Cheer up! It’s the cross Jesus told you about!

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Sermon for Exaudi – The Sunday after Ascension

Ezekiel 36:25-27  +  1 Peter 4:7-11  +  John 15:26-16:4

Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples up front what things would be like for them after He had returned to the Father. You heard it in the Gospel today, how He forewarned them about the persecution they would endure, the cross of suffering for the sake of their testimony, their confession of Christ. The same holds true for those who have believed the apostles’ testimony, because it’s the nature of a Christian to confess Christ before the world, and it’s the nature of the world to hate Christ and those who confess Him.

But the message of Jesus in the Gospel isn’t one of despair. It’s one of hope—not the hope of avoiding persecution (the only way to avoid it is to join the world and deny Christ), not the hope of avoiding suffering, but the hope of comfort, or rather, a Comforter who will help you to endure it.

Jesus says, when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father… Helper comes from a Greek word that has lots of shades of meaning. It’s the One who is called to your side as Helper. Mediator. Advocate. Intercessor. Encourager. And Comforter. Jesus promises to send His disciples such a One, called from the Father’s side to your side. Jesus further identifies this Comforter as the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father. This is the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to send.

He proceeds from the Father and the Son, meaning that this Comforter is divine. He is the Creator-God—one God, with the Father and the Son. So when He comes to comfort, it’s not with the empty or the fickle power of human words, but with the divine power of God.

What does He come to do? How does He comfort? Jesus says, He will testify of Me. Jesus’ disciples had no strength, no courage, very little understanding of Jesus before the Spirit came on Pentecost. Before the Spirit came we find them running away from confrontation. We find them hiding behind locked doors. We find them asking Jesus if now is when He is going to restore the kingdom to Israel, which shows how little they grasped His purpose. But the Spirit would testify to them about Jesus and build up their faith and kindle courage in their hearts as He enlightened their eyes to know Jesus better, and to trust in Jesus more firmly.

This is the gift Jesus promised to send His disciples and did send on the Day of Pentecost, and through their preaching and baptizing, the same Spirit was given to all the baptized, and is still given to all the baptized, as St. Peter proclaimed: “The promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And how does He the Lord our God call? Ever and only through the preaching of the Word of Christ.

Now St. Paul says that The Spirit Himself bears witness (i.e., testifies) with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. He testifies about Jesus—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He testifies about Jesus, that He is true God and the Savior from sin, your Savior from sin, and that there is no other God or Savior besides Him. He testifies about Jesus, who died and rose again and washes you in His holy, precious blood in Holy Baptism, making you a child of God and an heir with Christ. That’s the testimony of the Spirit. It’s a testimony that enters through your ears but penetrates all the way to your heart, so that you believe it, so that you’re comforted by it.

And so that you confess it. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. Those eleven apostles had a special task, a special, direct calling from Jesus that no one since has ever had, except for the apostle Paul. They were with Jesus from the beginning—the beginning of His earthly ministry, from the time He was baptized until His crucifixion and resurrection and ascension. They were eye-witnesses of all that Jesus had said and done. So their testimony would be unique.

You and I have believed the word and testimony of the apostles, that Jesus is the only Savior from sin, our Savior from sin, and the only true God. By that faith we are justified before God. And then, listen to what Paul says about those who believe: The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. You not only believe in Jesus, but if you believe in Him, then you confess Him with your mouth. You confess Him with your mouth, and, to an extent, with your actions, in every area of your life as you confess Him to be the only God and the only Savior. You confess Him at work. You confess Him at home. You confess Him in the grocery store. You confess Him before your friends. You confess Him on Facebook. And knowing how poorly the world around you understands Jesus, you have to be careful in your confession to distinguish the real Jesus, who reveals Himself and forgives sins alone through the Word and Sacraments, from the false images of Jesus that are often passed around by the sects.

So you, too, as Christians, as royal priests of God, confess Christ in your daily life, proclaiming the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. —which means that it will go for you like it went for Jesus apostles. He told them ahead of time. The cross is coming.

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. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.

This is the kind of reception the true Gospel has in the world. Some believe, but not most. Most persecute. Most scoff. Most reject the testimony about Christ, including those, Jesus says, who claim God as their Father. In fact, He says, after they have excommunicated you and shunned you and killed you, they will sing praises to God and rejoice that they finally got rid of the “troublemakers.”

I think we often forget what all these crosses hanging all around really mean. Yes, they represent Jesus, but they represent Jesus because they represent the suffering and death of Jesus, and the suffering and death of those who follow Jesus. Welcome to the Christian life! It’s a life of rejection, both by non-Christians and by false Christians. It’s a life of bearing the cross.

And the cross takes many shapes. For confessing Christ before men, you may be killed or beaten or imprisoned, all of which is happening to Christians right at this moment in some part of the world. For confessing Christ before men, you may struggle to get or to keep certain jobs. For confessing Christ before men you may be unliked by your peers, looked down upon by the scholars, even rejected by other so-called Christians who believe and teach false doctrines. But more burdensome still is when Satan presses down on these crosses and attacks your faith, and makes you question everything and despair of God’s help.

So, it sounds like you could really use a Comforter, a divine Helper. And it seems that Jesus knew that all along, which is why He promised to send the Comforter from the Father’s side to yours. Divine help in the face of the cross. For as heavy as the cross may be, if the Creator-God is standing by your side as your advocate, what creature can be more powerful than He? And as the divine encourager, He speaks to your heart and says, “Cheer up!” Remember, Jesus lives and reigns at God’s right hand on your behalf. Cheer up! Remember, Jesus told you all this would happen. His Word is still faithful and true.

So instead of getting depressed or angry when you or your fellow Christians are suffering under the cross, remember that Jesus said that these things would happen. They’re part of His testing of your faith so that you persevere in it until the end. They’re also part of His judgment on the world, so that it may be clearly seen that you belonged to Jesus, the Suffering One, the Cross-Bearer.

Remember Jesus’ promise. The Comforter will come, and we will celebrate His coming next Sunday on Pentecost. Cheer up! That’s not my personal encouragement to you. That’s the work of God’s Spirit in you. Stay close to where He does His work, to the Word and Sacraments. And hear your God telling you, in Baptism, in preaching, in the body and blood of Christ, cheer up! God is on your side. And even more, God the Comforter is at your side. Amen.

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