May 28, 2017
St. John 15:26-16:4
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When God was continuing to fulfill His promises to the children of Israel and bringing to fruition the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, the land of Canaan as their possession, and that all the families in the world would be blessed through them, He led them out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Due to their hardness of heart, they would not go up and take possession of the land that He had given into their hands, so the 40-year tribulation in the desert ensued until all the men over the age of 20 had died in the desert.
But even through this tribulation, God did not leave them or remove His glory from them. In fact, He increased His presence among them in more visible and tangible ways to testify to them and to the nations around them of His mercy. He added to His supernatural presence in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire and the bread from heaven by having Moses establish the Tabernacle of worship, the Ark of the Covenant with the Mercy Seat, the Office of the Priesthood, and the sacrificial system with worship rites. Even after their sin and rebellion, God was dealing with His people through His merciful presence and divine glory. He was drawing near to them in worship, pointing forward to the Messiah, and forgiving their sins.
And if the presence of God in the Tabernacle, the Ark, and the Priests had glory, and it most certainly did, how much more the presence of God in Christ Jesus, the very image of God who came down from heaven, and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, whom Christ sent to His Church as an enduring divine presence of mercy? For St. Paul testifies “Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory (2 Corinthians 3:10-11).
This permanence is what Jesus is sharing with His disciples in our text this morning. “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. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27). Our Lord Christ is with us now and always. He sent the Holy Spirit from the Father to bear witness about Him. He sent the Spirit to the Apostles, who left us a lasting legacy of testimony about Christ in the Holy Scriptures. Where Christ’s Word, Sacraments, and Office of the Ministry are, there is God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit truly present. That is what we have as our very own possession because of the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit given to you in your Baptism.
I know for myself, this fact passes before my eyes most of the time without me even taking notice. Even when I do stop and take note, when the Word of God read or preached holds it before my eyes, it seems too marvelous or miraculous to me. My finite mind can’t fathom the depths of this presence that He gives to us with no merit or worthiness in us to deserve it. So, whether unnoticed or overwhelming, the tendency is to despise this divine gift, to overlook it, to forget about it in the midst of earthly pressures, or to neglect it. The children of Israel certainly did. They despised God’s real presence with them in Sinai and they were punished multiple times for it in what St. Paul calls “an example” to us. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:11-13).
One of the temptations that is common to man is expecting a theology of glory. It makes sense to us that if we feel like we are being obedient and faithful to God’s Word (at least more obedient than some people we know), then life should be going easily or at least somewhat smoothly. The disciples had every reason to believe that life would go smoothly for them. They were instructed by the Lord face-to-face for three years. They knew God in a most intimate way in the flesh and heard His words and witnessed His miracles. Now He promises to send them the Holy Spirit who will give them even more perfect knowledge of Him. Surely, they could have expected smooth sailing in this life, respect from people around them, a kind of theology of glory. Jesus said they would be His emissaries to the ends of the earth. This is a high calling.
The disciples already argued about who was the greatest. From Jesus’ words here, they may have mistakenly thought that the Holy Spirit would make them respected in the eyes of the world, but Jesus continues. “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 offering service to God.” And all but one were killed, martyred for preaching Christ crucified. The world did not respect them, even though they preached that Christ died for the world to bring forgiveness, life, and salvation to everyone regardless of race, nationality, or color.
Our Lord did not say these things only for the benefit of the 12. He has said these things to keep you from falling way in the moments of your trials and temptations. In your deepest, darkest times in your life, when you feel alone and abandoned by people and by God, you have these words to comfort you. Even if all others leave you and forsake you, your Lord Jesus Christ is present with you throughout your 40-year journey through the desert of this world. The Promised Land lies ahead of you. And despite your sin and the sins of those around you, the Lord is making His presence known to you in real and tangible ways.
You don’t have to rely upon His presence in creation and the miracles of life you participate in every day, the blessings that you neither earned, nor could have thought up. The Holy Spirit has called you with audible words from the Holy Scriptures whether from your mothers and fathers at home, or Sunday School teachers or pastors in church. He enlightens you with real gifts of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, bringing the bodily presence of Christ right to your heart by way of your head, your ears, and your mouth. By these real means, He sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith, making Christ’s death and resurrection much more than a history lesson. Making the sacrifice of Christ on the cross yours and therefore the certainty of the resurrection, yours.
And He has not left you without consolation. He daily forgives your sins and the sins of all who repent. He never leaves you or forsakes you, in difficult times or in the good. He even makes you participants in His goodness in the world through the blessings He gives you in vocation and earthly wealth. He gives you means whether in position or possessions to show His love in the world. St. Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Whether in speaking or in service, words or action, you do so by God’s supplied strength and wisdom by the working of the Holy Spirit. And in everything, whether in consolation of your fellow Christian or in helping out someone who is in need, God is glorified through Jesus Christ.
And while we are living in our vocations, no matter how well or imperfectly, despite how much pain we may have to endure, while we are journeying from our slavery to sin toward the Promised Land, God is increasing His presence among us in Christ. He has blessed us with the certainty of His Word, the confidence of His sacramental presence in Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. And we know for sure that God is in our midst. He will never leave us nor forsake us. We have the Holy Spirit now and soon He will return to us as He has promised.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.