Alleluia, Christ is risen!He is risen indeed, alleluia!
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
It’s a hard saying. Most of you probably thought, “great, if I love God I have to obey all the commandments perfectly. How am I ever going to do that?” But we might say, “I have good intentions in obeying the commandments.” No one intends to break a promise made to God or another person. I’m certain that every act of disobedience did not come with intention of breaking the 4th commandment, be that disobedience from parents, government, or supervisor at work. No one ever cheated thinking that we were sinning against God but instead probably justify it with some explanation of taking advantage of all situations or that others made it possible. I don’t think that any Christian has intended to disobey the 1st commandment in having another god even when the idols of sporting events, sleep, or even family gatherings keep us from receiving Christ’s gifts in Divine Service. We would never claim that we have not sinned and yet if it is inconvenient we may very well make excuse to avoid the preached Word and administration of the Sacraments that deliver the forgiveness we need.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
It’s a loaded phrase because we put our own meaning and thoughts to it. We immediately think of what we must do show God that we love Him. The thinking is rooted in the very basic thought that God needs us to something for Him. Phrase it like that and you might catch it, but say that you need to show God that you love Him and you might begin to agree or scratch your head. The Lord who has come to free us from every sin and burden of the Law, to release us from sin, death, and the devil, does not place more demands upon us by way of obedience.
The word “keep” is often mistaken in this way. “Keep” is by no means a demand of the Law. Many take it this way in an effort to coerce temporal obedience. Many do the same thing at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “go make disciples, baptizing and teaching them to obey.” It’s the same word here as “keep.” Yet it is not to obey like one who simply does what is commanded. Usually we do what we are told primarily for fear of punishment or consequences. So we obey, but not out of faith and love.
Such tragedy occurs for many Christians who say not to sin so that you don’t go to hell, as if that is the motivation. As if the Gospel is not by grace through the merits of Christ but something we do. So we talk: don’t misuse God’s name or you will go to hell; don’t overindulge (gluttony) especially with drugs or alcohol (drunkeness) or you will go to hell; don’t practice homosexuality or you will go to hell; you better give this much or serve in this way or you will go to hell. Where laws rule, especially over conscience, there is no end to additional laws. Even the simplest laws are accompanied by many others to enforce it.
This is not keeping the commandments of Christ. To keep is not to obey but to treasure, to guard and keep as a valued possession. Keep Christ’s commandments. The commandments means that which set up and established, His instruction, His mandates or institutions. Have and hold, cherish, treasure all that Christ has set up and established, that which He gives and institutes. Christ makes no additional demands on us other than love and trust, gifts He Himself gives to you and accomplishes for you. Treasure the gifts of Son of God who strives and wrestles, who suffers for your good, who accomplishes your redemption with the cost of His life.
Nothing that comes from God is dependent upon you and certainly not your love. Your love of God is not dependent upon your act of obedience. How horrific that we change the free gift of the Gospel to our work of obedience. That’s what many do with Christ’s gifts of Baptism, say that is our submission to Christ and act of our obedience to Him rather than pure gift given by Christ. Yet this gift of baptism now saves you as a gift and deliverance from the Christ who suffered for our sins. “Where you treasure is, there is the desires of your heart” (Matt. 6 & Luke 12). The heart that treasures our own work, that seeks to glorify ourselves and our work will even take the gifts of Christ and make them our doing.
Our doing, our hearts show where our treasure lies, what is that we guard and keep. You could probably inventory this with a simple look at your calendar or a journaling of your day. Where is the most time spent? What gets the most attention in your daily life? Is it your work? Your bank account? Your possessions? Your plans and desires to attain more? What is it that binds you and keeps from fear, love, and trust in God above all things? What is it in your life that you seemingly cannot live without? What is that enslaves you and keeps from His Word and Sacraments? What is it that entraps you to not love your neighbor (and not just those you’re close to or like)?
Fast bound in Satan’s chains we lay, sin torments us night and day, in sin my mother bore me. Let’s face it, life is indeed a living hell much of the time. We often feel left and abandoned in this torment. We feel abandoned as we have roller coasters of emotions, sometimes we love God, but as things aren’t going so well we might be a little frustrated or angry with God. We may feel abandoned as feel our prayers aren’t answered, though as discussed last week, likely has more to our not receiving the answer especially when it is not what we desire.
You have the promise of the Son of God, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father.” You can never love God into a state of receiving His forgiveness and His love. God is no way waiting for your obedience or your love as a reason to love you. Good heavens, not even sinful earthly parents operate on that basis with their children.
The commandments, that which Christ sets before you and institutes is not dependent upon your love. Love and even obedience that is in response to the Law is no love and insufficient. It’s a strange word Christ gives us. As Paul preached in the Areopagus it was a strange word, they called him a babbler, one who’s words had no value and were meaningless. What is set before us is to receive what Christ gives in death and resurrection, all the while we wonder what it is we must do. A world in which says you must earn everything before it is given, a world in which gifts are often expected to be returned with other gifts, has difficulty with the free gift of the Gospel as Christ gives with nothing but an offering of thanksgiving given in return.
So watch lest foes with base alloy, the heavenly treasure should destroy. Alloy, a word we don’t use too often, except maybe those metal workers around. It means a mixture of a less costly metal with a more valuable one. It also means in philosophy a mixture of good and evil. Watch lest there those against the Gospel that come with things that sound close but not quite the Gospel. Things that sound spiritual but are not religious. False gospels that place an emphasis on our human actions and upon our doing. A false gospel that trusts in our feelings and emotions, which are truly roller coasters. A false gospel that takes words of the Scriptures and seek to make the church something other than the place where the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed through the gifts of Christ. This is why we are given the Holy Spirit, to continue to bring us back to Christ and His gifts.
This promise of the sending of the Spirit is based on His glorious Ascension! Jesus ascended on high to pour out the Holy Spirit who brings all the gifts that Jesus has established – to you! While Jesus’ Ascension is a strange thing to the world, the church views it as beautifully central to the love she receives from the Father. She continually confesses it in the creed – He ascended into heaven. The feast we celebrate this Thursday evening is the foundation for the work of the Holy Spirit who now takes what belongs to Jesus and declares it to you. If you love me, you will keep my commandments – you will treasure what I have set up for you.
The love of Jesus is our life! He forgives our sins! He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” It all comes down to one Man who is God’s gift of love! Who loves you to die for you, to forgive you sin, to deliver you from death and hell. The love of Jesus is your hope! It is what you are to bear witness to, to make a defense of, to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. You are to do so with gentleness and respect. It is the hope of life and salvation received not only in baptism but also in the hearing of the Gospel and in the eating of His body and the drinking of His blood. The hope that is in each Christian’s heart is not a different hope. Rather, it is the one true hope that the risen Christ brings as He forgives our sins.
Many may ask why you believe, why you go to church or you may ask yourself why it is you should go to church? In gentleness and respect, weekly worship is not one of the good things you do. We call it the Divine Service because it is first and foremost what the risen Christ comes to do for you! He is your hope! He is in your midst right now with gifts He has mandated! The gifts of Maundy Thursday, the night of this Gospel reading, is His institution as He gives His body and blood for the forgiveness of sin. He has promised I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you, and so He does. There are certainly other areas of charity and love for the neighbor that are to be done, acts of faith and love to be done, but you are here to receive the charity and love that only Jesus gives. As Jesus says and gives, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments – you will treasure what I have instituted for you.”
Dear Christians, one and all rejoice – for Christ has paid your ransom. He is your rock and castle. He gives you Himself. All to deliver to us the gifts of Him who suffers for your good, whose innocence bears your sin, and wins for you victory over death and gives you life. He gives you the Holy Spirit, to give us faith in Him who dies for us. Not given a new law but given Christ, forgiven, no longer who you are in the flesh but made new, given a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus. Given the comforter, the Holy Spirit, “that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”
This is no small comfort, for there is nothing else on earth that can comfort you in the hour of deepest need that can save you from this living hell. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter who brings the gifts of Christ, not waiting or dependent upon our love, but saves us in Baptism, delivers us in Christ’s death and resurrection, and gives us to see Him in body and blood that you have the certain hope of Christ. While it is a strange word in this world, the Holy Spirit comes and helps you, revealing to you the gifts of the Gospel. The gifts from the Lord who turned to you a Father’s heart and gave His dearest treasure. The treasure that speaks these words and promises the night of His betrayal before His death, the night He instituted the Lord’s Supper. Risen and ascended, He gives you the Holy Spirit who brings you to receive Christ’s Word and gifts, not leaving you as orphans to fend for yourself but given faith in Him who has done this for us, and gives us forgiveness by his body and blood. Because He lives, you live.
Dear Christians, one and all rejoice.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!