Cantate Sunday | Rev. Rolf D. Preus| April 28, 2013| St. John 16:12-15
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
Can you know the truth? Or must you always be searching for it? The word “agnostic” comes from the Greek word for ignorant. Agnostics are people who claim to be ignorant about whether or not God exists. Atheists deny that God exists. Theists believe that God exists. Agnostics don’t know.
Even if most Americans are theists, inasmuch as they claim that God exists, they are agnostic when it comes to what God says. They just don’t know. And they don’t think you know, either. The spirit of agnosticism is so strong in our country today that if you express any kind of religious conviction you just might be regarded as some kind of religious nut. Who claims to know the truth these days? Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other door to door pests promoting their fanatical opinions. Mainstream Christianity is not so sure of what it believes, teaches, and confesses.
But Jesus promised his disciples that they would know the truth. They wouldn’t have to wonder. Jesus didn’t give them instructions on how to search for the truth. He promised to send to them the Spirit of truth. They were not ready to hear it directly from Jesus. Something had to happen first. Jesus had taught his apostles for three years. But they would be in no position to understand the teaching of Jesus until Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Why was that? What had to happen before the Spirit of truth would find the apostles ready to be guided into all truth? Jesus had to die and rise from the dead.
To know the truth about God is to know the truth about how God comes to us. God isn’t a mathematical problem for us to figure out. He is not like a jigsaw puzzle that we must put together. He isn’t a philosophical riddle for us to solve. God comes to us and reveals himself. We don’t figure him about. He shows himself to us.
How can finite creatures such as we are possibly come to know the infinite God? How can fallen and sinful creatures come to know the holy God? He lives in the pure light of holiness that no sinner can approach. Yet he makes himself known to us where we can boldly come before him without fear of judgment or punishment. That is where he suffers for us.
To know the Father is to know him in the sending of his Son. The love of our heavenly Father is the love that sent his Son to suffer and die for us. To know the Son is to know him in his suffering and death. It is as he lays down his life for us that we find true love, because in dying for us he washed away our sin and took God’s anger away. To know the Holy Spirit is to know him as he glorifies Christ by taking what is Christ’s and declaring it to us.
To know God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is to know the truth. To know the truth is to know God. Only the Spirit of truth can lead us into all truth. And he does so only as he takes what is Christ’s, glorifies Christ, and directs us to the suffering and death of Christ on the cross for our salvation.
This is the center of all truth. It is where the Father told the Son to go. It is where the Son in loving obedience went. It is where the Spirit directs the Church. We are born from above where the Holy Spirit joins us to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The power of Holy Baptism is not the Spirit acting alone, as if he is a god separate from the Father and the Son. The power of Holy Baptism is the power of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the power of the Holy Spirit. He glorifies Christ. Every time a sorrowing sinner finds forgiveness of his sins in Christ, Christ is glorified. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the Author of the Holy Scriptures. This is how we know that the Scriptures are true. The Spirit of truth wrote them. The Holy Scriptures contain all that we need to know about God. The apostles wrote the New Testament Scriptures. Matthew wrote Matthew. John wrote John. These men were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. Mark was not an apostle, and neither was Luke, but both men were close associates of the apostles. Peter confirmed what Mark wrote. Paul confirmed what Luke wrote. They are as apostolic as the Gospels written by apostles.
The reason we know that the New Testament Scriptures are God’s word is because they have the testimony of those men to whom Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the authors of the New Testament that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. All truth! This makes the apostolic Scriptures, along with the prophetic books of the Old Testament, the only standard for the Church’s teaching. We do not need any tradition beyond the tradition written down in the Bible. Jesus didn’t promise the apostles that the Spirit of truth would guide them into some truth with more and truth to be revealed gradually throughout the history of the Church. Jesus said, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” We can be confident that the New Testament Scriptures are God’s final word to us. There is no more truth to be revealed than what is written down by the apostles.
It has become fashionable in recent years to claim that there are books of the New Testament that are missing from our Bibles. These so called forgotten books of the Bible are dramatically revealed as shedding new light on Jesus and his life. But this is a big con designed by religious hucksters to sell books and movies to a gullible public. We have known of false Gospels and false Epistles even since they were written. They were not lost and they were not forgotten. They were rejected by the early Church because they were not apostolic. They were mostly written by heretics belonging to Gnostic cults. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” The sheep of the good shepherd rejected the false Gnostic books way back when they were written.
It is one of the saddest ironies of our age that so many people are afraid of our Christian claim to know the truth. Perhaps when they think of dogmatic certainty they think of the cultists or maybe even Islamic terrorists. But the truth to which the Spirit of truth bears witness should cause no one any alarm. It is a wonderful truth. It is a comforting truth. It is a truth by which we come into fellowship with God himself.
God is triune. He is one God. There are not three gods. There is only one God. God is three persons. They are not three separate persons. They are three distinct persons. Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears He will speak.” Were he to speak on his own he would be separate from the Father and the Son. But there is perfect unity in the trinity. Jesus says:
He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
The Father is not begotten of another person of the Trinity, nor does he proceed from another person of the Trinity. The Father is of himself. The Son is begotten of the Father. He is not inferior to the Father. He is true God as the Father is true God. He is begotten of the Father in eternity. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. He is not inferior to the Father and the Son, for were he inferior to someone he would not be God. He proceeds from the Father and the Son in eternity.
The Spirit takes what is the Son’s. All things that belong to the Father belong to the Son. The Spirit takes what belongs to the Son and he declares it to us through the apostles, that is, through their word. In this way we know God. We know the only true and eternal and almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We know God because the Spirit has shown him to us.
This is precious knowledge. The truth that the Spirit of truth reveals to us is more precious than anything this world could give us. There is much valuable knowledge. To know farming, nursing, how to teach, how to run a business, how to arrange an office, cook a good meal, predict the weather, how to do any number of things is valuable knowledge. But to know God – that is the best knowledge of all.
We can know the truth. We can know the truth about God. The Father who is our Creator, who governs the world for our benefit, and who provides us with everything we need in life is not some mysterious and absent deity about whom we can only speculate. He is our dear Father.
We can know the truth about the Son. He is not only our God; he is also our brother. He is our God and our brother. His obedience is rendered for us. His suffering is endured for us. He does what he does and suffers what he suffers for us, to free us from our sins, to set us before God as holy people, free from guilt and righteous before God.
We can know the truth about the Holy Spirit. He comes into our lives in Holy Baptism and makes his home with us. He engenders faith in our hearts and sustains it through the written, preached, and sacramental word of God. He is always glorifying Christ by showing us that his suffering, death, and resurrection render us righteous and acceptable in God’s sight. The Holy Spirit fills us with good desires, holy desires, love, peace, joy, and every good and perfect gift that is from above, from the Father of lights in whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Since we have the Spirit of truth we have the truth. It won’t change. It cannot go out of style. It cannot become obsolete. That is because God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – lives in the eternal present. He doesn’t grow old. His mercies are new every day. His love cannot go stale. It cannot become cold. It cannot turn away from us.
The Holy Spirit tells us what is to come. While God is unchanging and immutable, we live lives that appear to be quickly compelling us to what we do not know. The Holy Spirit keeps us grounded in the truth and he tells us things to come. What is that? The truth we now believe we shall see. Faith shall give way to sight. What the Spirit of truth now confirms to faith will be revealed to us directly and forever. We will sing a new song into all eternity as the love of God envelopes us, fills us, and sets our souls at peace. Amen