05. June 2011
For just over forty days our church has celebrated Easter, rejoicing with the Apostles and all the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection of Our Lord. This celebration reached its climax this past Thursday with the Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father. Next Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon Peter, John, James, and all the Apostles. They were sent forth into the World with the gift of language, so that all may rejoice in the Easter triumph over sin, death, and the devil.
But in the meantime, the disciples, now Apostles (or sent ones) are huddled in Jerusalem, constantly in prayer. For those ten days between Ascension and Pentecost, the disciples did very little. St. Luke records the election of Matthias to fill the apostolic seat vacated by Judas and his betrayal. The book of Acts sets a scene of a fearful apostles, gathered behind closed doors in the upper room, praying for guidance and direction now that their Lord and Christ has departed into the heavens.
They feared the world, the Jews, and even feared the mandate of our Lord to go into all nations, baptizing and teaching. They feared what might happen if they preached the good news of forgiveness for the sake of the shed blood of Jesus.
Our Lord knew they would doubt. He knew their weakness would get in the way of going about the miraculous work of being His feet and hands in the world. He knew they would need a Helper, a Counselor, a Comforter to give them the boldness and confidence in all things He had said to them from the beginning. He knew that one cannot believe without seeing unless he be blessed with the Spirit. This Spirit testifies that the ascended Lord is not an absent Lord.
Like the Apostles, Jesus has not left you alone. He has sent His Helper to testify to the truth that you may believe. By this Spirit, you have have heard all that Jesus said and know it to be trustworthy and true. In this steadfast faith, you have been given the courage to resist Satan and all his devices that would try to undermine the Word of our Lord.
God’s Word tells us and we believe that Jesus now sits at the right hand of God. From the throne He governs and gives all good things on this earth, including all you have, all you need, and your very life. From the Father’s side, our exalted Christ holds dominion of all creatures, judging the unfaithful, but guarding and protecting you, the faithful, from every danger, from sin, and from the evil one. By His ascension, he now comes to all faithful Christians throughout the world in His Holy Supper, where salvation is given to you, that is, the forgiveness of sins for you burdened soul.
For you, the Christian, He is not a mere spiritual presence, present only in your heart. Rather, His blood is washed over you in your baptismal waters in both spirit and flesh. You eat and drink his true body and blood in the Holy Sacrament in spirit and flesh.
This truth is not obvious. Nor is this truth believable at face value. How does one come to believe that the Son who has ascended, now comes to us in flesh and blood in what appears to be mere bread and wine? How does one come to know this truth? Our Lord spoke these words: “this IS my body” and “this IS my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.”
This is true faith: to hear the words of Son of God and to believe.We need to hear this Gospel word always. We need to be instructed repeatedly in the true faith. Sin so strangles your mind that your flesh writhes in doubt and does not trust the clear and trustworthy sayings of our Lord.
But this need not be! “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.” Our Lord has not left you to decide whether His Word to you is true. He has sent His Helper from the Father, the Holy Spirit to testify to your heart. Your heart has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit which testifies to the Word. The Holy Spirit teaches all that is good and salutary for the faithful. This Spirit of truth proceeds from both the Father and the Son in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing you may have eternal life.
The testimony of this Helper, the Spirit of truth, is trustworthy. By the Spirit, you trust the Word of our Lord that says: This is my body and this is my blood in the Supper. By the Spirit, you believe that you have been joined to Jesus in His body through the washing of rebirth, Baptism. All that was given through the Moses, the Psalmists, and the Prophets also is the true and trustworthy testimony according to the Spirit.
So also, the Evangelists and the Apostles were promised and spoke by this same Spirit. Even after Christ’s ascension, the Apostles were given the Spirit so that they could bear witness to Him. They spoke of His salvation to the four corners of the earth. They spoke with boldness in synagogues, marketplaces, prisons and even before pagan idols.
One would think the Evangelical task would be too difficult. That in the face of rampant paganism, idolatry, and abject rejection of Jesus, those disciples would stumble. No, they did not. They witnessed to the Son of God, even being killed for the sake of the Gospel. Their martyr deaths bears witness to the testimony of the Spirit in their hearts.
Jesus told them they would be kicked out of the synagogues. Jesus told them that they would be killed by those who thought they were doing God a service. The Apostles remembered just as the Lord had promised. They remembered by the Spirit and did not stumble. They remained steadfast in the face of all trial and tribulation, even death. The promise of the Spirit did not end with the Apostles.
They appointed pastors to carry this Spirit into the all the world, bearing witness of all that our Lord said from the beginning. They laid their hands upon the second generation of presbyters (or preachers), handing over the same Apostolic testimony and the same Spirit of truth. Like their spiritual fathers, the second generation of pastors suffered the same fate. They were harassed, attacked, imprisoned, and and even killed for the Gospel of Christ. But they remained steadfast in the faith, handing over the witness to the third generation. And so the church has been preserved for 2000 years.
The Holy Spirit continues to testify to our Lord’s Word, given by the prophets, evangelists, and apostles. He continues inspiring the hearts of Christians throughout the world to trust and believe that Jesus Christ’s shed blood washes away our sins. I, as your preacher, and you, the body of Christ, can repeat these words with all boldness and confidence. Just like the Apostles, the Lord’s Spirit testifies by the mouth of even ministers of the Gospel and all those who love and serve him, that the sayings of Holy Scripture are trustworthy and true.
This is how the Father and Son preserve their church. The Spirit who is sent from both brings to our recollection the whole testimony of God and grants to us faith to believe. You, as baptized children of God, have been given the gift of the Spirit, that you might believe and bear witness that Jesus Christ has redeemed you through His shed blood.
We all know friends, family, or neighbors who once were freely born as children of God, but who have now departed the Christian church and live in abject rejection of saving faith. Especially for those closest to us, this pain grieves us. We mourn and pray to our God that He might rescue them by His word and Spirit. As St. Peter confessed, the end of all things is at hand. Those who have fallen from faith are in mortal danger. Their souls on the last day will not be merely destroyed but will be condemned to an eternity in hell.
Jesus gave us the words of today’s Gospel not merely so that we might believe. He gave us these words that we might have boldness and confidence in the face of trials and temptation. The task is difficult. You may be mocked for your faith. You may be rejected for what you believe. This should be no surprise.
“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. 3 And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.”
He knows that we cannot believe nor remain in the faith simply by choosing or by our own powers. He knows the condition of the fallen flesh, of the sinful world, and most of all, of the assaults of the evil foe, Satan. None of these enemies of Gospel are to be taken lightly. They are real and present dangers, daily attacking to destroy the free gift of God. These attacks are so fierce that many who hear and believe later fall from grace, reject their baptism, and lead a life of the unrepentant.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. “
The Spirit has equipped you to share Jesus with those you know and those you love. Because we are in the Spirit, we are to be serious and watchful for all, especially our family, friends, and neighbors. Minister to them according your vocations. Love one another, being hospitable without grumbling. Most of all, testify by the Spirit to the truth of God’s atoning sacrifice for them. Speak with boldness and confidence about what Christ has given you in your baptism. Defend the trustworthiness of our Lord’s Word of institution of His Holy Supper, where you receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Support the public preaching of the Gospel, for which Christ has appointed pastors. And thus, you testify to the truth of God’s witness recorded in Holy Scriptures. This same Spirit attested Word guards your own soul.
The Spirit daily renews faith by your baptism. The Spirit forgives your sins through the Holy Absolution pronounced by our Lord. The Spirit renews your love for both God and one another in His Holy Supper. All these sayings are testified to you, this day, by the Spirit of truth in the preached Word. What our Lord gives and the Spirit testifies are all trustworthy and true.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church