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.
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.
As we hear our Lord speaking to His disciples in this lesson, we can see that the focus of it centers around that statement from Jesus: “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” There’s the back and forth of Jesus saying it, and the disciples conferring amongst themselves about it, then Jesus saying it again. In fact, John notes this phrase of “a little while” as occurring four times in these verses. A little while and you will see me no longer, and again a little while and you will see me. So what is Jesus saying here? Well, He finally clarifies it to say, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” In other words, there is joy when we see Jesus. Yes there is sorrow, there is grieving now. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. But your sorrow will turn into joy. There is joy when we see Jesus.
As I hear that phrase, I think of what I hear so many of you say so well, “Pastor, I don’t know what I would do without my faith.” You’re so right. There are so many things that we experience in this life, and we realize that without our faith, understanding them and enduring them would be infinitely more difficult. There’s this understanding that there is joy when we see Jesus. And as I say that, I have to clarify, this doesn’t mean that we’re happy all the time. In fact, I am guessing that many of you know the old Sunday School song about “inright, outright, upright, downright, I’m happy all the time,” and some of you maybe also know I really don’t like that song. It’s because as Christians our faith doesn’t guarantee that we’ll be happy all the time. Sometimes we experience the hardships of sin, death, and the attacks of the devil and those are hard. Those create very unhappy circumstances. But there is still joy.
To make this a bit more concrete, as many of you know from my sermons, it’s not unusual for me to watch some sort of show while I exercise. It’s probably where I do most of my show watching. But this week I was watching a documentary about a dispute between these two men in North Carolina. You see one of the men had something that belonged to him which was purchased by the other in an auction at a storage facility. They’re fighting about who the rightful owner is. However, what was pertinent to the sermon is not the object, but the seeming motivation of the two men to want it. For the original owner, he seems to have associated it with the plane crash in which his father died. He’s presented as having the issue of never receiving validation from his father, and so he can’t resolve that. In view of his father’s death, now the object is something to cling to. For the other man, he’s presented as having had an abusive father. In view of that abuse, he’s also portrayed as having developed a personality which constantly seeks attention. For him, possessing the object is a means to garner attention. What’s the point?
The point is that both of these men struggle with imperfect human fathers. They both wrestle with the consequences of the way that those fathers didn’t raise them as they should. You could even say they grieve that, there’s sorrow. As I watched this, I grieved for them. How sad. All the more, I see how they could have such greater peace, they could even have joy if they could see Jesus. If they could see the love that God has for them as we see it in the sending of His Son for our sins, then they would know joy. Maybe not happiness, but joy that gives them rest and peace. There is joy when we see Jesus.
Or think about what we’re enduring with our sheltering-in-place. I know I’ve talked to a lot of you who have expressed a fair amount of contentment in these circumstances. And that’s good, there’s a sense in which we are called to be content in every circumstance. I know there are also a lot of you that are really wrestling with the authority of the government in the midst of this.
I thought in view of that this passage from 1 Peter was so interesting with regard to its timing. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. As we hear those words, we understand that whether we agree or not, whether we think it just or not, our duty is to obey the orders of our government. Now, we do have to keep in mind how we go about this obedience. How is that? Look what it says: “as servants of God.” This tells us that we do this knowing on the one hand that these institutions we have in place as our governing authorities are masks of God, they represent Him. But on the other hand, we also know that they are operated by humans who certainly err at times—or perhaps not even at times, but often. In view of that, we ultimately serve God. So what does that mean? It means that at a point we owe obedience to commandments 1-3, to having no other gods, to not misusing the Name of God, to keeping that Sabbath holy more than we do to the authorities in this life. However, as we consider that, we consider that in our current circumstances understanding that although the government does not view us as essential, the preaching of the Word and the giving of the Lord’s body and blood are essential to the life of the church. We may rightly modify that, as we are for the love of our neighbor, but those are not to be utterly discontinued.
But here’s the connection: in view, then, of the modifications we’re currently experiencing, what’s our life like? Well, I made the connection on Maundy Thursday to the life of the Israelites in exile. As the Babylonians carried the Israelites from the temple, they mourned. They grieved. As it says in Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” And so we should grieve. As content as we might be in our circumstances. As thankful as we can even be for the time that we have with our family, and that families are having this time to pause and to hopefully refocus away from all the things that distract us from our Lord and faithfulness to Him, it’s still a time to grieve. The fact that I can’t be with you all face to face, that hurts. The fact that I can’t give all of you the body and blood of Jesus here in this sanctuary together as one family, that’s sorrowful. If that doesn’t grieve you, it should.
I saw a post on Facebook from someone who was of another confession. That person was sort of chastising people for grieving this. They were saying that we have these electronic means to hear the preaching of the Word, and so they literally said, “it’s the same thing!” No. It’s not the same thing! The body of Christ when He came to this earth was incarnate. It was in the flesh. Yes, thanks be to God that we worship in Spirit and Truth, and so even though the body of Christ is fractured this place and that place, we are united in the Spirit. Thanks be to God for that. But it’s not the same thing. You all know it doesn’t feel the same to see my face on the screen. I have Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting right now. It’s not the same. As one of my professors in seminary said, when you see Jesus in His ministry, He came to people flesh to flesh. And now His body rightly gathers flesh to flesh. Why? Because there is joy there when we see Jesus.
But as we speak of this grief, of this sorrow, we come back to Jesus’ words again: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” We will be together again. We will see each other again. We will see Jesus in His body as we gather again, and there will be joy.
In fact, Jesus makes this connection to the mother giving birth. I know I just spoke of this during Lent, but it was after all this was going on and before we had services online, so I’ll speak of it again. I remember when one of our kids was being born the labor got stuck. And it seemed like it was never going to end. It was really painful for my wife. For hours she was in this spot, in the highest point of the birth pangs. But eventually the child was born. All of that pain, all of that suffering was not being remembered. Why? As Jesus said, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
Yes, Christians, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” There is joy when we see Jesus. There is the joy of knowing that despite the grief of this world, He has borne it out of love for us. Despite the sorrows of this world, He has overcome them that we would have the victory. Despite the loss we see in death and know in sadness, He is the One who promises that in His Kingdom He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
As I was reading for this passage this week, I found a commentator that said it this way, “the theological function of [grief] is to show that death is not annulled but made into an act of salvation by the resurrection… [in other words, for the worldly grief] is the constant hampering of life and its ultimate extinction. But for Christians it is the constant liberation and growth of the power of life.
Paul in His letter to the Corinthians says it a bit differently. In his second letter, he’s commenting about the first letter he wrote. And if you know that letter, you know there are some spots where he says some things that are hard to hear. Paul didn’t mince words. Apparently the Corinthian Church had let him know that they were grieved by some of this. So Paul says, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.” In other words, he’s making the point that as we grieve in this life, it drives us to repentance. Properly, then, repentance drives us to Jesus. This leads us to salvation without regret. It leads us to Jesus. There is joy when we see Jesus.
Of course all of this joy that we will know when we see Jesus ultimately is the joy we will know when we see Him face to face. In the meantime, we have the joy of seeing Him by faith. We have the joy of seeing Him in the forgiveness He speaks to us in His Word. We have the joy of knowing His promises to us as we see Him uniting us to Himself in baptism, we have the joy of tasting and seeing that goodness in His body and blood in His holy supper. There is joy when we see Jesus.
And thankfully we have the promise that the grieving we have is only for a little while. On the one hand we know that the grief we have of our current circumstances won’t last forever. It’s likely that it won’t be much longer in a temporal sense. But even if it should last until our Lord calls us to Himself or returns, it will still only be a little while. Thankfully that little while is not long compared to eternity with Him, because there is joy when we see Jesus. Amen.