The Spirit helps with faith and its confession

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Sermon for Exaudi – Sunday after the Ascension

John 15:26 – 16:4  +  Ezekiel 36:22-28  +  1 Peter 4:7-11

St. Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”  Faith in the heart and faith on the lips always go together.  But without the Spirit of God, without the Helper, neither would be possible.  And so Jesus promises his disciples today that the Helper will come to help with faith and its confession.

You might think that the eleven apostles had it easier than we do when it comes to faith in Jesus.  But they didn’t.  Seeing Jesus face to face never created faith in anyone’s heart.  Look at all the people who saw Jesus and hated him.  And hearing Jesus speak in person did create faith in him in the hearts of some people, but in most people, it just caused more hatred, because Jesus taught things that are foolishness to the world.  He taught that all the works of the world are sin before God, and that only faith in him, the Son of God, saves.  It was foolishness to the world, and the world hated Jesus, even though they could see him and hear him in person.

Even the eleven disciples doubted. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, some still doubted.  Even the faith they did have in Jesus would be worthless if they didn’t remain in faith until the end. See, faith is not like turning on a light switch and forgetting about it.  Faith is like dangling over the edge of a cliff and holding on for dear life.  Jesus’ disciples were sinners, like you and me, sinners who couldn’t hold on much longer.

Jesus knew that his apostles would need divine help in order to stay believing in him.  They would also need divine help in order to know Jesus rightly and to be able to preach him rightly.  And so Jesus promised that the Helper would come.

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

The Helper did come on the day of Pentecost, which we’ll celebrate next week.  The work of the Holy Spirit is presented so simply here by Jesus.  He comes to help God’s people by bearing witness to them about the truth. He first bore witness to the apostles and inspired them to preach and to write the whole truth. And now he bears witness to us of that same truth, through the word of the apostles.

And at the center of the truth is Jesus.  I am the way, the truth and the life, Jesus said.  Sin destroys.  Lovelessness kills. Our sins incur the wrath of God, the anger and punishment of God.  But the Spirit of truth reveals Jesus to us, sent by the very God whom we had offended, who bore the world’s sins on the cross and opens heaven to us by his death and resurrection.  The Spirit of truth convinces us that we have a loving Father in heaven because Jesus has blotted out our sin by his blood and washed us clean in his baptism.  The Spirit of truth directs us in repentance to look away from ourselves, away from our works, away from our sins, and points us to Jesus and assures us, “You are safe here.  You are loved here. You are forgiven here; sheltered here.  Stay here.”

To know your sin and to want God’s forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, to trust that God forgives you your sins for Jesus’ sake — that’s faith.  And the Holy Spirit does more than just help you along to that kind of trust.  He bears witness.  God the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son is the one bearing witness about Jesus.  No power of yours could ever grasp him.  But when God bears witness about his own Son by means of his own Spirit, now people who never would have believed believe. And the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that, through faith in God’s Son, we are children of God.

And where there is faith in Jesus, there also is the confession of faith, the response of faith, the bearing witness publicly to what you believe.

And you also will bear witness, Jesus told his apostles, because you have been with me from the beginning. If you remember this verse in the NIV, it came off a bit differently. The English Standard Version here is better than the NIV.  In the NIV Jesus says, “You must bear witness.”  There is no “must” in the text.  “You will bear witness,” Jesus said.  Of course you will! You have been with me.  As Paul says, “I believed, therefore I have spoken.”  Where there is faith, there is confession of faith.  That’s why we do it publicly, here in our Divine Service, every single week.  That’s why we take the time to say together the words of the Nicene Creed.  We say what we believe, because we believe it. But where there is doubt or unbelief, there is silence. Or worse, where there is doubt or unbelief, there might be a lot of talking or singing without saying much of anything.

But confessing faith in Jesus, bearing witness about him in the world would be the hardest thing the apostles had ever done, and so Jesus warns them ahead of time. “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” The world can tolerate just about every form of wickedness that exists.  But the world cannot tolerate the straightforward message of Christ or those who confess it.

And notice here in Jesus’ words where much of the persecution will come from.  It will come from the “godly” people.  It will come from people who claim to believe in God, from the synagogues and those who profess to worship God. Jesus isn’t only referring to the events of the First Century, either.  From the Jews of the First Century who stoned and plotted against the apostles, to the Muslims who kill Christians and think they’re offering service to God in the process, the prophecy of Jesus has proven true.

But also in Christian churches, preachers of the truth have over and over again been persecuted, excommunicated, slandered and tossed out into the streets. It happened often in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. It happened to Luther.  And sadly, it also happens in Lutheran churches today.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons for removing pastors.  There are.  But sometimes the reason is just that people don’t want to hear the truth.  They look for a preacher who will tell them what their itching ears want to hear, as the Apostle Paul says, and they will not put up with sound doctrine.

Now, those who preach the gospel as pastors in the apostolic office of the holy ministry, those who earn their living from the Gospel are especially endangered when they confess the faith of Christ.  But whatever your vocation is, you stand to suffer for your confession of faith, too. Faithful Christian laymen can also be “put out of the synagogue” or excommunicated for unscriptural reasons. And you can be hated and mistreated in yours homes and schools and workplaces, too.

Who would ever bother confessing their faith under these circumstances?  Wouldn’t it just be easier to believe quietly, to have faith in Jesus in our hearts and not so much on our lips?  Well, yes, it would be easier.  But then, it wouldn’t be faith.  Faith alone saves, without works.  But faith is never alone.  There is no such thing as faith in Jesus that doesn’t produce good works.  In the same way, there is no such thing as faith in Jesus that doesn’t confess Jesus with the lips.

To be honest, the situation seems hopeless for us, because for as much as we may want to confess Jesus and the Truth about him in our New Man, in our reborn nature, our flesh is too strong.  Our flesh hates the cross and hates the consequences of confession, just as the apostles themselves were helpless to stand against the world with this confession of Christ.

But that’s why Jesus promised a Helper, to them and to us.  The Holy Spirit of God helps with the confession of faith.  Only God’s Spirit can make us bold to proclaim the Truth.  Only God’s Spirit can make us men and women of conviction, to speak with knowledge and with wisdom and with courage and with love.  He can, and he will.

The promise isn’t only for the apostles. As Peter said on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

You have Jesus’ promise of help from the Helper. You have his promise that the Spirit will help with faith and with its confession.  Believe his promise! But don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs and waiting for the Spirit to speak to you or to strengthen you or to embolden you.  That’s just another false doctrine that the devil has sown in the world, as if God gave his Spirit without means, without the Word.  God gives his Spirit in the written Word of the Gospel to read and discuss in your homes, with your families, in the preached Word of the Gospel here in his church and in the Holy Sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus. Here is his help.  Here is his strength.  Here is his teaching and his Truth. Receive the Holy Spirit again, and let your faith and your confession be renewed.  Amen.

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