Sunday, May 12, 2024

These Things They will Do

 John 15:26-16:4

"When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me, and you will bear witness also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

"These things I have spoken to you, that you may be kept from stumbling.  They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.  And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me.  But these things I have spoken to you, that when their hour 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."

Sermon for Exaudi Sunday                                          05/12/24

These Things They Will Do

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Today is the Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost.  It marks the period of time between Jesus removing His visible presence from among His disciples, and the gift of the Holy Spirit and the official jump-starting of the Church on Pentecost.  In my mind, I liken this to that time in a race when the starter is crying out, "on your mark . . . get set . . ." just before he says "Go!" or fires the starter's pistol, or whatever it is that begins the race.

The Gospel is perfect for this day.  It records words of Jesus during His last great discourse with the disciples before the Passion.  This is a warning and a promise, and none of it was spoken to us, directly, but to His disciples who were soon to be promoted to Apostles – from ‘students' to those who were the "Sent Ones", sent out to bear witness to what they had seen and heard and to spread the Gospel.  Our task this morning is to take these words, aimed squarely at the disciples, and see what they actually teach us.  Our theme is "These Things They Will Do".

Jesus warns the disciples about troubles that they will face.  He warns them "that [they] may be kept from stumbling."  It is easy to understand why Jesus would do this.  They have followed Jesus.  He has cared for them, and shielded them from all of the dangers and troubles that might have happened to them.  They may not have understood or even seen the providential care of Jesus for His disciples, but nothing happened to them as long as Jesus was with them.  He fed them and led them around the whole of the once "promised land".  They had enemies, and there were all sorts of local issues and parties, just as there are today in the middle east - just different personalities, but the same old hatreds and animosities.  The disciples never seemed to have been confronted by them.  None of the enemies of Jesus attacked them physically - or seemed to have any success in shaping public opinion against them.  Jesus gave them a few years of peaceful instruction, as He modeled the faith and showed them how they were to live once He was gone -- without telling them in advance that this was what He was doing.

But now they were about to be cast out on their own.  Jesus was going to be brutally murdered, and then He would rise again from the grave, and then ascend into heaven leaving them to be His witnesses.  He was going to take His visible presence from them, and withdraw that providential care that gave them such peaceful times with Jesus.  He was not taking His care away from them entirely, but things were going to change, and God knew about it.  In fact, it is all part of God's plan.  Jesus told them, "They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.  And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me."

This meant that they were going to become targets of hostility for those Jews – the people who were supposed to be God's people – and yet who did not believe.  That part applies to us too.  The specifics that Jesus spoke of really only fit the first Christians.  I have never been cast out of a synagogue, nor would it bother me if I were.  I don't believe the stuff they teach in their synagogues anyhow, and I have no emotional attachment to them, either.  The disciples did.  The first Christians all - or nearly all - came from the synagogues.  Being thrown out of the synagogue was almost like ending life as they knew it.  It was extremely painful, and came with broken relationships, lost friendships, and hostility from those who should have been, and once were, friends.

We've sampled some of what that is like in our congregational conflict.  Those who we called friends, and fellow members of the church, were suddenly hostile to us, angry with us, and wanted nothing more than to drive us out.  And the reason for our pain was pretty much the same as the reason for the hostility of the synagogue toward the disciples - "And these things they will do, because they have not known the Father, or Me."  It was doctrine.  They did not believe what we believed, and they rejected both us and our faith vehemently.

Jesus had to tell the disciples that this was coming because they were likely to be tempted with the idea that just because they worked for the Savior, things were going to go smoothly (as they had up to this point), and God would pave the way before them.  He would, of course, prepare the way before them, but not by removing obstacles like the hatred and violence of the world.  That remains - and in fact, that is a tool in the arsenal of God for getting the world's attention, and demonstrating His power, and our weakness, and making converts in the most unexpected of ways.  The early church even had the proverb, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."  Their patient endurance, with so little evident power, made many sit up and take notice; people who only understood the unbridled use of power and who could not comprehend what might lie behind patience and forgiveness and stubborn goodness such as they witnessed in the Apostles.

We are not witnesses.  We never saw Jesus.  We are confessors.  We confess what we have heard and believed.  We speak what God has spoken to us through His Word and through His called speakers - preachers.  We confess with the Church what those original witnesses bore witness of - and to.  We confess that Jesus is the true Son of God, come down in human form and having taken on human nature on our behalf.  We confess that Jesus kept the whole will and law of God, where all of mankind has failed, and having earned and rightly deserved eternal life, Jesus has suffered and died in our place, and for our sins, and on our behalf.  His death on the cross is ours, endured for us to meet the justice of God against our sins.  That is what those first witnesses bore witness to.

Then we also confess that God raised Jesus from the dead, because those first witnesses saw it, and spoke with the risen Jesus.  We confess that His resurrection shows us first that Jesus is true God, and secondly, that the death of Jesus has been accepted in our place and for our sins, and that it was sufficient, so that now we are forgiven and we stand in the good will and favor of God.  We confess that there is nothing for us to do - to earn our salvation - Jesus did it all.  

We confess that we fail to qualify to even start to work out our salvation, because we are sin-filled, and sin-corrupted, and fall short of the glory of God before we can even start.  We also confess that even our coming to faith is not possible for us by our own wisdom or will-power, but God must call us to faith and cause us to believe, and that He does so by the preaching of the Gospel.

It is those things, human weakness and corruption, and divine power and grace, that cause those who should be our brothers in the faith to respond to us with hostility and rejection.  Some of them want to be able to earn and deserve something of their salvation for themselves - and the teaching that they cannot insults them and infuriates them.  Others want to claim that at least they chose the right path, they "decided for Jesus", and the doctrine of divine monergism - that God alone works faith in us against our nature and beyond our abilities - causes hostility in their hearts towards us.  Most of the Protestants we know cannot accept a God they cannot understand, so the Sacraments, and the durability of the incarnation - that Jesus is always and everywhere fully and truly human even now, with His body and human nature still with Him wherever He goes - is unreasonable to them, and our stubborn confession of those truths makes them angry.

No matter which way we turn, we face the hostility of those who call themselves Christians, but do not believe what we believe.  They have another Gospel, and believe in another Jesus.  Please understand that I am not saying that all of those in other denominations are not Christians.  I cannot look into their hearts and judge that.  I can only look at the "Gospel" they proclaim, and say that it is not the same Gospel which we confess.  Individuals in these other bodies may  - and some surely do - believe exactly what we believe about Jesus and salvation, just as we have all encountered Lutherans who are not Lutheran - who do not hold to what we teach and confess, and believe something entirely different, but still call themselves "Lutheran".

But the doctrines of works righteousness, and the doctrines of decision theology, and the doctrines which limit Christ to heaven, as to His human nature, and deny the very possibility of forgiveness in the absolution or in either Sacrament, or of the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Lord's Supper - their doctrines are unbiblical, and un-Christian.  They paint a picture of God and of Christ which is unlike our Savior, and they hide the comfort of Christ and the hope of salvation from many that believe them.  As Jesus said, "they have not known the Father, or Me."  

And they will reject us, and try to marginalize us, and when they have the power, they will try to drive us out of the church.  They will do so with the complete conviction that they are right, and that they are serving God and God's truth.  Of course some will not count God in the picture - they will be convinced that they are serving "truth" and "all that is reasonable" and that they are fighting "superstition".  The point is, they will persecute and trouble those that confess the truth of the Gospel, all the while thinking that they are the good guys and on the side of the angels.

We have the Helper, that Jesus promised - the Holy Spirit.  I will not talk much about that today, because that is the point of the feast of Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday.  And Jesus warns us of the truth of the hostility of the world to our confession, through the warning to the disciples of the hostility of the world to their witness.  It still applies by extension.  "But these things I have spoken to you, that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them."

Jesus wanted them – and us – to know that when they came upon these pains and sorrows and troubles, that it was to be expected.  Nothing was out of order - except the unbelief of those that persecuted them.  Suffering is part of the confession.  We share in Christ's righteousness, so we also share in His suffering.  Our suffering has no redemptive quality, but it does carry some power, by the will of God, in confession, and speaking to the mind and hearts of the unbelieving world.  And since we are Christ's, we should know that it is coming, and, as Peter put it in His first epistle, chapter 4, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation."

When the pain comes, and people turn on you, and speaking the wonderful good news of Jesus gets you into trouble, or pain, or your friends and even your family turn away from you, you will be tempted to be confused, and wonder why some strange thing is happening.  Jesus warned the Disciples, and through their warning He warns us - it is coming.  Expect it.

  Knowing that pain is coming doesn't change the pain, but it explains it - and it is for your strengthening and comfort that Jesus tells us about it.  These things they will do.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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