Sermon, The Fourth Sunday after Easter, Cantate, 2015, Gospel, John 16:5-15
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. Thus far the text.
Ostriches are famous for sticking their heads in the sand to feel safe, as if the danger goes away if they can’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind. There is a similar phenomenon with children that I’m sure you’ve seen. When they play a game of “peek-a-boo” they look worried when you cover your face with your hands, but laugh in delight when you open them again and say, “peek-a-boo”. It is as though you really disappeared for a while and have suddenly returned. Something like that happens in hide and seek, with small children. They seem to think that that if they close their eyes you won’t be able to see them.
Or, when a parent steps out the room where a toddler is, the child believes that he or she has completely gone. Learning that someone can be present but not visible is a lesson that children learn as they grow up. And that lesson is what Jesus is teaching His disciples in our text today. Jesus is telling them that even though He is going away to be with the Father, and He will no longer be present to their sight, He won’t be leaving them alone. He will send a Helper and Guide, His Holy Spirit, who will guide them into all truth.
Jesus was going away very soon, going to the Father who sent Him. He was going to be taken away from them that very night by a force of men led by one of their own, Judas Iscariot. He would be crucified, killed, and buried. He knew this would cause them great sorrow, for they would not see Him for three days. But then He would rise again, and their joy would return. He would appear among them for forty days, but He would go back the the Father. Then they would be without Him again. But He said that this was all good, for He would send them the Helper, the Holy Spirit. It was good that He went.
The disciples couldn’t bear that word now. It was beyond their understanding why Jesus, the Son of God, should die on the cross. It defied reason. Why would the God of glory let His Son die such a shameful, inglorious death? Couldn’t He save His people any other way? Why would the Messiah, the descendant of warrior King David, die for His enemies. Why would the Messiah, descendant of wise King Solomon, say such foolishness? It just didn’t make sense.
No, they did not understand. They needed help. But Jesus did not leave His brothers and sisters without help, in their confusion and bewilderment and doubt. And He doesn’t leave us without help either. He gives His Holy Spirit, the Helper, so that we may believe we are not alone, and that God’s Word is trustworthy.
For the Helper first convicts us of our unbelief in the Word of God so that we may see that by our own powers of reasoning we cannot believe the things of God. They are foolishness to us. As Luther says in his explanation to the third article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called my by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
The true faith which Jesus gave the men on the road to Emmaus, opening their eyes to all that had been written about Him in Scripture, the true faith which Jesus gave the disciples in the upper room on Easter evening when He breathed the Holy Spirit on them, the true faith which He gave them on Pentecost, when He set upon them the Holy Spirit in power, making them into bold proclaimers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. They proclaimed the Gospel through the preaching and the writing of the Spirit- breathed Word of God in the books of the New Testament. The Helper continued to convict them when they sinned, and daily led them to repentance, and to trust in God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
Jesus sent His Helper to those poor, sorrowing disciples. But He didn’t stop with them. He is still sending His Helper to you. In your baptism He applied His name to you with water. God now sees you as wearing the righteousness of His own Son. He forgives you all your sins. It is the greatest gift you could ever receive. And being a gift, it’s free. Jesus did it all for you. He took on your flesh, your human body and human soul, lived a human life like yours, with all its temptations, but without sin. He died for you and me when we were His enemies. And God His Father raised Him from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit. Now He promises that resurrection to you. The only thing you do is receive it in faith. And God even gives you that faith. His helper stretches out your hand so that God may fill it with His gifts. His Helper, God the Holy Spirit opens your ears, so that you may hear the inspired, the in-spirited Word and believe. The Helper guides your reason and understanding so that it may serve the Word. The Helper opens your hearts, so that you may love God above all things and your neighbor as ourselves.
The apostles had come to believe in Jesus more and more as they spent time listening to Him and seeing Him work during the time of His earthly ministry. But they didn’t come to a full understanding of Him until He had left their sight. It wasn’t until He sent His Helper and Guide that they came to understand who He was and why He died and rose for them.
This should be a great comfort to us who have never seen Jesus with our eyes. Like the disciples, sorrow often fills our hearts. We see our faith being attacked from all sides. We are told that we are fools to believe in the creation account of the Bible, fools to believe that God worked the miracles of Scripture, that Jesus was actually true God, that the bodily resurrection happened, that sin exists, and that it separates us from God. We are tempted, like every generation from the beginning has been, to modify the testimony of God, tempted to make up our own personal religion that will comfortably accommodate our reason and our favorite sins, tempted to craft a faith will fit in with the culture of the day. But God doesn’t leave us in our temptations, to be swayed like a reed by every current and wind of popular sentiment. He gives us His Helper, His guide in His Word. He shows us where we may find Him, in His Word and Sacrament. And this Word of God is unlike any other Word. It doesn’t just explain. It does. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, it convicts hearts of sin. It convicts hearts and minds of the righteousness of Jesus, our Savior from sin, who ascended to His Father. It convicts us that Jesus will return in judgement.
Yes, God still sends His Helper and Guide. He speaks to you today in the Word sung, spoken, and preached. God still sends you His guide, to lead you to the altar to receive His forgiveness in the eating of His Son’s true body, and the drinking of the Son’s true blood, given and shed for you.
The Word of God is no harder to bear today than it was for the disciples two thousand years ago. It was as countercultural then as it is today. The Greek and Roman philosophers mocked it then in the first century, and our present day atheists and rationalists mock it in the twenty-first. The ruler of this world, the devil, has always hated the Word of God and has always attacked it. But God has the last Word, and the First, Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega. To keep us in the Word, Jesus still gives us His Helper and Guide, in His Church
Every time you receive the Word of the God in faith, the Helper is creating a new heart and a new life in you, a life of light and truth and trust. Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, gives this new life to you in His Word and Sacraments through His Helper. Jesus Christ created you. He redeemed you on the cross, and He gives you new, eternal life through Baptism and hearing the Word in faith. Just as He breathed life into the dust of the earth when He created man, and into the lifeless dust of earthly atoms and molecules when you were conceived, so He will breathe life into you through His Helper in this life. He will come again on the Last Day and will breath glorious resurrected life into your dust one more time and reunite it with your eternal soul. Until then, He gives you His Helper, here in His Word and Sacrament, here, in His church. Here is life, forgiveness of sins, and salvation. For you. Amen.