It is amazing what you can do when you know that you are not alone. When we are by ourselves we can often feel alone and vulnerable. But when you are with others it is amazing how in life you are able to be brave and stand up for what is right. There is safety in numbers, there is a fortitude about it and because of that, there is an absolute power of people being present in the lives of others.
One of the ways I have seen this operate most profoundly is with my family and in particular with my wife, Cath, with our children, particularly when they have been sick. Our eldest daughter Rebecca experienced a very significant broken arm when she was just 2 years old. While there was amazing medical care for Rebecca, one of the ways she got through was her mum Cathey just being with her in hospital. Cath spent most of the night either wheeling her around the wards in a wheelchair, post the operation, or sleeping with her beside the bed. She was with her and our daughter got through it. There is an absolute power of people being present in the lives of others.
Why begin this way? This section of John, chapters 13-16, Jesus gives his parting instructions to his followers. He knows that he is about to leave them and that he is sending them out on a world mission. And so, he keeps reminding them of the reality that he is about to leave. One of the first references Jesus makes is classic, John 13:33.
My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. (NIV)
And in verses 18 and 28 Jesus keeps on reminding them of this reality saying he is leaving them.
I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you. (NIV)
“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (NIV)
So, Jesus is going to leave his disciples as they have to embark on their mission to the world. So the question that this next passage is answering is this: How would it be possible for the disciples to fulfil Jesus mission in the world if he is leaving them? They have literally lived with Him for three years, walking in his footsteps, following his teaching, doing what he commanded. And now he is about to leave. But they must go out into the world and preach the gospel, how will they be able to do that if he is gone!
The question is the same for us: How do we live for Jesus in this world when he is in heaven? Jesus gives us two very strong words of instruction in this passage that he repeats: with obedience guiding us and with the Holy Spirit enabling us.
1. Obedience Guiding us.
Jesus starts in verse 15 by saying this.
“If you love me, keep my commands.” (NIV)
It’s pretty simple really!
The current age is one that I describe as being an age of what is called Expressive Individualism. Expressive Individualism is where what is most important in life is having the ability and freedom to express yourself the way you want to. Individual rights are what are most important. The belief that you submit yourself to another by obeying them is seen as old fashioned and to be honest, obsolete. If you don’t believe me, just go and ask someone this question, "Who is it that you are willing to obey?" And see what answer that you get. I suspect that most people will probably just laugh at you because the notion that you will obey someone seems incredibly old and from a past era.
Our culture says: "I live for myself." "I do what I want." "I express myself how I see fit." "Please don’t tell me what to do or how to do it."
Against this back drop Jesus says that his followers are to be very different. They are to willingly and joyfully lead a life of obedience to God and to himself. He doesn’t just say it once – he repeats it again and again and again. Four times he calls them to keep his commands or obey his teaching. It is actually the same word on each occasion in verse 15, 21, and 23.
If you love me, keep my commands. (NIV)
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. (NIV)
Jesus replied, “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. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (NIV)
It is a very simple proposition–If you love Jesus you will obey Jesus by doing what he says. It is worth saying that Jesus is not saying that obedience to Him brings salvation. Rather, Obedience to Him is a result of knowing Him and experiencing salvation. You know Jesus, you are saved by Jesus and so you love Jesus. The result is that you obey Jesus.
The question that I think we need to ask is this: Why does he challenge the disciples this way? The answer is because he knows that there will be a cost to following him in the world. As followers of Jesus, we are sent into the world to serve him and make him known.
When you read through the book of Acts it describes the mission of these disciples, this is what you see.
We can expect all of the same if we are to follow him, and Jesus calls us to OBEY Him if we love Him, to Follow His Commands and Keep them. The obedience that we are called to is an obedience to what Jesus has revealed to us in His Word – the Scriptures.
This book is one that we are to read and we are to grapple with. We are to read and think about it and we are to marvel in it. But ultimately, we are to obey it, we are to do it and we are to carry Jesus words out.
And there will be commands that are hard personally:
There will be commands that seem so counter cultural that you will catch yourself thinking, "this can’t be right?" Or, "that seems so old fashioned?" Or, "surely we don’t need to follow that now?"
Jesus says "Trust me and obey my commands!"
To both challenge and encourage us, I want to give us a modern day example, but from a very different culture. In today’s 21st century Iran, the church is increasingly under intensifying persecution from both society and the state, as Christianity and anyone involved in spreading it is seen as a threat to the Republic’s Islamic identity.
The situation for 21st century Iranian Christians is that they are under constant threat of persecution from both society and the government, including discrimination, beatings, arrest, imprisonment, torture and killings. Christians are treated as second-class citizens in Iran and forced to worship in secret. When their faith is discovered, they face persecution from both society and the state. With this as the accepted viewpoint, brutal oppression awaits specific “offenders,” including any Christian who converts from Islam. Iran has made speaking the country’s official language of Farsi during church worship services illegal. And anyone leading or participating in a house church faces arrest and imprisonment.
Let me give you an example – a former Iranian House Church leader.
He knew that his work would one day result in prison. He used to be one of the leaders of a quickly growing house church movement. After receiving a probational sentence in 2009, he was imprisoned for three years in 2012. In 2015, he was released, when asked “Why didn’t I stop my work for the church after I was first arrested? I don’t really know,” he says. “There was no logical explanation, but we felt that the Lord wanted us to continue. We knew this would mean we could get arrested at any moment.” He loved Jesus, so he obeyed Him. He followed his commands. This is what it means to be a disciple in the world.
A leader of the Iranian underground church explained in a recent documentary film made about the rapid growth of their churches, that their goal is not planting churches but rather making disciples.
Disciples forsake the world and cling to Jesus 'till he comes. Converts don't, disciples aren't engaged in a culture war, converts are. Disciples cherish, obey, and share the word of God, converts don't. Disciples choose Jesus over anything and everything else, converts don't. Converts run when the fire comes, disciples don't.
2. The Holy Spirit Enabling us
The second word from Jesus in this passage is a word of comfort or encouragement: He says that for those who obey him, he will give them the Holy Spirit to be with them.
In John’s gospel, Jesus spoke a number of times prior to this about the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the Upper Room, he now says much more on this very important subject. Let’s look at verses 15-17 and 25-27 and see what Jesus says:
If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever - the Spirit of truth. 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... (NIV)
All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)
What we learn about the Holy Spirit is as follows. He is an Advocate: In original language the word used here of the Holy Spirit meant legal assistant or advocate. The simplest and best way to understand what this means in our language is that he is saying that the Holy Spirit will be given to strengthen and help us. In other words, he is the presence of God in our life who will give us the strength to follow and obey Jesus, even when it is tough. Even when there are significant consequences. What is interesting to note, he is another advocate – 2nd to Jesus. "I’m going but He is coming".
He is the Spirit of Truth. And we need to read this description in the light of verse 25-26 where Jesus says that he would teach the disciples and remind the disciples of all that Jesus taught. This word from Jesus is incredibly important because what he is saying is that the Apostles would have the Holy spirit to effectively guide them to truth as the one who is the Spirit of Truth. And this is why we can have complete confidence that the New Testament, which is in effect the teaching of the Apostles, that is the truth. The Holy Spirit has inspired it.
The implication is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t just strengthen us, but also guides us by the teaching of the Apostles, through which we have access to the truth of Jesus. One of things that I am not going to touch on is the relationship between the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus and the Father, because of time. But I encourage you to read and ponder how Jesus describes the Holy Spirit. He is the one that the Father sends. He is the one who comes in Jesus name
There is this rich relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit such that you can say they have their individual personhood yet ultimately are one being. In other words, the Trinity. And if you want to ponder that more, then talk to your pastor!
Back to the gift of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus is saying here is that if you are a follower of the Lord Jesus then, He will give you his Holy Spirit such that you know that you belong to him and that he lives in you. He comes to us and He dwells in us. The Holy Spirit is given by Jesus and the Father because he wanted them to know and he wants us to know that they will be never alone in the world. That we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us to guide us by His Word.
We are to be His witnesses. We are to seek the Kingdom of God to come and Jesus will strengthen us so that we have the power to do this.
Let me return to the example of the church in modern Day Iran. What has happened as a result of their obedience?
Like the church of Acts shows us, the persecution these believers suffered as a group of obedient disciples became a catalyst for the multiplication of believers and churches. When the Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hardline Islamic regime, the next two decades ushered in a wave of persecution that continues today. And when this persecution came, they didn’t scatter. The church was inspired and ignited by the Holy Spirit as they sought to obey Jesus. Though all missionaries were kicked out, though all evangelism was outlawed, though all Bibles in the Persian or Farsi language were banned, though several pastors were killed, though many feared the small, fledgling Iranian church wouldn’t survive. Instead, the church, fueled by the devotion and passion for Jesus, has multiplied exponentially. Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East today. They love Jesus and so they obey Him and he strengthens and guides them by his wonderful Holy Spirit.
As a result, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran. Let me finish with Jesus closing words in this chapter from verse 27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)
Jesus calls us to go into this world, just like the disciples of the first Century. And he says if you love me you will obey me and my commands. And to enable us to do his work, he gives the power of his presence through the Holy Spirit to Guide us and protect. Friends, we are not alone in this world. The Spirit of God is with us, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Power, the Spirit of Comfort. And he dwells in us and with us. So be not afraid but live for Him who died for you and rose again.