This is the sermon I ‘m preaching on Sunday, May 17, 2009. I hope your Sunday is a glorious one!
The New Commandment
9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.
Remaining In Jesus’ Love
Last week we explored the idea of abiding in the Vine, from the lectionary passage from last Sunday, John 15:1-8. We discovered that abiding in the Vine meant abiding in Jesus, or remaining in Jesus. We also looked forward into the passage for this week and discovered that abiding in Jesus meant abiding or remaining in his love. Jesus explained that we remain in his love by obeying his commands, which is the statement he makes in this week’s scripture lesson.
We also noted last week that the commandment of Jesus, which we are to obey, is to love one another. Jesus, of course, was speaking to the disciples, but he did not limit this love to those within the disciple band. He did not mean for the 12 to form a circle, join hands and sing Kumbaya. He meant for them to abide in Jesus’ love by obeying his command, his new command, which was to love each other. That love would produce fruit, a result, a tangible by-product that would be obvious to both those who were acting in loving ways, and those who were being loved.
But this idea of remaining in Jesus’ love bears closer examination. For while it sounds like an easy and obvious thing to do, let’s look at it more closely.
You Can’t Stay Where You’ve Never Been
The first and most obvious point I want us to consider today is that you can’t stay where you’ve never been. In other words, you can’t remain in Jesus’ love if you’ve never received that love yourself. Jesus was talking to his closest followers, the 12. He had called each one walking by the sea shore, or strolling by the tax collector’s booth, or from other settings now lost to us. But he had called each one personally.
To Peter, Andrew, James, and John, he had called to them while they were mending fishing nets. Right in the middle of making a living, of carrying on the family tradition involving boats and nets and hard work and fish, Jesus called them to leave what they were doing and follow him. And they did.
To Matthew, Jesus called while Matthew was seated at the tax collector’s table, extracting painful sums of money from his neighbors. Some of the money Matthew could keep, most would be passed on to the Judean government, and then to Rome. Matthew, we are told, left the table of the tax collector to follow Jesus.
For many of the other disciples we have only legend, or no record of the circumstances from which they came. Judas, of course, is the most mysterious of all. And yet even Judas had personally been asked, and had personally accepted the invitation issued by Jesus to Judas. “Come and follow me.”
So each of these disciples to whom Jesus now speaks has made the decision to follow Christ. At first, they must have wondered what they had gotten themselves into. They had followed this Nazarene, this self-styled prophet from the wrong side of the tracks — if they had had tracks back then — and had spent almost the entirety of three years with him.
While some might have followed him at first out of curiosity, or political ambition, or nationalistic fervor as Simon the Zealot might have, during this three years something has happened to them.
They have watched Jesus perform wondrous signs and miracles, confirming that the kingdom of God is indeed very close. They have seen lives changed, heard strange new interpretations of Levitical law, and have witnessed Jesus weeping at a friend’s death, weeping over the city of Jerusalem, and struggling to present the invitation of the kingdom to God’s people.
They have seen Jesus rejected, ridiculed, targeted by the religious elite of their day. But they have also seen little children, old people, sick people, poor people, hungry people, and hopeless people as they are drawn to Jesus in a mysteriously wonderful way.
So when Jesus tells them to remain in his love, they know what that feels like, what it looks like, what happens when that divine love is revealed. When the love of Jesus is apparent the sick are healed, the dead are raised, the hungry are fed, the blind can see, the lame can walk. When the love of Jesus is revealed the multitudes are fed with one small lunch and 12 basketfulls are collected one for each disciple, to remind them that in the Kingdom of God there is always an abundance.
All but one will remain in Jesus’ love by being obedient to him. Judas, of course, will not. Judas will depart from Christ’s love, but Judas had at least been there once.
But Jesus command to remain in his love reminds us that we cannot stay where we have never been. So, the first thing we must ask ourselves today is, “Have I made the choice to follow Jesus, to experience his love.”
That choice is still a personal choice. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” Jesus still calls people today. He still offers the opportunity to walk with him, to follow him, to obey his commands.
In the first century, not everyone who had the opportunity to follow Jesus took it. I’m thinking especially of the man I first learned of as a child, called “the rich young ruler.” Apparently this man had everything going for him — youth, wealth, and spiritual sensitivity. He was a seeker. And so he came to Jesus asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “Keep the law.” The rich young ruler said, “I’ve done that. What else?” Then Jesus’ invitation to him was striking — “I’m inviting you to give all you have to the poor and come and follow me.”
Because Jesus knew wealth stood in the young man’s way. Wealth was the barrier to following Jesus. Wealth would keep him from Christ. And it did. So, this young man, this rich young ruler, cannot abide in the love of Christ, because he’s never been there to start with.
The invitation still comes today. It is not an invitation to join the church, although that is one result of following Christ. It is not the invitation to be baptized, although that is another result of following Christ. No, the invitation is to follow Christ, the son of the living God, as Peter confessed. To follow Jesus not just to the wedding at Cana where he performs his first miracle. To follow Jesus not just to the hill upon which the Sermon on the Mount is preached, or the valley in which 5,000 are fed. There were many who followed Jesus when food was free, or healing was available. No, the invitation is to follow Jesus to the Garden where he prays “Not my will but thine be done.”
The invitation is to follow Jesus to the passover supper, where he breaks bread and pours wine and says, “This is my body broken for you, this is my blog shed for you.”
The invitation is to follow Jesus out into the night. To stand with him while Judas betrays him, to protest when the high priest’s guards seize him. To follow Jesus to the headquarters of the religious court, then to Pilate’s hall, then to the scourging and mocking of the Roman soldiers.
The invitation is to follow Jesus as Simon of Cyrene does, who then carries the cross for a bruised and bloodied Jesus. The invitation is to follow Jesus up Calvary’s mountain “one dreadful morn” as the hymn writer says. The invitation is to stand at the foot of the cross, to be the trusted companion to whom Jesus commends his own mother. The invitation is to weep at the death of Jesus, the king of the Jews. To beg for his body, to anoint it for burial. The invitation is to witness his death in our place.
But the invitation is also to follow him to the tomb. To lose all hope, to despair for life itself. But there is one more place to follow him, and that is on the morning of his resurrection. To follow him to the tomb, where the stone is rolled away, where angels rejoice, from which the empire of Rome has fled in fear. To follow Jesus into a new era, an era where death has given way to life, where hopelessness has been replaced with hope, where Satan has been defeated, where the evil empire has seen the worst it can do sloughed off like yesterday’s clothes.
The invitation is to follow Jesus — the Lord of the universe — as he walks the path that love has plotted. A path that saves the world God so loved.
No, we cannot stay where we have never been, so we must be sure we have said, Yes to Jesus. What would the rich young ruler have said, if he had been at the empty tomb? Would he have realized that all the wealth in the world would have been a small price to pay for life eternal? Would he have then gladly given all he had to the poor, and followed Jesus? But you can’t stay where you’ve never been.
You Stay in Jesus’ Love By Living for Others
This week Debbie and I were at The Cove, the Billy Graham Training Center near Asheville, North Carolina. I had heard of The Cove for years, had passed the sign at exit 55 on I-40 just outside of Asheville numerous times in trips back and forth to Tennessee, but I had never been there. Tom Bledsoe, who for 39 years had been director of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, asked me to lead two seminars during the week.
We arrived on Monday evening in time for the evening worship service where Dr. Robert Smith preached a powerful sermon about Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. By the time that service was over, I knew we were in for a treat.
The next day the guest speakers for the week gathered for a special luncheon in a separate dining room. Cliff Barrows and his wife joined us for lunch that day, and Debbie and I sat across a rather large table from them. But that night we had the privilege of eating at the same table with the Barrows in the magnificent dining room with walls of glass overlooking the majestic Blue Ridge mountains.
Cliff Barrows is 86, and macular degeneration has taken most of his eyesight. As we sat down, he said, “I know somebody’s over there, but I can’t see who it is.” His wife Ann, said, “It’s the Warnocks, we ate across the table from them at lunch.” We, of course, introduced ourselves and enjoyed the pleasure of eating with them and several Billy Graham Association staff members as well.
Of course, you remember that Cliff Barrows was the voice of the Billy Graham Crusades. He not only led the mass choir each evening, but he would introduce Billy Graham both during the crusades, and on the radio and TV programs that the Billy Graham association produced. Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea — who is 100, and Billy Graham, who is 90, started their ministry together and stayed together for all of these years.
At the table that evening, Cliff Barrows commented that he was going to speak the next evening on “How we got together, how we stayed together, and when we’re going to quit.” But then he began to tell a story that I found fascinating.
Cliff Barrows said that in 1948, the team was conducting a crusade near his hometown of Modesto, California. By then, they had become pretty well-known, although the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has not been set up yet. They were still ministering under the Youth for Christ organization, and had not yet conducted the Los Angeles Crusade which would be extended again and again until it ran for six weeks. That was the crusade that brought the team to national attention, and got the nation talking about this young man, Billy Graham.
But even then, Cliff Barrows said that Bill, as he calls him, was concerned that their ministry not get caught up in the problems and scandals that plagued other evangelists. So, Billy Graham had asked each team member — Cliff and Bev Shea — to write down the issues they thought they would face, and how they should deal with them.
Cliff Barrows said the next morning they all met and compared notes. Each man had written the same four items. They were:
- To be men of integrity.
- To live lives of purity.
- To be accountable to God and others, including each other.
- To live with humility.
Mr. Barrows said they then prayed over these four items, asking God for guidance and confirmation, and upon ending their prayer agreed that these would be the four principles that would guide their ministry from that point on.
Cliff Barrows said he suggested they call their agreement “The Modesto Manifesto.” The name stuck and those principles governed the way they lived their personal lives, and conducted their ministry from that point forward.
Sixty-plus years, 419 crusades, 210-million people, and over 2-million professions of faith later, the principles still hold. Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows, and George Beverly Shea decided to live their lives for others, obeying Jesus, abiding in his love. And as a result of that, they did indeed bear much fruit.
So, this morning, there are two very simple questions we need to ask ourselves:
“Have I decided to follow Jesus and remain in his love?”
And, “Am I living for others as an expression of that love?”
That’s it. God will take care of the fruit. Jesus said,
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.