Text: John 15:26-16:4
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This past Thursday was one of the high feast days of the Church calendar. Sadly, because it falls on a Thursday, it goes largely ignored by even regular churchgoers. 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead, he ascended bodily into heaven before the eyes of his disciples. In his ascension, Jesus went to sit at the right hand of the Father so that he could there intercede for us before our Father in heaven. In his ascension, Jesus also showed the way that we will one day go. On the Last Day Christ will return and take us and all believers to himself in heaven.
The fact that Ascension Day was just this past Thursday puts us in a kind of strange place this morning. The two Sundays that follow today are both feast days: first Pentecost, then Trinity Sunday. Today, though, we are kind of stuck in the middle. Next week we will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the birth of the Christian Church, but this morning we wait. We wait just as Jesus’ disciples waited. Before Jesus went up into heaven he told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. So today, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, is odd. Yes, it’s still Easter, but it has the feeling of moving on to something else. It’s almost a sad feeling. For 40 days Jesus was with the disciples, but now he’s out of their sight.
That’s why Jesus spent so much time preparing his disciples for his departure. You might have noticed that we’ve been reading from the same three chapters of John’s gospel for the past 6 weeks. I’ve even pointed it out once or twice. In these chapters, Jesus is teaching his disciples about what is to come. They are sorrowful because they know that he’s going away. Jesus comforts them with the promise of God’s abiding presence through the Holy Spirit who will come. The Holy Spirit will come not with a new message. He won’t whisper something new and exciting into their ears. The Spirit will speaks to them, but with the exact same truth that Jesus has already proclaimed. In turn, this is the same message the disciples are to proclaim. The message of the Gospel doesn’t change. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone has always been the message of God for his people and will always be the message that God has for his people. Jesus has taught them all things and will continue comfort them with these things. Jesus will not abandon his disciples, nor will he abandon us.
The disciples, and indeed, the whole Christian Church will need the comfort that comes from the Gospel. Jesus tells the disciples that they will be put out of the synagogues. This wasn’t just a matter of being shown the door on any given day. This meant that they weren’t welcome there anymore. They were out for good. It separated them from family and friends. It would have probably had financial cost associated with it as well as nobody wants to do business with someone who’s been put out of the synagogue. Well, you don’t have to go very far into the book of Acts to find this happening. The disciples proclaim the truth – the same truth that Jesus revealed to them and that the Holy Spirit reinforced in them – and they are rejected. As it turns out, not everyone really wants to hear that which is true. It gets worse. Jesus says that the time will come when those who kill the disciples will think they are offering service to God. Again, the early church is replete with examples of this becoming a reality.
The Church has been persecuted to this day for the same thing: for proclaiming the truth. As the people of Christ’s Church, we have sometimes rejected the truth, too. Even within our own church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, there are numerous examples of pastors being removed from office by their congregations because they proclaimed the truth and the congregation didn’t like it. Even in places where it hasn’t come to that, there are plenty of examples of people making life uncomfortable for their pastors for no other reason than that they didn’t like what he was saying. It doesn’t matter if that which the pastor proclaims to us is the truth, we don’t like what the man says. May we repent of such evil!
Even the idea that killing those who proclaim the truth of God’s Word is not hard to find today. Islamic terrorists have taken up where the Jews of the First Century and the Roman Empire of the centuries that followed left off. While it doesn’t dominate our headlines much, especially in a news cycle that continues to be dominated by COVID, broken bridges, and hacked gas pipelines, the killing of God’s people around the world continues today. About 160,000 Christians are killed for their faith each year, in fact.
Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending the Holy Spirit to comfort them when these things happen. Notice, though, that the comfort isn’t what we’d typically expect. The events that Jesus describes as coming for the disciples are rough. They will cause all kinds of physical hardships. They will experience hunger, financial ruin, and isolation from their community. Their lives will be threatened. They will have all kinds of physical needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. One would think that Jesus would promise them that they would have plenty of all of the above. But that’s not what Jesus promises at all. Rather, he promises to comfort them with his Word. It is true that Jesus died to redeem both body and soul, but the comfort here offered is not the comfort of extended physical life, a bed to sleep in, or a full belly, but the comfort of a good conscience. When things go south for the disciples, they will be tempted to think that the truth that they proclaim is not really true. They will be tempted to abandon the truth altogether. The Holy Spirit is there to comfort them and remind them that Jesus is indeed with them even to the end of the age.
When we as the Church feel the discomfort that comes along with the proclaiming the truth of God’s Word, we are tempted to abandon it and instead to fit in with the culture of today. Indeed, many so-called Christian churches have succumbed to this pressure. They have decided to make sure that everyone is comfortable over and above making sure that everyone hears the truth of the Word of God. God sends his Holy Spirit even today, though, to remind us of what his Son, Jesus Christ, has done and the truth that he has proclaimed to us. In Holy Baptism we were made God’s children. Through the preaching of God’s Word our consciences are comforted with the forgiveness of sins. In the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s body and blood strengthens our faith. The truth of God’s Word is revealed to you again and again by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace. This is our assurance that we are living today in God’s kingdom. This is the true comfort that comes only from above. The things of this world can all be taken away, but the promise of God’s kingdom can’t be taken away. It is the treasure that neither moth nor rust can ever destroy. The Holy Spirit may not bring excitement and enthusiasm, but it will bring the everlasting comfort of sins forgiven in Christ Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.