Exaudi—Easter 6 (Inspired by a sermon by Rev. T. Peperkorn on the same day years ago)
May 13, 2018 (Mothers’ Day)
St. John 15:26-16:4
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The ten days between Ascension and Pentecost must have been tense. From the Words of the Apostles when Jesus ascended, it is apparent that still didn’t understand everything. They still had questions, doubts, and fears. To be sure, their faith was stronger now than immediately after the Resurrection. Jesus had just spent 40 days appearing to them and teaching them what it meant that He had died and risen again. But the Holy Spirit had not yet been given, so they must wait in Jerusalem for that gift. When Jesus would send the Holy Spirit, then He would fill in the blanks and comfort them.
When we talk about the Holy Spirit, it is very important to be clear and to keep first things first. Christians often get very sloppy about how they talk about the Holy Spirit. It is fairly common to hear pious, serious Christians say “the Spirit led me to do this or that.” Many often work with the presumption that whenever they come to a decision about something or a resolution, that it must be the Holy Spirit that is leading or guiding them in their actions and thoughts. But too often, their idea of the Holy Spirit is just an echo of what they wanted to do anyway. Where can certainty be in that? How can they be sure it is the Spirit and not merely their Old Adam playing a trick on them?
Does the Holy Spirit lead us and guide us? Most definitely so! Let there be no doubt, otherwise, we would be a hopeless group for sure. But what do the Scriptures actually confirm about what the Holy Spirit’s words and actions? We heard a little bit about this a couple weeks ago, when we heard that the Holy Spirit comes to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. But this week our Lord reveals for us in even clearer terms what the work of the Holy Spirit is all about.
Simply put, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will testify about him. This is the truth, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Remember again Jesus’ words: I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. So when the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth that means He is the Spirit of Christ. He proceeds from God the Father and the Son, and His work is to testify and witness concerning Christ and His work.
Now by our sinful nature, we don’t get this. It sounds too simple. It’s not majestic enough. So time and time again we mess up this simple truth of the Scriptures. I by nature want to believe that my actions are really God’s actions. So if I can convince myself that something is from God via the Holy Spirit, then I can talk myself into all kinds of things (some of them down right sinful). My sinful flesh asks: How can it be wrong if it feels so good? Even the world tempts us to believe that anything goes, where anything that makes you feel good must be true, or even worse, it must be from God. Because, why would God not want me to feel good?
Don’t let yourself off the hook here. How many times have you made decisions based simply on how they made you feel, or how you perceived they would make you feel without a thought of the lasting consequences (let along the eternal consequences)? Some decisions come with lifelong consequences for yourself and others. Some can lead to you losing your faith and come with eternal consequences. This isn’t simply a matter for those outside the Church. Christians are tempted to commit terrible sins.
How do you know that something is from God? As tempting as it might be, you don’t know something is from God because you prayed about it or because you feel good about it. The Scriptures and the history of the Church are full of people of God who acted contrary to God’s will. That’s what our text is getting at when it talks about how Christians will be persecuted. The persecution that Jesus predicts is going to come from within the visible the Church. People who are seen as religious authorities are going to persecute Christ, and if the teacher, then also the students. The time is coming, says Jesus, when they will put you out of the synagogues, when whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. Sinful blindness and sinful desires can lead even those inside the boundaries of the visible Church to go astray. But Jesus tells His disciples this so they will not fall away.
So how do I know if something is from the Holy Spirit? It’s very simple, really. This shouldn’t surprise us, sin always complicates things. As infinitely majestic God is, He always approaches us in simplicity, in words we can understand. His words and actions are simple. He uses the clear, objective words found in Holy Scripture. He communicates through the Bible. The Spirit testifies about Christ and His work on the cross for your life and salvation. That is what the Holy Spirit comes to tell you. He does it through His regular means, that is, He does it through the Word spoken and preached. He does it through water, and through simple bread and wine, which become Christ’s body and blood. That is how you know something is from the Holy Spirit. Does it lead to loving God and loving your neighbor? Then it is from God. Does it lead to living selfishly or according to the world? Then it is not from God.
How do you know you should love and honor your mother? Because it says it in the Bible. How do you know that husbands should love and sacrifice themselves for their wives? Because the Bible says it. How do you know you should defend your neighbor, speak well of him and pray for him? Again, the Bible says it.
If you really think through it, this is an utterly liberating thing. The Holy Spirit reminds you how Christ lived for you and tells you how you can live for your neighbor. You don’t have to wonder or speculate about God’s will in your life, or whether you have the Holy Spirit. It is solid and sure, just as Christ’s Word is solid and sure. Because of this, you now have freedom to make life choices based upon the certainty that God has redeemed you, called you, sanctified you, and that heaven is your home. You can make earthly decisions knowing that heaven awaits you. You can use the things of this world to serve your neighbor and store up treasures in heaven.
The Holy Spirit, through the sure word of God, will bring to remembrance all that Jesus said and did. He died for your sins. But even more than that, the Holy Spirit will actually bring Jesus to you. Your Lord is with you still. The Holy Spirit brings you Jesus. As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death until He comes. Jesus never leaves you alone, even when you suffer or doubt.
Both our Gospel and the Epistle speak of the trials and tribulations which Christians will face. Saint Peter says, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. This world, Satan, and your flesh will war against you, and what does St. Peter say, “blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” What does this mean? It means that when you face trials and crosses as Christians, when you have doubts and fears then you should rejoice, because these trials force you to cling to Christ all the more, to realize that sickness and death are not to be feared, insults and persecutions will come, but will not last. Eternity is secure. Earthly trials bring you to remembrance of Christ’s suffering and the result. He died, but is not dead. He is the first-fruits of them that sleep. He is the first to be raised from the grave. He has shown you the way. Crosses link you to Jesus’s sufferings, and if you are connected to Him in suffering, how much more in glory hereafter? He told you this ahead of time, so that you would not fall away when crosses come.
So rejoice, fellow Christians! Don’t be afraid or impatient. The Ascended Lord sent the Holy Spirit as He promised. Christ your Lord died and rose again for your sins, He continues to send the Holy Spirit to you to testify and show you everything that Christ has done on your behalf. He will never leave you or forsake you. He is with you always.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.