Sermon, Exaudi, 2017, the Seventh Week of Easter.
Gospel, St. John 15: 26-16:4
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
16 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (John 15: 26-16:4, ESV)
This Gospel reading for the Sunday after Ascension and the Sunday before the feast of Pentecost continues the readings from the Gospel of St. John which show us Jesus preparing the apostles for the time when He would leave them, first in the three days in the tomb, then when He would ascend to His Father in heaven to rule in glory over all creation. Of course He would never truly leave them, as He promised to be with them to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) But He would not be with them in same way He had before, by sight. Now He would be with them, but they would know HIs presence by faith, by faith in His Word of promise. Jesus would not leave them to fend for themselves in this world. In our reading today Jesus promises that He will give them a Helper, a name for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. He, the Helper, will bear witness to the apostles about Jesus. He will open their eyes to the meaning of Scripture, the meaning of Jesus’ Words and life, the meaning of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, the meaning of the Body of Christ, His Church.
In turn, they, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will witness Christ to the world. They will confess Him as Lord and Savior. They will carry the Gospel to the world, first to those in Jerusalem, then to all Judea and Samaria, and finally to the end of the earth
(Acts 1: 8). They will baptize men and women and children of all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and they will teach them to keep, this is, to guard, as the live-giving and sustaining treasure, all that the Lord Jesus has commanded them, the very Word of the Gospel (Matthew 28: 19-20, ESV). And they will appoint and ordain and help congregations to call other bearers of the Word and Sacrament to continue after them.
Jesus knew that the Holy Spirit would strengthen the apostles to fulfill this great commission, and that they would succeed in planting the Word. But it would not be an easy life for them. They would be opposed, mocked, imprisoned, and even killed. They would be tempted to fall away, as they once had done the night that Jesus was arrested.
They would face opposition from all sides. First, sadly, from their own people by blood and covenant, the Jews. They would be put out of the synagogues, the local centers of the Jewish religion, culture and learning. They would be forbidden to speak the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ in the synagogues and in the Temple at Jerusalem.
What would become apparent to them also was that the people who persecuted them did not think of themselves as bad people, but as good. They believed that the followers of Jesus were the evil ones. We can imagine how this hard this would be for the apostles, to hear from your own brothers and sisters by blood, and from the authorities you were commanded to respect for their learning and wisdom, the accusation that you were the ones who were deluded in your beliefs, that you were a danger to the social order, turning the world upside-down. Who wouldn’t be tempted to fall away in self-doubt? So many respected people, rulers, authorities, religious leaders were against you. The authorities even thought that they were doing a service to God to kill the followers of Christ.
But had this not already happened to Christ? He had been opposed from the first by the Pharisees and the scribes and the high priests, the most respected men of the society in which He lived. They called Him a blasphemer for claiming to be equal with the Father in heaven, for forgiving people their sins, for healing on the Sabbath. The high priest Caiaphas said that it was better for Jesus to be killed than the nation fall into religious and political upheaval that His ministry was causing.
But the Holy Spirit, who descended and remained on Jesus at His baptism , strengthened Him to resist firmly the temptations of the devil, the world, and the sinful nature of His own people, His own flesh and blood, so to speak, the descendants of Abraham. He resisted the devil in the wilderness with the Word of Truth (Matthew 4:1-11). He resisted the temptation of the devil in the well-meant response of Peter to His announcement that that the Son of Man must be crucified and die. (Matthew 16:21-23) Jesus resisted the temptations of the unbelieving world in His unwavering preaching of the Word of Truth, the Word of the Gospel, that He came to save the world (John 3:17), that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). He gave the good confession before God and the world, and the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, raised Him from the dead. (1 Timothy l6: 13; Roman 8:11).
This same Holy Spirit that had come to the apostles when they answered the call of Jesus and followed Him, the same Holy Spirit which He breathed on them on Easter evening to open their eyes to scripture (John 20: 22, Luke 24:45), would come soon again to them in power on the feast of Pentecost, to strengthen them so that they would not fall away when they were put out of the synagogues and the Temple, and when zealots like Saul tore the followers of Christ from their homes, threw them in the darkest prison, and voted for their death (Acts 8:30. The same Holy Spirit would witness to them and through them so that they could speak boldly before the highest courts of their nation, before priests and kings and emperor, with the authority of the Spirit of Truth, which dwelled in them.
The same Holy Spirit would witness to Saul that the One who had appeared to him on the road to Damascus was truly the Son of God, not an hallucination. The same Holy Spirit would be poured out on Saul richly in His baptism by Ananias. This same Holy Spirit would give Paul and Peter and James and John and Thomas and Philip, and Stephen the words and the power to proclaim the word of the Gospel, together with the whole counsel of God, from Genesis to the witness of the apostles and evangelists.
The good news for you and me is that the same Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus in the waters of the Jordan is the Holy Spirit that descended on you in the waters of the baptismal font at your Baptism. The good news is that the same Holy Spirit that kept the apostles from falling away is the Holy Spirit that you receive when you hear the Word of God preached and taught in worship, when you receive Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament, and when you read and pray in your private and family devotions.
The Holy Spirit, the Helper, will help you, too, to hold firm in the Word of God, even when that Word goes against the prevailing morality of our times. The Holy Spirit will testify to the truth of the Word of God, even when everyone around you is telling you that Word is a lie. The Helper will testify to you that the Word of God is forever true, not just for the time of the prophets and apostles, not just for the time of the Reformation five hundred years ago, but for now and always.
In Martin Luther’s day, the Church condemned Him as a heretic. In 1521, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Fifth pronounced that anyone could kill Luther without legal consequence. The Church and Emperor thought they were serving God, doing a good thing.
In the twentieth century, the Nazis and the Communists killed Christians because they thought it would be a good service to the State, which had replaced God in their lives, to remove forever these backward people who worshipped God, not the nation or state or political ideology.
And in our present times, in the Middle East, Muslim jihadis kill Christians, professing that they are doing a good service to God in getting rid of those infidels and crusaders who worship Jesus.
We, of course, do not have that level of systematized persecution here, yet, though we face acts of terrorism. What we do have, though, are respected and powerful institutions in our society where Christian morality is no longer welcome, where the belief that God made man and woman for each other in marriage, where the Biblical teaching that sex outside of marriage is against God’s will, is labelled intolerant, bigoted, and sexist. What we do have are respected and powerful institutions where if you believe the Bible’s account of creation you will be labelled anti-science, and you may not be hired or promoted. What we do have are respected and powerful institutions where belief in the miracles of the Bible is ridiculed. What we do have are groups that oppose vehemently, even violently, those who stand up for the rights of the unborn and the dignity of life that the Word of God proclaims.
Within these institutions of government, politics, education, the arts, the news media, the military, are many who believe they are also doing a good thing, a service to society, for science, for justice, and even perhaps to God, by pressuring faithful Christians to keep their faith to themselves, to keep quiet, to go away and fall away. The pressure increases as our society becomes more secular, year after year.
But we have a Helper, we who have been saved by grace, through faith in the Word of God that Jesus is the Son of God, true man, true God, who died and rose for our sins. Our Helper is the Holy Spirit of Christ, sent by the Father and the Son.
Our Helper prays for us and with us. He gives us words to speak in love to those who are perishing. He gives us joy even in while we are being insulted for Christ’s sake. He gives us strength to lead lives of faith and love and hope in a dying world, so that the light of Christ may shine in what we do and say in our vocations.
We have known the Father and the Son through the work of the Helper. We know the Father and Son by faith now, but soon we will know them by sight, when Jesus returns in glory on the last day, to raise us by the power of the Holy Spirit to live under Him in His kingdom forever, never to be tempted to fall away again. The Helper will keep us in the faith until that great day, through the Word, through the Sacrament, in the body of Christ, His Church, Amen.