Quite a number of years ago, in the humor section of TheLutheran Witness, I read where a pastor suggested that the best way to get rid of those telemarketers who always seem to be calling at dinnertime is to start telling the caller about Jesus.
It's been said that our society (and every society, for that matter) is made up of two distinct classes of people--two classes of people who, under normal circumstances, have nothing to do with each other, hold each other in contempt, and in many ways are enemies.
Today we have another opportunity to celebrate one of the minor festivals of the church year. This time it's the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.
It appears that one of our Savior's favorite teaching methods was the parable.
From time to time we all catch ourselves engaging in anticipation--daydreaming about pleasant things yet to come.
The first principle is stated by Jesus with the words "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
The Day of Pentecost
May 20, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
John 15:26, 27 (ESV)
Many have said that the message that we, the Church of Jesus Christ, proclaim in the world is a message of the past--and to a certain extent they are correct. Twenty centuries have come and gone since Jesus lived and died and rose again. The message that we seek to share with our unbelieving world, based on what has happened in the past, is primarily not one of the Law, but one of the Gospel. Telling people what is right and what is wrong is important, to be sure, but that is not the main message that we have to offer. If that were it, then the only message that the world would receive from us is that all people are doomed to hell because, if the truth be told, nobody does what is right and avoids what is wrong. And, as the Word of God clearly asserts: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But that is only preparatory to the real message that we proclaim, which is found in the rest of that verse: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This is certainly in keeping with what Jesus Himself said: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).
Since the events on which our message is based lie in the past (the far distant past, as a matter of fact), it’s only natural that these events must be established by the testimony of witnesses. When we tell others about the facts and the message of the Gospel of Christ, that is commonly referred to as “witnessing.” But are we really witnesses? I'm sixty-four years old--maybe old by some standards, but hardly old enough to have actually observed what Jesus did for me and for all sinners. Some of you are older than I am, but none of you are old enough to have actually been there when the Savior accomplished our redemption. Some have made the observation that we are not really witnessing when we tell others about Christ; we are confessing our faith--the faith that the Holy Spirit has created in our hearts through the testimony of those who were witnesses: those who walked and talked with Jesus--who saw what He did and heard what He said. As we listen to what Jesus says in the text before us this morning, we consider both the visible witnesses and the ultimate Witness of the mighty acts of God that He accomplished through His Son.
The visible witnesses are, first of all, the apostles of the Lord who knew Him intimately and who told and wrote about what they had witnessed. When Jesus says in the text: “You also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning,” He is not talking about you and me but about those who literally were “with [Him] from the beginning.” John the evangelist in particular identifies himself as one of these witnesses. Speaking on behalf of all of the apostles, he writes: “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (John 20:31). Those who saw Jesus live and die and rise again have borne witness concerning what they saw and heard.
The Gospel--the Good News about Jesus that these apostles proclaimed--is the visible and audible witness that has informed us about who Jesus is and what He has done for lost sinners like us. When I say “visible and audible,” I am talking about what we Lutherans have traditionally called the means of grace--the Word and the Sacraments. These means “bear witness about” Jesus. They actually do a lot more than that. Through them the Spirit of God calls spiritually dead sinners to New Life in Christ and causes them to grow in faith. The Gospel, as it is proclaimed in the Word and acted out in the Sacraments, actually gives what it proclaims: the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation--all made possible because of the perfect merits of Jesus Christ. Every time we hear God’s Word of grace, whether it be in our Bible reading or in a sermon or in a Gospel tract, the Spirit is witnessing to us. Every time we recall our Baptism or receive Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, the Spirit is witnessing to us. And not only witnessing, but actually giving us the gifts promised in the Gospel.
Of course, behind all of these witnesses and the means of grace is the ultimate Witness--the real Witness. This is the Holy Spirit Himself--the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity--the One whose Person and work we celebrate today on this feast of Pentecost. In the text Jesus calls Him “the Helper.” That is an understatement because He does more than just help us confess our faith; it is He who actually does it, using us. It is the Spirit of God within us who “bear[s] witness about” Jesus, thereby creating faith in our hearts. It is that faith that we confess when we tell others who Jesus is and what He has done for sinners--in particular what He has done for us and in us and through us. The words that we speak and the lives that we live are the evidence that the Holy Spirit lives in us and proclaims the Gospel of Christ through us in word and action.
Jesus also identifies this “Helper” as “the Spirit of Truth.” In our postmodern world the idea of truth is a foreign concept to many. A lot of people don’t believe in absolute truth anymore. They believe that everything is relative. I’m reminded of a couple of lines attributed to Pontius Pilate in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the rock opera of almost fifty years ago. In response to Jesus’ statement that He came to bear witness to the truth, Pilate asks rhetorically:
“But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law?
We both have truths. Are mine the same as Yours?”
You see, people in our world today think that they can determine what is true for them, or that if the majority of people believe something to be true, that makes it so. But “the Spirit of Truth” that Jesus “send[s] to [us] from the Father” bears witness to Absolute Truth, particularly to the only Truth that really matters: the Truth that is Jesus Himself, crucified and raised for us and for our salvation.
On this Day of Pentecost we give thanks for “the Spirit of Truth” who “bears witness about” our Savior Jesus Christ through the testimony of those who had "been with [Him] from the beginning”--those who saw Him die and then saw Him alive again. That Spirit, who has called us to faith and discipleship through Word and Sacrament, also motivates and strengthens us to confess our faith so that our confession of faith may be His way of “bear[ing] witness about” Jesus even today, bringing about the salvation of others for whom the Savior bled and died, so that they too “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [they] may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
May the God who has so graciously poured out His Holy Spirit upon His Church cause you to use the power of that Spirit in the service of your Savior. To this end may He preserve you in His grace and bring your faith to completion in heaven. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.