Scripture Text: John 15:12-17
Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It is a day for many to have cook outs and spend time with family and friends. But, it is really a time for us us to remember those who gave all they had for us to have our freedom. That does not mean just giving up their freedom to serve or giving up some material possessions for us to had something. Many gave their very lives for us to have the freedom and security we enjoy. As followers of Jesus Christ, we ought to be able to relate to this. Our faith is based on Jesus giving everything He had so that we would have freedom. Our freedom is not from a human dictator or some oppressive government. Our freedom us from sin and death. Jesus gave all so that we would be free from sin and its deadly consequences. Jesus gave His life to give us freedom because God loved us so much. In this passage, we see a commandment to love, a specific category of love, a companionship resulting from that love, and a charge to produce something out of the love we have for Jesus and for each other.
The Commandment to Love
Love is the distinguishing mark of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus said that if you are His disciple, it will be demonstrated by a love for each other. This should not be hard to believe. Throughout scripture, we are reminded of the importance of love. God devoted an entire chapter in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians about love. In this passage, Jesus commanded His disciples to love. In fact, this commandment was so important, not that anything Jesus said was not important, but Jesus said it twice here. Perhaps He wanted us to really pay attention to this. Look at the following two verses.
John 15:12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
John 15:17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
This section of John’s Gospel account is wrapped in a commandment to love one another. The opening and concluding statements are intended to be bookends that hold together the statements between them. Jesus’ command to love others was not new. If fact, He mentioned it earlier in the Gospel According to John. Jesus had also declared earlier the two greatest commandments: love God and love others. Therefore, to love others was not a new commend, but there was something new about the way Jesus described this love. The newness of this command was found in the way this love was to be expressed. Jesus’ disciples were to love one another just as Jesus had loved them. We are to love each another just as Jesus has loved us.
There are people in God’s church who either do not love each other or at least do not demonstrate that love to one another. How is that possible? How do we follow Jesus, who loved us so much to die for us, and then disobey Him by refusing to love others? How do we follow Jesus and refuse to obey this most important commandment from our Lord? We must love one another as Jesus loves us. Jesus is the example we must follow! In light of Jesus’ subsequent death, just as implies a love that is willing to lay down one’s life for another, which brings us to the next verse.
The Category of Love
There are different categories of love. For instance, the love that a soldier has for his country is different from the love he may have for individuals. The love that you may have for a friend will be different from the love you have for your spouse. Likewise, the love you have for your spouse will be different from the love you have for your children. What is the love that Jesus was commanding His disciples to have? It is a love that He had for them. It is a sacrificial love. It is a love that is willing to lay our lives down for others. The model for this type of love is Jesus, who gave His life so that we would not have to give up our lives. Look at the following verse.
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
The brave men and women who serve in the military love their country so much that they are willing to die for it. These brave individuals, along with police officers, firemen and other public servants, put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us. Jesus said that there is no greater love than to die for one’s friends. Some object to Jesus saying that this is the greatest love, to lay your life down for a friend. They say that surely a greater love is to die for your enemies. Jesus is not setting out a comparison between love for friends and love for enemies. In this context, Jesus is addressing His friends, but before becoming His friends, they were enemies of God, just like every person who is separated from God because of sin. There is no love greater than that of one who lays down his life for others. Anything else must be less. This is the supreme test of love. This category of love refers primarily to the love Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Jesus gave His life for His friends to live.
If we love, in the sense in which Jesus loves us, we need no other rule. This love gives, and it gives everything. Sacrificial love like this is putting our own desires aside. This love means denying ourselves for the sake of others. How much do you love other people? Are you willing to put aside your own desires for the sake of others? How much do you love Jesus? Are you willing to lay aside your own desire for His will to be done? How much do you love each other? How much do you love the church? Will you put aside your own desires to see something that you do not necessary want to happen? That is a sacrificial love and it is a love we ought to have. The love we ought to have is a love that says “Thy will be done” and “Do whatever you want, Lord”, without any ifs, ands, or buts. Do you love the Lord like that?
Having Companionship with Jesus
Knowing that Jesus loves you and commands you to love others, what is your relationship with Jesus like? Do you have a relationship with Jesus? Do you know Him personally and do you have an intimate relationship with Him? It is common to refer to Jesus as Lord and Savior. That is correct, in fact, we are told to confess Christ as Lord to receive salvation (Romans 10:9). Something happens, however, when we confess Christ as Lord. Our relationship with Jesus changes. Look at the following verses.
John 15:14-15 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 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.
When we confess Jesus as Lord, we become His friends. What does this imply? To be friends of Jesus implies a extraordinary level of personal interaction with the One who is also the eternal, omnipotent Creator of the universe. This is a special privilege. In the Old Testament, only Abraham and by implication Moses were called “friends of God.” Here Jesus extends this privilege to all obedient believers. This obedience is not what makes them friends, though. It is what characterizes His friends. The true test of friendship with Christ is obedience. Once again obedience is the test of discipleship. The friends of Jesus are those who habitually obey him. What did Jesus command here? He commanded His disciples to love one another as He had loved them. Therefore, we show our friendship with Christ by demonstrating sacrificial love to one another. It is not for a servant to know the purposes of His master. His task is simply to do what he is told. But this is not the pattern of relationship between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus has called us “friends.” He has kept nothing back from us. He has revealed to us all that the Father has made known to Him. Jesus is still Lord of all, but the relationship has been altered for His disciples.
A Charge to Bear Fruit
Having this special relationship with Jesus, what does it mean for us? In other words, why does God save people? Why did Jesus die for you? Some think of their salvation as just a forgiveness of sin and a privilege to live forever in heaven. Indeed, those are true and important aspects of our salvation; however, Jesus revealed in this passage a different reason for having a right relationship with God. It has to do with being productive. Look at the following verse.
John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
That you should go and bear fruit implies that the purpose of Christ’s befriending people is not merely that their sins be forgiven and they have eternal life, but also that their lives be fruitful and productive in fulfilling God’s purposes. The first thing we ought to realize about our relationship with Jesus is who initiated it. The relationship we have with Jesus does not happen because we chose it. Based on this passage, it was given to us because we were chosen by Jesus. The second thing we should notice about our friendship with Jesus is why He chose us to be His friends. The why is important! Jesus chose us to be His friends so that we would bear fruit for Him. God calls us into fellowship with Him in order to produce something. It is to spread the good news of salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to others.
This verse is tied to an earlier statement in this chapter where Jesus said that He is the True Vine and we must abide in Him. We can only bear fruit while abiding, remaining in Jesus. Branches cannot bear fruit apart from the vine. If you cut a branch from the vine, which supports it and gives it sustenance, the branch will not only cease to bear fruit, it will die. So it is with the church. If a church ceases to remain in Christ, it too will cease to bear fruit and it will die. Therefore, are we abiding in Christ? Are we remaining in Him, surrendering to Him, drawing every thing in life from Jesus? We will only be fruitful if we remain in Jesus. We will not be productive by our own power.
Notice in this passage the emphasis on going and bearing fruit. You will not reap spiritual rewards by remaining complacent, by sitting still, by doing nothing, by not serving Jesus. The emphasis on going and bearing fruit probably means fruit that emerges from being on mission for Jesus. This fruit comes from being sent by Jesus to share the Gospel. In short, this fruit is new converts. One purpose of becoming a friend of Jesus is to share the Gospel of love with others — fruit that will last. Again, Jesus’ statement about bearing fruit should be understood in the context of His command to love one another. If we truly love Jesus and each other, we will be willing to do whatever it takes to see more people come to know Jesus and to see God’s church expand and impact the world around us. What will it take for us to bear fruit? What do we need to give up or to do to see God’s church bearing fruit?
In closing, we see in this passage the importance of love. Jesus commanded us to love each other. We also see the specific kind of love we ought to have. It is a sacrificial love that is willing to die for others, just as Jesus died for us. We also see the effect of God’s love for us in that we are now friends of Jesus. And lastly, we see the purpose of loving like Jesus and becoming His friends. It is to bear fruit for Him, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who do not yet know Him. It is making disciples for Jesus. This is a friend’s love. It is obeying Jesus to love one another just as He loved us and sharing the message of hope and love with others. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
What are some incredible events in history? Perhaps they would be things that are so unique or so impactful that we remember them very well? The Jewish exodus from Egypt. Luther nailing his 95 Theses. The discovery of America. The Normandy invasion of WWII. The Apollo landing on the moon. 9-1-1. These events, and so many more, were important and unique. They were things that changed the course of human history. In this passage, we read about another incredible event that changed the history of mankind. We could say that this event was the most important one of all. In fact, our faith would be useless if it were not for this event (1 Corinthians 15:14). It was an awesome event! It not only brought great awe, but also great fear. There was an earthquake. There was an angel from heaven. There was a massive stone weighing one to two tons that was moved by one person. Then there was a tomb, but not just any tomb. Something was missing from the tomb. The body of Jesus, who was killed days before and laid in this tomb, was missing. The dead, lifeless body of Jesus was gone. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was unique and it changed everything.
The Resurrection Allays Our Fears
People fear so many things. Will I get that job? Will I be able to pay the bills? Will I make it safely to where I am going? Will this sickness go away or get worse? Will I die? We are often controlled by our own fears. What happened at the resurrection was enough to scare anyone. There was much to be afraid of at the resurrection. An earthquake. An angel. A walking corpse. Those things would probably scare anyone. However, one big thing the resurrection of Jesus does for us is it encourages us and it gives us hope. It should remove any fear we have. In fact, twice in this passage, the women at the tomb were told to not be afraid. Let us look at verses four and five.
Matthew 28:4–5 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.”
What just happened caused great fear to overcome the guards at the tomb. These guards were most likely battled hardened soldiers. Not much probably scared them. They had probably seen a lot of things that would put fear in them, but they had never seen anything like this. Perhaps it was the appearance of an angel, as angels often elicited fear in those who saw them. Perhaps it was seeing a dead man walking. Whatever it was, these men became like dead men. It is quiet ironic that the soldiers who were there to guard a dead man, became like dead men when the dead man came to life and walked out of the tomb. The dead came to life and the living became like dead men. This just shows that the Roman guards and the imperial seal that was on the stone covering the entrance of the tomb were unable to stop the resurrection of Jesus. It was going to happen no matter what those opposed to it tried to do.
The women were a different story. Surely they were afraid, too. Who would not be afraid of such an awesome sight. However, the angel turned to the women, and told them to not be afraid. There was no reason to have fear, in fact, there was every reason to have hope. The resurrection of Jesus Christ removes our fear of the greatest enemy of all – death. Through the resurrection, death has been defeated. Because Jesus rose from the dead, those who believe in Him and follow Him will also rise from the dead one day. Death has no hold on us anymore. The resurrection gives us hope. But, some people do not live in the hope and comfort of the resurrection. Some people stop at the cross of Christ. They know the despair, the agony, and the death of our Savior. They know the price that God paid to purchase our salvation. But, they do not go any further than that. They do not reach the empty tomb. They live in despair and fear. But we should not. Because of the resurrection of Christ, we do not have to fear death or anything else any longer. If Jesus conquered death, then surely He has conquered all other enemies and things that we fear. If you are in Christ, there is nothing to fear in life or in death.
The Resurrection Demands A Response
After comforting the women, the angel then invited them to see the empty tomb for themselves. No doubt seeing an angel sitting on a massive stone was enough to stir any unbelief Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had about the resurrection. But, the angel wanted to prove it to them. The stone was rolled aside, not to let Jesus out of the tomb, but to show the women that the tomb was empty because the resurrection had already occurred. The angel invited them to see the empty tomb. Look at the next verse.
Matthew 28:6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
Notice the clear, concise statement the angel made – He is not here. He has risen, just as He said. Notice that the angel told the women that Jesus had already said that He was going to be resurrected. Like many things, the disciples were slow to believe the things Jesus said. Of course, not too many people come back from the dead. There were Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter, but other than that, it was fairly uncommon. God invites people to come and see the empty tomb. God invites people to experience the love and grace He offers. God invites people to receive the comfort and hope of the resurrection. If, once we experience the resurrection of Jesus, once we see the risen Lord and Savior, what then? How should we then respond? What would your response be if you found Jesus that Sunday morning after the resurrection? How would you react? People naturally respond to it. Some deny it. Others choose to believe it does not matter. The appropriate response to the resurrection is to worship God. When the women left the angel and found Jesus, they worshipped Him. Look at the verse below.
Matthew 28:9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
When Jesus met the women, He greeted them. Then they came to Him. They took hold of His feet, which shows that this was no mere vision or hallucination. This was a real person. This was a physical resurrection of someone who was once dead. Then they worshipped Him. They fell down before Him and praised Him. This is similar to the response the disciples had later when they found Jesus on the mount, when He gave them the Great Commission (Matthew 28:17). All of the disciples fell down before Jesus and worshipped Him. It is the correct response. By allowing this act of worship, here and later on the mountain, Jesus accepts the acknowledgment of being God, as only God is to be worshiped. The resurrection shows us that Jesus has authority over life and death. It shows us that Jesus has authority over sin and Satan. Jesus has authority over you and me. The only appropriate response to Jesus is to worship Him. Does the resurrection compel you to worship Jesus?
The Resurrection Compels Us to Go and Tell
It used to be that people just knew about Jesus. People knew about Christmas and Easter and what those days really meant. People knew where the church was and when to meet. People just knew about these things and expected these things. Christians did not expect to have to tell anyone who Jesus was. Some still feel this way, even though there are so many around us who do not know Jesus or the hope of the resurrection. In a way, assuming that people really knew about Jesus made those who did know Him complacent. Instead of going into the highways and byways, they expected people to come to them. Believers assume that if people want to know about Jesus, then they know where the church is. That is not how God intended us to live our Christian lives. It never has been. Some may say that we talk too much about telling others about Jesus, or that we emphasize it too much. Maybe we talk so much about it because God has said so much about it. Even in the resurrection story, God tells us to go and tell. First the angel told the women to go and tell the disciples, and then Jesus told them the same. Look at the following.
Matthew 28:7–8 7 “Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
The angel did not invite the women to see the empty tomb and rest in the knowledge that Jesus was alive. They could have done that. They could have been comforted by the resurrection and even comforted by meeting and knowing Jesus and live the rest of their lives safe and secure in that knowledge. They could have forgotten everyone else who would have wanted to know this great thing that had happened, or would have needed the same comfort and assurance that they now had. But that was not God’s plan. He changes our lives so that we can share that awesome experience and hope with others. So, the angel told the women to go and tell others. They were the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the first ones to share the good news. This was unusual for the time, as women were considered unreliable witnesses, but God chose to use them anyway. When they left the tomb on the way to tell the other disciples, with fear and great joy, they met Jesus on the way. Then Jesus told them as well to go and tell others. Look at the following verse.
Matthew 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
First, Jesus had to remind them to not be afraid. The women were still afraid of what had happened. Like the great Comforter that He is, Jesus dispelled their fear. The resurrection was not something to fear, but something to rejoice. It removes our fear. And then Jesus told Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to go and tell the other disciples. This is almost the same thing Jesus told all of His disciples at the end of the chapter. When the disciples met Jesus on the mountain later in the chapter, Jesus gave them and all of us the ultimate go and tell command. He gave them the Great Commission, or the Great Command. He told them to go and make disciples of all nations. Except there, Jesus expected that His disciples would be going and telling (Matthew 28:19-20). There is an expectation that the church is going to others, and as we are going, we are making disciples. The charge of the resurrection is to tell the good news of great hope that we have in Jesus. What will you do with the resurrection of Jesus? Will others know about the peace, joy and hope you have? May it be!
Although often relegated to Easter Sunday, one Sunday a year, the resurrection of Jesus is the heart of the Christian message. Without it, our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14). Because Jesus is alive forevermore, we have the promise of new, abundant life in Him. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no resurrection and no reward of His people. There would be no hope of life beyond the grave. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no Savior, since Jesus would have been a deluded liar instead of an exalted Lord. There would be no reason to worship Him. Without the resurrection of Jesus, there would be no church, for it was the resurrection of Jesus that turned His deserters back into His disciples. The resurrection of Jesus is everything. It is the most significant event in human history. So, have no fear, Jesus lives. Jesus gives hope. Make certain others know the Gospel by telling them clearly the story. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.