If You Love Me…

15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 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.” – John 14:15-21 ESV

Jesus has been discussing some significant issues with His disciples. As the day for His crucifixion drew closer, He had begun intensifying His efforts to prepare these men for His departure. He wanted them to know what was coming. Jesus knew that His words would make no sense to His disciples, because they were still living with their own concept of who He was and why He had come. To them, He was still the long-awaited Messiah who had come to set up His kingdom on earth. Any hope they had of Israel being restored to prominence and the Romans being removed from power was tied to their concept of Jesus as Messiah.

But everything Jesus was saying and doing in these last days was creating confusion and concern among them. At supper, Jesus had surprised them by assuming the role of a household servant and washing their feet. And He followed this shocking display of humility with the words: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15 ESV).

His call to follow His example was accompanied by the reminder that “a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16 ESV). If He, as their rabbi, teacher, and Messiah, had been willing to humble Himself and serve them, what right did they have to see themselves as somehow exempt from such lowly service? Jesus was sharing important truths with His disciples that He fully expected them to hear and obey.

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” – John 13:17 ESV

Immediately after this exchange, Jesus had revealed that one of them would betray Him. And Judas, having been exposed by the Lord, had left the upper room to follow through with his prearranged plans to turn over Jesus to the religious leaders.

Jesus, knowing that His Father’s divine plan was in full motion and the time for His death was drawing near, told His remaining disciples, “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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV).

Jesus seems to have picked an odd time to discuss this particular topic. He had just told them that His remaining time with them would be short. He would soon be leaving them, and they would be unable to accompany Him to His destination. This shocked and saddened them, and prompted Peter to ask where it was that Jesus was going. And Jesus informed him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward” (John 13:36 ESV). Peter, always quick to speak his mind, declared that not only was he willing to follow Jesus, but he was also ready to lay down his life for Him. But Jesus prophesied that Peter, rather than dying for Him, would actually deny Him, three times.

Do you see a pattern here? Jesus was talking about the future, while the disciples were stuck in the present. They couldn’t see past the moment in which they lived, and yet Jesus was thinking about the glory to come. That’s why He had told them, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once” (John 13:31-32 ESV).

Jesus had been sent by His Father to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind and to make it possible for the justly condemned to be released from their condemnation and restored to a right relationship with Himself. But not only that, Jesus’ act of sacrificial obedience was going make it possible for unrighteous men and women to live truly righteous lives. No pretense. No pretending. No hypocritical displays of self-righteousness. What Jesus was about to do was going to be a game-changer. Better yet, it was going to be a life-changer for His disciples.

It is essential that we understand the timing of Jesus’ words. Everything recorded in this portion of John’s gospel is prior to the cross and long before the resurrection. Jesus was speaking of things to come. And while the news He was sharing sounded grim to His disciples, He encouraged them, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1 ESV). Jesus knew that they were struggling with disbelief and doubt. None of what He was saying made any sense to them. But He called them to believe. He assured them that He was going to prepare a place for them and that one day He would return for them. But Thomas, speaking on behalf of the other disciples, expressed his confusion over where it was that Jesus was going. They didn’t know the way. So, Jesus told him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). 

Notice what Jesus is doing here. Thomas was asking about directions to a destination. and Jesus pointed Him to God. Thomas was focused on a point on a map, but Jesus was pointing Him to a relationship. Thomas couldn’t stop thinking about where, but Jesus was attempting to shift their focus to who. And Jesus reveals a powerful truth concerning these men who had followed Him for more than three years.

“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:7 ESV

They had seen Jesus perform miracles. They had heard Him speak, marveling at His wisdom and wrestling over the meaning of His parables. But Jesus reveals that they had not yet understood His relationship with the Father. While at one point Peter had confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), he had not fully understood the weight of his own words. He had seen Jesus as a messenger from God, even as the long-awaited Christ or Messiah, but he had not understood Jesus to be the one who would reconcile sinful men to God. Peter and the disciples had not yet grasped the true nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But in time, they would.

Jesus was going out of His way to help the disciples understand His relationship with the Father. He asked them, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:10 ESV). Jesus was trying to convey to them the unity He enjoyed with God. His coming had not been about establishing an earthly kingdom, but about re-establishing man’s broken relationship with God. And He wanted them to understand that He was the key to that reconciliation taking place.

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” – John 14:11 ESV

It was His union with the Father that was going to make possible mankind’s reunion with their Creator. The disciples were still under the impression that their relationship with God was perfectly fine. But Jesus was revealing that His whole earthly ministry had been about the reconciliation of sinful men with a holy God.

And that brings us to chapter 14. Look carefully and closely at Jesus words. Consider all that He has communicated to His disciples up to this point. And then think about the import of His statement: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

What a punch to the gut that must have been to His disciples. It had to have sounded like He was questioning their love for Him. And it must have come across to them as if He was tying their love for Him to their obedience to Him. In other words, their behavior, as evidenced by their obedience, would the proof of their love. And sadly, that is how most of still interpret Jesus’ words. We hear Jesus saying that our obedience to His commands will prove that we love Him. And our disobedience will demonstrate that we don’t. But is that what Jesus is saying?

Jesus was letting His disciples know that the kind of obedience He was looking for was beyond their capability to pull off. They didn’t have it within them. But they soon would. Because He was going to provide them with the capacity to love and obey. Don’t miss how Jesus follows up His question, “If you love me…”

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV

Their ability to love God had been marred by sin. Their capacity to obey God had been damaged by the fall. And Jesus had come to remedy that problem. His death was going to be the ultimate display of God’s love for sinful mankind and His selfless sacrifice would be the key for men being able to love in return. Take a look at the words of John, written long after Jesus’ death and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. – 1 John 2:3-6 NLT

Don’t miss what John says: “In him (the one who keeps God’s commandments) truly the love of God is perfected.” It is God’s love for us that allows us to obey. It is God’s love, as displayed in His Son’s sacrificial death, that made it possible for sinful men and women to be transformed into loving, caring children of God, who not only have the capacity to love Him, but one another. And to live in willful obedience to His commands.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:2-3 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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A Different Set of Standard

And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also carpenters and masons who built David a house. And David knew that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel.

And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David. And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet. – 2 Samuel 5:10-16 ESV

Verses 11-12 appear as almost a parenthetical statement, but are intended to provide further proof of David’s increasing control and power over Israel. Hiram, the king of Tyre reigned from 980-947 B.C., so that would mean that his gift of cedar trees, carpenters and masons would have been much later in David’s reign, long after he had established Jerusalem as his capital. But they give evidence of the growing recognition of David as the rightful king of Israel. News of his crowning as king over all of Israel had spread. As we shall see in the next section of this same chapter, even the Philistines had heard the news and would try to do something about it. Only, they would not come bearing gifts or offering to construct David a palace. But more about that tomorrow.

The interesting thing in these verses is the statement that says, “David knew that the Lor had established him as king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:12 ESV). David was fully aware that his reign had been God’s doing, from beginning to end. Every phase of his life, from his original anointing by Samuel up until this moment, had been God’s doing. And David also knew that his ascension to the throne of Israel had not been for his own sake, but for the sake of the people of Israel. He had been made king by God so that he might rule the people of God justly and righteously. He was God’s hand-picked agent, His earthly representative, chosen to care for and protect His people. David fully understood his divine role, later putting his thoughts in words in the form of a psalm:

How the king rejoices in your strength, O Lord!
    He shouts with joy because you give him victory.
For you have given him his heart’s desire;
    you have withheld nothing he requested. Interlude

You welcomed him back with success and prosperity.
    You placed a crown of finest gold on his head.
He asked you to preserve his life,
    and you granted his request.
    The days of his life stretch on forever.
Your victory brings him great honor,
    and you have clothed him with splendor and majesty.
You have endowed him with eternal blessings
    and given him the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord.
    The unfailing love of the Most High will keep him from stumbling. – Psalm 21:1-7 NLT

.And yet, even with David’s awareness of his God-ordained role and his complete dependence upon God’s good favor for his reign to be successful, we see that David still had the capacity to disobey the very One who made his kingship possible. Verse 13 provides a stark reminder that David had a dark side. And it is not something we are to overlook or ignore. The author could have left it out, but under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this less-attractive aspect of David’s life was included. It simply says, “And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David” (2 Samuel 5:13 ESV). It would be easy to read this as just another indication of David’s growing power and significance. For any other king of any other nation, that would probably be an accurate interpretation. Except that David is NOT just another king, and Israel is far from just another nation. David is God’s hand-picked ruler over His chosen people. And as such, David answered to a higher authority and was held to a higher standard. We can’t forget what God had told the people of Israel regarding the day when they asked to have a king.

“The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel. ”– Deuteronomy 17:17-20 NLT

God’s king was not to be like all the other kings. He was to operate according to a different set of standards. What was acceptable and expected for other kings of other nations was not okay for David. Other kings might be able to use their power and authority to justify all kinds of self-satisfying, self-promoting actions, but not David. And yet, we see David continuing to multiply wives for himself, in direct disobedience to the command of God.

The second part of the Deuteronomy passage provides an important element of God’s command for His king. He was to be a man who knew well the words of God. He was to keep it before himself at all times. He was to have the instructions of God read to himself daily. Why? So he would learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. David wasn’t free to approach God’s commands cafeteria-style, choosing those that seemed most attractive and ignoring the ones he didn’t like. He was to obey them ALL. That included God’s commands regarding the taking of many wives. Because God knew that the king’s disobedience to that command would ultimately result in the distancing of the king’s heart from God.

One of the things David failed to recognize was that his reign was setting the standard for future kings. What he did, they would do. Future generations of Israelite kings would follow his lead and many would take his small acts of disobedience and magnify them. What David did in moderation, his heirs would do to excess. Even David’s construction of a personal palace, with the help of King Hiram, would prove to set a precedence for future kings and God would have strong words them.

And the Lord says, “What sorrow awaits Jehoiakim,
    who builds his palace with forced labor.
He builds injustice into its walls,
    for he makes his neighbors work for nothing.
    He does not pay them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build a magnificent palace
    with huge rooms and many windows.
I will panel it throughout with fragrant cedar
    and paint it a lovely red.’
But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king!
    Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink.
But he was just and right in all his dealings.
    That is why God blessed him.
He gave justice and help to the poor and needy,
    and everything went well for him.
Isn’t that what it means to know me?”
    says the Lord.
“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty!
    You murder the innocent,
    oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.” – Jeremiah 22:13-17 NLT

David’s reign was in its early stages, and each and every step he took and decision he made at this early juncture would prove to be critical. His decisions would have long-term ramifications. Even reading the list of sons born to him by his growing harem of wives indicate that David’s actions had future implications. There, nestled discretely in the list of sons is the name of Solomon, the very one who would follow David as king of Israel. And he would prove to be his father’s son, in more ways than one.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 ESV

David was God’s king. But he didn’t always rule God’s way. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am God’s son, His heir, but that doesn’t mean I always live like one. Obedience is the true mark of sonship. Fearing God begins with obeying God. Even Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15 NLT). The apostle John took it a step further, writing, “And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments” (1 John 2:3 NLT). The greatest proof of David’s love for God would be found in his obedience to the commands of God. And the same thing holds true for us today. Love without obedience is hypocrisy. Claiming to love God while continuing to disobey God reflect a love of self, not a love of God. And every one of us, just like David, face this danger every day of our lives.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson