Jean’s Gospel: Love Begets Love
“ ‘Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’
Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.’” (John 14:21-24)
Jesus promises His disciples three great gifts to help us live in a world hostile to Him and His Gospel: (1) His love; (2) “he will keep my word”; and (3) “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” To apprehend these promises as gifts, we must properly distinguish God’s Gospel from His Law. If we confuse these two words of God, we could find ourselves condemning ourselves with impossible demands.
(1) “If anyone loves me” (John 14:23)
We begin with the gift of love, because love for Jesus is the fountainhead for the other gifts numbered above. The key here is not to misread Jesus as offering us a bargain or conditional promise (e.g., “If you do this, then I will do that.”). If Jesus left it up to us, we could not love Him.
Jesus offers no external wealth, power, fame or honor. He comes in secret. He hides His kingdom from the world. He became a curse, was humiliated and suffered a shameful execution. Paul described Christ crucified as “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). Isaiah prophesied of Jesus: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 53:3) In the eyes of the world and according to our human wisdom and desires, Jesus does not show himself publically as an attractive Savior and king. He does not offer what the world wants.
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19
Therefore, Jesus must come to us first with His love, which begets our love for Him: “We love because he first loved us.” Our love for Jesus is the response of faith in His love, grace and mercy given us in the Gospel. In the Gospel Jesus demonstrates His love by taking our sins upon himself, offering for us His body and blood, and by doing this from pure grace, that we might be comforted and thereby learn to know and experience His love. If we believe it, He requires nothing more of us than that we should be thankful for it and should continue in faith and confession, and out of love and honor for Him to seek the welfare of His kingdom by word and deed.
Jesus rules His kingdom by leading hearts to learn of His love, and by teaching us that He, through His suffering and death, has procured for us God’s grace and mercy as a free gift, and in addition has given the Holy Spirit. He so rules us that we continue in His kingdom of grace, the Holy Spirit working in us, so that we, on our part, begin to love God and to obey him willingly and cheerfully.
(2) “he will keep my word” (John 14:23)
True love is not coerced or earned. Without love, we cannot keep Christ’s word (i.e., keep Him in our lives and keep and obey His teaching). Jesus said: “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Only by abiding in His love, which begets our love, can we keep His Word. Apart from His love, we can do nothing.
In the Gospel Jesus gives us the desire, for the first time, to keep His Word. What a wonderful gift it is to be given new hearts which yearn for the same things which God our Father wills for us. At the same time, however, experience teaches us how difficult it is to keep His Word. After experiencing His love and grace, and growing in the knowledge of His will, we desire to honor, serve and obey Christ. But our own flesh and old nature resist, and the devil attacks with all kinds of temptations.
It is a cross of the Christian who learns the depths of his or her own sin and weakness: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24) But that should be the limit of our introspection, because there no consolation within us to the problem of sin. Here we must trust the love of God and His external Word and promises: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1) By trusting in the forgiveness of our sins and in His promise, “he will keep my word”, we are free to experience the joy that genuine love begets, as His love wells up and out of us and onto our families and neighbors.
(3) “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
To bring us help and comfort in our weakness, Jesus promises us these additional gifts: “I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21); “my Father will love him;” and “We will come to him and make our home with him.” Together with the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises to bring us the grace, mercy, presence and communion of the Triune God to help and comfort us in our weakness.
It is a paradox of the Christian life that during the times when we are beset by weakness, despairing of our own sin or uselessness in a given situation, but clinging entirely to the grace and mercy of God in Christ (who never leaves nor forsakes us), that in just such times, God is able to perform His greatest work in us. This was Paul’s experience too: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 9b-10)
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)
Christians are begotten, sustained and delivered into everlasting life by the love of Christ. Christ manifests His love for us through the Gospel, by the preaching of His Word and in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. By receiving these means of grace with empty hands of faith, the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts faith, hope and the love of God, through which we begin to keep His word and receive a gracious God who makes His home with us, both now and forever. Amen.