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Sunday after Ascension, May 13, 2018 - St. John 15:26-16:4

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Posted: Sunday, May 13th, 2018 by Pastor Westgate

We are in waiting. Today is a Sunday overshadowed by what surrounds it. Thursday was Ascension, the day the God-Man was crowned in heaven. Next Sunday is Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Today looks back to Ascension yet looks ahead to Pentecost. Today was the day St. Matthias was elected to replace Judas as an Apostle. Today you hear how the ascended Lord still speaks to us: He speaks to us through the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the testimony of the Apostles, written in Sacred Scripture.

We are between Ascension and Pentecost, but our Gospel reading is still coming from Jesus’ sermon on Maundy Thursday to His disciples. When you hear Jesus’ words, remember the disciples were not in a good state of mind. They were upset. They were sad. They were discouraged. Their Lord was making it very clear to them they were about to lose Him. In 24 hours He would be in the tomb. They hated that this was happening. They were sad to lose their best friend. They were bummed. You know how it feels when a loved one dies, perhaps how it feels when it’s sudden. That’s the disciples right now as they hear Jesus preach His sermon.

That’s why Jesus talked to them about the Paraclete. That’s the Greek word – it refers to somebody being called to aid somebody else. It can mean something like Helper, Encourager, Mediator, Comforter. That’s what the disciples needed. They needed help to get through this situation and throughout their ministry. They needed somebody to encourage them, somebody to mediate for them with God whenever they were in trouble, somebody to comfort them due to their loss the next day and due to all the trouble they’d endure throughout their apostolic ministry.

This was no idle need. They were going out to preach the Resurrection of the God-Man from the dead. That’s at least 5 things right there for the world to reject. The world would mock the idea that God walked with men. It would think it ridiculous that God became man. It would laugh at an immortal God dying as weak. It would never think a dead man could live again. Most importantly it would mock the purpose for His Death and Resurrection: the forgiveness of sins.

So the holy apostolic band needed the Holy Spirit’s help. They would need His help to remain faithful when the Jews rejected their message and threw them out. They would need it when Saul killed them and when Rome killed them. After all, Saul certainly thought he was serving Israel’s God when he led the charge against St. Stephen. Rome killed Christians because we refused to worship not just any gods, but the emperor himself who was Rome’s chief god.

So Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to them on Pentecost. The Spirit testified to the Apostles. That means He reminded them of everything Jesus told them. They needed this because it was too much for them to remember. And you know they never really understood it anyway, so the Spirit helped them not just know what He said but also what He meant. He would use Jesus’ words to keep them strong when the people would turn on them, when they’d imprison them, when they’d kill them. They in turn testified throughout the world that they saw the risen God-Man, that He died to save, that He rose to forgive, that He lives that we too might live. Their work is not yet finished. They still testify wherever the Scriptures are read.

The promise of the Holy Spirit is not just for the Apostles. He wasn’t just going to help them out. He wasn’t just going to stay in heaven once the last Apostle, St. John, was dead and do nothing ‘til the end of time. The Apostles received Him on Pentecost, and you received Him when you were baptized. No, He doesn’t make you immediately speak in other languages. I had to learn Latin and German, Greek and Hebrew in school after all. But you do have Him. He gave you in baptism faith in Jesus, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. He is ready and willing to help you, encourage you, mediate for you, and comfort you.

These are things we need. We are mere mortals. We can’t begin to understand or believe God’s Word by our own strength. We can’t trust Jesus on our own. Those reasons Rome killed Christians? Those same reasons would cause us without His help to reject God’s Word without a thought. He leads us to believe in Christ. He then helps us throughout life. He encourages us to do what’s right, to speak for Jesus, to hear His Word. He mediates for us with God; even when we don’t quite know what to say, or when you’re afraid you’re saying the wrong thing, He’s making it the exact right thing even before you’re done talking. He comforts you when you are in sorrow by bringing to your remembrance the promises our Savior gives those who love Him: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation from evil.

This is very necessary. We like to think we’re strong in our faith, but Scripture reminds us not to get proud about it. After all it’s not our faith. God has given it to us. We are 100% dependent on Him. That means we can only be strong if we are continually communing with Him. That means we regularly receive His Sacrament, but it also means we regularly read and hear Holy Scripture. Strength is His gift to us, not our own doing. We must recognize we are still sinners, and that means we could fall from grace at any time. That could happen if we stopped paying attention to God’s Word, stopped receiving His Sacrament, or fell into a grave sin.

This is very necessary in our own day. Gone are the days, and those days were shorter than we think, when we can say Christians aren’t persecuted. Many Lutherans came to this land to escape persecution. We have all heard stories of devotees of another religion killing Christians in other lands. But persecution is here too. The Sixth Commandment is rejected openly and those who accept it are threatened with losing businesses and law licenses. The day may come when they will come after the Church herself with reckless abandon. When that day comes, it may be soon or far off – may God spare us and our children from it –, the Holy Spirit promises to help us and give us strength to stand firm in the Faith. He will give us strength and courage. By ourselves, we would just cave in to the pressure. He will stand by us and help us with His comfort. After all, He reigns over the heathen from the throne of His holiness. So He will make us “a well-armed host through comfort of the Holy Ghost.” He will lead you to say: “The Lord is my Light and my Salvation: whom shall I fear?” How? Through Sacred Scripture which says: “Christ is risen!”

The Holy Ghost gives us comfort, help, and strength. Someone at work or a relative or friend may make fun of you for believing in Jesus, but He will remind you that Scripture says Jesus let Himself be killed by the world so He could vindicate you on the last day. We memorize Scripture, hymns, and Catechism because He uses that memory work throughout our lives to give us the help and comfort we need in any situation. He s peaks to us through Scripture alone. His Word is where we should go for comfort and help in all trial, fear, and need – indeed, at all times. We go to Him in prayer, and He uses His Word to give us a devout will towards God and to help us serve Him with a pure heart. He says, “Seek My face,” and you say, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek. Hide not Thy face from me.”

Categories: Pastor Westgate's Sermons

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