From the start, there is a lot going on in these Words of Jesus: “If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments.” Such language is typical of St. John’s Gospel, but it almost sounds conditional.
However, note that Jesus speaks these Words on Maundy Thursday, on the night when He washed His disciples’ feet and fed them with His Body and Blood. For having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end; as He loves you, also, with water and His Word, and with His flesh and blood. So has He previously said on that night: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are My disciples.”
It is, therefore, not by keeping His Commandments that you enter into His Love; but it is from within His Love for you, that you now live in Him, and love Him, and keep His Commandments.
Especially in the writings of St. John, the word “love” often describes the attitude and activity of “faith,” such as St. Paul might be more likely to put it. Such love is not a matter of your feelings and emotions. It is rather a single-minded devotion to Jesus, and a dependence on Him alone as your only Hope, because He is the One who forgives your sins and gives you life and salvation.
Such love for Jesus belongs to the First Commandment — and to the explanation of the First Commandment in the Small Catechism. “You shall have no other gods.” But you shall fear, love, and trust in this one true God in the flesh, Christ Jesus, above and beyond all things. For Him to be your God is to find your happiness, contentment, peace, and rest in Him alone, regardless of whatever else may be going on; and to forsake all things, even life itself, rather than let Him go.
To “love” Him is to know Him, and to believe and trust in Him, as your Savior and your God.
The necessary connection between loving Jesus and keeping His Commandments likewise resides in the First Commandment, which is the fountain and source from which all of the Commandments are kept in faith toward God and in love for God and your neighbor. In love for the Lord your God, which is to say, in love for Christ Jesus, you live for your neighbor and love your neighbor — as Christ lives for you and loves you — in accordance with the Word that He speaks to you.
Notice the similarity and continuity between these two sides of the Law, that is, the command to love God with all you are and have, and the command to love your neighbor as yourself. The entire Law is summed up in this one word, “Love.” But notice, too, the important difference and distinction between these two greatest Commandments. The Lord commands you to love your neighbor in order to love and serve your neighbor, to protect and provide for him. But you are commanded to love the Lord your God, to worship Him alone, to call upon His Name, and to hear and heed His Word, because He loves you; He protects you and provides for you in body and soul.
The first three Commandments call you to have faith in God, to fear, love, and trust in Him, to receive His gifts, and to rely upon His promises; and so also to live according to His Word.
The Second Commandment depends upon the First, because you cannot rightly worship the Lord your God, nor can you call upon His Holy Name, except by way of fear, love, and trust in Him. So do both the First and Second Commandments likewise depend upon the Third, because you neither believe in God with your heart nor confess Him with your lips except by the hearing of His Word, as you find your Sabbath Rest within His Church in the preaching of Christ Jesus.
These first three Commandments may be described and understood as “evangelical commands,” because they call you to receive and believe the Gospel, and thus to live by faith in Christ Jesus.
And again, it is from within that life, which is yours in Christ Jesus — from within His Love for you — that you are commanded to live in love for your neighbor, to give him rest in Jesus’ Name. Not that you earn your place or earn your keep by the works of love that you do, but that you abide in faith and love within the household and family of God, as a son of God in Christ Jesus.
Each and all of the Ten Commandments reveal your sin and your desperate need for a Savior, for they expose the lack of love in your heart and life, in your thoughts, words, and actions. But even as they do so, the first three Commandments continue to call you and point you to the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has kept and fulfilled the Commandments of God in perfect faith and holy love.
You have not loved the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You have not loved your neighbor as you must. You have loved and worshiped and served yourself, the thoughts of your own mind, the imaginations of your own sinful heart, and the lustful desires of your flesh. In disobedience and selfishness, you have pursued death instead of life, idolatry instead of God, and darkness instead of the Light. It is true that what you deserve is nothing but punishment.
But the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, in His perfect Love for the Father, and in His great love for you and for all people, He has kept the entire Law in your stead, on your behalf. Yet, He has also suffered the judgment and punishment of the Law in your place and for your sake. He has thus satisfied the demands and requirements of the Law, not only in the sense of rules and regulations to be kept, but by establishing the life and love of God in His own flesh as true Man.
When Jesus speaks of “His Commandments” in this Holy Gospel, they are indeed His. Not only because He commands them; which He certainly does, and that is to be taken seriously. But they are His Commandments, all the more, because He is the One who keeps them and fulfills them. They are written, not in stone, but in His flesh and blood, in His life and death and Resurrection.
It is Christ alone who has kept the Commandments of God and lived according to them, by faith, in love, even unto death upon the Cross. That is the height of His Glory. For it is by His Sacrifice that He is the one true Man, the one true God in human flesh, who is divine Life and Love for you.
It is in this light that you are called to fear, love, and trust in Jesus as your true and only God, to call upon His Name in every trouble with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and gladly to hear and learn His Word and the preaching of it. In all of this, you love Him because He first loves you. Not simply by way of gratitude, nor merely following His good example and returning the favor, as it were. But your love for Him — and all that follows upon that love — is made possible by His Love for you, and arises from within His Love for you. Otherwise you remain in your sins.
Loving the Lord Jesus and keeping His Commandments is not centered in you and your doing. It is rather a life that you receive from Him and live in Him by divine grace. You enter into life and salvation with God in Christ as you are called out of yourself into Him, and as you renounce yourself and all of your selfish, self-centered works, in favor of Christ and His works of Love. And these gifts He freely gives you by the Ministry of His Word and Spirit through the Gospel.
The various post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus — including that dear Emmaus Gospel, such as we heard earlier this month — mark the beginning of His ongoing and abiding presence in the preaching and catechesis of the Scriptures in His Name, and in the Breaking of the Bread at His Table in His Church. By and with these means, He bestows His life-giving Holy Spirit upon you.
And by these ways and means of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus fulfills the Word and promise you have heard from Him this morning: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” For He comes to you and cares for you, Himself, and He provides for you and protects you by His Spirit.
There is a connection between this “Helper” from the Father and the fact that Jesus does not leave you as an orphan. His Spirit is your Paraclete, that is, your legal friend or helper, your advocate and defender, your attorney and counselor, and your intercessor. You are not left defenseless, for the Spirit pleads your case and guards your life with the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.
The same Spirit is indeed “the Spirit of Truth,” for He is the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is actively present and at work in the Word of Jesus, whose Word is Spirit and Truth. And is it by the Holy Spirit that Christian disciples of Jesus worship the Father “in Spirit and Truth,” which is to say, according to the Word of Jesus, from within His crucified and risen Body, the true Temple of God, within the Holy Communion of His Body, the Church.
So it is that, by the Spirit of Truth, through the Ministry of the Gospel, you know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, you live and abide with the Father in Him, and you do keep His Commandments.
The most obvious example this morning is to be found in your Holy Baptism, such as St. Peter describes in his Epistle. He proclaims the Cross and Resurrection, that “Christ died once for all, the Just for the unjust, for the forgiveness of sins; He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit.” Then he identifies your connection to this life-giving work of Christ; for “Baptism now saves you, granting you a good conscience” through the forgiveness of your sins, by virtue of the Cross, “and making you alive in Christ Jesus through His Resurrection and Ascension.”
The same Spirit of Christ Jesus is at work, forgiving your sins and giving you life and salvation with God the Father, in the spoken word of Holy Absolution, and especially in the Body and Blood of Jesus, given and poured out for you in the Holy Communion. In each of these Sacraments of Salvation, you are bound together with the incarnate Son of God in His Cross and Resurrection.
These are the ways and means by which the Lord Jesus comes to you and makes His abode with you, as He promises; and by which you also live and abide in Him. By the Ministry of His Gospel He loves you, He forgives you, and He gives you His own divine Life in body and soul — as the Son with His Father — in place of the death and damnation that are your legacy apart from Him.
As Christ is thus with you by grace, His Spirit reveals Him to you, and awakens faith and love for Him within your heart and mind, body and soul, that you might be with Him where He is forever.
In such love for Christ Jesus, you do keep His Commandments, because you share His Life and live in Him — by the Spirit, with the Father. Not by your own power, but Christ now lives in you.
And this Life that is yours in Christ, which you live in Him, is the very content of your Salvation. Not that you are saved by your works of love; but quite the opposite, that you live and work in love because you are with the Lord, and you belong to the Father as a beloved child in Christ, and His Spirit animates you. God’s Love for you and His gift of Salvation are not the consequence of your life and love, but your life with God and your love for Christ, for God and for your neighbor, are the consequence of His Love and His Life for you. You live and you love as Christ does, because you live and abide with Christ in the bosom of the Father, as He makes His abode with you here.
It is all entirely by grace. You love the Lord Jesus, and you keep His Commandments, because He loves you in the world, in and with His Ministry of the Gospel, within His Holy Christian Church. He loves you to the end, that is, to the completion and perfection of His good work in you, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He has given Himself for you, and He ever lives to love you.
Of course it is true that, as you are a fallen son or daughter of Adam, and you remain a sinner so long as you remain in this world, you neither know nor recognize Christ Jesus, nor do you receive His Spirit and His Life, by any powers or pursuits of your perishing flesh. Your native reason and strength are not able to love the Lord your God; nor are they able to keep His Commandments. Bear that in mind, and repent, when you are so prone to chase after a life and love of your own devising and by your own efforts. Look not for life in yourself, in your works, or in your idols.
But let not your heart be troubled. The Life and Love of God in Christ have no end. The Father loves you with such never-ending love in His Son, and He continues to send His Spirit of Truth to comfort you and help you. By the Gospel, here and now, the Holy Spirit grants you the free and full forgiveness of Christ from His Cross, and He raises you up in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus to live and abide with the Father in Him. Thus by His grace do you love Him, as He loves you.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.