Sermon for Exaudi
Ezekiel 36:25-27 + 1 Peter 4:7-11 + John 15:26-16:4
On Thursday we celebrated Christ’s ascension and His sitting down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The Lord Jesus has been highly exalted, and now He reigns over this world for the good of His body, the Church: to support and sustain those whom He has called out of darkness into His marvelous light, and to build His Church through the preaching of the Gospel. Christ was hated by the world when He came, and the world treated Him as it wanted. But now Christ is done with suffering. Now He has entered into glory.
But we are still in the world. The time of our glory hasn’t come yet. First we have work to do in this world—in this world that hates those who belong to Christ just as they hated Christ. Earlier in John chapter 15 Jesus told His disciples: If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. You see, it’s not that Christ ever hated the world. It’s that the world hated Christ. In the same way, it’s not that Christians hate the world. It’s that world hates Christians. Sometimes you can feel that hatred. Sometimes not. Sometimes Christians run away from that hatred by abandoning the doctrines that the world finds most offensive, and sometimes Christians become more worldly by adopting the customs, practices, and beliefs of the world. But those who would be true to Christ, true to His whole doctrine, those who put His doctrine into practice in the world will have many enemies here. It’s a hostile world toward Christians, and it always will be.
Our ascended Lord has not abandoned us here behind enemy lines. He went away, He ascended into heaven precisely in order to send us the help we need so much, as we’ve been discussing over these past few weeks. Christ promises to send us a Helper to face a hostile world.
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. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. Christ kept this promise. Ten days after He ascended into heaven, He poured out His Holy Spirit on His believers in Jerusalem. We’ll celebrate the coming of the Helper next Sunday on the Festival of Pentecost.
How did the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father and the Son testify of Christ? He confirmed the believers in their faith. And He taught them what they needed to know and understand about Christ so that they understood the Scriptures that were written about Him and how He had fulfilled the Scriptures in every way, especially by His suffering for sin, His crucifixion and His resurrection from the dead. And the apostles did bear witness, from the Day of Pentecost until the day of their final testimony, their martyrdom. They bore witness to Christ and have left behind for us the whole New Testament as the inspired testimony of the Holy Spirit.
But these words also apply to us who have been brought to faith by the testimony of the apostles that has come down to us through the ages. The Holy Spirit is promised as a gift to all the baptized, as Peter said on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The same Spirit of truth speaks to us and, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” By this testimony, He enables us to remain steadfast in faith and love in the face of the world’s hatred. He guides us to know the truth and renews us so that we become more and more like Jesus Christ. We’ll say more about the Spirit’s work next week.
As for our testimony, it’s different than that of the apostles. Jesus says His apostles would bear witness “because you have been with Me from the beginning.” We don’t bear witness about the things we’ve seen and heard from Jesus; we weren’t with Him from the beginning. We bear witness about the things we’ve been taught by the apostles (and prophets).
That’s not what most people when they think of “Christians giving their testimony.” Most people think of a person standing up in the middle of a church service and telling everyone about their own personal conversion experience or their own personal belief in Jesus. But that’s not what Jesus is talking about. He’s talking about the testimony we have received from the Holy Spirit, confirmed in the apostolic writings, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, who died for the world’s sins and who rose again from the dead, who calls all men to repent of their sins and to trust in Him and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. That is the Holy Spirit’s testimony, and it is the testimony that all true Christians will give.
That testimony, all by itself, will bring some people to faith in Jesus. That testimony of the Holy Spirit will frighten some people because of their sins and will give them a new heart to trust in Christ, who is a good and merciful Savior. But that testimony of the Holy Spirit will also enrage the world against Christians, as Jesus says: 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. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.
In other words, Jesus is being very upfront with His apostles, and with all of us who come after them. He isn’t painting His Church on earth as a smiley, happy, prosperous group of people who will be treated well in the world. On the contrary, He tells His Christians that they will be persecuted, and not only by the atheists, but by those who call themselves the Church, by those who think of themselves as religious people. Those are the people who will excommunicate you and even put you to death, all the while thinking they are serving God.
But those who persecute people for their confession of the truth are not truly God’s people at all. These things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. People can pretend to be Christians all they want, but if they persecute other Christians for holding to the truth of Christ, they are hypocrites, pretenders, not fellow citizens of heaven.
It’s important for us to get this. Why will the world do these things to Christians—to apostles, pastors, or laymen? Because you’re so mean? Because you’re not eloquent? Because you don’t have the right people skills? Because you aren’t sensitive enough to their musical tastes? No. Because they have not known the Father nor Me.
When the world mistreats us for being Christians, we mustn’t whine about it. Lots of Christians are tempted to whine about the world’s injustice toward Christians. “That’s not fair!” Well, it isn’t fair. But let God take care of justice. As for us, Christ calls on us to bear the cross, as He bore it, without complaining. He calls on us to continue to trust in Him, and to love our neighbor as Christ continued to do even when He was being tortured, and to speak the truth fearlessly even as Christ continued to speak it before Pontius Pilate. We are not to become hostile toward the world. We are to simply keep testifying to the truth.
What shall be your comfort and strength at that time when the world hates you and the outward church persecutes you? Jesus tells us: But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. I told you. I told you, Jesus says. None of this is a crisis. None of this is out of My control. It is part of my reign at God’s right hand until I return, to allow the world to hate you even as I allowed the world to hate Me, to show that you are My servants, My people; to show that the world truly deserves the wrath that will soon be poured out on them. And also to glorify My Gospel and My Spirit, who has such power to bring people to faith and to sustain you in the faith, and even to sustain your love, even in the midst of so much cruelty and injustice.
We couldn’t keep going, we could never face this hostile world without divine help. But we don’t have to face it without help. We have a Helper who is stronger than we are and stronger than the whole world’s strength combined. Cry out to Him for help in every time of need. He is a very present help in trouble. Amen.