Love Keeps Lifting us Higher
Recently I was reminded of the song "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher." Our text takes place in a very dramatic setting. It's the upper room the night before the cruel, inhumane death Jesus had predicted for Himself. He has said one of them would betray Him. Judas, unbeknownst to the others, has left the room to do that. Jesus just finished telling them that they would all desert Him and that Peter the boldest and bravest would deny Him 3 times before the night was through. The apostles are troubled and despairing. Jesus goes from the one thing they have, love for Him, and builds on that lifting them, and us, higher and higher.
I know what you're thinking. John himself later writes, "It's not that we loved Him, but that He first loved us." And, "We love because He first loved us." Agreed. But tonight Jesus starts with the only thing they believe right then: they love Jesus. Jesus says, "If you love Me, you will observe (not obey that's a different Greek word) My Commandments." A couple of things. One, you can translate, "Since you love Me." Two, their love, fallen, weak though it is, is there. That's why they all protested they would never betray Him. That's why they argued about who would be greatest. Three, Jesus says, "Since you do love me, you will not may, should, can but will keep My Commandments."
Which Commandments? You immediately go to the 10 forgetting that Moses gave them those. O Jesus uses those Commandments to prove that no one keeps them, but He never styles them as "My Commandments." They've had the 10 for 1,500 years. Jesus speaks of Commandments He gives, and He speaks of them certainly keeping them in the future.
You know what they are. Tonight Jesus commands them, "This do in remembrance of Me." On Easter evening Jesus commands them, "Receive the Holy Spirit whosoever sins you forgive they are forgiven; whosoever sins you bind are bound." Some weeks later Jesus will command, "Baptize all Nations." The Old Testament Church was given the 10 Commandments; these are written in the heart of every man. Not these. These 3 were only given to the New Testament Church and first given to the men in this room.
In these 3 Commandments Jesus gives His Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:38 Peter preaches, "Be baptizedand you will receive the Holy Spirit." In John 20 Jesus breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Scripture says Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, He had the Spirit without measure. So when you eat His Body and drink His Blood you are eating and drinking the Spirit.
That's how come Jesus promises that since you keep His commands the Father will give the Spirit. See how this love they have for them which leads to them certainly keeping His 3 commands lifts them higher and higher? Jesus doesn't just promise that in the keeping of those Commandments the Father will give the Spirit but emphasizes with 3 prepositions Him getting closer and closer to them. The Spirit will be with them, by, literally right beside them, and in them. Can't get any closer than that, can you?
And look how the Holy Spirit lifts you up. "Love Lifted Me" is a popular Baptist Him, but it is a Biblical truth that it does. But when we speak of love we don't link it to a feeling we have of loving or being loved but loving the Son leads to the concrete actions of baptizing, absolving, and communing and in these 3 things we're promised the Spirit who lifts us. How so?
Jesus says the Spirit that comes in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion is another not Counselor, Luther preferred Advocate, others prefer "Legal Friend." The toughest battles you face are rarely on the outside but on the inside. They aren't physical but spiritual. It isn't the pain that may rack the body but the guilt, the worry, the sadness that racks the soul. As you have been baptized, absolved, or communed so do you have the Spirit to defend you against the Devil who constantly accuses, others who can always find fault, and your own conscience that condemns you sometimes for what you did do, sometimes for what you failed do, and sometimes for what you've never even done.
Doesn't such love lift you higher and higher? Or haven't you ever been in a situation when no one will speak on your behalf, no one will be your advocate, no one will say, "I'm on his side?" The Spirit does that. 1 Peter says Baptism is the answer of a good conscience. The Spirit you receive in Baptism isn't a malignant, accusing, faultfinding one, but the Spirit of forgiveness. Paul says the Spirit intercedes with us with groans that can't be put into words. You can have a sense of sinfulness so deep that words can't fathom, but the Spirit in Absolution can, and He puts the balm of forgiveness on places you can't reach. Read 1 Corinthians. Read how they boasted of their great spiritual gifts and read how Paul says the most important spiritual gift he received was Communion.
Don't go looking to the world for any help at all in understanding any of this. Jesus says the Spirit you receive in keeping His commands is not accepted by the world because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. The world looks at Baptism and sees nothing but water. The world looks at Absolution and sees nothing but words. The world looks at Communion and sees nothing but a thin wafer and cheap wine. Jesus says His disciples know that in these 3 is where the Spirit is with them, by them, and in them forever. The world equates spiritual things to unreal things, to feelings, to things that can't be touched, tasted, seen. Jesus doesn't. Jesus connects His Spirit to Water you can touch; words that vibrate ear drums, and Bread and Wine you see, taste, touch, and even smell.
Isn't it amazing that by means of things on earth the Spirit comes down from heaven to lift you out of the morass of sinfulness to the heaven of holiness? That's not a concrete enough way of saying it. The Spirit doesn't lift us to some spiritual realm but to Jesus. See how quickly in this text Jesus jumps from the Spirit to Himself and the heavenly Father. After telling us that in His 3 Commands the Spirit is with us, by us, and in us, Jesus all but blurts out, "I will NOT leave you as orphans." An orphan is someone without a father. He's promising them He won't leave them without a heavenly Father and then says not "I will come to you," but "I come to you;" He says not "you will see Me" but "you see Me."
Is your head spinning yet? It should be. When you're head starts spinning, you sit down. You don't get higher and higher for that will only make you dizzier. Love is lifting us higher but the only way our head won't spin is if we get pushed back into earthly, tangible things. Jesus talks about the Spirit, promises them they have His Spirit in the 3 things He gives them, and then goes back to talking about Himself. The flesh and blood body born of Mary. The flesh and blood they touched and handled. He bids us think not of the Spirit coming to us with warm fiery feelings but in His flesh and blood. "I will not" future tense "leave you as orphans. I come to you. You see Me." Present tense.
Jesus didn't take on flesh and blood in a virgin's womb to set it aside on Easter morning and ascend to heaven without it. He took on flesh and blood forever once He entered Mary's womb. The Second Person of the Godhead became a Man to rescue all mankind. He slogged through the blood and the mud of this fallen world living an absolutely perfect life in an absolutely fallen world. No good deed did Jesus leave undone. No untoward word did Jesus ever utter. Not one vile thought passed through His mind. This actively keeping of the Law in your place means that in Jesus the Law can't accuse you, can't rub your nose in your sin or sinfulness.
But the active keeping of the Law wasn't enough to save us. There was a mountain of bills to pay. Someone had to pay for that time you worried yourself sick without once thinking you were calling almighty God a liar. Someone had to pay for that time you used God's name as an exclamation point. Someone had to pay for that time you just didn't feel like hearing God's Word. If you think you can pay or have paid, you're so far lost you're unreachable by me, but not my Jesus. He carried even your arrogance, even your impenitence, even your unbelief to the cross and there was dammed to hell for an eternity to pay for all of it.
Jesus' flesh and blood didn't stay damned or dead because the Father accepted His perfect life in place of your imperfect one and His payment of sins in place of your nonpayment. And now your love that Jesus started with which leads you to keeping His baptizing, absolving, and communing and therefore to you having the Spirit ends with the promise of the Father's and the Son's love. And to something even higher still.
Jesus promises not only a father's and a brother's love but the promise to "show" Himself to you. This isn't the usual word for show. This is the exact word Moses used when he asked for a visible manifestation of Jehovah. You're recall he didn't get that. He was only allowed to see the Lord from behind. Jesus says their love which leads them to His commands which gives the Spirit leads them to see what Moses never did. In Baptism you see Jehovah sprinkling you with His forgiving blood. You see Jehovah forgiving your sins in Absolution. Jehovah shows Himself to you face to face in Bread that is His Body and Wine that is His Blood.
You've been where the disciples are tonight. Troubled as they are, afraid as they are, realizing you're a sinner as they do. But still love for Jesus is there imperfect, soiled though it is. And Jesus says, "Since you love Me keep doing the things I left you. That's how you show your love for Me and how you know you are loved by My Father and Me." And this love lifts you so high that in Baptism, Absolution, or Communion you no longer see what you use to be, you see truly, you see Jehovah in the person of Jesus. Because you no longer see with the eyes of flesh but with the eyes of the Spirit and He's the Spirit of Truth. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday of Easter (20140525); John 14: 15-21