everlasting Son of God. Now we mustn't place Him any less or any lower than that. If we do not confess Christ to be God then we are either no Christians or very ignorant Christians. He is equal to the Father in glory, honour, power and majesty and that's what Thomas acknowledged. When Thomas saw the Lord raised from the dead and saw the marks of the nails in His risen body and His hands and the marks in our Lord's side, the hole in our Lord's side where the spear had been thrust, our Lord told Thomas to "be not faithless, but believing" (John 20,27). Come,He said, and put your fingers right here take your fist and put it in My side. That's the hole where the spear was, and believe. And what did he say? He said "My Lord" and that was right, but he went beyond that, "My Lord and my God" (John 20,28) he said. Jesus is God the Son, the everlasting Son of God.
Listen to the way this is put in the words of Paul.Who can match words like these? In Him, that is Christ, dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. What a phrase - all the fullness, the infinitude of God dwells in the body of Christ. Now that is a transcendentally profound statement to make. That tiny babe at Bethlehem, as he was born of the virgin Mary, in that little body dwelt all the fullness of the eternal God. I know it seems impossible to understand, we cannot understand it, it is a sublime mystery, but it is truth. No wonder the Bible says that Christ is the mystery of godliness, "great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3,16) and that's where we begin. And all His miracles are so many pointers to his Godhood. He claims to be God over and over and over again. The great "I am" sayings of John's Gospel "I am the light of the world" (John 8,12), "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11,25), "I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven" (John 6,51), "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10,11), "I am the True Vine" (John 15,1), they were all so many claims to Godhood. As Paul puts it to the Philippians you remember he "thought it not a robbery to be equal with God" (Philippians 2,6). Oh my friends I can't pretend to understand it nor can we begin to explain it. It is far beyond our little minds and our puny intellects. But it is true, Christ is God and we so honour Him and we love Him as God. Oh what a person He is. God indeed in our nature.
But then second here, we adore Him as our Saviour, our personal Saviour. We remember what we were and where we were before Christ came and took us out of the ditch of sin. Can we ever forgive ourselves for being what we used to be? We cast our minds back to our unconverted days and we think with horror at our worldliness; our only interests then were the pleasures of this life; we had little interest in the Bible, none at all probably, little interest in salvation, or in the church, or in the people of God, or in prayer. If we said our prayers it was as quick as we could get them over and then it was on to the next pleasure and the next mouthful of enjoyment. But then Christ came into our life and we saw the glory of His Saviour-hood; we felt His power drawing us to Himself. Don't you remember it? And with tears when you first said to Him "Lord I give my whole life to thee". By His grace He brought us to be willing in the day of His grace it was experienced in that way and we came to love Him as our Saviour.
But now let me hurry on to say we also love Him more than a Saviour. We love Him as a husband. And this seems to me to be the height all our love of Christ. Why did our Lord keep His human nature? Having died for us on the cross and raised Himself from the dead, why did He not discard our worm-like human nature and resume His glorious being without His human nature? Well, part of the reason for that must be that He intended to marry us, He intended to make us His bride. It is a great mystery says Paul in Ephesians 5 but I speak of Christ and the church. We are of His flesh and of His bones, we belong to Him as a woman belongs to her husband, they are one. And He loves the church and gave Himself for it and therefore we love Him as God, yes; and as our Saviour, yes; and we love Him also because He is the husband to the bride which is His church. No wonder then Jesus said "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me" (text). And before I hasten on my dear friends I cannot forbear to put to each one of you this question, whatever you are, whatever you do, whatever your profession, whatever your age of life: make sure that you love Jesus Christ.
It is possible to be a minister of the Gospel so-called and not to love Christ. Isn't that terrible? It's possible to be a bishop and archbishop and not to love Christ. Look at Annas and Caiaphas, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Look at them - they were full of religion, full of tradition, full of knowledge, but they didn't love Christ; they crucified Him. Now better than being bishops and archbishops and better than being ministers and preachers and evangelists, the best thing in the world is to love Jesus Christ and that is what comes into my text "he that loveth Me" (text).
Now secondly I go on to say how do we prove our love to Christ? What is the evidence of loving Christ? Now you understand this is the most practical and important question, because, there are many people who talk about loving Christ but they do so without very much understanding as to what loving Christ means. They suppose that loving Christ means having some sort of good feelings. Well, as we shall see in a moment, good feelings are part of it. Of course there are good feelings, but there are more things than good feelings involved in loving Christ. What is the acid test of loving Christ? What is the strict criterion of loving Christ? Well, our Lord tells us in the text. Notice "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is the loveth me" (text). Well, somebody then comes to us and says: Well, what are these commandments? Is He talking about being baptised in a certain way? Well, baptism certainly is one of His commandments. Is He talking about going to the Lord's supper? Well, yes that's all part of it. The Lord's supper is for those who love Him. The Lord's supper is one of the things that we should strive to observe. Is He talking about church traditions - that we should be good Baptists or good Presbyterians or good Anglicans? No, He's not talking about traditions of any kind. That's nothing to do with the commandments. Putting it simply, the commandments are His moral law.
I want to prove that point. The commandments which He means the believer, who loves Christ, is to keep, these commandments are the 10 commandments. The 10 commandments. Now here I am inevitably saying things which many Christians today are in ignorance of and therefore to some extent what I am saying is a little controversial. This view of the love of Christ or love to Christ is something which has been very much overshadowed by many other teachings and many other ideas. I want therefore to prove very decidedly that the commandments that He has primarily in mind are the 10 commandments and that it is the keeping of the 10 commandments by the Christian, through faith and love, these are the evidences of our strong attachment and affection for His person. How do I prove it? Well, I prove it first of all by reference to Matthew 5,17-19 I shall read from memory, if you wish to turn to the passage you can check that I am not misquoting Matthew 5,17-19. Think not he says that I come to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, He says, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all things be fulfilled. And then He goes on to say this: whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments and teach men so, the same shall be called the least in the kingdom of God, but whosoever shall do them and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of God.
Now it is perfectly clear that our Lord there is referring to the commandments: which we call the Decalogue; the moral law, the 10 commandments. Perfectly clear, because He immediately goes on in Matthew 5 in the sermon on the mount to expound the 10 commandments. He gives them their truest meaning, their full meaning. He says what they really were intended to mean. He gives them an exposition of these 10 commandments or some other so that we might understand that they are not only referring to outward, physical things, but to inward states of soul and states of mind.
So then I say, here is one of the proofs that the Lord Jesus Christ, in my text, when He refers to the commandments is referring to the 10 commandments. The evidence of loving Christ is our careful keeping of His moral laws. I'll come to look at some of the difficulties in a moment.
Let me hurry on to quote another passage: Matthew 15,3-9. Now in Matthew 15,3-9 our Lord Jesus Christ is confronting the Jewish Pharisees; and the Pharisees were men who had their own traditions, and they were scandalised because Christ and His disciples didn't adhere to the official teaching of the rabbis: the Jewish teachers. They didn't keep these traditions. One of them was to wash your hands, probably up to the wrist, when you came from out of doors before you touch food - you immediately wash your hands in the ceremonial way. It wasn't just for hygiene of course, it's always right to be hygienic, but this was more than that, this was meant to be a religious ceremony. Great fuss was made of washing their hands and this was a sort of prescription that the rabbis and Jewish leaders gave. Our Lord didn't observe it, He ignored it and He taught His disciples to ignore it. Therefore the Pharisees came along and they complained at Him, they criticised Him and our Lord charged them with hypocrisy. He said, well is it written of you hypocrites by Isaiah the prophet that you destroy the commandments of God by your tradition. God has said honour your father and your mother, but you don't do that in your official teaching. You teach people to disobey father and mother. I am just summarising the general thought, you can find the details in that passage in Matthew 15. But you see the point He's making is this: our Lord brought them to the 10 commandments. Commandment number 5: "Honour thy father and thy mother" (Exodus 20,12). So His commandments, you see, are the commandments which we call the moral law. There's another proof of it.
I'll give another proof of it very quickly in Matthew 22 when our Lord is talking about love to God He says, love to God and love to man is, notice His words: love to God and love to man He said: "this is all the law". The entire law or all the commandments are summarised in this: love to God and love to man. The commandments therefore are simply love; as they are given their embodiment and as they are given their definition. As we have it from the apostle Paul: love is the fulfilling of the law. Now that means that if you and I are truly to love Christ, as Christians with faith, as saved sinners, the way to show our love is not simply by having happy feelings or joyful feelings, though they have their place, it is by a careful adherence to His moral law.
Now I have to explain something which everybody tends to get wrong at this point. Isn't it strange how there's a twist which is so common in the thinking of all of us really? And a mistake which is so common is this: but we are not saved by keeping the moral law, we are saved by believing in Christ. Absolutely right. But once we have believed in Christ the way to show our love to Him is by obedience to His Law: "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14,15). Now you see this imposes upon the Christian a tremendous life long task. It means that our whole life now is to be lived in a certain channel; we don't take our inspiration from the world, or from clever men, or from writers of philosophies, or a politician, we take our light from the moral law of God.
Let me take some examples of this, one of them of course as we mentioned a moment ago was the fifth commandment: "Honour thy father and thy mother" (Exodus 20,12). Now then you see how as Christians and as Christian families we must be so different, so different from the world out there; they are not doing that. There's almost no respect for father and mother anymore out there, but amongst the people of God there must be, otherwise our salt will lose its savour.
We take another example, take the third commandment "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Exodus 20,7) - well, that's being done all the time out there. In the world God's Name is being taken in vain almost every tenth word: 'Oh God this' and 'Oh God that'. My friend it's terrible and the world does this and they use these expressions about God; now we mustn't do this. God has said we are to honour His glorious Person, to respect His holiness and to admire His name.
Take another example, take the ninth commandment, that we are to maintain truth between man and man: "Thou shalt not bear false witness" (Exodus 20,16). We are to say the truth to one another, we are to be strictly honest and we are to respect one another's reputations. Be careful what we say about one another. Now that's exactly the opposite view of the world, when you hear politicians talking about one another you'd think that they were specially employed to have a slanging match. Conservative slangs the Labour who slangs the Conservatives, and so it goes on and they all slang one another. 'This man's a lier and that man's a lier'. That's the way the world is, but the Christian is not like that. If we speak of one another it must be with truth and with love, and it must be in a manner which is becoming our relationship one with another. And if we cannot find anything good to say about somebody then say nothing, rather than tarnish your lips by saying something derogatory. Gossip does infinite harm in this world, infinite harm. And so if we love Christ we are to observe these laws and these rules.
Let me put it very simply, I find it a help and I hope that you do as well. The moral law has two uses, more than that, but two in particular just now. The first one is: it is used as an alarm bell to stir the consciences of sinners to see Christ. It's like what happened in the wartime; I remember when the planes were going overhead and dropping bombs, we in Manchester and the big cities any way, we had these things called sirens all round the city or the town and as soon as the enemies' planes were coming these sirens went and everybody knew it was an alarm. You had to run wherever you were, you had to run for shelter because the bombs and the shrapnel were coming down and would kill you. Well, the moral law is like that. The moral law is a schoolmaster to whip us and to chastise us and to drive us to Christ. The law shows us our sin and says flee to Christ otherwise you're lost. That's one of the functions of law, to awaken us from our slothful state in our sin, and drive us to Christ, as a schoolmaster drives unwilling pupils to school. But now when we have come to Christ, by faith, the law then takes on the different function, a second function. It becomes the rule of our conduct, the rule of life.
Now, many people understand the first of those two processes of the law, but they don't understand the second. But this is absolutely essential. Listen to our Lord's words in my text "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me" (text). So clearly He means the way in which we manifest our love to Christ is by giving a total and a universal obedience to His revealed will, as that will is codified in the moral law. Now of course, I'm not pretending anyone can keep the moral law perfectly neither speaker, nor hearer, nor anyone who ever lived, apart from our Lord has ever kept the moral law perfectly. But the fact that we don't keep it perfectly is no excuse for not keeping it as much as we possibly can, and this is how we demonstrate our love for Christ. Not simply with happy feelings and happy Psalms and happy talk and exclamations and jubilation - all of that is there too, but in striving to have Him glorified in our lives; by application to the private life, to the church life, to the home-life, to society. The application of these principles of righteousness to love God and Christ according to His revealed commandments.
So my dear friend let me pause very briefly and say: is this the way you are living your life? Is this your understanding? Or have you never seen that point before? Is this new to you? Well I bid you meditate much on these words of Christ until you are absolutely persuaded of them, because it is the way to lay up treasure for yourself in heaven. The more you love Him and obey Him, the greater your reward; which is my final point and I have to be brief with it.
The reward which Christ will give to those who love Him is in my text: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth shall be loved of my Father" (text). Now what comes next? "and I will love him and will manifest myself to him" (text).
Now the careful Christian therefore will even in this life receive part of his reward. He will receive the whole of his reward in the glory of heaven at last. There he will be with God, he will see God, he will be perfect in holiness and be like his Master. He'll have great favours of glory conferred upon him. But now, in this life we are told that the believer will also have some of his reward and this reward is this: that God the Father and God the Son will come to him or her in this life; to the careful Christian. God will come to us. Now this is not an easy thought, is it? That God will come to us and that God will love us. We don't quite understand what that means and indeed it is very comforting to us to know in verse 22 that even one of the disciples didn't know. "Lord" he says "how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?" (verse 22) Even one of the very apostles didn't understand this.
So let us take comfort. We don't understand it fully; let us take comfort that even these great and wonderful men of God, now in heaven, didn't understand it very much either. So we need to try to say what the Lord means by: manifesting Himself to us and not to the world? How can He show Himself to us, but not to the world? That was the question that this man, Judas, not Iscariot, was asking. Well, we must explain it: clearly what our Lord means is that if we walk carefully and obediently and strive to show our love to Christ by an obedient keeping of His ways, that He will manifest Himself in our hearts and in our lives. And this is where the emotions come in, this is where the feelings come in. There are feelings in the Christian's life and these feelings are generated by the coming of Christ and of the Father close to the soul of the Christian and showing him, the Christian, something of the glory which the Father and the Son have; and this is done by the operation of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit's work especially to manifest the Father and the Son to the soul of the believer in this life.
There are three things in the Christian life: there is doctrine; there is duty -that's the 10 commandments; and there is also a third thing: experience and they all, you see, come together. It's like a three legged stool. True religion is like a three legged stool - if you have two legs, the stool will fall, you must have three otherwise it will fall. There has to be doctrine, you've got to know the doctrine. You've got to know the duty - that's the commandments: "He that hath my commandments" (text). But there's a third thing: experience, enjoyment of God, elation of soul. There are times when the Christian is living in this world and he feels utterly dejected, then he can't explain how suddenly his heart wells up like a spring and he has a new song put into his lips and into his mouth and he shows forth the glories of God. He has felt something; God has come to him in his soul and he is lifted out of his depression and his sorrow, whatever may have been the cause of it. Now that is what our Lord means; from time to time in life, if we walk carefully with God, He will manifest His love towards us and my friends that is what we need. I need to know and you need to know that God loves you in this life. We need to know that we are very great sinners, we have many enemies; the devil is always accusing us. We have consciences that are tender, we are so frail, so fragile, we suffer so many afflictions from circumstance: seeing and hearing things going on around in this world. We need to know that God loves us. And that, says Christ, is what we will do.
As I close I have to say this is what we supremely need. There's a wonderful story told about one of the Puritans and with this I really must finish. I love the story it's about a man called John Flavel of Dartmouth. He was travelling on horseback, in the 17th century in England, meditating on God. He was a very, very careful Christian and as his thoughts were beginning to get warm within his breast, as he was thinking of God and Christ, it was as though heaven itself filled his mind and he was lifted as it were out of this world, not physically of course but in his heart and in his soul and in his affections. And he said as he went on his tears were running down his face; he was enjoying so much of the love of God. And to cut a long story short, he said he learnt more from that experience than from all the books he ever read and all the sermons he ever heard. It was a day of heaven upon earth.
As I close, dear friends, I say: do you believe in that as the possibility for yourselves? Believe in it, look for it, hope for it, pray for it, experience it is so. "He that has my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14,21). What a religion we have and what a God!
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