Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sermon on John 8:48-59, for Holy Trinity Sunday, "The Holy Trinity"

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today, a little different than usual, rather than focusing on a single text, I’ll be focusing on the theme of the Trinity, and related Bible passages. When we reflect on that teaching—do we think of it as a high and lofty “doctrine” that has no practical bearing on our Christian life? Or is it central to all the articles of Christian faith? You can probably already guess my answer. The word “doctrine” has a tendency to cause a knee-jerk reaction, or raise suspicion that we’re talking about something abstract or academic. Strangely, the word “teaching” doesn’t cause the same reaction, even though teaching and doctrine are the same thing. Doctrine is simply the church’s teaching. And the “doctrine” or teaching of the Trinity, while it may be lofty, mysterious, and even difficult to grasp—is not just for academics, nor is it impractical and irrelevant to our lives.
Granted, the terms that theologians later used to describe these mysteries, can be difficult. And granted, it’s possible to have a very academic discussion about the Trinity—but the truth about who God is in His persons and essence is vital for our faith. Scripture proclaims a high mystery to us; one that can be explored to incredible depth, but also a mystery which we’re called to believe and confess. Every Christian doctrine, every article of faith, relates to who God is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whether the doctrine of our human nature or original sin, the teachings about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, all the articles of faith concerning salvation and the Christian life, everything in both the visible realm and the invisible realm, is related to the teaching of the Trinity.
Who God is and what He does is inseparable from the teachings of God’s Word. How so? At the most basic level, we simply wouldn’t exist apart from God, and His having created us. Psalm 100:3, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” As created beings, we are to know who God is and that He has created us. And while we confess the Father primarily as creator, Scripture says the Spirit hovered over the waters in the void before creation, and say of Jesus, the Word of God, that “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:3).
Also, knowing who God is and what He does shapes how and why we worship. The ability to cry in worship, “Jesus is Lord” or to pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, or through the Holy Spirit, or the action of baptizing in the name of the Trinity, all hinge on who God is as three in one. While the Athanasian Creed we confess today might seem too abstract for some, John Henry Newman observed that above everything else, the Creed has its goal to glorify Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in “declaring their infinite perfections” and to “glorify God in His incomprehensible majesty, and to warn us of the danger of thinking of [God] without reverence” (Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, p. 141-2). God’s identity, and how we understand it, shapes how we praise, honor, and glorify Him. We ascribe majesty and the greatness to God because of who He is. Psalm 29:1-2 says, “Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” Because of God’s worthiness, His power and strength glory is “due” to Him. His actions and mighty deeds throughout salvation history directly inform why we praise Him, as Psalm 9:1 tells: “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”
Let’s say someone said it was enough to believe in “God”—but felt free to define ‘god’ however they liked—and it wasn’t particularly important to describe God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All that mattered was their “relationship” with God, but not how they understood Him or addressed Him. Could you claim to have a relationship with a spouse or even a friend; without really knowing who they were, what their likes and dislikes were, or even to be able to get their name right? Would it truly be a relationship if you were oblivious to what made them who they were, or didn’t care to learn about them? Would you claim to be friends, and not know their name, or say they didn’t mind whatever you called them? It would be absurd. How much more then, should we want to know who God is, how we can address Him by name, His desires for how we live, His attitude toward us, and how He makes a right relationship with Him possible. If we don’t know any of these things, it should be a warning to us that our relationship with God might not be all that we think or say it is.
The Jews who were ready to stone Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, were certain of their relationship with God—to the point they thought they had God’s implicit approval. But they rejected and dishonored Jesus. And by rejecting Jesus, they rejected God’s chosen instrument for revealing Himself to them and all humanity. Where does the Bible say that? It’s peppered all through the Gospels, but a couple of examples: John 14:6-7 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” We know the Father through knowing Jesus. He says the same in Matthew 11:27, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus teaches that there is no way to know God apart from Him.
So the doctrine of the Trinity is inseparable from the doctrine of who Jesus is as the Son of God. Apart from Jesus we simply can’t know God. He’s the self-revelation of God to humankind. Only through the knowledge of God we have in Jesus, can we know and address Him in prayer as “Our Father.” Only by knowing God in Christ Jesus His Son, can we know that He has made an atonement for our sins in Jesus’ death on the cross, that He has Himself repaired the way between us and God by the forgiveness of our sins. Only by knowing God in Jesus His Son, can we know that God is loving, and this love motivated Him to send His only begotten Son into the world, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Only Jesus gives the peace of heart and conscience that rests in God’s love for us and the certainty of our salvation.
So when the Jews rejected Jesus, they were rejecting God the Father as well. Jesus firmly told them that He did nothing to seek His own glory, but everything glorified and honored His Father. They were greatly offended that He as a man was asserting that He was equal to the Father. But the real irony was that Jesus was not a man “making Himself to be God” but rather that He was God, who had humbled Himself to become man. He was not crossing the chasm between God and man in the direction of a man claiming to be God, but the other direction of God condescending to become a human being. His origins were from of old, from eternity. He said to them, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” They instantly recognized this claim to be God, and were ready to stone Him for it. The real irony was that God had become man. It would have been difficult to impossible for them to grasp.
Indeed, this Biblical teaching, that we call the doctrine of the Incarnation, is all about how God became man in Christ Jesus. It is certainly another sublime mystery, a holy truth, the depths of which we will never fully explore. But, like the Trinity, it is a doctrine that is not “disposable” or insignificant, but has everything to do with how God was revealing Himself. That Jesus, 2,000 years ago, on a particular day in a particular town called Bethlehem, born in the unique circumstances of being conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, was God become man—and that this was the who, what, when, and where of God’s self-revelation. We confess it each week in the creeds, and this particular person of Jesus is key to knowing who God is and how our salvation came to be.
So to reject Jesus, and who He is, is to find ourselves in the same shoes as the Jews in the reading, rejecting God in His very act of revealing Himself to us. But on the other hand, to confess these truths, to say “I believe” and “we believe” to these doctrines of Scripture, is not to claim we comprehend all the deep mysteries of God, but it’s to confess with our mouths and believe with our hearts what Scripture plainly says. It’s to say that this Truth, even if a mystery, is vital for our salvation. The Athanasian Creed that we use for the special occasion of Trinity Sunday, is divided into two halves, along just these lines. It says in the first half, how it is necessary for Christians to believe and worship God the Trinity. The second half says it’s necessary for our everlasting salvation to faithfully believe in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
You can’t be a Christian and reject these Biblical teachings of the Trinity, or the incarnation of Jesus. Any person or church body, even that calls itself “Christian,” but rejects the sound teaching of the Trinity, or that rejects the truth of Jesus Christ as both God and man, ceases to be Christian. It’s unthinkable that anyone would try to substitute another God or different teachings than the Bible, as though God, the very author of Scripture, could be replaceable. Such would cause irreparable damage to the Christian faith. The word “catholic” with a small “c”, in the creed, simply means “according to the whole” or refers to the total Christian church on earth. Defined by the faith the Bible sets forth, and the creeds confess.
As Christians, then, we embrace wholeheartedly what the Bible teaches about God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We confess that Jesus is Lord and the precise revelation of the Father to us. And we embrace what the Trinity and the Incarnation mean for our lives—because this gives us our very identity as baptized believers, and it’s the heart of God’s loving action of coming down to us, to die for our sins, to conquer death, and rise again to life for us. And it’s the soul of our life and salvation. In the name of the blessed Trinity and the undivided Unity, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. Note on the Athanasian Creed: The end of the creed makes reference to all people rising and giving an account concerning their deeds, and that those who’ve done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire. Examine these Scripture passages that refer to the judgment: Matt. 12:35-37; 25:31-46; John 5:21-29, esp. vs. 24, 29 & John 6:28-29; cf. Rom. 8:1. While works are examined in the final judgment, those who have faith are spared judgment and condemnation on account of Jesus’ righteous life.
  2. “Doctrine” and teaching are one and the same. Why does Scripture teaching that “sound doctrine” is so important? 1 Timothy 1:3-11; Titus 1:9; 2:1.
  3. How is the Trinity described in the following passages? Matthew 3:13-17; 11:25-30; 28:19-20; John 14 & 16.
  4. Why is it vitally important to know who God is, and not just have a vague notion of God? Psalm 100:3; John 1:3; 14:6; Acts 4:12.
  5. Read the Athanasian Creed in your insert, or p. 319-20 in the hymnal. How is the Creed occupied with glorifying and praising God? What is the reason we praise Him? Psalm 9:1, 11; 29:1-2.
  6. Why is it important to be certain of who we’re talking to when we address God, and know what His will for us is? How were the Jews in John 8:48-59 misled about their relationship to God?
  7. How is Jesus the distinct self-revelation of God to humanity? John 14:6-7; Matthew 11:27. What does He show us about the Father’s heart? John 3:16. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sermon on John 14:23-31, for Pentecost, "Taught by the Lord"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Isaiah 54:13 prophesied a day to come when “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.” Jesus fulfilled this in His teaching, and among those who heard and learned from the Father, and came to Him (John 6:45). Being “taught by the Lord” was carried forward when the Holy Spirit was outpoured on the apostles at Pentecost. In a sudden and miraculous fashion, the apostles were able to teach the Good News about Jesus’ redeeming work, in many different languages—and people heard and understood in their own native language, about the mighty deeds of God.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus teaches about how the Spirit will come and teach the disciples, after Jesus’ departure. We’re among the future generations that are “taught by the Lord” until His return. Today we celebrate a significant passing on of Christian teaching, from one generation to another, as 5 new confirmands profess their faith, believing with their heart and confessing with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. For two years they’ve deepened their understanding of the Christian faith as we’ve studied God’s Word and the Small Catechism together. Yet they’ve been reminded, as I’m now reminding all of you—that we never finish studying or learning from God’s Word, but that it remains a life-long endeavor, so that we’re truly lifelong students of His Word, taught by the Lord. Now they’re ready to confess that the faith into which they were baptized is their own—“confirming” that they believe and make this their confession also. So the faith is passed on from generation to generation, from parents and pastors and teachers, to this generation, and from theirs to the next generation afterward. The pattern of sound words that we study in the Creeds and Catechism ensure that we are faithfully passing on the same content of the Christian faith that has always been the heritage of the Christian church.
Jesus shows us in the reading, what Christian discipleship looks like. First of all, the Holy Spirit ignites a fervent love for Jesus, that shows itself when we keep His Word. Only a believer knows this heartfelt love for Jesus and devotes their life to Him, surrendering to His care and leading, boldly taking up His call to go and serve, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s the kind of deep love that knows Jesus’ otherworldly peace—the peace that dwells in our hearts because of sins forgiven, and our relationship made right with God. A believer knows the peace of a heart that’s not troubled or afraid, but rests secure in the love of God, against all fears and dangers. This is the way the sheep love Jesus their Good Shepherd, because they hear His voice, know that He calls them, and that He feeds, shelters, and protects them. In short, our love for Him is built on the knowledge and the delivery of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. As John writes in his epistle, “in this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” and “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19). That is to say that God’s all surpassing love for us, most especially in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, creates a reciprocal love in us—a love that loves Him in return, for what He has done.
And this love isn’t a dormant, sleepy quality that remains invisible to the world, but rather it’s a love of word and action. It’s a love that keeps Jesus’ word. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you are a true Christian if you don’t keep His Words. Jesus says here, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Jesus challenged all would-be followers, in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” So if our lives are in open contradiction or defiance to Jesus’ words and teachings, we’ve no right to claim the title “Christian”. Same also if we deny our sin before God. The apostle John wrote about this in 1 John. He explains that the Christian who loves God makes a practice of obeying His commandments, and must not make a practice of sinning, or disobedience. But even as believers strive to obey God’s Law, we’re also still afflicted by sin, and must admit or confess our sins to God, to be cleansed of them. For those who confess their sins, Jesus advocates for us, and forgives us before God. 
The Holy Spirit comes into the hearts of believers, dwells in and with us. This is no trivial thing, but means that God has cleansed us and made us holy. Since God cannot dwell with sin, He first had to cleanse and purify us through Jesus’ death on the cross, and we’re joined to that death and resurrection through our baptism. Where before we were an unfit dwelling place, now in Christ Jesus, our hearts are made new, and the Holy Spirit takes up residence to keep us holy and free from sin. Taught by the Lord, He leads us away from sin and into what is just and upright. He sets God’s Word and commandments always before us, so that we don’t fall back into old ways of sin, and grieve the Holy Spirit.
Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit our Helper, whom the Father sends in Jesus’ name. How does He help us? The Lutheran theologian & pastor Johann Gerhard said that whenever our hearts fail us because of the conviction of our sins, or the accusations of the devil, the Holy Spirit does the best thing of all, that is to hold us up, “so that we don’t plunge into doubt and misgivings.” We may face times when our heart and conscience can’t comfort us, but rather accuse and condemn us for breaking God’s commands. But the Holy Spirit, our Helper, our Comforter, is still greater and stronger than those accusations, and stronger than our heart, and He alone can comfort our heart and conscience. How? Not by denying our sin, but by “speaking to our hearts and holding up to them the precious payment that Jesus has made for all our sins.” The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us with troubled hearts, but with a peace and all surpassing joy in our love for Jesus and what He’s done.
Yet one more way that the Holy Spirit takes root in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples, goes back to where we began: He teaches us all things and brings to our remembrance all that Jesus has said. The Holy Spirit as teacher, keeps all of Jesus’ teachings before our eyes. Just as in the Old Testament, the children were to be taught God’s Word day and night, wherever they went, and to have them set before them on their hands, foreheads, and doorposts (namely everywhere they went and looked), even more now, the Spirit keeps God’s Word ever before us. He is our living tutor, dwelling in us, teaching us God’s Word. Not teaching novelties or mystical secrets found nowhere else, but rather reminding us of Jesus’ own Word, which Jesus in turn received from the Father. Jesus says of the Spirit’s teaching, that it bears witness about Christ (15:27)—that is it points to Jesus, and not somewhere else. And He says in John 16:13, the “Spirit of truth…will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
Therefore the Spirit teaches us by keeping us from straying from the Word of God, the Holy Scripture. He’s not a different authority from Jesus or the Father, but promotes the very same truth and Word of Jesus, so that all of Jesus’ teachings live in our memory. And not only live in our memory as dormant thoughts, but be translated into action and love, as we said before—that the believer in Christ loves Him and keeps His Word.
“Taught by the Lord”…Yes, we’re taught by the Lord. We know His Word and its implications for us. Life as disciples of Jesus is life in the Holy Spirit. It’s a life enfolded by the threefold love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for us. A life built on that love, and overflowing with the expression of that love toward others. And it’s a life helped and comforted by the Holy Spirit who lives in us and teaches us, reminding us of the great self-sacrifice of Jesus for our sins on the cross, and how that releases us from fear, anxiety and guilt. Teaching us day by day, so that we never forget God and His love for us, that we never forget Jesus and the Truth of His Word. We are blessed to call this Christian life our own, by the gracious gift of God in sending us His Holy Spirit. May the same Spirit richly bless our confirmands, and each of you, as you live and walk in that confession of faith, that Jesus is Lord. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. What does the believer’s keeping of God’s Word and commandments show about their attitude toward God? What does God do in return? John 14:15, 21; 8:51; 15:10; 1 John 2:3-4. Does this love for God and obedience toward His commandments begin with us and then receive His response, or the other way around? 1 John 4:10, 19.

  1. How does God make His dwelling or “room” with us? Ezekiel 37:24-28; Leviticus 26:11-12; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 3:16-17. What must we avoid lest we grieve the Holy Spirit? Eph. 4:30

  1. Jesus said in John 14:26, that the Holy Spirit’s teaching traces back to Him (cf. 15:26; 16:13-14). Jesus’ own teaching traces back to whom? John 7:16; 8:28; 12:49, etc. How does this show the perfect unity of the Trinity?

  1. How is the Spirit’s wisdom different from that of the world? 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 1 John 2:20, 27.

  1. What is different between the peace Jesus gives, and the peace that the world gives? John 14:27; 16:33. How does it give us comfort and courage?

  1. Read John 14:30-31. Jesus’ cross would show the world that He loves the Father, and it shows that the devil (the ruler of this world) has no claim or power over Jesus. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sermon on John 17:20-26, for the 7th Sunday of Easter, "That they may be one"

Sermon Outline:
  1. Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer—longest prayer of Jesus, earlier part is for His immediate disciples, second part expands to all future disciples. Interceding—seeking God’s blessing. Reflect on the great comfort that Jesus prays for us. We need God’s prayer, because apart from Him we all go our own separate ways, and here Jesus is praying for our unity. We may tend to think of prayer as only directed from us to God, but here Jesus prays on our behalf. This affirms what is elsewhere said, that the Holy Spirit also intercedes or prays for us “in groans too deep for words to express” (Rom. 8:26). This section focuses on all future believers “who will believe in me through their word”.
  2. These people for whom Jesus’ prays, are not yet part of the church, but He prays for them to believe—showing God’s concern for the lost, and for those who have not yet come to faith in Him. So, like Christ, we too should have a heart for all those who do not yet know Christ. Avoid a contentment that does not care to help. Pray for them. Pray that God would open our lips. Speak the Gospel. Tell of Jesus’ love for them, apply it to the hurt, the guilt, the fear, or the doubt in their life. Extend love and Christian concern. Show how important faith in Christ is to you.
  3. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. And people cannot hear unless someone is sent to preach the good news of Jesus to them. The Christian church will always be “missionary” in nature—mission meaning “sending.” God “sent” His Son, He sends the church, and He sends believers in His church, to bring people to faith in Him. Through the sending of missionaries and apostles, of believers who teach God’s Word, people are gathered in to have faith in Jesus.
  4. The Word is the powerful and effective tool of God, to create faith in Jesus. The content of that word of the apostles is the same as Jesus says in v. 17, “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.” The content of God’s Word, the Truth, is rich and full with life for us. The content of the Word of God shows Jesus Christ to us, as God’s own Son—true God and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, buried, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. The Word of God is rich with the life that believers in that Word are invited into. The content of God’s Word and the Truth that we’re called to believe, can’t be traded away or negotiated away—it’s part and parcel of the unity in Christ. Any idea of unity of the church that comes at the expense of negotiating away the doctrines or teachings of the Christian faith, is contrary to the unity that Jesus prays for in this chapter, and contrary to His prayer that we be made holy in the truth of His Word.
  5. However, it does impress on us the painful reality of the divisions that exist in the Christian church, that at least visibly, it appears greatly divided. And that division runs contrary to Jesus’ expressed will here in this passage. We should remember, though, that the unity Jesus speaks of is unity with those who are truly His own. There cannot be true unity with those who do not truly believe in Him, or who abandon His Word and His love. With hypocrites or false believers, there is division. But since the true unity of believers is meant for a testimony or witness to the fact that God the Father sent Jesus—disunity and division is like static interfering with the message. It’s like the sound of a banging gong drowning out the good or beautiful words you have to speak, when our message is drowned out by our lack of love. On the other hand, true Christian unity and harmony, both agreement in the Word of Christ and also in practicing Christian love—is a powerful witness and concrete expression to the world of God’s love through Jesus. It’s a powerful witness to Christ’s power to change our lives from sin and divisiveness to agreement and love. A witness to lives transformed by Jesus, and a common bond that forms between believers who might otherwise have nothing earthly in common.
  6. The goal of Jesus’ prayer is that those who believe might become one, just as the Father and Son are One. But where is that unity? As Christians we can affirm that there is a hidden or invisible unity of the church; meaning that Christ sees and knows all who are His own, throughout the world. And across nations and denominations, true believers are united by faith in Him. But this unity Jesus prays for must also be more than just the hidden unity of the church, because it is also to be visible to the world as a witness to them that God sent Jesus and that He loves us with the same love that He loves His Son.
  7. It can be deeply discouraging for us to see disunity among Christians—to see so many denominations and non-denominations divided about articles of faith and practice. And it may be tempting to think that we could just eliminate the divisions by reducing things to a lowest common denominator faith. Get rid of anything that we can’t agree on. But this approach has been tried many times, and it can only lead to disaster, and erosion of God’s Word. The teachings of Jesus are lost little by little, aiming for a pretended unity, while differences still remain, or study of God’s Word diminishes. So what then—throw our hands up in despair? Should we make no effort to seek a visible unity among Christians?
  8. It should be helpful for us to notice that the unity Jesus speaks of is a unity that He creates and gives. It’s not manufactured by human efforts, but God Himself gives it by His love, and by making us one with Christ. It is God’s gift and His creation, that we would be made perfectly one, as the Father and the Son are one. This unity begins and exists in Him. As we are the recipients of God’s own love—loved as His own dear Son Jesus Christ—it cannot but change us, and conform us more and more to His Son Jesus. It’s the love that forgives us our sins, the love that sent Jesus to the cross to atone for us, the love that shapes us into His loving children, who seek to love others with the same love that He has shown. So we progress toward that goal of perfect unity by His work and His guiding, having faith that it is God who is at work within us, both to will and work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
  9. And to be receptive vessels for His will and work, to be open to His creating of that perfect unity between us and all believers, we remain in Him. As Jesus taught at length in John 15, the way to remain in Him is to abide in His Word and in His love. And so our efforts for outward unity must also begin in His Word and His love. For these mark us as His true disciples, and it’s through them that He creates a genuine, substantial, and lasting unity built around His teachings and the love of God that flows back and forth from the Father to the Son and to us, and out to all the world. We can have such a great confidence that His love will never fail, as we have confidence that His love brought Jesus to the cross and back from the empty tomb. And we can have confidence that Jesus is praying for us and our faith and unity. In this faith and in this hope, God unites us, and brings others into union with Him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Sermon on John 16:23-33, for the 6th Sunday of Easter, "Joy and Peace in Parting"

Sermon Outline:
·         2 weeks ago—Paul’s “farewell speech” in Ephesus. Today in John 16, small section of Jesus’ lengthy farewell discourse to His disciples. Eve of His betrayal, arrest, coming crucifixion. Everything in His ministry had been aiming toward this moment, this hour of His cross. The necessity of God’s plan unfolding, urging Him to that momentous sacrifice. Preparing them; but not a farewell speech of one leaving them behind or never coming back. Rather: remain with them through the Holy Spirit and accessible to them through prayer.
·         Sadness comes with saying goodbye—but Jesus’ departure also brings joy and peace. Jesus recognizes their sorrows; prepares them for the tribulations ahead. Though sorrow would soon overcome them at His crucifixion, inexpressible and untouchable joy would be theirs at His resurrection. Life was about to change radically for them. Nothing could totally prepare them for the total transformation of their lives and their whole view of the world—of life, death, of suffering and of peace—that would take place after seeing Jesus die on the cross, and then rise from the dead. Even their glimpses of understanding—the moments like this passage where they think they finally get it, are going to be blown open by the sheer surprise and joy of seeing God’s plan come to its culmination in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The verse before today’s reading, Jesus says: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). This is the untouchable joy—the joy no one can take away—the joy of the Christian faith. It’s the joy of knowing that Jesus Christ has defeated death—that the greatest and most feared enemy of life—the very enemy that steals life itself—is not invincible. That Jesus pierced through the chink in death’s armor and in dying on the cross, sealed death’s worst weapons, the sting of sin and the power of the law—sealed them in His grave. The joy of the Christian is to know that whatever suffering, rejection, trial, sickness, or persecution we endure in this sinful and broken life, is surpassed by the peace that we have in Jesus Christ.
·         The sadness of His departure lessened by: the joy we have in asking and receiving—Jesus’ ascension to heaven doesn’t mean we’ve “lost touch” with Him, like a dear friend moving away and falling out of contact—but we remain in constant communion and prayer with Him. Pray in my name to the Father. Our relationship to God the Father is brought into perfect harmony in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus said that in that day, we will know that He is in the Father, we are in Christ, and Christ is in us (John 14:20). In Jesus’ death on the cross, He was bringing us into Himself, reconciling us to the Father, bringing harmony to our relationship through the forgiveness of sins. Any distance, any barrier created by our sins and the righteous judgments of the law against our sins, that barrier and wall is broken down for us in Christ Jesus.
·         Jesus doesn’t have to ask the Father on our behalf, as though He’s trying to “warm up” an unloving or unfriendly God toward us—but rather God the Father is already loving and receptive toward our prayers. The Father’s own love for us is what motivated and moved Jesus’ very mission to earth for us, to die for us so that we would not die. The Father hears our prayers, not as a unwilling or reluctant judge, but rather as a kind and compassionate Father looking on His children. His eagerness to hear our prayers is shown by His constant invitation to prayer. And He loves us, as Jesus says, because we love Jesus and believe that He comes from God. It is faith in Jesus that puts us in right relation with God.
·         The sadness of Jesus departure is also lessened by another factor—that the time was coming for the disciples, and is already now here for us—when we would have greater clarity and understanding of His teachings. As hindsight is often 20/20, we now have the full benefit of the collected teachings and the complete picture of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, by which to understand all of what Jesus taught about the kingdom of God. The New Testament is complete with the explanation of what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection means for us and our salvation. This brings us joy in knowing what God has done for us, and in knowing the future of what God has planned for us. We can face life without fear because of the cross, and what Jesus accomplished for us there.
·         We may go through similar experiences as the disciples, especially as we grow in the maturity of our faith, all at different stages in the journey. Sometimes we’ll be grasping and groping at understanding; other times we may have moments of na├»ve confidence in “getting it all” like the disciples thought in today’s reading, and at still other times we may experience the joy of seeing something clearly or fully for the first time. Christ has made it clear that He is the source and center of all Scripture, and that the life to be found in the Holy Word of God flows into and out of Him.
·         As Jesus concluded this part of His speech, He warned that they would all fall away; referring to His crucifixion. There He would face death alone, except for the Father. Even their seedling faith would not meet this great test. And that stands as a reminder to us that our faith too will face time of great trial and testing. There will be times when your faith is attacked by doubt, despair, guilt, or suffering. When you feel like giving up or walking away. “In the world”, Jesus says, “you will have tribulation.” Trials, difficulties, persecutions, illness. Anything that would undermine or weaken your faith. Most of all to doubt Jesus and God’s love for you. But if the world brings us tribulation, Jesus says, “I have said these things that in me you may have peace.” In me you may have peace. Jesus is the refuge, the place of safety where we find calm amidst the storm. Around us the storms of life may gather, but in Him is our peace. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace of a certain future and hope. The peace of perfect communion with God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son. The peace of being right with God, and having nothing to fear.
·         And it all drives to the concluding thought of Jesus’ farewell discourse—“in the world you will have tribulation—but take heart, I have overcome the world.” However grave their failure in faith, their abandonment of Him at the cross, however great our weaknesses and failures, however great our sins that convict us, however great the persecutions that the world brings against us, Christ is still greater. He is victorious, He is the Risen King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Take heart, I have overcome the world. This means for us that the opposition of the world against Christ and our salvation is futile. In the words of D.A. Carson, it’s “pointless and beggarly.” Pitiful. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, however they may rage, can never win, can never triumph over Christ. The victory is His, plain and simple—and by faith it is ours as well. Life after the resurrection is truly different for Jesus’ first disciples and for us—it means the untouchable peace of God is ours in Christ. It means the victory of Christ over the world is the triumph and joy of our faith as well. For all these reasons we can take heart—to have good courage for whatever we face, for we are in Christ, and His cross stands towering over time, proclaiming His victory over the world—for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.