Preached: May 19, 2013
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The words of Jesus that speak to us today are recorded in John 15.
When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also testify because are with me from the beginning. (John 15:26, 27).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1 NIV84), he had told them earlier that night. But how could they not be troubled? Jesus was talking about going away. You see, this was the last Passover, Maundy Thursday night. Soon Jesus would be betrayed, tried, crucified, and buried. What's more, Jesus had just made it clear that the world would hate the disciples for following him. Just as the world hated and persecuted him, so it would do the same to them.
But then Jesus speaks the words of the text: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26 NIV84). They would not be alone as they faced the world. Another Counselor, namely, God the Holy Spirit, would be with them.
And he is with you, dear Christian. As you carry the cross by following Jesus, and feel the hatred of this world because of his name, and bear the ridicule that comes as you confess Christ, the Counselor is with you. He testifies about Jesus. And as you face the hardships and worries of life that try to wear down faith and build up doubts, the Counselor is with you. He testifies about Jesus. And when the wealth, pleasures, successes, and delights of this world threaten to choke out your faith, like weeds choking out good a crop, the Counselor is with you. He testifies about Jesus.
The Counselor, Holy Spirit, testifies about Jesus (1) to comfort us with Christ's forgiveness and (2) to assure us with God’s truth. Listen to his testimony and believe it.
“Out of the depths I cry to you. O LORD” (Psalm 130:1), the Psalm writer pleaded. Is each one of us as keenly aware of the depths of our own sinfulness? For you see, we appreciate the real work of the Holy Spirit and the comfort he brings only if we know in our hearts the murky depths out of which he draws us.
For an illustration, think about the pioneer days. After long weeks out in the snow hunting and trapping, how good a warm bath felt, especially when someone else had pumped the water and heated it on the wood-burning stove for you! Do we appreciate a bath or shower as much as that pioneer did? Or does the ease of turning a facet for hot water anytime we want tempt us to often take it for granted? So also, only when we know and feel the depths of our filth and the dirtiness of our sin, do we then truly appreciate the bath the Holy Spirit gives when he testifies about Jesus and his forgiveness.
Many who listened to Peter's sermon on that day of Pentecost felt the depths of their filthiness. In the Second Lesson today, you only heard the introduction to Peter's sermon. After that introduction, he preached the main point, showing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ whom the Lord had promised. Jesus' miracles, wonders, and signs clearly demonstrated that he was sent by God. Yet they, the people, put him to death. But God raised him from the dead and exalted him above all. What more proof could God give? Then Peter declared, “Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36 NIV84). How that exposed the depths of sinfulness! They had murdered the Lord of glory! How could they ever be saved? Cut to the heart, they cry out to Peter. He answers, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38 NIV84). How wonderfully the Holy Spirit was at work in those words, testifying about Jesus. As the Counselor he comforts the hearers with Christ's forgiveness.
What about you and me, dear friends? Do we dismiss some of our sins as inconsequential? Or do we see, like those first Pentecost hearers, that our sin, yours and mine, drove the thorns into Jesus' head, the nails into his hands, and the spear into his side? Do we live out our Baptism each day, that wonderful bath from the Holy Spirit? How often we fail to value the promises God made to you and me, individually, through the water and word that washed us clean! How often we fail to daily drown our old Adam and its sinful desires and instead walk before God in newness and purity! What depths of sinfulness trouble our hearts!
But the Holy Spirit comforts you and me with Christ's forgiveness. The word translated as “Counselor” means “one called alongside to be a help.” Sometimes it's put into English as “Paraclete.” Jesus himself has called the Holy Spirit to your side, dear Christian. The Holy Spirit wraps his word and sacraments around you, like a dear helper putting his arms around your shoulders to counsel, comfort, and support you.
He testifies about Jesus. Through his word and sacraments, the Holy Spirit says to you, “Yes, dear sinner, I know the depths you've fallen into. But see Jesus, God's Son, descended to rescue you. He humbled himself even to death on the cross for you, dear sinner, for you. He drew you up out of those depths of filth and washed you clean in Baptism, cleaner than any bath could get you. He gives you his body to eat and his blood to drink in the Lord's Supper, for his sacrifice on the cross paid for all of your sins. Look! He has risen from the dead, just as he said. Believe that you are forgiven.” That, dear Christian, is how the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus and comforts you with Christ's forgiveness.
But can you be sure? Or is this wishful thinking, a story to make us feel better? How can we be sure?
A genuine counselor speaks to the truth. How much more so the divine Counselor who proceeds from the Father and has been sent by the Son! In fact, Jesus calls him the Spirit of truth.
Unlike social truths that change with the most recent surveys or studies, unlike scientific truths that are continually being modified according to the latest experiments, and unlike personal truths that shift as our experiences and feelings change, the Spirit's truth does not change. His testimony about Jesus in the days of the Apostles is the same as his testimony to you and me today and until the end of this world. Be assured that the Spirit speaks the unchanging truth.
Notice as well, that Jesus address his Apostles: “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27 NIV84). The Holy Spirit gave them the words to speak and to write as they testified about Jesus. A little later he told these chosen Apostles, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 NIV84).
Still today the Holy Spirit testifies to you and me through the words he gave those same Apostles to write. That's why we can be sure. We don't need to depend on an imagined whisper we hear in the night or a voice out of thin air calling in garden. Who knows where those come from? We don't need to depend on our parents or pastor correctly remembering what their parents or pastor taught them, hoping that the truth isn't changed as it's passed down generation after generation after generation. But you, dear friend, you have the written word of God. You have the Scriptures, the Holy Bible. You have the same words the Spirit gave the Apostles. Know for sure that the testimony of the Holy Spirit, recorded on the pages of the Bible, is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Through the Scriptures, he testifies about Jesus to assure you and me with the unchanging truth.
And what a solid foundation the truth gives for you and me! Assured by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, assured of Christ's forgiveness, we boldly, confidently, and courageously live for Jesus. That conviction and confidence is the Spirit working in us through his testimony about Jesus.
With this assurance built on the Spirit's testimony, we, dear Christians, will not be fooled or beguiled by the wealth, pleasures, successes, and delights of this world. We will not let such weeds choke our faith and confidence in Jesus. When the hardships and worries of life tempt us to doubt, we will run to the Spirit's testimony for reassurance and strengthening. And yes, we will take up our cross and follow Jesus despite the world's hatred and ridicule. For no cross or persecution can change the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
So don't let your hearts be troubled. Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit through his word and sacraments. He comforts us with Christ's forgiveness. He assurance us with the truth. For he is the Counselor who testifies about Jesus.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.