Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read.
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. What do you think when you hear those words? On the one hand, you hopefully are comforted by them. You know Jesus, and you know that when He says something like this, it means that He gives you reason to not be troubled, reason to not be afraid. As Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” You know that Jesus is your refuge, your strength, your safe haven. And yet in a time like we’re in right now, you look around and you say, “What?! Let not my heart be troubled? Let it not be afraid? What about this pandemic? What about this disease? What about the possibility of economic collapse? What about the fact that I’ve been stuck at home for two months and it’s not necessarily going to change soon? There’s plenty of trouble for me. Or what about the way people are responding to this? I can see division and it keeps increasing.”
How can we not have troubled hearts? How can our hearts not be afraid? Peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” The peace that Jesus gives. That’s how we are not troubled, not fearing. Of course, we have to ask that good Lutheran question when we hear something like that, don’t we? So, was ist das? What does this mean? What is peace?
Well as we look at peace as Jesus would speak of it, we see that this would be connected to the Hebrew phrase, “Shalom.” I’m guessing most of you have heard that phrase. It’s a greeting. It means peace. But as we say this, we have to understand what it means broadly. We so often think of peace strictly in terms of being the absence of war. Or we think of inner peace, that absence of anxiety. But this peace means more than that. It means peace within your whole being. It means the sort of peace where your body is blessed to function as it should, your well-being is blessed with all of your needs of body and soul. But even still, it’s more than that.
When I looked this word up in my fancy pastor dictionary, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, it gave five definitions for peace as Jesus speaks of it. First, it said peace, in its widest sense is “the normal state of things.” I think by normal here, we should understand that as normative. We should understand that as things being in the state they’re supposed to be in. In other words, what I said before about shalom, that this is the well-being of body and soul. So that’s first.
Second is the “eschatological salvation of the whole man.” Again, we often exclude the body from this peace and think of the soul, even eternally, but this peace is both. It’s body and soul, it’s the final peace that we have when we die and requiescat in pace, rest in peace, and when our body is raised for the final eternal Sabbath with Christ. It’s that peace on the last day. That’s second.
Third is “peace with God.” In Romans, as I point out with some regularity, it speaks of us as enemies of God in our sin. And this explains why there is struggle in this world. If our sin and our rebellion against God actually results in judgment and being cast from His blessed presence, even if we don’t experience the fullness of the hell that should await us, we get a glimpse of that in the things I was talking about when I started. We get a glimpse of the warring that happens; a warring between the good and the fallenness of sin. In Christ, there is peace. “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” In the forgiveness of sins, the Lord tells us that on His part He has made a cease-fire. There is peace. Peace with Him. Just like we don’t fully experience the hell of judgment we should have now, we don’t see the fullness of that peace yet either. But that’s what awaits us in faith in Christ. So that’s third, peace with God.
Next is “peace of men with one another.” I mentioned that dissension and division that we see in the midst of the coronavirus. I think this is a deepening division in our country, and it’s concerning. But in Christ we see that there is a unity. There’s a unity in the reality that we all stand condemned by the commands of God, by that Law of God. But there’s a unity that in Christ all of that sin has been paid for, it’s been atoned for, and in that there is peace. Now we won’t see the fulfillment of this either, until that last day. Until His return, we’ll still see divisions, we’ll still see tribalism and identity wars, despite the fact that none of this matters in Him. And sadly, those who reject God won’t get to enjoy that unity at all, but this is a promise in Christ. That’s fourth: peace of men with one another.
Finally, there is the “peace of the soul.” This is the manifestation of the well-being I spoke of before, but it is within us. This is that freedom from anxiety. This is that calm that comes to us, sometimes inexplicably. That’s fifth.
Of course, as I say all that, what a wonderful hope all of this is. As Jesus speaks this peace to us, what a blessed hope to cling to. In fact, we even know that as His Word does exactly what it says, that this peace is promised to us. But how do we get it?
Well, you see, lest we forget that this week actually is the Feast of Pentecost, we know that this peace comes to us by the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s no coincidence that just before Jesus said that He gives His peace to us, He also said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” You see, the Holy Spirit is the One who brings that peace to us. He reminds us that Jesus promises us this peace in His Word and gives that peace to us. Just as the Spirit descended upon the Church on that first Pentecost, so also He descends on the Church now and brings us peace.
It’s a bit different but you can see a glimpse of it in that First Reading of Pentecost. Think about the Old Testament and what we had there with the Tower of Babel. In that, there’s this judgment against sin where mankind is divided amongst the various nations and the multiplicity of languages originate. But what happens with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? He comes down and gives to the Church the ability to speak the “mighty works of God,” in all the languages there. In other words, what we see is that these mighty works of God in Christ, in the death and the resurrection of Jesus, there is this reconciliation and there is this peace in the midst of division. The sin that divides has its end and is overcome on Easter. And there peace comes, peace being brought to the nations at Pentecost.
Christians, this is that peace that is ours. The sin that divides us from God. That sin that brings war against Him and against each other, that sin has been crucified and buried in the tomb of the One who knew no sin Himself. In His resurrection the peace of God has been declared to the world. But to you the Holy Spirit brings it individually. He brought that peace as He descended upon you in the personal Pentecost of your baptism. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And that peace is spoken still in your ear by the promise of absolution, fed to you in His body and blood. Peace with God, that your trials are not because God is mad at you and your sin, for your sin is forgiven. It’s in that peace that you have life. It’s in that forgiveness that you know this peace is yours because it’s promised to you in your whole being, it’s promised eternally, it’s promised in the reconciliation it brings you with God and through that your neighbor, it’s promised to your soul.
One final though to give clarity, though. This doesn’t mean there won’t still be trouble. I was reading what Luther said about this and he put it this way: [God still] allows the affliction to remain and to oppress; yet he employs different tactics to bestow peace: he changes the heart, removing it from the affliction, not the affliction from the heart. This is the way it is done: When you are sunk in affliction he so turns your mind from it and gives you such consolation that you imagine you are dwelling in a garden of roses. Thus, in the midst of dying is life; in the midst of trouble, peace and joy. This is why it is, as St. Paul declares to the Philippians (4,7) a peace which passeth understanding.
And that’s the comfort. There is trial but there is peace in the midst of it. I remember when everything was going on with my dad and my aunt in 2018-2019, I was surprised how much peace I had. That’s not to say there wasn’t sadness. It’s not to say there wasn’t grieving and sorrow. There was a great deal. It’s also not to say there was peace all the time. But to reference Luther one more time, he says it so well again: “You are not to be discouraged though you still shudder at death [or you have fear, or grief or whatever it might be].. For the Holy Spirit’s office is not one that is finished, but is in process of fulfillment from day to day, and continues as long as we live, in such manner that sorrow is ever mingled with peace. Yes Christians, there is peace in the promises of Jesus. There is peace brought to you by the work of the Holy Spirit. There is peace as the Spirit works even by that Word Jesus has spoken in today’s Gospel: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Yes, let not your hearts be troubled. Jesus promises you His peace. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Ascended Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.
One thing that our current circumstances remind us is that this life is not the bed of roses we often think it should be. While many of us probably assume ourselves to be realists with regard to this truth, some of maybe even are cynics with regard to it, but the reality is that deep down we really think this is going to be easy. We think that it’s going to work out in a way that isn’t hard, that will result in the desired outcomes we have sought, that the upshot will be one that fits our hopeful expectations. As I said many of us assume ourselves realists, but it’s true, you don’t really expect it’s going to be that bad. I know it. I know it because you have been disappointed. I’m guessing even now, you are in some way disappointed by something with how things are going on with the state of affairs with the coronavirus. You’ve been disappointed that you haven’t been able to get supplies with the same ease as you’re used to. You’ve been disappointed that you haven’t been able to get some of your online orders with the usual reliability of two day shipping. Or perhaps a bit more appropriately, you’ve been disappointed with how the governor and/or the president has gone about their work in the midst of the pandemic. No, life isn’t the bed of roses we think it should be.
And that’s exactly the point Jesus is making to the disciples in the Gospel Lesson today. Of course, He’s not just generally making this point about this life not being a bed of roses, He’s making that point in a very particular way, a way relating very specifically to His Church: “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.” Jesus knows He’ll be ascending to Father and so He won’t be face to face with His disciples forever. In view of that, He’s preparing them for that time. In this passage just before our Lesson, in particular, He has been saying that the world will hate the Church. The world will see the message of righteousness the Church preaches. It will hear that message that they are not righteous enough, that not one us meets that standard revealed by God in His Law, but that Christ has come to fulfill that righteousness for us. Yes the world will hear that Jesus has lived the perfect life, died the death that we deserve, being raised that the we would know that He gives that righteousness to us in His baptism, in His Word, in Preaching, in His Holy Supper. The world will hear that message and call it stupid. They will hear of their unrighteousness and they will feel accused and bristle. They will hear the blessed comfort that Christ loves us and gives us salvation in Him, in His work and in His work alone, and they’ll kick against it. And as they kick, they’ll kick the Church. So that’s the reality, the Church will be persecuted.
As I say this, there are two things I want to note about that persecution, though. First is how Jesus describes it. He says, “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.” Now, this sentence needs to be understood in its context of the Judaism of Jesus’ time that gathered in the synagogues. Historically, the center of worship was the temple. That was what the Lord had arranged for them through Moses. There was the Ark there, there were the sacrifices made by the priest before the Ark. There was the promise that the Lord would be with them, would meet with His people in a particular way, in the way that He would bless them, at that Ark, at that temple. Well, all of that changed when the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Babylonians carried the Israelites to exile. You can see how the synagogue arose in that context of exile. The people knew that their God called them to gather. He had called them to gather around that Ark. But without access to the Ark, they found in His revelation, the Torah, that they could gather around that Word itself, that Torah where He spoke to them. Thence arose the synagogue. And as they gathered there, they saw it as an extension of the temple, an extension of that place where they met with God. That’s why even today synagogues keep their Torahs in Arks, from what I understand. But with this in mind, in view of the discussion of persecution, you can see the challenge for these Jews, these first disciples of Jesus as He’s telling them they’ll be cast from their church.
But in another connection to the temple with the Ark and sacrifices, Jesus tells them that those who persecute them and kick them out of the synagogues, these people will think their “offering service to God.” They’ll think they’re doing this for God. In fact, from what I read, the words there are more so to say that they’ll think they’re bringing a sacrifice to God, like ritual sacrifice such as occurred in the temple. Now, in the New Testament, we see this fulfilled. We see it fulfilled in Paul, perhaps, in particular, as he starts off persecuting the Christians, and even getting the letter of authority to do so from the Sanhedrin, the ruling council. However, look at how the Church is treated today. We can see some of this arising as well.
Now you might be asking what I’m thinking with that statement, especially in view of the fact that the President of our country just demanded that churches be allowed to be open. And as I say that—and this is not intended as a political statement—I am thankful to hear the government defending the freedom of the Church. That’s a blessing. So what do I mean, then? Well look at how groups like the so-called “New Atheists” have treated the Church. Even over the past centuries, older atheists have treated the Church as though she is dumb for her faith, she is ignorant for her beliefs, she is unreasonable for her trust, reliance, and conviction relating to her Lord and His Word. To be sure, this hasn’t been a majority position. To be sure, especially in the last 70 years, the Church has been given a lot of privilege and respect in the culture. But that’s definitely shifting.
For example, there was a church in Mississippi that was burned down this week for continuing to meet together. I think we can have discussions in our Christian freedom about how best to safely go about the call to meet together in this time—in fact, I expect we’ll be doing that this week with the board of elders in view of the President’s statement. But notwithstanding, this congregation decided that in the trust of the Lord’s care, they would gather, and they were persecuted. The world is not going to comprehend the trust that we have that our God has this in His hand, that even if we get Covid-19 and die, we have something far greater for us waiting. Again, there’s conversation about care for our neighbor that needs to occur in this, but the world will not understand the confidence that we have in this. And so she’ll be persecuted. And in our day, I think we’ll see more and more of persecution, but it will happen not in the Name of Jesus or God, per se, but in other gods. In the name of science—not that science properly done is a bad thing, but there might be attack in that name. Or in the name of love, or freedom, or a myriad of other names. That’s the first thing, we’ll see this persecution like we’re a sacrifice to God.
The second is that this persecution will always be, sometimes visibly, and sometimes invisibly. I’ve been talking about visible persecution and the possibility that we’ll experience it. But the reality is that the Church in many places of the world experiences great persecution. In China, the communist government persecutes the Church and won’t let her meet freely. In some places she can meet, but always under great supervision. Or in many Muslim nations, there is great persecution of the Church there, like the Coptic Church in Egypt, who lives in fairly constant fear.
That’s visible persecution, as we speak of our enemies of sin, death, and the devil, know that you will experience invisible persecution from these enemies. Sometimes that will be at the hand of those tempting you or mocking you, other times it will merely be in the draw to temptation, the draw away from faith and from good piety. This happens, and I think you know it, but understand this is the devil seeking to drive you from faith, to persecute you that you would fall away.
So I’ve spent a lot of time talking about this persecution. What do we do then? Well look at Jesus’ words: I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away… I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. So, we see Jesus has said these things that we wouldn’t fall away—literally that we wouldn’t be scandalized, that we wouldn’t stumble when they happen—and that we would remember that He told them to us. What’s that? Well first He tells us that we will experience this hardship, He tells us that life won’t be this bed of roses, so that when it’s not, we won’t blame God and fall away from faith. Think about how many people look at the world and its brokenness and cite that as motivation for not believing. “Oh I did believe, until all these bad things happened, or until my parent died, or my child, or my friend.” Now, I’m not trying to minimize the pain of those losses, but I’m making the point that Jesus tells us so that we’ll know this is coming, that we’ll be prepared.
If I could go down a rabbit hole for a second as we consider this. Think about this another way. When we see people scandalized and falling away from the faith, it often stems from the incorrect expectation that God is always going to give us what we want. So why do we assume that? Why do we even assume—and let’s say for the sake of argument that we want good things—why do we assume God will give us good things? Because He is good? Well as true as that is, we have to realize that sometimes it’s good for God to give things that feel bad or feel unjust. Why? Actually out of that goodness. It’s good for bad to be punished, right? Ok, so if we can’t assume what we want from God because He’s good, why do we assume God will give us good things? Because we’re good? No, I just touched on that. We’re not. So this assumption that God should be good to us as we think of it is incorrect. I say that not to discourage you but to make a point. And that’s that despite that all of this, there is hope.
Jesus has ascended and will send His Holy Spirit. You see there is a way in which we can be assured God will give good to us. And that’s in Christ. He gives us His good forgiveness, He gives us His good gifts of baptism, the Holy Spirit, the Lord’s Supper, His Word. And in that we see His love. This comfort of His Word, this comfort of this love is the promise we need: 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. When the Holy Spirit comes, He bears witness about Jesus. He says, “Look, you see persecution, you see discouragement, you see what appears to be God not giving good to you. But He is. He has giving you His Son. He is given you His Son. In this Son, He gives you the promise of the forgiveness of every wrong you’ve ever committed. He gives you the promise that He loves you, will give you far greater than whatever is taken away from you in persecution, promises that even persecution is something He can use for your benefit, for your trust in Him.”
Yes, life is not a bed of roses, but the Ascended Jesus promises His Holy Spirit, and that Spirit reminds us that He’s always caring for us. And He wants you to be reminded of that. He wants you to overcome the things that would scandalize you by His care. And by the Spirit He sends, you certainly are able. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read.
“Our Father, who art in heaven. What does this mean? With these words, God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and we are His true children, that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.” Hopefully, you all are familiar with those words from Luther’s Small Catechism. And what beautiful understanding Luther draws from the introductory words of the prayer our Lord Jesus gave to us. The fact that we pray to God as Father means that He invites us to know that He is our Father, and that we would pray to Him. That we would have the confidence to come before Him and ask, just as a child would trustingly ask their father; hands empty, hearts expecting good.
Of course if you know Luther, you know the struggle he had with God. As Luther heard God’s commands, he took them very seriously. As he heard God’s Law, as I spoke of it last week, he was crushed by it for so long. He knew that he hadn’t kept them, and so he feared God so greatly that we get the impression he couldn’t even confidently pray. Now in our day, I think many people have the opposite problem. I think many people just assume that God would listen to them. We are so entitled and self-important, to think that God wouldn’t listen to me… well that’s just heresy. But when we really wrestle with sin, then we realize it shouldn’t be so simple.
And that’s what our Lord Jesus is resting on in our lesson this morning. He’s resting on the understanding that there is, and rightly so, a sense where we fear that God might not hear us. And so He invites us to call out to God. He tells us: Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full… In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
Now in our American Churches it’s common to hear this and have it misapplied. In what’s sometimes called the “Word-Faith” movement, there’s an understanding that if you append Jesus’ Name to a prayer, that if you sort of “claim” what you’re praying for in the Name of Jesus, then you can declare it to be yours. That’s not so much what Jesus is saying here. This isn’t something where we get to turn prayer into a way for us to boss God around and make demands on what He’s going to give us.
So what’s He saying then? He’s making the point that as we might fear God won’t hear us, or won’t grant our prayers because of our sin, we have assurance that He will for Jesus’ sake. Because we have loved and believed that Jesus came from God. Now, even here I want to clarify a bit. Jesus makes it sound like it could be that we merit God’s favor for Him to hear our prayer as a result of our having earned it by loving Jesus and choosing to believe that He came from God. But as we look at the whole of Scripture, we see it’s clear we haven’t. We haven’t earned God’s love by our love. We haven’t earned God’s favor or grace by our faith. No, our faith is what receives the promises God makes to us, in particular the promise that for Christ’s sake, for the sake of His death on the cross, we know God has forgiven us and restored the connection with Him that was broken by sin. And it’s in that connection in Christ that we can rest assured that the Father hears our prayers.
In fact, to come back to Luther, that’s something I so appreciate about how he describes prayer. He always makes the point that prayer is grounded in that command of our Lord to call upon Him and that promise that He makes that our prayers are heard. That anything we ask in His name we will receive that our joy may be made complete. And think about that. The God who created the whole universe has commanded you to pray. Not only as He told you to pray, but He promises to hear it. With the infinitude of things going on in the world, He still wants to hear your voice speaking to Him, and promises to hear it.
You can understand in human terms how those who don’t believe would ridicule this idea. But that’s how infinite and omnipotent our God is. He can hear all of those voices. And wants to. It pleases Him to.
And as we look at our lessons we see some of the things for which we should pray. In the Old Testament lesson, we have the Israelites. They have this recurrence of their unfaithfulness where the grumble against God. As I always like to give context, here are the people of Israel, having been rescued from their slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt. They have been saved by God, going through the waters of the Red Sea, they’re living with God’s care from the Manna that He gives daily, and what do they do? They grumble in unbelief. They grumble about how miserable things are. Now, I’ll sometimes say that God even invites us to complain to Him in our prayers. We see this in the Psalms. But that complaining is something we do in faith. Acknowledging that things are challenging, even asking for help. But here we see grumbling in rejection. So what does God do? He sends the serpents who bite the Israelites.
What happens? They pray for forgiveness. And so we see how God calls us to pray in repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness. So, that’s maybe a bit simple, but it’s a great reminder for us. Pray in confession of our sins, and pray seeking God’s forgiveness. Again, knowing that He commands that prayer, and promises to hear it.
Then we see our other lesson. In the reading from First Timothy, we see this call to pray in supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. So we ask for things, humbly, we come before God speaking the desires we have, speaking His glories, we ask for things for other people—good things for them especially—and we give thanks for the manifold and infinite blessings we have in Christ. Then we also pray—what does Paul say? For “all people.” We pray for all, even our enemies. And we pray for rulers and those in authority. We pray that we would be given a quiet and peaceable life. We pray this, because God desires this peace, desires the salvation of all men. And we pray this in view of the mediator between us and God, the man Christ Jesus, the Man who is God in the flesh, who intercedes for us and gives us the mercy and love of God.
So that gives us insight to our prayers. But, as I say that, something we have to come back to is seemingly unanswered prayer. God tells us to pray, and promises to hear it, so why then did I pray for that certain thing and it didn’t come true? Why did I pray for my loved one to get better, and instead they died? Why did I pray that the cancer test would come back negative and it came back positive? Why did I pray for millions of dollars, and I lost my job?
Sometimes, when we have patience we see that, as Luther is attributed to have said, we ask for silver and God gives us gold. For example, I prayed for millions of dollars, but maybe God gave me something better. Perhaps, He gave me a family who would care for me and the blessings that come from that. Or perhaps He knew that if I was independently wealthy I would serve my passions in a life filled with ennui, that I would pursue all manner of earthly pleasures and comforts, rather than remain faithful to Him. He would prefer I have the gold of the eternal riches of Christ than the dreck of temporal pleasures and comforts. Or perhaps, the heart of my request for material wealth was security. And so He provided me daily bread which gave me a roof over my head and food on my table. Not with the remainder of my life in view, but on a daily basis as I had need for it. And in that, He helped me to see that He is my security, not my material wealth.
Sometimes we see these things in this life. Of course other times we don’t. But I’ve heard it said, and I think wisely, God gives three answers to our prayer: Yes, because I love you; not yet, because I love you; and no, because I love you.
But of course, it’s when we’re in the midst of our trials that the common phrase of those three answers comes into question, isn’t it? For example, right now. “God, I’m pleading with you to take away this coronavirus so that we can get back to normal lives, why are you not providing that way out?” And as we see the suffering that comes in such circumstances, the love of God really can come into question, can’t it?
And that’s where those words of Jesus are so comforting in the last verse of our reading: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” In other words, as you look around and see the brokenness of this world, don’t use that as justification not to believe, or pray. As you look around asking for things to improve, when they don’t, don’t assume that God is unloving. Don’t assume that He doesn’t or hasn’t loved you, don’t assume that He refuses to hear your prayers. Instead, trust that all things prayed in this access to God that we have in Jesus, that all things are answered in Christ. Why? Because in the love God has for us, He sent Jesus into this world. In the love that Jesus has for us, He bore our sin, He bore our death, and He has been raised to show forth His victory.
So when you pray, if you don’t see your prayers answered, don’t use that as an occasion for doubt to take hold. Instead, understand that by it you are being driven further into the arms of the One who cares for you. As you experience these trials, you are being driven to trust this One who does love, to trust in Him and to pray to Him even when everything around you would tell you that it doesn’t make sense to do so. No pray, in the knowledge of this victory.
And to come back to where we stared, pray knowing that in that victory, God Himself has made you His own child. Pray knowing that as you have been baptized into Christ, you have been remade in the image of Christ. You have been born again a new creation, not remaining in the sinfulness of your earthly Father, but born anew in the righteousness of Jesus. And in that righteousness, your Heavenly Father has made you His own child. And just as a trusting earthly child receives from their father in confidence and boldness, so also you receive from your Heavenly Father in your open empty hands. Hands that He loves to fill because He loves to hear your voice and He loves to grant you your greatest needs. And we know that He has filled the greatest of every want we have or could have, and the greatest need of all in eternal life in Christ. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.
I think in our current circumstances we can appreciate the tenor of the response of the disciples in the context of our lesson. Here they are gathered around Jesus for the Passover meal, the meal they don’t realize will be their last with Him before the crucifixion, and they are puzzled and concerned about Him speaking about leaving their presence. I’ve said this before, but I think there are so many people who see God as being absent in the midst of this. There’s all of this sickness and death. Where’s God? There’s the loss of livelihood, where’s God? I can’t handle this anymore, where is God?
But Jesus told us exactly where He would be going. He told us He would be going to the Father, to His Father and our Father by faith in Him. And in this lesson, He even says something that should strike us. He says it’s better for Him to go away. It’s better that we can’t see Him in person. Why? I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. It’s better for Jesus to go because by going, He’ll send His Helper, our Helper, the Paraclete, the Counselor. He’ll send to us His Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.
Now as we look at this passage in the time we’re in in the Church Year, it makes sense to have this reading. Jesus has been crucified and raised. After His resurrection, we know there will be the Ascension, and then the giving of the Spirit to the Church at Pentecost. This is Jesus teaching about the Spirit, about His coming to us, and about His work among us and in the World.
One of the things I always say is that I think the Spirit is the most difficult person of the Trinity for us to understand. I’m saying that again, and I’ll probably say more about that on Pentecost. But it’s true. And so we have Jesus telling us of His work.
Now as I say that, I read something this week that made the point that this passage tells of the work of the Spirit in the Church and outside of the Church. I don’t necessarily agree with the way the author made the distinction, but I could see the point. I think we could see this in another way. The first division is the Spirit’s work in Law and Gospel and the second part is that we can see His Work in revelation.
What do I mean? Hear again what Jesus says, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” So the Holy Spirit will do this work of conviction.
Now that work of conviction is Law and Gospel because this conviction isn’t the legal kind. It’s not as though the Spirit comes to make the legal declaration of guilt or innocence. No, that’s already happened on the cross and resurrection. No, this conviction is the internal sense of something. And this conviction comes in both Law and Gospel.
I know when I say this, that many of you might be saying, “there goes Pastor on Law and Gospel again…” But this is the key to understanding the Scriptures in so many ways. For those of you that can’t ever remember how this works, remember that Law is the discussion of the Commandments in general, what God calls us to do. It’s also within that, though, that conviction that we haven’t done those. And as I use the word conviction here, I mean that both in the internal sense that we’re talking about with the Holy Spirit, and the legal aspect where we see that we deserve—as we say in the prayer of confession—God’s temporal and eternal punishment. That’s the Law. The Gospel is that blessed Good News that despite our conviction, so to speak, in God’s Court, He has declared us “Not Guilty” because of the work of Jesus. Since Jesus didn’t break those Commands, didn’t break God’s Law, and since He suffered death and Hell on the cross for us, in our place, we are forgiven. We are “Not Guilty” by His resurrection victory over sin, death, and the devil. That’s the Gospel.
So to apply that to this work of the Holy Spirit, when He convicts “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment,” we see this Law and Gospel happening. In particular, we see the accusation of the Law, when Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” Think about this. There is a conviction of sin because there is not belief in Jesus.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone about the faith and they told you that it made them uncomfortable? I remember a conversation I had with someone in college, and that’s what they said to me. I was talking about Jesus and the person said that the conversation was making them uncomfortable. Now, to be clear, our goal when we are confessing the faith to someone should not be to make them uncomfortable. In fact, if we can say it in a way that doesn’t, we should try. At least we should try so long as we don’t contradict anything that the faith teaches, so long as we don’t compromise the condemnation of the Law and our forgiveness in Christ alone. But this is the Holy Spirit convicting of sin.
But as I say that you might think, “but Jesus said this is because of not believing in Him, Pastor, you haven’t mentioned that.” You’re right. What does this have to do with faith in Christ? Well, on the one hand this has to do with the fact that all sin flows from unbelief. We sin because we don’t believe that God’s commands are good. We sin because we don’t trust that these truly are what is best for us. But there is also the fact that this conviction—this internal discomfort where we are convinced of our sinfulness—that this rests on us and is uncomfortable until we realize that there is a way out.
Think about it. When you have no way out from a dire situation, it makes you uncomfortable until you have resolution. If you get pulled over for speeding, you have anxiety until the policeman gives you the ticket or warning. Well, the conviction of the Law of God, is way worse than that. And when it hits us that we can’t earn or work our way out of the sentence, then it makes us uncomfortable. It does so even more when we have convinced ourselves that we are good enough to earn our way out of it, or that we aren’t so bad and so we don’t actually deserve that temporal and eternal punishment. But faith in Jesus relieves that discomfort. The relief of the conviction comes with the Gospel. It comes when it’s clear that the way out is by the cross and the forgiveness in Jesus’ resurrection.
In fact, that’s the righteousness aspect. “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” Jesus’ ascent to heaven is that proof that He is the perfectly righteous man. He is the One who kept those commandments perfectly. He is the One whose righteousness and goodness is given to us, given to you by faith. And as we “see [Him] no longer,” then we know He is the Righteous One at the Father’s right hand. We know that God has put Him in the place of ultimate authority, because He earned it by His obedience.
And it’s in this that there is the conviction concerning judgment: “concerning judgment that the ruler of this world is judged.” Now, I always say this is a bit hard for us to understand. We always understand that God rules all things, that He’s all-powerful. And He is. But we have to remember that the fall into sin took the dominion of this world that was originally man’s and gave it to the devil. At that point, the devil became the ruler of the world. That’s why all the bad things that happen in the world happen. But now we don’t have to lay awake at night worried about that. Now, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, now the ruler of this world is judged. It’s done. In fact all bad, all sin is judged with Him. It’s all been overcome. If you’ve been listening to my sermons since Easter, you know I keep bringing up that victory of Jesus-that victory over sin, death, and the devil. He’s won over all of them.
And as that victory is proclaimed, there’s this Law and Gospel in the work of the Holy Spirit. He convicts of sin, He shows Jesus’ forgiveness and victory. He shows Jesus’ righteousness and the judgment of the devil. He shows the conviction of the Law and convinces of the glory of the Gospel.
Now that’s the first part of this. I said there’s this Law/Gospel part and there is a part about revelation. Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” So, we hear there what the Holy Spirit does. He brings these words of Jesus to us. What Jesus says, He says. He guides us, He leads us to all truth.
As we hear those words, there a lot of confessions that say that this means that we have to have our antennae, so to speak, attuned to hearing the revelation of the Holy Spirit. They say that this means that we have to open our hearts to hear what the Holy Spirit is telling us now. But this isn’t anything more than what Jesus Himself said. In other words, this finally isn’t more than what the apostles gave to us in the books of the Gospels, than what Paul received from Jesus and wrote into his letters, than what we have in the New Testament. That’s what this means.
In fact as it says there that “He will guide you into all the truth,” how can we understand that? Well, what does Jesus say about Himself just before this in John? He says, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” The Holy Spirit leads us to Jesus. As we have this conviction of the guilt of our sin, of righteousness, of judgment, the Holy Spirit leads us to Jesus. He leads us to Jesus so that the guilt of our sin can be seen in its forgiveness in Jesus. It can be seen in the righteousness that is His, that is given to us in baptism, in preaching, in His supper. It can be seen in the judgment of sin, death, and the devil on the cross, and the victory in the resurrection.
So, we can’t see Jesus now. In our times, this concerns us. Where is God? Where is Jesus in the midst of this pandemic? Where is Jesus in the midst of this broken world and the suffering we all know? He’s at the right hand of the Father in His righteousness. But He’s there sending His Spirit to us to comfort us, to lead us back to Him. In fact, He’s also with us by that same Spirit. That Spirit bringing Jesus to us in His Word and Sacraments. And though we can’t see Him, He promises this. He left so that He could come to us and bring us His grace, His righteousness, His victory. And when we can see these in faith, the trials seem more manageable. His apparent absence is found not to be absence at all. And His love is proven to be unfailing. Where is Jesus? He’s right where He promises to be, with you, His precious possession, never to leave you nor forsake you. Amen.