We are continuing a deliberate journey to Easter Sunday. We have been gathering insight and understanding about Jesus and his desire for humanity to know the truth. What is truth? The truth to Jesus was not a collection of facts or mathematical proofs. Truth to Jesus was an intimate knowledge of God expressed through God’s love and grace. Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).
Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth of God. But Jesus was only going to be here on earth for a short time. By some estimates, he would be here only 33 years. Of those years Jesus testified in person for no more than three of those 33 years. At the time of Jesus’ birth, historians estimate that there were 300 Million people in the world. Jesus spent most of his time testifying to 12 of those people. He called those twelve people, apostles. One of the twelve apostles, Judas, died before Jesus did. After Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead, Jesus told the remaining eleven apostles, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” What was Jesus thinking? How in the world could Jesus expect those eleven apostles to share the truth, the revelations of God through Jesus Christ, to 300,000,000 people? How would those eleven apostles keep things straight as they shared the truth with people from different cultures and in different languages? How could it all happen?
Jesus had a plan, but it depended upon the apostles and God. We read his plan earlier today. Jesus said, 15“If you love me, keep my commands. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15, 16).
Jesus’ plan had just two parts to it. First, Jesus asked his apostles to love him and to express that love by keeping his commands. Love must be at the heart of the plan to share the good news of Jesus. “If you love me, keep my commands.” Jesus’ words strongly suggest that there is a powerful connection between expressing love and obedience. Now obedience comes in distinctly different forms. First, we can be obedient to someone or something because we seek to avoid punishment. We obey the laws of New York State because we do not want to be arrested. We pay our taxes because we do not want problems with the government. We are obedient in order to avoid punishment. Obedience to avoid punishment is my earliest memories of church. I was instructed to believe that God was some policeman type figure who looked down from heaven keeping track of all the wrong things we did. If your list grew too long, then God would punish you. Obedience to avoid punishment is not love.
The second form of obedience comes about through a voluntary desire. Sometimes voluntary obedience feels like compliance. There have been many times each of us have done some task in the way another person asked that it be done, even if we had a different way of doing it. We comply with the wishes of another to bring that person peace. Other times, voluntary compliance, obedience, is done in order to bring us joy, peace, happiness, and contentment. I see young children express this type voluntary obedience well. Young children show their emotions and thoughts right on their face. They have not yet mastered the “art” of thinking and feeling one thing and doing the other. And so, when a young child does something you asked them to do, they almost always follow up by finding you and excitedly telling you they did it. The child has been voluntarily obedient because they love you, because they love to share what they have done with you, and to know that they have excited you in doing what you asked. This type of voluntary obedience is the closest to what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” “One time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2 He [Jesus] called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he [Jesus] said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” In that same way, Jesus was saying in our text today, “If you love me, be like a young child that has an inner desire to do what they have been asked, to be excited about sharing what you have done with me, and to know the joy that it brings to me.” Voluntary obedience is the way of expressing love to Jesus.
Going back to our text again for the second part of Jesus’ plan. Jesus said to his apostles, 15“If you love me, keep my commands.” For another day, we will talk about the commands of Jesus. But for today, we will continue with what Jesus said. “16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth.” Jesus had revealed something important to this small band of apostles. When the apostles came to give their life to voluntary obedience to Jesus’ commands as the way of expressing love to Jesus. Jesus then excitedly shared that good news with God, the Father. God, the Father, then in his joy then released to apostles who love Jesus the Spirit of truth. This Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, would then be able guide the apostles and be with them forever. We see this thought in verse 23 of our text today, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23).
Now, before we think Jesus was only speaking about a relationship only possible with the apostles, we need to consider Jesus prayer found in Chapter 17 of the Gospel of John. Jesus said, “20My prayer is not for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their [the apostle’s] message [that would be you and me], 21 that all of them [the apostles, you and me] may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they [the apostles, you and me] also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them [the apostles, you and me] even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23). So the words, 15“If you love me, keep my commands. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth,” apply to you and me as well.
Jesus words then tell us that the Spirit of truth will be given to the apostles, you, and me who love Jesus through obedience. It was and is through the Spirit of truth, that this small band of apostles would come to bring the good news to the people of the world. The evangelizing of the world by the apostles was not done through the power of the government to make people obedient to God to avoid punishment, but through love guided by Spirit of truth working through the apostles to cause people to believe and become voluntarily obedient to God. By the end of the mortal life of the remaining eleven apostles, the number of those believing and alive in the Holy Spirit had grown from 11 to 500,000.
What then can we say about this Spirit of truth? There are many sermons and teachings that can be brought forward on the Holy Spirit, but for today, we will keep focused on just one element, the Spirit of truth. In our text today, Jesus said of this Spirit of truth, this helper, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” The Spirit of truth is for believers and gives believers the capacity to know the truth. The truth here is not in the Roman mindset of truth, meaning the facts concerning events. So, believers are still no better equipped at crime solving then anyone else. Here, truth is in the Hebrew mindset of knowing God and his faithfulness. So, believers, people showing love to Jesus by voluntary obedience to Jesus’ commands, receive the Spirit of truth and therefore, have an intimate knowledge of God and his trustworthiness. From our text today, verse 21, Jesus brought this point together saying, “21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” I have a couple of cousins who are very prolific in posting things on Facebook. Neither of them is a believer. Yet, they often cite Scripture in their postings with smug words added primarily as an effort to offend Christians. There is a spirit within them, but it is not the Sprit of truth. For while they rage online against social injustices citing Biblical commands to help the hungry, naked, and poor, they do not ever help anyone.
This means that if we allow the Spirit of truth to work within us, we can understand what the Bible says and coupled with the humility can listen to God’s word before we act. With the Spirit of truth working within us, we can recognize when we neither took the time to understand what the Bible said nor listened to God’s word before we acted. The Spirit of truth will guide us in worship of God. We can know what behaviors honor God and which ones do not. If we allow the Spirit of truth to work within us, then we can recognize how we as a single body made of up of many members can move together in new missions and bring to closure those that are no longer needed. Jesus said to the learned Jewish man, Nicodemus, “8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” We are to move not in accordance with the desires of observers but in the direction that God moves us touching everything and everyone in our path.
Jesus said, “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). Everyone with Jesus has the Spirit of truth. This is the power Jesus promised and delivered to the apostles as they came to share the truth with the world. The apostles did not cajole the unwilling with promises and rewards. Afterall, who offers rewards for doing what people want to do? Do we pay hungry people to eat? Do we pay thirsty people to drink? A wise Christian scholar once observed, if we demand a reward to obey God, we will love the reward rather than God. In his words, “The soul that loves God seeks no other reward than that God whom it loves. Were the soul to demand anything else, then it would certainly love that other thing and not God.” Believers have the Spirit of truth to know Jesus and therefore constantly seek to follow his life and his words and his actions just like a person who is hungry seeks food and one who is thirsty seeks water. It is a natural reaction to a great desire. Believers have the Spirit of truth and want to constantly tell Jesus what they have done and to be in his presence.
What is truth? Jesus provided an answer this way from our text today, “18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Let us be blest in the Spirit of truth that guides our thoughts, words, and actions. Amen.