Sermon, Easter 7, Exaudi, Gospel, 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. (John 15:26f. ESV) Thus far the text.
There is a famous scene in the movie, “A Few Good Men.” Jack Nicholson, a Marine Corps colonel is being cross-examined by Tom Cruise, a young Navy lawyer. The Navy lawyer finally gets under the Colonel’s skin, getting him to lose his cool. The Colonel shouts to Tom Cruise, “You want answer?” “Yes, the lawyer says, “I think I’m entitled to…” The Colonel says again, “You want answers?” The lawyer says, “I want the truth.” The Colonel shouts back, “You can’t handle the truth!” One of those movie lines that have entered into the popular consciousness.
The idea is that we go through our day to day lives, conveniently acting as though the reality of war, of brutality, of violence, of evil are far away, forgetting that there has always been a need for men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line in distant, dangerous places so that we can enjoy our comfortable lifestyles. We forget the need for protectors while at the same time enjoying the benefits of their sacrifice.
I think the reason the line, “You can’t handle the truth.” resonates with us so much is that it reflects the human condition, in all its studied avoidance of the subject of sin and its effects. We would rather go through life without ever having to consider our own sinful actions, our sinful thoughts, our sinful hearts. In fact, modern and postmodern man and woman would just as well banish the word sin from the public square and the dictionary.
And the reason we do everything we can to avoid thinking and talking about sin is that we truly can’t handle the truth. It is too depressing. It tears away the facade of goodness that we like to project and reveals the corrupt heart inside. It pronounces the sentence of death upon us. It is much better to put off as long as possible having to deal with it, hoping that it is not too visible to others. We can’t handle it, that is most certainly true.
But God can, and does. King David was the most famous of all the Kings of Ancient Israel. Born in Bethlehem into a modest sheep herding family, he was the youngest of his brothers when Samuel, God’s prophet, anointed him as king. David had courage like no other man because He knew God like no other man in Israel, except perhaps Samuel. He knew that no man could stand up to God and defy Him, even if he were a giant who frightened all the battle-hardened men of Saul’s army. As King, David brought the northern and southern tribes of Israel together as one nation. He brought the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy City of Jerusalem, as a testimony to the truth of God’s Law. No nation could stand up to David’s armies. The land was safe from attack. David was revered and loved by all. Nothing he wanted was kept from him. He was rich. He had a beautiful palace. He had several wives and concubines. He could have his pick of any single woman in Israel to be his wife.
But he wanted Bathsheba, the only wife of his loyal and brave lieutenant Uriah. He took her like she was his for the taking. He acted as though he was above the law, that it no longer applied. He couldn’t handle the truth. He wouldn’t handle the truth of his adultery. No one else brought it up, so he put it out of his mind, until Bathsheba became pregnant. David tried in panic to come up a way of covering up the truth of his sin, and the evidence of his and Bathsheba’s adultery, until, at last, he listened to his heart of stone speaking murder to him. He arranged to have Uriah exposed in the heat of battle, killing him by what was left undone.
Later, in a scene which Shakespeare could not have surpassed in drama, another prophet comes to David, another spokesman for God, Nathan, not to praise or anoint, but to confront, [story] David passes the sentence of death on himself. David finally faces the truth of the Law’s pronouncement on adultery and murder. The sin he had thought was his and Bathsheba’s own secret, between them alone was known to God, and to His prophet. He had sinned against God through adultery, through murder, but most of all through believing that God did not see, or care about his lying heart, his lying spirit. He now knows that he can’t handle the truth of his sin, it is too heavy. God must handle it. So he hands his burden to God. We hear the thoughts of his heart in the words of his prayer to God –Psalm 51.
1 Have mercy on me,1 O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
zwash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
God did not abandon David to his sin and lies. God restored the joy of His salvation and the willing Spirit of truth to David, the Spirit whom David had driven out with his unacknowledged, unrepentant sin, the Spirit who now reminded King David of the promise that God had made to him that one of his descendants would be a king whose kingdom would last forever, the Messiah, whom the Father would send to be disciplined on the cross, not for His own sins, but for the sins of the world, including David’s sin of adultery, murder, arrogance, and unbelief. As God’s steadfast love remained with His Son whom He raised from the dead, so it remains for all who believe in His Son, for David and for you and me. (2 Samuel 7: 11-17)
In our Gospel text from St. John today, Jesus promises to send the disciples the Spirit of truth to them after He goes to return to the Father, having completed His work of redemption. Jesus calls the Spirit of Truth the Helper, who will help them by shedding light on all that they heard Jesus say and all that they saw Him do while He was with them. This Spirit would show them the brokenness of their heart, and the wholeness of Jesus’ heart. He, for the Spirit is a person who is grieved by sin, will bear witness about Jesus as the promised Son of David and Son of God, Messiah, Savior of the world. The Spirit of truth is the Holy Spirit. Those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells will bear witness about Jesus, too, because their hearts, created new with a willing spirit, will overflow with gratitude and love and truth. They will no longer bear witness to the lies, the hypocrisy, the excuses of their sinful hearts, for they have been forgiven. They are set free from the lie that they can handle the truth by themselves, that they can avoid God’s wrath against sin by ignoring it, or acting as if God does not see it or care about it anymore–or on the other hand by trying to make up for the guilt of their sin with their own good works, their own self-righteousness.
Jesus still gives the Helper to His disciples, to you and me. He didn’t stop with the first generation of the apostles, but gives to every new generation of believers the Spirit of Truth when He speaks in His Word, the living and active Word of life, which convicts and forgives, kills and makes alive, destroys the heart of stone and creates a new heart of flesh. He still gives you the Spirit of truth because He wants you to look to Him for all good, not to the idols of the world. He wants you to listen to His voice not the voice of His enemies, who will revile you, call you haters, thinking they are doing the work of God. He wants you and all people to come to the knowledge of truth. He still gives you the Spirit of truth so that in Him you can handle the truth found in Scripture, and bear witness to it to others through your kindness, your love, your trust in the Lord’s promises shown in your giving to the Church, and in your encouragement of your family and friends to come and share with you in the hearing of the truth that saves, in the worship of the church.
The Gospel readings of the last three weeks have set the stage for the giving of the Holy Spirit in power to the disciples at Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday. The readings show that the Spirit convicts unbelief, testifies to the truth, creates saving faith and sustains it, explains Scripture, and leads the way to eternal life. The Spirit is creating a new heart in you today. He is guiding you into all truth. He is leading you to the table of the Lord to feed your new heart with the blood that pumps from the pure heart of Christ and the body which died and rose and lives for you.
The Spirit of truth comes today to you and for you. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 31) You have been set free by the Spirit of truth, who comes from the Father, and is given to you by your Lord Jesus Christ. With the Spirit, you can handle the truth and live. You are free.
Christ is risen! Alleluia!