It’s about WHO you know, not WHAT you know. In everything from running a business to getting your car repaired to enrolling your child in the best daycare – much of life is about building and maintaining relationships. That’s why financial advisers promise to get to know you – not just manage your money. That’s why huge corporations spend millions on public relations and charitable endeavors. It’s also why many churches these days that don’t really talk about Jesus or the Bible will make a really big deal of offering a relationship with God. It’s an attractive concept these days when so many are isolated from human contact behind a computer or smartphone screen. It’s also a completely natural desire because God created us as social beings. Already in Genesis 2 God declared that It [was] not good for [Adam] to be alone, and he resolved to make a helper suitable for him. (Genesis 2:18) It’s perfectly normal for humans to desire intimate, personal relationships – both with each other and with their Creator.
The problem is, no business and not even many churches today are honest about why our relationships with God and others so often seem broken. And unless we understand why our relationship with God was ruined in the first place we cannot even begin to appreciate what Jesus came to do or the words before us this morning. It does no good to point the finger at Adam and Eve, the serpent and the forbidden fruit. We can’t blame our parents or our upbringing or our culture. No, the reason you and I don’t have a perfect relationship with God is because we are sinners. Every one of us. But that begs the question: what is sin? The essence of sin is disobedience to God’s holy will. It is doing what we want rather than what God wants. And what does God want? Jesus declared: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40) In other words, God’s will is for us to be focused on himself and others; and to sin is to be bent in on ourselves. To sin is to praise and serve myself instead of praising God and serving other people. Sin is an infectious disease that isolates us from God and from each other. And the wages of sin is eternal death in hell. (Romans 6:23)
But God would not let this situation stand. His love, his very character would not allow his creatures to remain isolated from him. And so, while we were dead in sin, unable to show an ounce of love for God, [He] demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) Jesus spoke these words in the Upper Room on the night he was betrayed and handed over to death. Jesus would leave this room and allow himself to be hung on a cross all to pay for our sins and clear the path for us to have a relationship with God. Everyone who confesses their need for His sacrifice through repentance and trusts it through faith has a restored relationship with God. They – you and I – are, once again, God’s dearly loved children.
And so, when we read these words in John 14 we shouldn’t hear a demand but rather an invitation from the One who suffered hell – total isolation from God’s love – so that we wouldn’t have to. If you love me, you will obey what I command. It’s important to note that Jesus did not say: “If you love me, you will obey what Moses commands.” No. Believers are no longer under the law, but under grace. Jesus did not come to be a new law-giver. Martin Luther explained this well: “Therefore I lay upon you nothing but this, demand and desire only this one thing, that you faithfully preach concerning me, have my word and sacrament laid upon you, and keep love and unity among yourselves for my sake, and suffer with patience whatever on this account comes upon you. These are the brief commandments that are called my commandments; which I lay upon you only as you love me and for my sake do them gladly.”
To be clear, Jesus is not saying that our obedience earns God’s love. God’s love always comes first. (1 John 4:19) God is the sun and we are the moon. We only reflect – often dimly – the love God has shown us in Christ. And yet, even though Jesus has put us back in a perfect relationship with God – we are not able to maintain that relationship on our own. That’s why Jesus goes on: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to 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.
When you fall into sin, when your faith is weak, when you don’t feel close to God – don’t despair, because 53 days after Jesus died for you He sent the Spirit to counsel us in our relationship with God. A counselor is someone who helps you through tough times. The Greek word, Paraclete, literally means advocate. It means that the Holy Spirit stands by our side to testify to us of God’s love for us. That’s why Jesus calls him another Counselor. While Jesus lived with his disciples, he filled that role. He was walking, talking proof of God’s love and grace. Today, we don’t see or speak with Jesus. But we’re not alone. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, as confirmation of God’s love for us.
The world thinks we’re crazy – that maybe we’ve had too much wine – because we can’t prove the Spirit’s presence with reason or put him in a test tube. So where is the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence? Does singing old Lutheran hymns coax him out of hiding? Does he arrive when the usher lights the candles? No. We cannot summon God any more than we can make the sun shine. Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to another invisible force: the wind. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8) So even though we cannot see or grab ahold of the Spirit, Jesus says, we will see the result of his work. Paul explains: No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3) The undeniable proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence doesn’t happen in front of your eyes, but in your heart. If you believe that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man, that he died for your sins and rose to life three days later, the Spirit lives in you because only the Spirit can produce that faith in a human heart.
Why doesn’t everyone who hears the Gospel believe it? Jesus explains that too: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live you also will live. The world doesn’t see Jesus because the world thinks that He is dead and buried – as dead as Moses, Abraham Lincoln and the artist formerly known as Prince. But, by the Spirit’s work, we know and believe the truth: Jesus lives! He lives and he rules all things for our benefit. And because Jesus destroyed death’s power by his own death and resurrection, we know that death has no power over us and we will live with him forever.
But never forget – there is only one way anyone can believe these things – and that is through the work of the Spirit. But if the Spirit is invisible, how can we know where to find Him? Paul explains in Ephesians 1: You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13) Wherever the means of grace are rightly administered – there the Holy Spirit is present and working. And what is he busy doing?
That’s not a mystery either, Jesus tells us: On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Someday, he says, the disciples and the church would realize that Jesus did everything to restore their broken relationship with God. What day is that? Today, the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost has been called the birthday of the Christian church, because on this day Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit to convict of sin and to create faith in Jesus in the hearts of sinners. From that first Pentecost until the end of time, the Spirit is actively working through the means of grace to assure lost sinners that Jesus has done everything necessary to restore you and me and all believers to a loving, personal relationship with God.
And that, finally, brings us full circle: Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. Once again, Jesus is not saying that we have to earn God’s love. Scripture is clear on that. But, Jesus is saying that we grow closer to God as we obey him. To illustrate: Parents, I assume that your love for your children is not based on their obedience to you, right? Of course not. But you love them even more when they show their love to you by listening to you. The same is true here. God loved us before we could ever love him. He proved that by sending his Son to die for us, his natural born enemies. But those who hear God’s Word, repent, trust in Jesus and obey his commandments – those are the people God happily calls his family.
Why spend so much time discussing the person and work of the Spirit? Many churches have turned the person and work of the Holy Spirit into at best, a total mystery, and at worst, just another thing we have to do. Neither of those are Biblical or true. The truth is that Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to comfort us – by reassuring us that Jesus has restored our relationship with God. This does not mean that things will ever be perfect in this life. We won’t be free from sin until God calls us home. But even though we are sinners, we are forgiven sinners – and that is the essence of a relationship with God.
If you ever feel alone and isolated in this world, that’s not your imagination. Sin has isolated us from God and one another. Pentecost means that we are not alone; Jesus has not abandoned us. The Father has given us the Spirit. The Spirit sustains our faith in Christ. Through the Son we are loved by the Father. Through the Gospel, spoken, poured out in Baptism and offered in, with and under the bread and wine, the Spirit proves over and over that Jesus has reunited you in a perfect, loving relationship with the one, true God. Amen.