SERMON FOR THE 7TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, JUNE 2, 2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WISCONSIN
Pastor Michael Larson
Today’s Holy Gospel lays before us two lessons. First, our Lord teaches us again about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, which we have been learning about for the last several weeks. The second lesson our Lord lays before us pertains to the future persecution which will be experienced by his disciples, and in fact, by all true Christians who want to confess Jesus in this world.
Jesus said: “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.” Again, Jesus is preaching about the giving of the Holy Spirit. The English word read here is “the Helper.” And that’s not bad. The Holy Spirit, after all, provides the best help one could ever hope for! Help that brings Christ to us and us to Him. But don’t misunderstand the word Helper. Because this “help” is no synergistic 50/50 proposition. No way.
Remember what we learn about the gift of the Holy Spirit in Luther’s Small Catechism? Or just as importantly, what we learn about ourselves. We acknowledge the truth about our sinful condition: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”
But instead the Holy Spirit does it all. The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel. He, the Holy Spirit, has enlightened me with His gifts. He, the Holy Spirit, has brought me to Baptism, brought me to the Supper of my Lord. The Holy Spirit has enlightened me with that Spirit-filled gift of holy absolution. The Holy Spirit has sanctified me (that is, made me holy) and keeps me in the true faith.
He does it for me and the whole Christian Church on earth. On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. Of this work of the Holy Spirit we say, “Amen,” and “This is most certainly true!”
So you see, this help we receive, from the Holy Spirit, is no synergistic proposition. No man can bring himself from unbelief to faith, or from death to life. For we teach that man cannot be justified before God by his own strength, merits, or works – no matter how hard he tries.
No. Salvation belongs to the Lord! We believe that we are freely justified (declared righteous before God in heaven) for Christ’s sake – through faith! What sort of faith? Faith that believes we are received into God’s favor. Faith the believes that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. So I tell you now. Christ has died for you. Jesus Christ has made payment for your sins and has reconciled you to God your Father! He’s done it!
Jesus teaches us this morning that the Spirit takes what belongs to Him, His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, and declares it all unto you. And so we praise God for the person and work of the Holy Spirit, who creates and sustains this faith in the heart of every believer.
I hope you can all see that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is a ministry of love and comfort and great consolation. This is the content of Jesus’ preaching as he prepares for his own passion and death in our Gospel this morning. This is the preaching of Jesus, also, as he prepares his apostles for persecution and unspeakable suffering. For they will go out to the ends of the earth to preach and bear witness.
But witness about who and what? They will witness of Jesus - His glorious death and resurrection for the life of the world. And surely, the world should receive this Gospel – this truly good news – with absolute joy and thanksgiving! But you know that won’t be so.
Jesus tells them: “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is doing God a great favor. They will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. I have said these things to you, so that when their hour comes [when this persecution begins] you may remember that I told these things to you.”
You see, all the apostles, with the exception of John the evangelist, exiled to Patmos, endured a martyr’s death. Crucified, stoned, flayed alive. They were translated from the church militant to the church triumphant through blood and bitter suffering. Jesus very plainly tells his disciples what they will all endure. He says: “Then you [my disciples] will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” As the world scorned Christ, so shall it be for His church.
The Greek word we have for Holy Spirit is also very well translated as “comforter.” Jesus speaks of sending to them, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, which is also translated as the comforter. But why, how, could Jesus in the same breath speak of giving comfort and facing persecution and suffering at the very same time. Aren’t these opposite things!?
First off, we must learn to distinguish between two kinds of comfort. The first is a worldly comfort, which is ultimately false and counterfeit. This worldly comfort directs a person to rely on material goods, such as wealth and position, popularity and honor. Or ease of life as the most important measure of comfort. But we know this is an uncertain comfort! At best, it’s temporary, and in the face of terminal sickness, death, or God’s judgment, because then we see how empty this worldly comfort truly is! Our Lord in the parable of the sower and the seed speaks of the comforts and conveniences of this life actually as thorns that choke out a true faith in the Gospel! Jesus warns against the deception of worldly comfort.
But Christ promises an altogether different sort of comfort, with a different type of Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who will comfort you when you are frightened and discouraged or miserable. A comforter to comfort when you are forsaken by other people and even forsaken by your own hearts! This is a comfort that is genuine, and eternal. This comfort is none other than the presence of Jesus, our Risen and Ascended Lord, whose glorious kingdom, though often concealed in this veil of tears, is truly palpable and evident through His preaching and Sacraments. Because the presence of Jesus, along with His good gifts, is the comfort that endures unto the end and brings eternal joy.
Consider the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, in the life of John the Baptist. Here we see the contrast between those two types of comfort: worldly comfort versus the heavenly comfort, which the Spirit bestows.
Just look at John shackled and bound in prison, starved and tortured. What a contrast as Herod, just above in his palace, lives it up and parties with every earthly comfort and every indulgence imaginable! But there is the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, down below, comforting John as he whispers into his heart: Dear John, don’t pay any attention to this terror as you lie here so miserably! Just ignore this malicious world. You, John, are God’s friend and dear child. Even if the whole world counts you out, I welcome you. Just remember that the world’s comfort is not to be trusted and is short-lived and misleading above all things. Instead know that your sufferings are short and will be followed by eternal joy in heaven, where one moment is better than a thousand years here on earth.
This comfort filled the heart of John, so that he could cheerfully and confidently lay his neck open before his executioners, and thank God for being relieved of this poor, sinful body and life, being transformed from one degree of glory unto another – in the splendor of Paradise.
If this sort of persecution seems distant just think again. Our friend Rev. Dr. Cortright preached to us last Sunday and at the Feast of Ascension this past Thursday. He brought greetings from our Christian brothers and sisters in Russia. Those Christians – their families – they’ve suffered mightily. Churches and cathedrals burned to the ground. Preachers and Christians executed, in hiding, or sent off to the gulags for confessing the holy name of Jesus.
Also consider that our friends among us, who worship with us, from other parts of the world, they too can relate. Discipleship comes with a great cost. And Paul writes to young Timothy: “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Do you see why the ministry of the Holy Spirit is so wonderful and full of consolation? When you’re alone, frightened, and utterly overwhelmed by crushing trials, the Spirit comes alongside you as well. And He preaches to you. Preaches words of comfort from the cross and empty tomb – Spirit-filled words that your sins are forgiven, that the world, the devil, and hell have all been conquered. The Spirit of truth bears witness to the only righteousness which avails in the sight of God – the righteousness which is ours by faith in Christ.
There’s encouragement in our epistle this morning: “Dearly beloved, don’t be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you…instead rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
Let the words of the apostle comfort you: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…knowing that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Hear the words of Jesus this morning: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” and “behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
This morning let the Holy Spirit speak to you, preaching to you that you are God’s child now. That you too will be comforted with the eternal comfort of Christ our Lord.
This Holy Spirit works in you fervent, self-giving love for one another, a love which covers a multitude of sins, that in everything God may be glorified, in you, through Jesus Christ: Enduring troubles and misfortunes confidently in the Lord’s promises, so that we all, with unveiled face, will at last behold the glory of the Lord, being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. In the name of Jesus. Amen.