The Promise Of The Helper
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
John 15:26 & 16:4 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me…But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Jesus spoke the words of today’s Gospel on Maundy Thursday evening, the eve of His crucifixion. One more time Jesus spoke to His disciples of His death and what lay beyond His death, resurrection, and ascension for them. He would indeed leave them, but they would not be left alone. That is Jesus’ promise to His disciples, and it is fulfilled for us as well, for Jesus has sent us the Helper, the Spirit of truth.
Our Lord does not leave His disciples to fend for themselves in this world, a world that is hostile to Him and hostile to those who bear His name. Make no mistake about it; the world is not friendly to Christ and His Christians. Just before the Lord spoke the words of today’s text He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (15:18-19).
The world, in stubborn rebellion against its Creator God, refuses to acknowledge the true God. The world finds it much more comfortable to live as if there is no God. It is this world – the world in which we live – that hates the Father. It is this world that hates the Son, for He perfectly reveals the Father. And it is this world which hates those who confess that Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God.
That is why Jesus tells His disciples ahead of time that they can expect the same rejection and hatred that He has experienced. Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you that you should not be made to stumble.” And again He says, “But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.”
Now Jesus is going to the Father. By way of His cross, by way of His empty tomb, and by way of His Ascension Day cloud, the Lord Jesus Christ returns to the Father who sent Him. As we heard this past Thursday evening, the Ascension is not about the absence of Christ; it is about His presence with us in a new and glorious way. Before His Ascension, the Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit. And it is this same Holy Spirit who, Jesus promises, will keep us in fellowship with Him.
Notice in today’s text how Jesus describes the Holy Spirit: He is called the “Spirit of truth.” Earlier Jesus had said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The Spirit sent from the Father and the Son is the Spirit of truth; He will testify of Jesus. In other words, He will bear testimony to the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done to save us precisely because it is the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of truth does not come to bring new teachings or new revelations. The Spirit of truth does not come to impart some secret knowledge about God to some chosen people. No, the Spirit of truth works only through the Word of truth. He, the Spirit of Truth – the Spirit of Jesus – brings to remembrance all that Jesus said. He sustains us in saving faith through Jesus’ words, for His words are spirit and they are life.
The Spirit, who is given to the Lord’s apostles, will make them His instruments. They “will bear witness,” Jesus says, because they have been with Him from the beginning. In other words, the apostles will testify to the things that they have seen and heard from Jesus Himself and from Jesus alone. This is what Jesus means in Acts 1:8 when He says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, to the end of the earth.”
The apostles themselves had a unique and wonderful experience. They had spent three years with the Lord Jesus. They were eye-witnesses of His teachings, eye-witnesses of His miracles. They heard Him with their own ears, they touched Him with their own hands, and they saw Him with their own eyes. Therefore we depend on them for our confession of Jesus Christ. When we testify of Christ, we can only repeat what we have been given from the apostles in Holy Scripture; nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
That means, dear friends, we are to be terribly uncreative in the area of evangelism. The Christian faith is not something you can improve upon; it is not something you improvise as you go along. We don’t need to add anything to the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ, or “jazz it up” in order to get more people into our church buildings. We do not need “leaders” telling us how do the work of the ministry simply for the sake of increasing numbers while at the same time compromising the Gospel and the Sacraments. Christianity is not about numbers, it’s not about goals, it’s not about strategies; it is simply and only about Christ crucified, died, and risen, and the gifts given in His Sacraments. Anything beyond that is a waste of time and effort.
Dear friends in Christ, the only thing we have been given to do is to confess, that is, repeat what we have heard in God’s Word. The only Savior we know is the One proclaimed to us by the Scriptures. He is the baby of Bethlehem, born for you. He is the Man of Calvary, crucified for you and for all your sins. He is the Christ who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He is the Lord who was raised from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father and is even now interceding for you. That is the Gospel which the Spirit caused the apostles to preach in all the world. It is also the Gospel that earned for them rejection.
Note that Jesus says, “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” The world in which we live is quite content to tolerate generic, non-specific religion, but it will not tolerate the preaching of Christ as the only Savior of the world and the only way to heaven. Such a message is characterized as narrow and arrogant. And a world that prides itself in and insists upon tolerance becomes completely intolerant of the Gospel, the only saving truth there is.
Interestingly enough, the hostility that the apostles experienced did not come from the secular world, at least not initially; it came from the synagogue; it came from the religious establishment; it came from within the church. So also today the most vocal opponents of the Gospel are often not those who do not believe, but rather those within the church who want a non-offensive, people-pleasing Gospel that is welcoming and affirming of anything and everything without regard to repentance, faith, or faithfulness to the Scriptures and the Sacraments.
Up until he died several years ago, I had a dear friend who happened to be a Methodist pastor in Iowa. We used to talk frequently on the phone. During one conversation he was expressing his frustration with his church body that was welcoming into its midst open homosexuals and lesbians in order to minister to them. But the problem, he told me, is that no one in the church was allowed to speak to them of sin, repentance, and forgiveness; only that God accepts them as they are, for to do otherwise would be to offend them and possibly hurt their feelings and drive them away from the church. He also told me that those in his church body who do speak out and speak the truth come under severe criticism, and some had been removed from their parishes because of it.
Sadly, I could give you example after example of similar things going on in almost every corner of God’s kingdom on earth. But these things should come as no surprise. Jesus tells us beforehand that “these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.”
But if you have heard nothing in this sermon, please listen to this, for there is comfort for us in this Gospel. We are not left alone in the midst of a God-forsaken world. The Ascended Lord has sent us the Helper, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. Through the preaching of His Gospel, that Spirit is creating and sustaining faith in those who hear that Word wherever it pleases Him. That God in Christ has taken to Himself the sins of all mankind and crucified them with Himself on the cross is the most liberating and freeing message of all. That God imparts His Spirit in the waters of Holy Baptism to wash away sin and give us the new birth from above is joy and comfort for the troubled soul.
We also have the great privilege of eating and drinking our Savior’s body and blood for forgiveness, life and salvation in His Supper. Here in this holy meal we are given heavenly food which strengthens and sustains us for the struggles and temptations of this life. In this Supper God places His living and resurrected self into our sinful and dying bodies so that we may have the certainty of His presence with us for whatever life may throw our way.
Dear friends, we are not alone. We are not left without consolation. We have the Spirit of truth – the Spirit of Christ Himself – who keeps us connected to our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord until He calls us to our eternal home.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.