When I was a kid, I used to day dream in church. Perhaps it was because I had heard my father's voice from the pulpit so much. Perhaps I just thought I knew it all and didn't need to listen. Whatever it was, I often found my thoughts wandering during the sermon.
Don't mistake my meaning, I wasn't daydreaming about important spiritual things. My daydreaming usually didn't have anything to do with the scripture readings or the sermon theme.
One of my reoccurring daydreams was a what-if scenario. What if (Twilight Zone) all the sudden everyone on the planet disappeared, and mysteriously only I was left to wander the earth. Where would I go? What would I do?
Usually, my planning for this contingency involved visiting all the coolest sporting goods stores for neat gear. And picking out the awesomest vehicle to travel the country in. I'd live off of abandoned supermarkets and convenience store food. Since no one else was around, everything would be mine, right? All those things I could never afford, or wasn't allowed to have - would be mine.
Now, I imagine that if this happened, a kid could be happy for a while. But eventually the novelty of this brand of freedom would wear off. Who would be impressed by all my cool stuff? There would be no one to share in my adventures. No one to talk to. No one to care about. No one to care about me.
Especially in consumer driven America we're led to believe that happiness comes from things we own. Or from experiences we can have, like fun vacation tours or a delicious gourmet meal. But the happiness that comes from these things is temporary. It fades with time. For happiness with a strongrt backbone, we have to look beyond things and experiences. We have to look outside ourselves.
The Bible teaches that fully realized joy comes from reciprocal love. Love that is shared between beings.
Think back to the very beginning. After God had created the universe, in all its natural beauty and sinless perfection, then God created Man. Just one man to begin with. Adam. The world really was his oyster. It was all his to enjoy. God even put Adam into a special garden paradise and told him that he could eat from endless groves of delicious fruit. It was all his for the taking.
But then, God surveyed the whole panorama of creation and came to this conclusion...
"It is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18 ESV).And so God made a companion that Adam could share the world with. His wife, Eve. Fully realized joy comes from reciprocal love. Love that is shared between beings. Now, Man could experience fully realized joy. Man and woman would live in friendship with the Divine Creator, and in with each other.
Of course, we know what happened. The Bible tells us that Mankind severed itself from God by sinning. Man pushed God's love away by sinful disobedience. And from that time on, fully realized joy has been hard to come by, and hard to stay in.
Our sins drive a wedge between us and God, and between us and other people. Like a wet blanket thrown on a fire, our sins dampen and snuff out lasting joy.
And that's where God's Son comes in. God the Son became human in order to remove the wedge of sin, and to introduce us to true joy once again.
Jesus Christ took the sins of Mankind on Himself. He suffered the punishment of our rightly deserved hell on the cross. Jesus now offers free forgiveness to all through His sacrifice.
This is the joy that we find in God's only Son. We are forgiven sinners through Him. Restored once again to a relationship of reciprocal love with our Creator.
In our reading for today, Jesus tells His followers how to remain in this joyful condition. How to keep on experiencing this joy in increasing measure throughout this life, and into eternity.
The key to remaining in Christ, and experiencing lasting joy, is love. Love between Jesus and His follower, and love among Jesus' followers.
John 15:9-17 (ESV)
9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 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. 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. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Obedience to Jesus is not the way to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a free gift from Jesus. It cannot be purchased by our words and actions. Like it says in John 3...
" God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17 ESV).Jesus does NOT say whoever believes AND OBEYS GOD PERFECTLY shall not perish. He just says whoever believes in Christ, whoever trusts in Him for forgiveness is safe.
But after saving faith is kindled in the heart of the sinner, dedication to following Christ's commands certainly plays a role in keeping us in faith. Jesus tells His followers to abide in His love. To remain in His love by following the teaching He has taught them.
You could call this the "attitude of faith". Since we have come to believe that Jesus truly cancelled out our every sin, we now seek to live according to His direction, not according to our old ways of sinful living. The world around us teaches that abandoning sinful ways of living leads to boredom. But Jesus says, "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full". That's not boring.
Jesus had the joy of being the Father's perfect Son. No sin separated Him from the Father. The loving relationship between God the Father and God the Son was one of perfect, reciprocal love. Jesus loved to do his Father's will, and the Father loved to praise His Son for His faithfulness.
Jesus wants us to experience this joy also, and fully. First by knowing that all our sins are washed away, and we stand in a perfect relationship with the Father. Then, Jesus wants us to begin to experience on-going joy through doing the Father's will, just like He did. This on-going backbone of joy becomes ours as we learn to our lives in God's way.
There is a learning curve. That's for sure. As we try to live according to Jesus' every command, we fail at every turn. But at every failure, Jesus is there to pick us up, dust us off, and remind us that, yes, that sin was paid for also. The forgiving love of Christ, expressed on and given through the cross, then moves us to love Him in return. In real, tangible ways.
Christ's love doesn't just move us to love HIM, it also moves us to love EACH OTHER. Let me read again what Jesus told His followers. Verse 12...
"12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 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. 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. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another" (John 15:12-17 ESV).▬
Fully realized joy comes from reciprocal love. But not only between Jesus and His follower. Fully realized joy also comes from reciprocal love AMONG Jesus' followers.
The love shared between the followers of Christ builds up the body of Christ, the church.
Faith is simply trust, wrapped up with love. You can see as much in the words of the thief on the cross. You remember his story right? When Jesus was crucified, there were two other men crucified beside Him. One of these men came to trust in Jesus as His Savior and said,
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42 ESV).
Now, this man didn't say, "Jesus, I love you, remember me when you come into your kingdom", but we can read between the lines there and see that love for Jesus was all wrapped up in this man's faith. Faith is trust, wrapped up with love.
As we Christians continue to trust and love Jesus because of all that He endured in our place, we can then begin to trust each other, and love each other. We are friends of the King! And our King tells us to love each other to the same degree that HE loved US!
As we cultivate trust and love in our fellowship, that relationship can grow out and invite more sinners into Christ's family. Jesus told His followers,
"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..." (John 15:16 ESV).▬
There are a lot of ways to show love to our neighbors, but the way that LASTS is to introduce them to our Savior, and theirs. That is fruit that doesn't fade away. That is fruit that lasts to eternity.
Now, loving Jesus by keeping His commands and loving others with the same dedication that He had to us is a tall order. But Jesus tells us that every time we fail, we have forgiveness to catch us.
In one of his letters, the apostle John told his fellow Christians,
"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2 NIV).And not only that, Jesus assured His followers that God the Father would supply whatever they needed as they moved forward in their faith lives, trying to share the Gospel message with the world. Jesus said, "...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..." (John 15:16 ESV).
That's the promise of a dedicated Father. Whatever you need, I'll provide it. I've chosen you for salvation, and I've chosen you for this ministry of grace. I WILL support your work in my Kingdom.
Now, I'd like to share a little story with you. I heard a preacher use this story as a sermon illustration, and it's a good one. This preacher had a member in his congregation who did some work with Habitat for Humanity. Now, Habitat for Humanity builds houses for people who don't have them.
Now this member was a pretty important contributor to Habitat for Humanity, and so he was invited to an important fund raiser. At this fund raiser, he was seated next to Brad Pitt. Apparently Brad Pitt does work with Habitat for Humanity also. And it's not just a photo op for Pitt. He actually swings a hammer and helps to build houses.
So, this member was led to his seat, and the guy said, "Here, you'll be sitting next to Brad Pitt" and then he went away. So the member sits down next to Pitt and says, "So, you're an actor?".
Pitt replies, "Yep, I'm an actor"
"No, I make movies. Ask one of your grandchildren if they've seen a movie with Brad Pitt, they probably have".
This member had his own business to run, and didn't really pay much attention to movies and magazinea, so, he actually didn't know who Brad Pitt was.
Now, imagine if you went to work for Habitat for Humanity, and Brad Pitt was sent to work with YOU building a house. And Brad Pitt says, "Shoot, I don't have a hammer." What would you do?
Now, if you're fan of Brad Pitt, you'd get him a hammer. You might even give him yours! If he needed lunch, you'd go and get it for him - HE'S BRAD PITT!
The point of the illustration was this: Our service to someone is a function of our admiration of them. In other words, the more you admire someone, the more you are willing to do for them. Our service to someone is a function of our admiration of them.
When it comes to our service to Jesus, we might not feel like we're doing a very good job. After all, we fail to follow Jesus' commands every day. When it comes to service to our fellow Christians, we might not feel like we're doing a good job either. How many times haven't we snapped at our brothers and sisters in Christ? How many times have we assumed the worst instead of putting the best construction on something they've said or done.
When we feel that our service to Christ and Christ's people is pathetic at best, that's when we need to go back to the foot of the cross. Our service to Christ is a function of our admiration for Him. We need to constantly go back to the foot of the cross to grow in our admiration for the Savior who gave everything He had to save us from hell. There at the cross we see just how He loved us first. There at the cross we see how free from sin we are because of Jesus. We are completely free. Forgiven once and forever. In the light of His love, ours will grow. And as it does, the cup of our joy will fill.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for loving us first. Before we ever loved you, you loved us. Thank you. Help us to truly walk in your ways, and to experience true joy in this life, as we walk toward the eternal life in heaven that you have promised is ours by faith in You. Through your Gospel message, increase our admiration for you, and so increase the quality of our service to you, and to our fellow Christians. And help the reciprocal love between you and us, and between us and our fellow Christians to yield a joy which is full. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.