Exaudi Sunday Sermon| May 28, 2017| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. John 15:26 – 16:4
“But when the Comforter 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. 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. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.” John 15:26 – 16:4
It’s hard to stay current with the contemporary lingo on the social and political scene. A word that has recently come into style is the word snowflake. It describes sensitive young folks who are emotionally unable to cope with views contrary to their own. They must be given safe space where they will be protected from offensive opinions. Offensive opinions are opinions they do not share.
The snowflake generation didn’t arise out of nowhere. For generations now, Christians in America have been caving into the culture, eager to conform their preaching, teaching, and confessing to the standards this world sets for religious speech. One of the key requirements is that no religion can be set forth as the truth to the exclusion of all other religions. Identifying a false prophet as a false prophet will raise the ire of respectable religious folks, especially when the false prophet has a large following. Straight-talking preachers who preach the truth and condemn false teaching are told to watch what they say with the criticism, “It’s not what you say, Pastor, it’s the way you say it.” That’s another way of saying, “Don’t say it.” Folks will be offended.
Well, of course they will! If the preacher preaches as God tells him to preach, folks will be offended. If Christians confess Christ as God says they should, folks will be offended. More than that, they may become downright unpleasant.
Today is Exaudi Sunday. Exaudi means “Hear!” or “Listen!” The psalmist cries out to God confident that God will hear him and deliver him from those who are persecuting him. He knows the cost of confessing God’s truth. God’s people in this world will be persecuted for saying what God wants them to say. King David knew it. The prophet Elijah knew it. The apostles knew it. Martin Luther knew it. There is a natural animosity – a fierce opposition – between Christ and his religion and the world and its religion. Those who identify with Christ and his teaching will always be marginalized and persecuted.
Many Christians are deceived by false teachers and their own sinful desires to believe that the Christian life will be an easy life, at least as far as spiritual matters are concerned. This is why they fall away when conflict comes. But if they listened to Jesus they would know that it is precisely in the spiritual realm that the Christian can expect conflict. The Christian should expect it.
St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Preachers, especially, need to keep this in mind. Preaching the gospel and pleasing the crowd are two different things. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10) Christ said in John 16:33,
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
Here in our text, 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.
Jesus spoke these words to his apostles. The word “apostle” means one who is sent. Jesus sent the apostles out as the church’s first pastors. They differed from today’s pastors in two key respects. First, they were eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry. They heard his teaching with their own ears. They saw his miracles. They witnessed his death. They saw him, heard him, touched him, and ate with him after he rose bodily from the dead. They were witnesses of Christ’s saving acts.
Second, Jesus promised to those men – those witnesses of his teaching, his miracles, his death, and his resurrection – that the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, would guide them into all truth.
The apostolic ministry that Jesus established when he sent out the apostles continues until the end of time, but today’s ministers are not eyewitnesses as the apostles were. Today’s ministers do not depend on the direct illumination or guidance of the Holy Spirit that the apostles received. They rely instead on the apostolic writings, the Holy Scriptures. In the Holy Scriptures we have what the Spirit of truth gave to the apostles and through them to the whole church. Jesus said:
But when the Comforter 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.
Jesus did not leave anything to chance. He didn’t teach his disciples and hope that they got it right. He taught them and then he sent them the Holy Spirit to confirm them in his teaching. The Holy Spirit reminded the apostles of what Jesus taught them so that they would get it right.
If today’s preachers are to preach the truth they must preach in agreement with the apostolic Scriptures. The New Testament is literally the word of the Holy Spirit.
He is the Comforter. He comforts sinners with the message of the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus calls him the Comforter and says, “He will testify of me.” That’s how the Comforter comforts us. He testifies of Jesus.
The comfort of the Comforter is not a temporary emotional high. It’s not like the hug of a loved one when you’re sad, the presence of a loyal dog when you’re lonely, or the feeling of satisfaction in eating good homemade food on a cold, rainy day. The Comforter doesn’t provide physical comfort. He provides spiritual comfort. The comfort of the Comforter is the comfort of Jesus Christ coming into our world to confront our sin and death, to tear down the devil’s kingdom, and to defeat these enemies by his holy obedience, innocent suffering, and vicarious death on the cross. It is a spiritual comfort that lasts forever.
It lasts forever because he is the Spirit of truth and the truth is unchanging. The Spirit proceeds from the Father. The Son sends him. This means he proceeds from the Son as well. The Eastern Orthodox churches say, “No, the fact that the Son sends him doesn’t mean that the Spirit proceeds from the Son.” They argue that he proceeds only from the Father. They point to the text before us. It says, “Who proceeds from the Father.” It doesn’t say, “Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Eastern Orthodox criticize the church in the West for adding the words, “and the Son” to the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed originally said that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father. The words, “and the Son” were added in the West a few centuries later.
Whether the church in the West should have added to the Nicene Creed is neither here nor there. The fact is that the Holy Spirit does proceed from the Father and the Son. The Son couldn’t send the Spirit if the Spirit didn’t proceed from him. St. Paul calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of God’s Son. (Galatians 4:6) The comfort he provides and the truth he reveals is about the Son: Jesus Christ our Savior.
If the church wishes to be Christian she must listen to the Spirit of truth. She must receive in humble faith the Holy Scriptures, for this is the Holy Spirit’s book. He wrote it. If the church is faithful to the Holy Scriptures, she will proclaim Christ. Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Scriptures go together. Jesus is the reason the Bible was written. The Holy Spirit is the One who testifies of Jesus. The apostles are the Ones who received that deposit of divine truth once and for all and wrote it down in the Bible.
If our Christian religion were primarily about following religious or spiritual principles on how to live successful, prosperous, and fulfilling lives here on earth, it would fit in quite well with other religions that promise the same thing. But our Christian religion is not about principles for success. It is not about making friends or money. It’s not something that you can tailor to fit into something else or serve as an additive to something else, as if Christianity is the seasoning that makes life taste a bit better.
Our religion is about a person and how much we need him. Without seeing our need we cannot know him. But to see our need for him requires us to acknowledge that we are by nature spiritually blind, dead, helpless, and hostile to God. The dying bodies in which we live are proof of God’s immutable verdict on the human race: the soul that sins it shall die. We deserve to die. We don’t deserve God’s blessing. We deserve his curse. We have not loved God as our greatest good. We have misused his name, and we have despised his word. We have dishonored legitimate authority, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves, we have lusted after what we had no right to, we have taken what wasn’t ours to take, we have repeated things about our neighbor designed to make him look bad and to make us look good by comparison. We deserve God’s punishment, both now and forever.
This is the true biblical teaching, and it makes people angry. People cannot tolerate admitting their sin, so they dismiss Christ and Christianity and embrace lies instead. They lie about how good they are, about how sincere their motives are, and about how they deserve better than what they’ve gotten. They talk about spirituality as if it is their achievement. And they remain blind to the sin within them. Jesus described them as whitewashed tombs: beautiful on the outside, but on the inside filled with dead men’s bones.
The Christian faith is for those who know their sin, hate it, and want to be delivered from it. For Christians, the truth the Holy Spirit reveals about Christ is more precious than anything else they own because it reveals a love that is greater than their sin. Where sin abounded, grace abounded so much more. Jesus Christ’s life was perfectly free from the malice, the lust, the distrust, the pride, and every other malignant sin that infects the rest of us. He offered his life of purity and innocence to God to replace our disobedience and sin, to wash it away so that it is gone forever. For Christ’s sake, God sees us as pure, holy, spotless, sinless, saints. As surely as there has never been any sin in Jesus, so surely are we perfectly sinless through faith in him.
This is the truth that the Spirit of truth reveals to us and persuades us is true. This is the comfort of the Comforter. It says that everything offered us in manmade religions is useless. We want nothing of it. We want only Christ.
That makes some folks mad because they are impressed with the good things they do and they want to rejoice in themselves. So they persecute Christians who tell them that their trust is false. Jesus told us they would. It won’t catch us by surprise. And when it comes, we will consider persecution to be blessing, as our Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Amen.