Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday

John (8:56-59) 10:22-42

For the second time within the space of three months Jesus is in Jerusalem for a festival and he is again found at the temple teaching. The first occasion is recorded in John 8. It was October and Jesus was in the city for the Feast of Booths and was teaching in the Temple treasury. In the context of a discussion about Abraham he made one of his strongest statements yet about his divinity. When questioned as to how he could know anything about Abraham, for Jesus spoke of him as if he knew him personally, he responded by saying; ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’  ‘I am’ was the name that God revealed to Moses when he asked his name. Jesus knew Abraham because before Abraham ever lived, Jesus was the one true and living God, the ‘I am’. And this is certainly how the Jewish authorities and the crowds interpreted him because they picked up stones to stone him (a brutal form of execution practiced at that time, but Jesus slipped away.

Now it is December, early winter, and Jesus is back in Jerusalem for another festival, the Festival of the Dedication of the Temple, known today as Hanukkah. This time he is teaching in a different part of the Temple complex, in the portico or colonnade of Solomon. In effect, it was a massive covered walkway that ran along the entire eastern side of the Temple and could hold at least 30,000 people. So it was a great place for big gatherings, or big speeches.  In today’s text, which takes place in Solomon’s colonnade, we find a very close parallel to what happened during Jesus’ October visit to Jerusalem. Again, he there for a festival, again he is teaching in the Temple, again he is asked about his identity, again he makes a very strong statement about his divinity, again the crowds and authorities take up stones to kill him, and again he somehow slips away.

As we have seen, John likes to revisit themes to make a point. In this second similar story we have the same sequence of events but a more detailed account of what takes place.

A representative of the crowd, likely one of the religious leaders, interrupts Jesus to ask: ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? Just tell us plainly whether you are the Messiah or not.’

Of course, the reader of John’s Gospel will be scratching their head at this request, because Jesus has been telling them plainly who he is from the beginning. And John presents this more clearly than the other Gospels. There is no secret to Jesus’ identity in John’s Gospel.

So we a little amused when Jesus gives the obvious response. ‘I have been telling you, and you do not believe.’ Then Jesus goes on to explain that not only has he told them that he is the promised Messiah, but that he has showed them. He has shown them who is his by his deeds. He has done the things that it was long prophesied the Messiah would do. And while many had begun to believe in him, few among the religious leaders and authorities had – at least not openly.

So Jesus loses patience. He tells them that they have not understood because they are not his sheep. He has just finished telling the story of the shepherd and  the sheep, and how the sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and follow the shepherd. So they would have immediately understood what Jesus was saying to them: that they, the leaders of the people, not only didn’t understand, but never would. Because they did not belong to the Messiah’s flock.

This comment would have made no friends about the religious authorities amongst the crowd gathered around Jesus. But things were about to get worse.

They did not understand that Jesus was the Messiah, even though Jesus had been telling them and showing them plainly. Now Jesus repeats that he is more than simply the Messiah. He is God come to them in human flesh. The last time he had said this to them plainly, during his visit two months earlier, they had tried to kill him. So at this point, everyone knows where this conversation is going. But Jesus goes there nonetheless. No one would be able to say later that he never told them exactly who he was.

‘I and the Father are one,’ he says to them bluntly. It is as clear and bold a statement as what he had said during his exchange with them in October at the Festival of Booths: ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’

Jesus did not leave any doubt as to his true and full identity. The Messiah was never meant to be just a great prophet, or another great king. The gulf between God and humans had become too great to healed by a great prophet or king. Something more was needed, much more. God himself needed to come among his people. And that was the big surprise about identity of the long-awaited Messiah. If the religious leaders had read carefully the texts about the Messiah they would have noticed the time that God said that he himself would come to his people, that he himself would be their shepherd and their king. (For instance, Exekiel 34)

So here is Jesus telling the religious leaders, once more, just who he is. And they respond the same way as they did the last time. And it is important that John records this. In both cases some might say that Jesus never meant to claim to be God. But the reaction of crowds and the authorities show that this is exactly what Jesus meant, and that they understood him very well.

In this account from today’s Gospel text Jesus engages the crowd before he slips away. He stops them, stones in hand, and asks if they can tell him for which of his good deeds, which of his healings, they are going to put him to death. This slows them for a moment, but not long. Soon someone retorts that they are not going to put him to death for any of his miracles, but for claiming to be God.

There is a clear dig here at the religious leaders, for in the previous chapter they were very upset that Jesus had healed a blind man on the wrong day, on the Sabbath. They were even angry at the man who had been born blind. And they wanted to arrest Jesus and put him on trial for his crime. So the truth was that they were, in fact, upset that he was healing people. But they were not about to admit as much in front of a crowd of witnesses. So they jump to the bigger, more serious charge of blasphemy, of claiming to be God.

But Jesus continues to engage them, quoting  Psalm 82:6 that would have been well-known and regularly sung in Temple and synagogue worship. It says that God says to his people, ‘I have called you gods, children of the most high, all of you.’ So if God can call people gods, how can the one who is sent by the Father, and in fact is one and the same as the Father, be accused of blasphemy. Then Jesus reiterates the point he made about his relationship with the Father, explaining further that, ‘the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’

This gave his listeners quite a bit to think about it. And as they were discussing a response, and trying to organise themselves to arrest Jesus, he once again slipped away. And he left the city and went to the countryside, on the other side of the Jordan, officially outside of Israel, to the rural area where John the Baptist had preached. And there many ordinary people believed in him.  So John ends this story with a contrast between the religious leaders and experts gathered in the temple in the capital city, who should be the first to recognise the Messiah when he comes, and the simple people of the country-side who first heard about Jesus from John the Baptist. This contrast not only puts the religious leaders to shame, but it demonstrate that it is neither impossible nor even hard to grasp the truth of who Jesus is and to accept it – that is, for those who had ears to hear, for those who were a part of his flock.

Now, in looking at this account and similar ones, you might be wondering why the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were so reluctant to accept that he was the promised Messiah? It seemed that there was nothing he could so or say that would convince them. Were they not, after all, the ones who made their whole lives and careers out of leading the people as they waited for the Messiah to come?

Well, that was perhaps a big part of the problem. Fyodor Dostoeysky, in a story within a story in his last novel, The Brothers Karamazov, imagines Jesus coming to earth again. But this time to Spain during the period of the Inquisition. Of course, Jesus is arrested and tortured by the Inquisition on behalf of the church that is supposedly waiting for Jesus’ return. Finally the Grand Inquisitor himself comes to meet Jesus. And what he says is a surprise.

‘It is You! … You!’ … Receiving no reply, the Inquisitor rapidly continues: ‘No, do not give an answer; be silent! … And what could you say? … I know but too well your answer…. Besides, you have no right to add one syllable to that which was already uttered by you before…. Why should you now return, to impede us in our work? For you have surely come for that purpose alone. But be aware of what awaits you in the morning? I do not know how or in what from you have returned; but tomorrow I will condemn and burn you on the stake, as the most wicked of all the heretics …’

The Grand Inquisitor in Dostoeysky’s story knows exactly who Jesus is. And that is why Jesus needs to be stopped. His coming again would ruin everything. It would put him and his team and the whole church out of business. So the problem of the Grand Inquisitor isn’t that he doesn’t recognize who Jesus is, but he cannot afford to accept who he is.

I think something similar was a play on the part of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They made much about sharing their peoples’ hope for the coming of the Messiah. But deep down they knew that if the Messiah did actually come, they would be out of business.

Another question that arises from this text has to do with the identity of Jesus. Just who is Jesus, anyway? He is clearly the Messiah, the promised one. But he is also more than that. Remember how John began his Gospel with the big spoiler? ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word came and made his home among us.’ Perhaps we had nearly forgotten this extraordinary claim at the beginning of John’s Gospel, as we became engrossed in the story of Jesus that unfolded. But now, it comes up again. The mystery of the Messiah isn’t just that he is the shepherd and king who comes to rescue the lost of all nations, but he is God in human flesh. God has been walking and serving among his own creation in the person of Jesus. And now Jesus has told the Jewish leaders bluntly, for yet a second time in as many months, who he is.

For the Christian community that was gathered and empowered by the Holy Spirit after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, this required a bit of thought. They had worshiped God as Father, but now Jesus tells them clearly that he himself is the ‘I AM’ who existed before Abraham was born, that he and the Father are one., that they dwell within one another. And then the Spirit of God is sent by the Father and Son (as we saw Jesus explain in last week’s text) on the day of Pentecost.

This led the church to confess that there is indeed only one true God, but that this God has manifested himself to us in three persons who are distinct yet remains one God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This ‘tri-unity’ of Father, Son and Spirit came to be known simply as the Trinity (which is short for tri-unity). It is in large part because of the statement of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, and what we saw of the coming of God’s Spirit when we celebrated Pentecost Sunday last week, that the church came to celebrate on the very next Sunday, the Trinity – the fact that our very complex God comes to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – yet remains one God. A tri-unity of persons.

So Jesus reveals himself plainly as both the Messiah and God in flesh. But the religious leaders cannot understand or accept who he is. But Jesus’ sheep, who he calls and gathers by the power of the Holy Spirit from all the world, hear his voice. We recognise who Jesus is and follow him: Jesus the Messiah, God himself come to us in human flesh to make us one with him.


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

‘The Holy Spirit is all about Jesus’

Pentecost Sunday, 2024
John 14:15-18,25-26; 15:26; 16:5-15

Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the third biggest day on the Christian calendar after Easter and Christmas. But it doesn’t get anywhere near the attention as those two celebrations do. How often, for instance, are you asked if you are going anywhere for Pentecost this year? Or, what you are having for Pentecost dinner?  Doing anything special for Pentecost this next week? 

For one of the big three major Christian festivals, it seems to come in a rather distant third. Perhaps it is because we have always been a bit perplexed about just who the Holy Spirit is and what the Spirit does. The birth of Jesus and his resurrection of the dead are concrete events that we can imagine. But what is the coming of the Spirit? The word ‘spirit’ means breath or wind, and it is God’s breath coming upon us. But how do we portray that? The Spriit of God is referred to early in John’s Gospel by John the Baptist as ‘descending upon Jesus like a dove.’  And so we often use the image of a dove to portray the Spirit. And in Acts 2 the Spirit is said to have descended on the followers of Jesus like tongues of fire. So we sometimes use the image of a flame to portray the Holy Spirit.  But while images of doves and flames give us some useful symbols, they do not tell us much about what the Spirit does. When asked that question, we have to think hard. It is not an easy question for us. And perhaps that is why this important celebration seems a bit subdued compared to Easter and Christmas. How do you celebrate that which cannot be seen – that which cannot be easily understood?

Jesus knew that his disciples would find the coming of the Holy Spirit not just overwhelming, but difficult to understand. We have read the account to that day in Jerusalem, just 10 days after Jesus ascended to the Father, that the Spirit came upon them. It was quite an event. It was a day that none of the disciples could have imagined. And it was a day never to be repeated. Though its impact would echo through the centuries. They disciples were all proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus to the crowds in the city that had gathered from all over the world. And in a literal reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel, everyone suddenly understood them and were convinced they were speaking their own language. It was like something out of science-fiction. Like the Babel fish of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or the Universal Translator of the Star Trek series. Except there was no science fiction back then. So even in their wildest imaginations the disciples could not conceive just what was happening.

That is why Jesus tells them about the Holy Spirit before he leaves them. They are the words John records in the today’s Gospel reading. So when on the day of Pentecost the Spirit came upon the disciples in great force, like tongues of fires, they were able to comprehend the gift that Jesus had given them. They would have recalled and begun to understand what Jesus had told them when he was still physically present with them.

Jesus had not left them.  Jesus was their friend and advocate. The one who was on their side. And now the Holy Spirit would be fulfilling that role on his behalf. The Holy Spirit had come upon them at Jesus’ request and would guide them. He would lead them into truth, remind them of the words of Jesus, would open the hearts and minds of all those whom God would have follow him.

And so they understood that the true power of the Spirit is not the spectacular display on the day of Pentecost. That never happened to the disciples again. That was a miracle of confirmation, to show everyone gathered in the city that the message of Jesus was one of power and truth. The true power of the Spirit is to be found in the simplicity of the Spirit’s task: to remind us of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us. To remain with and in us and to lead us continually to the truth. And what is this truth? For those who have been following John’s Gospel we know the answer already. Jesus is the truth. The Spirit tells us about Jesus, reminds of what Jesus taught, dwells in us as Jesus himself dwells in us, helps us to understand who Jesus is, and helps us to tell the world about Jesus.

When I was going this text in John’s Gospel in preparation for today’s sermon I was struggling to find a good summary of who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit is all about. So my wife read the text and said, ‘It seems to be all about Jesus.’ And then I realised that that was, of course, the point. I was trying to find something new and remarkable about the Holy Spirit from these words, but they simply keep coming back to Jesus. And that is exactly what this text is telling us. That is the true power and the true focus of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not about himself. The Holy Spirit is all about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit comes to point us to Jesus. And perhaps that is why we find it hard to describe just who the Spirit is and what the Spirit does. Because the Holy Spirit doesn’t come to tell us all about who he is and what he is like. The Spirit instead comes to point us to Jesus. If we try to make the Holy Spirit about something other than Jesus, we have missed the point. If we try to make the Holy Spirit into some kind of supreme show master, performing great miracles and signs on demand, we miss the point. If we think the Holy Spirit is all about us, about making us special through some spectacular gift or gifts understood apart from Jesus, we have again missed the point.

We have missed the point because the core of what the Spirit does is greater and more important than any of these things. The main task of the Spirit is more powerful than any of these things. The Spirits lead us continually to Jesus. Look closely at the words Jesus spoke to his disciples about the Spirit. ‘When the Spirit comes he will not speak on his own, but will speak what he hears. He will speak on my behalf,’ and again, ‘the Spirit will glorify me,’ and again, ‘The Spirit will take what is mine and give it to you.’

In fact, Jesus says of the coming of the Spirit that he will not leave us orphaned, but will send us another Advocate. Jesus says that with the coming of the Spirit he himself is coming to us.

So when we think of the Holy Spirit and what the Spirit does and our thoughts should return again and again to Jesus and the power of his message, to the comfort of his presence, to the victory of his death and resurrection. When this happens we are beginning to understand the true power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did not come to us to gain his own following. He is not in competition with the Father and the Son for ‘likes’. He did not come to give us gifts to be used to impress our friends or so we could feel important. The Spirit came to point us to Jesus. He came to give us gifts that would help us to proclaim and serve Jesus.

And that’s why the Holy Spirit is important. That’s why the coming of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the Christian Church. That’s why we celebrate the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. That’s why we recognise the Holy Spirit as the third member of the Trinity, together with eh Father and the Son (more on that next week!).

On the day of Pentecost the Spirit came in spectacular tongues of fire. The Spirit allowed everyone to hear the message about Jesus in their own language. That was the start. But just because we do not see visible tongues of fire today, just because you are not hearing this sermon in your native language, if that is different than English, that does not mean the Spirit is any less active. The Spirt was never about putting on a big show, but simply about helping us to see Jesus.

If you want to know if the Spirit is still active today. If you want to know if the Spirit still works in you today, then think about those times when you have been nudged toward faith when you couldn’t explain why. That’s the Holy Spirit at work.

Think about those times when you have been drawn to the message of Jesus when you weren’t even looking for Jesus. That’s the Holy Spirit at work.

Think about those times you have been led to be in the right place, or to say the right thing, to help someone else understand Jesus. That’s the Holy Spirit at work.

Think about those times when against all natural and more selfish motivations, God has led you down a different path than the one you had wanted to follow. That’s the Holy Spirit at work.

So do not worry if you have trouble explaining exactly what or who the Holy Spirit is. If you understand who Jesus is for you, then the Spirit has already been at work in you and continues to be at work in you.

And may God’s Spirit go with you and continue to comfort you in your faith in Jesus. May God’s Spirit continue to confirm in you the truth of Christ. May God’s Spirit continue to give you the words and courage to tell others about Jesus.


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

“Now you see me, now you don’t”

Ascension Sunday
John 14: 2-3; 19-20; 16:16-24

Have you ever prepared for a big overseas trip? Before you leave a friend, family member or maybe even your travel agent would have sat you down to go over all of the things you need to remember: Passport, warm clothing money in a foreign currency, travel insurance, tickets, advice about where to go and where not to go, etc. You know it is all important, but it can be a bit overwhelming. And you know you will forget much of the advice. But somehow, when the time comes, the information will come back to you, and you will be glad you were told ahead of time what to expect.

In the case of Jesus it is he who will be going away. But he is the one giving advice to his disciples about what to expect when he is with the Father. He is concerned to tell his disciples, during his last meal with them before he would be betrayed and arrested, the things they would need know. And he had many things to tell them. For instance, the importance of serving and loving one another, the fact that he was going to die, and rise again, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and so many other things. Most of these things they would not have understood until later.

One of the things Jesus told his disciples on that night is that he would be leaving them and going to the Father. He was referring to his ascension into Heaven. This last Thursday was Ascension Day. I hope you didn’t forget to celebrate! But don’t worry if you missed it, because today is Ascension Sunday! It is a day on which we remember Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, and recall what Jesus told his disciples.

Jesus said: “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’

It sounds like the opening of an illusionist’s magic trick. “Now you see me, now you don’t!” But this is no magic trick. We will see Jesus, then we will not see him, then we will see him again. And this is because, as Jesus explained to his disciples, he is ‘going to the Father.’

Jesus had said something similar a little earlier in his conversation with the disciples. In John 14:19-20 he said, ‘In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.’

Of course, the disciples wondered what Jesus meant by these words. So they began discussing what Jesus had said among themselves.  Jesus knew what they were talking about so he said to them: ‘Are you discussing what I meant which I said “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me?’

Then to explain his words, Jesus gave the disciples an illustration of a mother in labour (and it is an apt illustration for Mother’s Day!)   Jesus wanted to remind them that sometimes things will be difficult, even painful. But we need to focus on what is coming. Often an expecting mother in the pain of labour will vow never again to go through this. But the moment the baby is born her whole perspective shifts. All the pain has been worthwhile. So for a mother, the birth of a precious new baby is what she has been waiting for, and when the baby is born it makes all the trouble and pain worthwhile.

Now, I am very grateful that Jesus accommodated the theme of Mother’s Day by giving this illustration. But honestly, it doesn’t seem like he answered the disciples’ question about what he meant by ‘in a little while you will no longer see me …’  Have you noticed that Jesus often does that? He is asked one question, but then seems to answer another one altogether.  By this point I think the disciples were used to it. And something they had come to realise was that, upon reflection, Jesus really had answered their question. And this is the same thing here.

The disciples wondered what Jesus meant by ‘a little while.’ They were concerned about literal time. Just how long would Jesus be gone for? And where was he going? These would be the obvious questions any of us would have if a friend said to us that they will be going away for a little while. But Jesus answers the deeper question. The question they should have been asking. That is, what will it be like for us when you have gone? And what will you be doing? The disciples wanted to know about the ‘quantity’ of ‘a little while’. Jesus tells them about the quality of this little while. He tells them what it will mean for them that he will be ascending to the Father. And to do that, he turns to the illustration of a mother giving birth. Everyone can relate to that. Most of us are not mothers. But recent studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of all people have a birth mother. I believe the figure was somewhere around 100%!  So this illustration Jeus used is something we can all relate to. And if we have been lucky enough to know our birth mothers, we were probably told (perhaps on those occasions when we were not showing proper appreciation for our mothers) just how difficult it was to bring us into the world. So we know that giving birth is very difficult. But we also know that as soon as a new baby is born, it is all worthwhile. That is what the expectant mother had been looking forward to for all those months.

Well, Jesus is telling us that that is what it will be like for us. Things will not always be easy for us during this ‘little while’ in which he is away. In fact, they will often be very difficult. But for those of us who follow Jesus, it is his return to us that we wait for – that we are looking forward to. It is Jesus’ return that makes everything worthwhile. It may be hard for us to imagine now, but when that day comes, all the difficulties and pain of this life will seem like nothing in comparison to the joy we will then have.

This is the point of the ascension of Jesus to Heaven. It is not about Jesus being gone from us. It is about where Jesus is now and what he is doing for us now. And that is why we do not commemorate the Ascension as the sad occasion of Jesus leaving us. But we celebrate it as something very positive and exciting.

Jesus explains to his disciples that because he is going the Father, this is a good thing. It means that he is taking up his place again in Heaven. It means we can ask anything of the Father in Jesus’ name.  He tells his disciples to ask that they might receive, and that their joy might be complete.

Jesus is telling his disciples that while it might be difficult not having him with them physically, there are also advantages to his being away. Instead of focusing simply on the fact that Jesus is no longer with us on this earth, he asks us to think about where he is: Jesus is with the Father in the heavenly kingdom. Jesus has not left or abandoned us. He is preparing a place for us. We read in John 14:2-3 that Jesus told his disciples: ‘In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself.’

Because Jesus has ascended to the Father, we know that he is speaking on our behalf, we know that he is preparing a place for us, and we know that he will come again.

The Ascension is not a reminder that Jesus has somehow left us. It is, instead, a reminder of how Jesus is with us now. It is a reminder of what Jesus is doing for us now. And it is a reminder that Jesus will come again to us to take us unto himself.

Happy Ascension Sunday!


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Masquarie.

‘God’s Love Language’

Easter 6

John 14:15-31 (15:9-17)

In 1992 Baptist pastor and relationship counsellor Gary Chapman published a book titled The Five Love Languages. His basic idea was that everyone shows and experiences love differently. It has had a phenomenal success and continues to influence the way people look at how love is expressed between parents and children, couples and friends. It turns out that if someone feels they are loved when they are given gifts, this is how they assume others experience love. So a mother might buy her child gifts, or a husband might buy his wife gifts, thinking this is how they will know that they are loved. But if the other person experiences love through spending quality time with them, the efforts will fall flat and both parties will be left frustrated.

For those unfamiliar with the love languages concept, the five love languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

Of course, everyone appreciates all of these things. But each one of us, according to this approach, has a particular way that someone can best show their love to us.

My wife is really big on the love languages concept. She has given much thought to what the love language of each of our children is. She has given me a copy of the book (on more than one occasion) to read. She said I should work out her love language. Well, I have made a start. For the past forty years I have bought her gifts to show her that I love her. She politely thanks me and the gift disappears into a drawer, is regifted to someone else, or if I am really lucky, ends up somewhere on her dresser top. So I think I can safely cross off ‘receiving gifts’ from the list as her primary love language. Now I’ve just got four more to work through to find the right one!

As you can see, finding someone’s love language can take some effort. It would be easier if she just told me!

But today’s text raises an even more basic question: What is God’s love language.

In other words, how does God show his love for us? And how do we show our love for God?

We find the answer to the first question, how does God show his love for us, in many places in the Bible. But perhaps no where more poignantly than in John 15, the very next chapter after the one we are reading this morning. In fact, for those who were paying close attention – and I know we all were, these were the words we opened our service with this morning: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (v. 13).

Simply put, God shows his love for us by giving his life for us. God shows his love for us by embracing all of our pain and loneliness and brokenness on the cross.

You have to admit, as gestures of love go, its big! And it was entirely unexpected. It’s not the sort of thing a self-respecting deity would do. The gods of the ancient world asked their followers to make sacrifices for them, to give to them. But in Jesus, God turns that idea upside down. God sacrifices himself for us. He gives his life for us. That’s how he showed his love for us.

But how do we respond to such love. How do we show our love to God? Which brings us back to the question: does God have a love language? A way in which we can show God that we love him?

Actually, it turns out that God does have a love language. And he doesn’t make us work it out ourselves. He tells us plainly. And it is described in today’s text.

Out Gospel text today begins with a line about how we show our love to Jesus. Jesus says to his disciples: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ Three more forms of this saying follow. Then the reading finishes with statement about Jesus’ love for the Father, to drive home the point.

If the lines are read out together, without the intervening material, they would form a very nice stanza of Hebrew poetry. In Hebrew poetry, for instance the Psalms, the poem is not built on rhyme or metre, but on the repetition of lines, but each time with a chance of words, reversing the order of the words, or in some other way making the same point in a different way.

So, if these key lines were all read together, like a piece of Hebrew poetry, the stanza would read like this.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (v. 15)

 “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.” (v. 21)

“Those who love me will keep my word.” (v. 23)

“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” (v. 24)

“I do what the Father has commanded so the world knows that I love the Father” (v. 31)

We begin with the key statement. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’

Then the same point is made, but the order of the thought is inverted. That is, it is turned inside out. ‘Those who keep my commandments are those who love me. Together, these two lines form what is called a chiasm. Those who love me keep my commands, those who keep my commands love me.

The third time the thought recurs the word commandment is replaced by ‘word’. ‘Those who love me will keep my word.’ What Jesus commands is what Jesus says, that is, his word. It is another way of saying the same thing, but using a different key word. It is a device any readers familiar with Hebrew thought and Hebrew poetry would have been very familiar with. And they disciples would have certainly understood it. And this line comes with a promise. Jesus says that those who love him, who keep his word, will be loved by the Father. And he and the Father will come and make their home with them. That’s a relationship built entirely on love. We love Jesus because Jesus loved us and gave his life for us. And when we show our love for Jesus, he and the Father come and make their home within us. So just as Jesus and the Father are one, as Jesus has explained earlier to his disciples, now he show how in love we also become one with God.

The fourth line of this sequence keeps the key words of love and word, but now the idea is stated in the negative. ‘The one who does not love me does not keep my words.’ Once again the same point is made, for the fourth time in succession, but in yet a different way.

And in case the disciples have missed the point Jesus is making, he finishes this part of his talk with yet a fifth in this series of parallel statements. And you might think by now he would be running out of ways to say the same thing differently. But Jesus drives home his point by going back to the key words of love and doing what is commanded. But this time he substitutes the Father for himself as the object of the obedience and he himself becomes the subject. Jesus say, ‘I do what the Father has commanded so that the world will see that I love the Father.’

So Jesus is asking us to do as he does. Jesus is asking us to be his disciples by imitating him. Because that’s what disciples do. They watch their teacher and do as he does. Once more in this final talk of Jesus with his disciples during the Last Supper he shows them (and us) the way to show our love for him. Just as he began his talk by setting the example of humility by washing their feet, now he is asking us all to follow his example of love.

So that is the answer to the question of how we show Jesus that we love him. We show our love for Jesus just as he showed his love for the Father, but doing what his Father asked, which was to give his life for us. Now Jesus asks us to show his love for him by doing what he asks.

Jesus’ love language, God’s own love language, is simply this. To do what Jesus has asked or commanded us to do.

Easy? Right?

Oh, but there is a question. And it is the obvious one. You will likely be wondering, just what does Jesus command us to do, in order to show that we love him?

We could try to work this out ourselves. What might God want us to do for him. The ancient world was full of gods and the all wanted the same thing: altars, temples, sacrifices. But Jesus doesn’t call us to show his love for him by building yet more altars and temples. The ancient world had more than enough of these. Jesus doesn’t ask us to show his love for him by building a 90 foot statue of him. He doesn’t ask us to show his love for him by going off on some unholy ‘holy’ war. Jesus doesn’t ask for any of these things.

When Jesus uses the word command repeatedly in this part of his talk, together with the word love, he is reminding his disciples of how he began this talk to them. Just after he washed their feet he asked them to serve one another by following his example. Then he said these well-known words: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone know that you are by disciples, if you love one another.”

These words would have still been echoing in the disciples’ ears when Jesus repeatedly asks them to show their love for him by keeping his commandments, by keeping his word. And this is the one commandment Jesus singles out to say to his disciples before he goes to his death: love each other, just like I have loved you.

And again, in the very next chapter, in case we or the disciples are in any doubt about what Jesus asks of us, he says again: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. … I have given you these commands so that you love one another’ (15:13,17).

No altars. No temples. No 90 foot statues. And certainly no holy wars. These are not God’s love language.

God’s love language is simply that we love each other as God loved us in and through Jesus.

And when we love one another, we are reminded of the One who first loved us. Who showed his love for us by giving his life for us.


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.