The Day of Pentecost (June 5, 2022)
A few weeks ago, through a series of questions they were asked, our Junior Confirmands were given the opportunity to confess Jesus Christ as their Savior, as well as give testimony that what they had learned about Him, most specifically from The Small Catechism, is faithful to the Holy Scriptures and is true.
This is no small thing! Listen to what Jesus declares about such a confessing of Him. He says, “Everyone who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). What utter joy and comfort this is for all who publicly confess Jesus! Imagine: Jesus very publicly telling the whole world, as well as all who dwell in heaven, that you are His. What could be of more eternal comfort!
But, as Lutherans, one question we do not ask Confirmands, or for that matter anyone, is this: “Do you love Jesus?” Now, you can be certain that in some corners of the Christian community this would be tantamount to heresy and an utter offense to God. After all, in the accepted paradigm of many today the confession of love for Jesus is the very heart and soul of what it takes to be a true believer… a true disciple of Jesus.
I’m afraid, however, as they say, talk is cheap! Anyone one of us can say, “I love Jesus.” But what do we really mean by it? Do we even know or confess the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, or just some Jesus we have created for ourselves? And what do you and I mean by the word love? Does it conform to Jesus’ own definition of what love of Him really is?
Perhaps some of you at one time or another have pulled up to a red traffic light behind another car which sported a bumper sticker that read: “ Honk if you love Jesus!” What thoughts ran through your head? “Well, okay, I guess I do love Jesus. But if I honk my horn will the driver of the car remember that he has that bumper sticker on his car? So, if I honk he’ll not become angry at me and think I’m just being rude, telling him he better get moving? Love for Jesus or not, I really don’t need to create any more road rage!”
Just what is loving Jesus anyway? Is it simply sporting a bumper sticker or blowing your horn? Is it telling the world in word or song that you love Him? Is love for Jesus some kind of hyper-sensitive feeling of emotion, a burning in one’s bosom?
It seems quite fashionable in contemporary Christian songs to sing a lot about loving Jesus. One particular song that has been around for quite some time says it over and over again, “Oh, how I love Jesus! Oh, how I love Jesus.” I wonder, is God impressed by how many times we tell Him we love Him? Does He even feel praised by such expressions of sentimentality?
One thing we can know with certainty; God is not impressed with empty repetition. When teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus said, “Do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matt. 6:7). Using the words “I love Jesus” like some prayer mantra is more of an attempt to convince ourselves that we are loving Jesus. God is not impressed. He can see into our hearts! He looks to our actions rather than our mere words.
Loving Jesus is much more than simply a feeling. We can feel love for our mom or our dad, or our girl or boyfriend, or our dog, or perhaps, even for our IPad, or our favorite activity, like basketball or fishing. But feelings are fickle. Our affections for people and things can change like the weather. One day our love is vigorous and full of passion, the next it’s lackadaisical and passionless.
In a similar way, one day our love for Jesus can be the roaring of a fire but the next it can only be described as a whimpering of lukewarmness. So often, our feeling of how much we love Jesus is totally dependent upon whether we are experiencing good times or bad. This might tell us that it’s His gifts to us that we are actually in love with rather than Jesus Himself.
Interestingly enough, Jesus never speaks of love for God or for Him in terms of feelings. Instead, He consistently ties our love for Him to the honor and obedience we give to His Word. Three times in the few verses of our Gospel reading Jesus says: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”
Forget syrupy sentimentality. Talk is cheap. Feelings can betray us. To say how much we love Jesus is practically meaningless. Especially given that He who knows all things and can see all things can not be fooled.
Jesus has set the definition for what it means to be loving Him. He says that loving Him is obeying His Words.
This is why, by the way, the questions asked of confirmands do not include “Do you love Jesus?” but do include questions about what they believe from God’s Word concerning Jesus, as well as what they plan on doing about it.
According to Jesus’ words here, what one believes, teaches, confesses and adheres to in their daily lives is vital to genuinely loving Jesus! After all, one can not love Jesus if he does not listen to and obey Jesus’ Words. And by the same token, one can not honor Jesus’ teaching (doctrine) if he has never been taught it. That is why a far more valuable witness of a Confirmand’s love for Jesus is to hear of their commitment to His commandments... His Words.
Accordingly, when you were confirmed you were asked: “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”
In essence, you might say then, that Catechism instruction teaches one to love Jesus. It seeks to follow Jesus’ own instruction: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you”(Matt. 28:19). The one who loves Jesus is the one who has been taught Jesus’ Words and through that doctrine has been given conviction to follow Jesus and all His Words… all His teachings… all His commands in his or her life. Unlike a feeling, such level of conviction can be witnessed and measured.
Jesus’ method of equating one’s love with obedience to His Words is not a hard concept to relate to. After all, wives, what comes to your mind when you hear your husband say to you, “I love you, Honey!” Don’t you find yourself thinking, if not actually verbalizing, “If you really love me so much, then prove it. Listen to and honor what I say. Actions speak louder than words!”
The word Jesus uses here that is translated as “obey” has a much richer and fuller meaning than simply doing what one is told. In its essence it means to keep, hold on to, guard, preserve and even fulfill. Jesus is saying that loving Him is holding on to His Words of Truth in faith no matter what others might say to the contrary. It is counting on His Words to be true even if they seem to defy all human logic. It is treasuring His Words as our most precious commodity. It is honoring His Words enough that we gladly and regularly hear them and do what they say.
To reinforce this, Jesus says, “Whoever does not love Me does not keep my words.” We do not need to search our hearts for some sort of burning in our bosom or emotional high. The real test of love for Jesus is this: “Am I keeping Jesus’ words?” As one theologian put it, the one who loves Jesus “cherishes and guards every precept of Jesus which he has by holding to it in his heart and his life against all opposition” (Lenski, p. 1007).
What Jesus has done is to remove all the guesswork on our part with regard to how much we love Him. If I never seem to have time to regularly attend church, then Jesus’ words must mean very little to me. I’m not loving Him. If I find myself following the way of the crowd and it is opposite what Jesus has taught me, then I am being disobedient and not loving Jesus. If I am willing to compromise Jesus’ Words in the way that I teach them or apply them to my own life, then I’m not loving Jesus. If I think that once I am confirmed I no longer need to learn Jesus’ word, I am not only being frightfully naive, I am showing that I despise His Word and I am not loving Jesus. Our adherence to His Word is a simple test of our love!
But if you and I are seeking to obey, keep, preserve and hold on to Jesus’ word, then we are loving Jesus and we have this most wonderful promise of blessing from Jesus: “My Father will love (you), and we will come to (you) and make our home with (you).”
Understand, however, this is not a promise of God’s love for all people. It’s a promise made specifically to those who love Jesus; that is, those who keep and honor His Word in and by faith. God does indeed love the whole world. In that general compassion He has for all lost and condemned sinners, He gave His only-begotten Son to save them. Jesus shed His blood for all people. Unfortunately, not all people want this love of God or the salvation His love has procured for them.
But here, Jesus’ promise of God’s love is only for those who obey His words. And this love is no generic or formal love. He promises a love so intimate that He and the Father will, literally, “take up residence,” not only with us but in us. This love brings the indwelling of God into our hearts.
You and I might love our neighbors by befriending them, helping them, and showing them kindness. But our love for them is not so intimate that we would actually move in with them and live with them. Such intimacy of love is reserved only for family, those who love us in return.
Dear friends, do you want a close relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you want the doting love of Your eternal Father on you and in you? Do you want God in your life always? It’s simple, Keep His Word! God does not promise to respond to your glowing platitudes of love for Him. But He does promise to “make His Home with” those who “keep His Word.”
But if you and I do not remain faithful to His Word, we are pushing Him and His love for us out of our hearts and our lives. He does not dwell where He is not wanted. Rather, He remains where His Word is being honored, treasured, and obeyed; that is, where people are remaining in His love and loving Him.
But above all, rest assured of this, God will never abandon You. In His love for you, He sacrificed His only-begotten Son for you while you were still an enemy to Him. Jesus’ blood even atones for all those times you have not kept His Word; that is, truly loved Him.
And today, this Day of Pentecost, we are reminded how the LORD Jesus has fulfilled His promise to us that He would not leave us as orphans (Jn 14:18). He has sent us the Holy Spirit, the Third person of the Holy Trinity, to remain with and in us and enable us then to be in and with God (14:18). Jesus then is still with us in His Spirit, as they are one. The Holy Spirit was sent on Pentecost to not only bring to the memory of the holy apostles all that Jesus had taught them (14:26) but through their Spirit-inspired witness to bring us to faith and the knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ. The same Spirit has worked through Holy Baptism to give us new birth, faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, and to impart to us the very gifts of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, forgiveness and eternal life. He has made us His own. He can never forsake those He has made His.
More important, then, is Jesus’ love for you than your love for Him. His love for you is what has saved you and made you an heir of His salvation. Keeping His Words is remaining in His love for you. Continuing His conversation with His disciples, Jesus said on that same occasion, “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10).
Accordingly, Dear friends in Christ, no matter where you go or live and no matter whether you experience good times or bad times, you have Jesus’ commitment to you: “Whoever keeps my word My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Jesus’ commitment to you is written in His blood and sealed in His resurrection from the dead. He will keep you in His love! Amen.