The following was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Dr. Marty Jacobin's Sermon Delivery class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
God Is With Us
I was recently reading a long article on President Obama’s foreign policy, and something caught my attention as I was reading through the article. There’s a great scene where they’re sitting on a plane in another country, and people are waiting for the President to get off the plane, and the reporter tries to prod him that it might be time to leave, and the President just keeps talking. And what struck me was that relationship, where he could prod the President that maybe it’s time to leave. You don’t get that kind of relationship by standing up in the middle of a White House press conference and demanding up-close and personal access. You get it because the President initiates it and invites you to have it with him.
There’s a fairly obvious analogy to our friendship with God here, and you may well have heard it before. But it rings true. And more than true, in this case: it’s as if the President came and said, “Hey, I’m going to make you a room in the White House. But in the meantime, I’m going to come live with you and share everything I have with you.”
As we read through the passage, look for two things, our two themes for this evening:
- We love and obey God
- God dwells with us
Again: we love and obey God and God dwells with us.
Read with me, starting in verse 15, and on down through verse 31:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And 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.
"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
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." Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
"These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.
I. We love and obey God
Throughout this passage, we see those two themes: we love and obey God, and he dwells with us. And they always seem to come in that order.
Look at verse 15:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father…
Or verse 21:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by the Father…
Or verse 23:
If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.
And by the same token:
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.
Now, our obedience doesn’t bring about the Spirit filling us. Our obedience isn’t why God dwells with us. In fact, it’s Jesus’ obedience to the Father, going to die at the hands of the ruler of this world, down there in verse 30, and his resurrection, which we see in verses 18–20, which make fellowship with God possible.
But clearly, our obedience matters. It’s constantly tied to God’s dwelling with us in this passage. Jesus opens with it because he was talking with people who did love him. This is comfort in the midst of what is about to be a very difficult trial. When they might feel left alone like orphans, and needed to known they were his, and he would come back to them.
So why obedience? Because it is a sign of love. We see that at the end of the passage, in Jesus’ love for the Father and his obedience flowing out of that. And we can see it in our own lives, too. If my daughters are dishonoring their mom by disobeying her, there is something wrong with their love for her. Sometimes when we are talking to or disciplining our three-year-old, we tell her, “Hey, your loves have gotten out of order.” She is loving good things, but in the wrong proportions.
And we all do that. When we don’t obey God, when we don’t keep his commandments, it is precisely because we our loves are disordered or mis-ordered. We love things in the wrong way, or we have love them with the wrong priority. Above all, we love other things more than our Father. Not like Jesus.
What does it look like when we do love God?
- For one, knowing his words. You can’t keep them if you don’t know them!
- Read the Bible
- Talk about what Jesus said with friends and family, just as part of the ordinary course of your day.
- Memorize Scripture, so it’s there in your mind as you go through life.
- Practice daily obedience to his words—not just the flashy, exciting kind, but the ordinary ways we seek holiness.
- Be kind to your neighbors.
- Go to church.
- Love your in-laws well.
- Tell others the good news of all that Jesus has done and will do.
- Help your kids with their homework even when you’d rather be reading, and don’t be grumpy at them.
- Deal with your children graciously, kindly, and patiently, even when disciplining them.
- Give generously to support the church and missions work.
- Give generously to those who are in need, period—to whomever asks.
- Forgive others when they do you wrong.
- Tell others of this great hope and joy!
- Live in community with other believers: be open to correction, and to encouragement—and give the same!
- Repent of your sins, both privately and publicly.
- Serve where there are needs.
- Turn the other cheek and bless those who curse you.
- Do your work whole-heartedly, for the sake of the God who dwells in you, and not for man!
- Be honest and truthful in your financial and professional dealings
And remember, that’s not a list of ways to get into God’s good graces. It’s a list of ways we respond because we are are already in God’s good graces. Those are things we do because we are confident we are loved. We show him our love by our joyful obedience.
But in truth, we find that hard. We need help, dealing our disordered and our mis-ordered loves. We forget that we are loved. We forget that we’re not alone, orphans in a cold world.
II. God Dwells With Us
But we’re not. God dwells with us. That’s the hope, and the help, that we need. God dwells with us.
Look at that question there in the middle: Judas (not Iscariot) asks, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” That’s a good question. And what Jesus does here is take his first answer, and carry it even further out of the realm of what Judas understood then.
Jesus opens this passage, having just told them how he is going to go away to the Father and prepare a place for them, and he says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper” (another advocate, or a friend-in-court, someone to carry you through the trial) “to be with you forever.” The disciples were where, I think, any of us would be in their shoes. Jesus says he’s ‘going to his Father’? What does that mean? Are we going to be alone?
A few weeks ago, I traveled for work, and I ended up being gone for about a week and a half. I have two little girls, and one of them was about nineteen months old then, and she was a wreck after that. For weeks, every time I went near the door—if I so much as went to take out the trash, she would lose it. She didn’t understand where I had gone, or why, or when I was going to come back. And she loves me. She didn’t want me to leave again. She wanted me to be with her.
That’s where the disciples were. It makes sense. That’s why Jesus told them, “I’m not going to leave you as orphans. I will come to you.”
But when Jesus explains how he will come to them: “I will ask, and the Father will send you a Helper, and he will be with you. The world won’t see me, but I will show myself to you,” you can see where Judas’ confusion comes from. Jesus’ answer, and really this whole passage, points us to something…
I can’t fully capture all this passage says. I have wrestled with it for weeks, and there is just so much here. I can’t capture it. Look at verse 23: “If anyone loves me,” Jesus says, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
I can’t give you a summary, but maybe a window, looking at an ocean.
God dwells with us.
God… dwells… with us.
I said “a window on an ocean” because the depths here… More than an ocean, there is a universe of depth here. There are depths here which we will never finish plumbing. We could, for eternity, dive deeper, and deeper into that reality. We will for eternity dive deeper. But we will never exhaust its depths. We will never say, “Oh: that’s how deep the love of God goes; that’s where it stops.” And this mystery? There is more.
God dwells with us.
If you’re a believer, if you love God and keep his commands, this ocean is yours. And friend, listen: if you’re hearing this word and you don’t yet love God—you’re not keeping Jesus’ words—this is what is freely offered to you: in Jesus’ first dwelling with us in the Incarnation; in his life, obeying the Fathers’ plan all the way through to his death on our behalf; in his resurrection; in his asking the Father to send the Spirit—salvation offered freely to you. The God who has always been, the God who exists in eternal love in the Trinity, wants to dwell with you. So turn from your rebellion against God, and love God—and know that you are loved by him!
He promised them they would see him again (in verses 19–20), a pointer to the resurrection. But more than that, we see in his promise of peace, and even in his telling them ahead of time that he was leaving, preparation for the time when he would have ascended. Like now. We don’t see Jesus with these eyes.
But we still need to know we’re not orphans. We still need peace, and not like the world gives it. We need God to be with us.
Imagine there were a way I could tell my little girls, “I’m going away to do some work for you, but even while I’m gone, I will come to you.” Isn’t that what Jesus does here? “I’m going to my Father to prepare a place for you” but now, to your distress about that: “the Father and I will come to you.”
How? “I will ask the Father,” Jesus says in verse 16, “and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, the spirit of Truth… he dwells with you, and will be in you.”
The Spirit of the living God: his breath; our helper, our advocate and friend-in-court; our teacher, who will remind us of everything Jesus said to us, who inspired these Scriptures and now applies them to us; the peace that we need.
Because Jesus didn’t go away and leave them orphans. He didn’t leave us orphans.
God dwells with us, because his Spirit is with us and in us. And just as the Father and the Son are one (as we see both earlier in this chapter, and again here in verses 20 and 24) the Spirit is one with the Father and the Son. They act together, but it’s more than that. The way Jesus talks in this passage: “We will come to him, and make our home with him”; or the way Paul talks in Ephesians: “You are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit”. Where the Spirit is, the Father and the Son are, too.
So when the Father does as the Son asks, and sends us the Spirit to dwell with us, he is giving us himself. We have access in one Spirit to the Father. When someday we are glorified, and heaven has come down to earth, and the dwelling place of God is physically with man, when we can see the risen Lord with our own eyes—
The Spirit will still dwell with us. He is with us forever. He is our union with God. Jesus is in the Father, and we are in him, and he is in us—through the Spirit.
We somehow—again, depths beyond us—we participate, through the Spirit, in the life of God.
He, mystery of mysteries, he wants to dwell with us.
As we close tonight, three things to take away.
Reflect. John wants us to reflect on this mystery: God has made us his home. God dwells with us.
Obey. If we love him, we’re going to obey Jesus’ words. So remember that as we go out from here. Keep his word—not to persuade God to love you, but because he already does love you, because he already dwells with you, because you and I together are his temple and his tabernacle. So keep his word. Demonstrate (like you would to a friend or a child or a spouse, but so much more) that you love him.
Peace. As we go out from here, we might think to say, “God be with you!” But perhaps better, in light of this passage, to say, “God is with you. Go in peace.”