|Cantate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| April 20, 2008|
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” St. John 16, 13a
Jesus told the apostles that he was the way, the truth, and the life. He promised to send to them the Spirit of truth who would guide them into all truth. He kept his promise. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ’s apostles. They spoke in languages they had never learned. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and with power. In fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, the Holy Spirit led the apostles into all truth. They wrote down on parchment the truth that the Holy Spirit revealed to them. What they wrote is known today as the New Testament. We know that the New Testament is God’s faithful and infallible word because the apostles wrote it. Jesus Christ himself promised to the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. Jesus is God. The Holy Spirit is God. God does not lie, deceive, or err. We can trust everything the Bible says because God is its true Author. We can know that the Bible teaches us everything that God wants us to know because Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth.
Some claim that the Holy Spirit didn’t guide the apostles into all truth but that he kept some truth back from them and revealed it later on. One thinks of such so called prophets and prophetesses as Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, and Ellen White. Each claimed new revelations from God. They sought to add to the truth that the Holy Spirit revealed to the original apostles whom Jesus chose as his spokesmen. These so called prophets spawned new religions: Mormonism, Christian Science, and the Seventh Day Adventists. It was St. John who recorded the words of Jesus that the Spirit of truth would guide the apostles into all truth. And it was also St. John who wrote, at the end of the last book of the New Testament, these words:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22, 18-19)
All truth is all truth. The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth. This is what Jesus promised. Jesus keeps his promises.
The truth into which the Holy Spirit guided the apostles is centered in Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. He explained what he meant:
Of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
Sin is not believing in Jesus as your Savior from it. Righteousness is what Jesus gained for us all by going to the Father by way of the cross of Calvary. Judgment is what God pronounced against Satan as Jesus crushed that lying serpent’s head under his heal. The truth that the Spirit of truth reveals is the truth that Jesus Christ has won forgiveness of sins and true righteousness before God by his bitter suffering and death on the cross.
Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter or Counselor. He comforts us with the gospel of Christ. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” The Holy Spirit imputes to us Christ’s righteousness. He reckons to us the flawless obedience of Jesus who went to the Father. The Holy Spirit guided the apostles and through them the entire Church into all divine truth. At the heart of it all is the truth that God forgives us unworthy sinners fully and freely on account of Christ’s most holy and vicarious obedience, suffering, and death. This is the truth we need to hear. We need to know it. We need to believe it.
The pope has recently visited America. You can’t turn on the television to watch the news without hearing of his visit. He’s likely the most famous – and popular – man in the world. The pope claims to be the pastor and bishop of the entire Church on earth. The Bible teaches that Jesus alone is the pastor and bishop of the whole Church on earth. The pope claims that when he speaks officially, according to his office as pope, he is infallible. He and his followers claim that he cannot err on matters of Christian teaching and morals. They deny that the Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth that they wrote down in the Holy Scriptures. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read:
The Church . . . does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. (Paragraph 82)
Here we see that the Roman Catholic Church puts her tradition on the same level as the Holy Scriptures. This is putting the words of men on the same level as the Word of God. God is infallible. Therefore the Bible is infallible because God wrote it. But the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church is not infallible. Indeed it errs on many matters.
The pope draws huge crowds as he tours America. His words are studied, dissected, analyzed, parsed, pondered, and debated. But God has given this man nothing to say beyond what the Holy Spirit told Jesus’ apostles and which they, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote down for the Church in the New Testament.
I have read several of the pope’s addresses and sermons since arriving in America. He has said some fine things. He has defended the rights of the unborn and others who cannot speak for themselves. He has argued in favor of high standards of morality. He has said much about the Gospel. He has taught that there is absolute truth. He has talked about the Holy Trinity, about God’s love, and about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
But with all of his talk about the Gospel, the pope hasn’t preached it. He has not taught that all our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ’s death on the cross. He has not preached about the righteousness that is ours through faith in Christ who went to the Father. He has not given his followers the comfort of the Comforter. He has advocated good morals and to a certain extent sound doctrine. But he has not taught the heart of the Christian faith. He has not taught that we sinners are forgiven of all our sins solely on account of the merits of Christ. He has not taught this because, even though he is the pope – indeed, precisely because he is the pope – he is under the authority of the Council of Trent that explicitly rejects the heart of the gospel and forbids Christians to believe that we are justified through faith alone. It forbids believers in Christ to be certain and confident that they are surely going to heaven. So the pope’s gospel leaves Christians who are sorrowing over their sins in doubt concerning their salvation. Ironically, the tradition for which Rome requires equal “sentiments of devotion and reverence” as the Holy Scriptures requires the pope to deprive God’s people of the greatest comfort the Comforter can bestow: the certainty of eternal salvation for the sake of the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ and him alone.
The Holy Spirit speaks today. He comes to people like you. He wants you to be certain of your salvation. But he sees what is inside of you. And it is not good. Whereas St. James wrote, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath,” the omniscient God sees our rush to criticize, our self-centered anger against others, and our unwillingness to listen to others without judging them. God sees underneath the covering we construct to hide our sins from others and even from ourselves. He breaks through the covering and exposes the sin underneath.
And the Spirit of truth comes to us with the truth that sets us free. It is not a truth of human potential. It is not an evolving truth that has yet fully evolved. No, the truth the Holy Spirit reveals to our sin-sick souls is the truth that our Lord Jesus Christ has gone to the Father, having destroyed the devil’s deceptive power, having fulfilled all righteousness for us, so that the only sin that can possibly condemn us is the sin of unbelief.
We aren’t tossed this way and that wondering what we believe. The Spirit of truth doesn’t instill doubt. His love doesn’t require us to do what we are incapable of doing. He finds us condemned and helpless in our sin to help ourselves. He absolves us with the words of the gospel. He speaks clearly. He removes our doubts. He doesn’t torture us with a doctrine of uncertainty. He comforts us with the certainty of our salvation. It is certain because it doesn’t depend on us and our deeds. It depends on Christ and his deeds.
We confess the truth that the Spirit of truth revealed to the apostles. It is ours to confess, but it comes from God. It reveals to us the righteousness of Jesus that covers us and justifies us. It shows us the defeat of the devil who would seek to claim us. It establishes our faith as we live and it confirms us in the faith when we die. This is why we can die in peace.
This truth is a good gift. It is a perfect gift. As God himself cannot change, the truth that the Spirit of truth gave to the apostles to write down in the New Testament will never change. As we rely on this we know that our hope will never be disappointed. Amen