We hate to wait. We want instant gratification. We forget the wait makes things that much better. We are impatient; we are also self-centered. We hate to wait for things we want; we definitely don’t want anything to do with things we don’t want. We only want what is comfortable. Nuisances? They can just go away. If they don’t, or if we see something we don’t like, we get away or go on the offensive until those things are long gone.
That could have been the disciples. They were getting that way on Maundy Thursday. They were used to long sermons from our Lord, like they heard that night. After all, the Sermon on the Mount is just as long! But at least that sermon didn’t have the message they now were hearing. Yes, in that sermon they heard: “You better live according to God’s Ten Commandments.” But in this sermon they heard: “Jesus is leaving us! Why? We don’t want that!”
But in today’s Gospel Jesus isn’t preparing them for His Death. He’s preparing them for their ministry. He’s preparing them for what would happen after His Ascension. We’re in that time now, waiting for Pentecost, just like they were. They spent that Sunday with God’s Word, electing St. Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot as an apostle. Today we spend it with God’s Word and Sacrament. They were preparing for Him to send His Spirit on Pentecost. We are preparing to celebrate that day, the day God The Holy Ghost brought into existence His holy Christian Church.
But they heard something they definitely didn’t like, something that might cause us, if we heard it on the front end, to say, “Forget about this Jesus business! I’d rather live.” Jesus told them they were going to have big targets on their backs. They believed Him. After all, they locked themselves up up there because they were afraid of The Jews! He told them the days were coming that people would think they were offering God worship by killing them.
He wasn’t kidding. The Jews certainly thought that when they threw St. Peter into prison and killed St. James. Saul certainly thought that as he killed Stephen and then killed Christians throughout the Promised Land; he was so rabid he was on his way to do it in Damascus too when he was divinely stopped. Once he was St. Paul, his ex-buddies were always causing him trouble until finally they arrested him in Jerusalem; but he eventually turned that into an opportunity to get to Rome by appealing to Cæsar.
It hasn’t stopped. Rome killed Christians for being “atheists,” which meant we weren’t good for society because we weren’t at least pretending to worship their idols. Christians are still killed today for worshiping Christ. That’s not happening here, but we have had cases of people losing their businesses or being censured because they refuse to go along with the prevailing winds concerning marriage. I think we’ve all heard about people challenging crosses, nativity scenes, or the Ten Commandments in public space. Persecution seems to be coming.
Where shall we turn in time of persecution? The same place we turn when we feel our sins pressing down on us. And they should press down on us. After all, none of us has ever perfected self-control. There’s been times we weren’t sober-minded, which means there’s been times each of us has sinned not because we couldn’t help it, but because we wanted to sin. We often only do things for others not because we want to, but only because it’s expected. We might miss a chance to speak about Christ when we’re given a wide opening to talk about Him. We’d rather have people serve us and be the center of attention instead of letting ourselves serve others. And that’s just what the Epistle (I Peter 4:7b-11) tells us about our sins. We have so many more sins to confess! After all, The Collect points out that on our own we never have a devout will towards the almighty and everlasting God and never serve His majesty with a pure heart.
Therefore Jesus sends us The Paraclete. That’s just putting the Greek letters of the word Jesus uses into English. Nobody agrees how to translate it. Some say “Helper.” Others say “Comforter.” The verb it comes from primarily means “to encourage,” so we could call The Holy Ghost “The Encourager.” How does He do that? After all, I don’t visibly see Him or audibly hear Him speaking to me with a voice that says: “The Holy Spirit is talking!”
Ah, but you do. But it’s not a voice you alone hear in your head or heart. It’s a voice that comes from outside. It comes in such a simple way. You hear Him as you read The Bible and do your devotions at home. You hear Him at Bible Class or Catechism Class as we study what God’s Word is saying to us in however many or few verses we go through. You hear Him in this place when God’s Word is read, when the sermon is preached, when The Words of Institution are spoken, when the Benediction is recited. Yes, The Holy Ghost speaks to us, through His Word, in this place. He speaks loud and clear. “Listen to Him.”
Why should we listen to Him? Because He comes with words of comfort and encouragement. How does He do that? He testifies about Jesus. That’s His job. He comes with Law and Gospel. He comes to tell us we have sinned against God’s Law and it’s our fault. He tells us we deserve eternal death in hell for our sins. But then He tells us Jesus suffered eternal death in hell for us on The Cross and rose again to win for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Such comfort when our sin confronts us with the terrors of hell! Christ has suffered hell for us. It has no claim to us. He burst it wide open so it cannot hold those who believe in Him and belong to Him. Death must let us go when He commands this on the Last Day. It cannot drag us down to hell. It must deliver our souls to Him in heaven; it must let us go when He returns to judge the living and the dead. Sin cannot hold onto us. It cannot condemn us. It must allow us to do what is right in God’s sight, to devoutly will to serve Him with a pure heart.
Such comfort when persecution confronts us with the terrors of hell! Persecution is hell reacting violently against Christ. So when you are mocked for your faith, when you are told your beliefs are passé, when it looks like you could lose everything for it, remember your Savior. The world hated Him first. That’s why it wanted Him dead. But He has overcome the world. They could seal His grave, but they couldn’t keep Him in. The angel easily rolled the great stone away when He was already long gone! He walked through those walls just like He walked through the walls of the upper room later that night. He has crushed the devil’s power, and with him, sin and death.
That means He’s crushed the world’s power. It can only take you if you let it. Stay with Jesus. Stay with His Word and Sacrament and you will have the victory, because He is The Victor! St. Paul will joyfully tell you that those who persecute you today could become your Christian brethren tomorrow. God is on the side of His faithful Christian people and will never forsake us. So we have every reason to sing with the Psalmist: “God reigneth over the heathen; God sitteth upon the throne of His holiness. The LORD is my Light and my Salvation; whom shall I fear?”