Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on February 12, 2017
Open your Bibles to John 15:12-17. This morning we find ourselves in midstream of what is called the Upper Room Discourse. This is the section of Scripture between John 13 and John 17 that takes place on the Thursday night before Jesus’s crucifixion. As I have said over the last several weeks it can be hard to preach through some of these passages because Jesus has perfect knowledge and weaves massive truths together seamlessly and effortlessly.
In an effort to connect some dots, I want to do some quick review in regards to some of the things Jesus has already touched on prior to speaking the words we are going to look at today. Jesus began the evening by washing his disciples feet. In John 13:14, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
After washing his disciples feet he then says in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Then in John 14:12 Jesus informs his disciples that they will do greater works than Jesus himself. Which seems impossible until we understand that Jesus is going to the Father and will send the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer. Therefore instead of one Jesus walking around proclaiming the Kingdom of God, there will be hundreds, then thousands, and then hundreds of thousands, and then millions of Christians doing the will of God.
And then last week we observed Jesus using the Biblically packed imagery of the vine and the branches to help understand the big picture of all of human life. Specifically that we exist to glorify God, and glorifying God is impossible apart from Christ. And being a disciple of Christ is not a casual relationship but an intimate relationship with Jesus; one that is characterized by abiding; we abiding in Him and His Words abiding in us, with all of this abiding producing obedience to Christ, glory for God and divine joy in us. Which leads us to our text for this mornings.
Commands of Christ
If I were to use one word to describe the American Church it would be “soft.” And no, I do not mean soft as in soft and tender hearts. I mean soft as in weak, as in fragile little snowflakes. American Christianity seems to be defined by lattes and relevant worship. What is interesting is that simultaneously our Churches are becoming irrelevant in our culture and disappearing across the landscape of America.
Christians seem to have fallen asleep in the hammock of God’s grace. We have embraced a let go and let God mentality. The theological term that is use to describe this is antinomianism. “Anti” means against and “nomos” means the law, so it means “against the law.” It is the belief that Christians are not obligated to obey God’s commands. That the commands of God do not apply to us, because we are under grace.
The teaching of antinomianism is absolutely unbiblical. Yes it is true that we are saved through faith, by grace in Christ. However, it does not mean that we can ignore the commands of God. It does not mean that you can keep on sinning and let grace abound. According to James 2:18 true Christians display their faith by their works.
And this has been the heartbeat of the last two chapters. Christians obey Christ as Christ obeyed the father. The Spirit of Christ now dwells in us causing us to obey God's commands. Christians who live a life of disobedience are no Christians at all. John tells us this in 1 John 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” True Christians obey the commands of Christ.
But this leads to the question, what are Christ's commands? As we saw last week, to obey we must abide in the Word. Which is exactly what we are doing right in this moment. And what does God's word tell us this morning? Verse 12 says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” As I stated earlier, this is the second time Jesus commands his disciples to love.
I fear that we don't feel the weight of this statement. In John 1:3 we are told, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus , “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Matthew 28:18 says that ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [him].” And Jesus stands before his disciples stares at them in the eyes and commands them to love each other. He is not asking, he is commanding. This is a decree of the King of Kings to love each other.
Love within the Church is not optional. Christ has ordered it, unfortunately many Churches lack it. Many relationships within the Church are weaker than paper. One glance, one comment, one mistake, and your out of there. If you get your feather ruffled, you feel that you are entitled to leave and go church shopping. The love that many Christians have is, “I love you until you do something I don't like.” It is shallow, it is worldly, it is fleshly, it is disobedient, it is sin. This is not the love that Christ had in mind when he commanded his followers to love.
Love as Christ Loved
The love that Christ had in mind was the love that he displayed. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” We are commanded to love at the level of Christ. This is a substantially high standard. In fact, it is the highest of standards. Christ is not commanding us to casual relationships, he is commanding us to a Christ relationship.
So how did Christ love? To begin, lets start with verse 16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” For some people this statement by Christ shakes the foundation of their belief system. A vast majority of Christians in America will claim that the basis of their salvation is that they invited Jesus into their heart, and because they invited Jesus into their heart they are saved. First, let me say, no place in the Bible does it ever say that we are to say a magic prayer and invite Jesus into our heart. The Bible just doesn't speak that way, instead the Bible commands you to believe. The Bible commands you to repent and follow Jesus. And this is exactly how each one of the 11 disciples sitting in the upper room were saved. They didn't say the sinners prayer and then put a fish sticker on their car, they obeyed. The question is why? Why did they obey the command of Jesus to follow him? Jesus tells them, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
Once again, Jesus looks into the eyes of his disciples and declares that the only reason that they are sitting in the same room as the God of the Universe is because Jesus chose them. This was the ultimate reason, or basis, for their faith, and therefore their salvation.
And let us be clear, Jesus is not sugar coating this truth, or hiding it from them. He wants his followers to know that salvation is dependent on Jesus choosing, not you. And as we stand here today, Jesus wants all of you to know the same. He wants you to hear him say loud and clear, “You did not choose Jesus, He choose you.” It is Christ who determines who he will die for. Why? Because he is sovereign. If it was any other way, Jesus would not be God, man would be. If you stand before God and declare that you are the ultimate reason for your salvation, then you are stealing glory from God.
This however, leads to the question of why did Jesus choose these 11, but not others. And likewise, why did Jesus choose you? Is it because these 11 were hyper-religious, or good people, or power players in the community? No. In fact these 11 were wretched sinners. Romans 3:10 tells us, “None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless.” These 11 were unrighteous, ignorant, rebels and they were absent of any worth. Likewise, in Ephesians 2:1-3 it says, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” These disciples were dead, worldly, followers of Satan, natural born sinners deserving of Hell.
Why did Jesus choose the 11? Why did Jesus choose the you? One thing is for 100 percent for sure, it was not because of anything that is good in you. And in this truth we see the beauty of God's love. Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The love of Christ is not conditional. It is unconditional. The love of Christ is not quid pro quo, it is solely based upon God's will.
And this is exactly how we are to love. We are to love our brothers and sisters on the bases of God's election. We are not to love based upon our conditions. We are not to love based how people treat us, or upon what they say, or their spiritual immaturity, or their political leanings, or their age, or their gender, or their race, or the personality. We are to love them because they are chosen by Christ.
I guarantee that if you stay in this Church long enough I will offend you. Why? Because at times I am a cold and heartless jerk. But you know what? Me being a jerk does not entitle you to stop loving me. Why? Because your love for me is built upon our election, not upon my transgressions. Praise be to God!
Jesus speaks into this unrelenting love in Matthew 18:21-22, “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Some translations say seventy times seven. The number is not intended to be precise, it is intended to represent a never ending love. And this is how we are to commanded to love each other. We are to love differently then the world, who are to love like Christ. We are to to love each other to the end. But there is more.
Love Unto Death
So far we have talked about the longevity of Christ like love, but we have not talked about the particularity and intensity of Christ-like love. In verse 13 it says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” When Christ says this, it is obvious that he has the cross in mind, for in less than 24 hours he he would breathe his last breath on Calvary.
In understanding the implications of this text, we must remember the context of this sermon. Since the beginning of this upper room discourse the object of Jesus' teaching has always been on the 11 disciples. In John 13:2 we are told that he loved the disciples to the end. In John 14:2 he tells the disciples that he goes to prepare a place for them. In John 15:11 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” And then as we just saw, Jesus tells them in verse 16 he wants the disciples to know that he chose them in particular.
Therefore this night is not a night of generalities, it is a night of specifics. Therefore, when Jesus speaks of laying his life down for his friends, this is not a general statement about his death being an opportunity for salvation. This is Jesus sitting at a table with the 11 disciples telling them he was going to the cross for them in particular. This is reinforced in verse 15 when Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Therefore, when Jesus alludes to his death on the cross, he wants each individual disciple to feel a particular, the specific love that Jesus has for them. Peter, I love you so much that I would die for you. Andrew, I love you so much that I would die for you. Nathaniel, I love you so much that I would die for you.
When Christ died he died for his friends. He knew who they were and he came to die for them. We call this understanding, limited atonement. It is the idea that Christ did not die to give people an option, but instead he died to rescue a definite people. A people that was defined. A people that was predetermined. A people who were chosen.
This is not the first time we see Jesus speaking this way. In John 10:15 Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” If you recall it was because people are sheep that they follow Jesus. Being a sheep is a prerequisite for following Christ.
This teaching is in several places throughout the Bible. Time does not permit for me to go in all of them today. The one, however, that I personally find most compelling is Revelation 13:8. A lot of Revelation is about future events, specifically the end times. The context of this particular passage is the worship of a world leader who is referred to as the beast. “and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” So in heaven there is a book. This book has a title, “The Book of Life of the Lamb who Was Slain.” In this book there is a definite list of names. This particular and limited list of names was written in this book before the world was created. Who are these people who are in this book? They are those who are chosen. They are the sheep. They are the friends of Christ. And when Jesus came he knew who he came for. John 10:3, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
As I was putting the finishing touches on the sermon last night, I was listening to a Christian artist named Jason Upton. The song that was playing was called “Whisper” In the song there is a refrain that says, “Remind me, remind me, remind me of your love.” That refrain just kept playing over and over, I have to admit, I lost it.
Knowing that Jesus died for me in particular is overwhelming. Knowing that what kept him on the cross was that my name was in His book is the greatest feeling of love that I can imagine . I am so unworthy, and he is so good. Limited atonement is the sweetest of all doctrines, for there is no Greater love than for Jesus to lay down his life for his friends.
But what does this have to do with the command to love like Christ? Everything. The call to love is a call to love individuals sacrificially. Our love is not to be general in nature, our love must have an object, and that object must have a name. If we are walking in these doors and out again with a general love for our community, then we are being disobedient. Christ calls us to such a greater love than generalities. We are not commanded to love this building, we are not commanded to love our ministries, we are not commanded to love Cornerstone. We are commanded to James, Dave, Barb, Nancy, Chris, Bruce, Jesicah, Kim, Lorraine, and so on and so forth.
Let us obey the command of Christ like our brother Paul who said in 2 Timothy 2:10, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Let us bear the fruit we were destined to bear.