Monday, May 16, 2022

You Can Thank God You Live Today

[Below, you'll find the live stream videos of yesterday's two worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church and the text of the prepared message.]

John 16:12-22
Rosie, some of you may know, was a member of Ann’s and my home church in Columbus. She was in worship and Sunday School every week. She was usually very quiet. One Sunday, a seminarian was leading our adult class and asked what commemoration we would add to the annual calendar of the Church. No one spoke for a long while. But then, Rosie raised her hand. “I sometimes I think we should have a ‘Thank God We Live Now Sunday’ because I’m afraid that if I’d lived around Jesus back when He was on the earth, I wouldn’t have believed in Him. I’m glad I live now and can believe in Jesus.”

Rosie was an older person. Older people sometimes seem to spend a lot of their time pining for the supposed “good old days.” But here was Rosie suggesting that we should thank God for being alive today because living today makes it easier for us to have saving faith in Jesus than it would have been for those living in first-century Judea.

We know, of course, that there were people who saw Jesus’ miracles, including things like walking on the water, restoring the sight of the blind, and raising the dead but still didn’t believe in Him as their Savior and Lord for everlasting life with God. Many saw or heard Jesus doing these things and then called for His execution. Some of these same people celebrated when Jesus drew His last breath on the cross. Even the disciples scattered in fear and disbelief. We know all that, but was Rosie wrong to suggest that, in this age of cynicism and nihilism and unbelief, we have a better chance of having saving faith in Jesus than did the people who saw and heard Jesus?

Our gospel lesson for today is John 16:12-22. It’s part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, a time of teaching His disciples before His betrayal and arrest. He’s been talking about the Holy Spirit.

In today’s lesson, Jesus tells the disciples: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

There are two reasons the disciples can’t yet bear the many things Jesus wants and needs to say to the Church. The first is that the disciples don’t yet know that death cannot stop Jesus. They don’t yet see how unique Jesus is, that not even death can thwart His power to forgive our sins or give us new and everlasting life with God. They largely see Jesus as a tool by which “good people,” which is how they think of themselves, will get the good things they want in the world. They don’t see that Jesus hasn’t come into the world to be a genie granting the wishes and demands of those who follow Him. Jesus hasn’t come into the world to make us comfortable in a dying world, but to make it possible for sinners like us, who deserve nothing but condemnation and hell, to be forgiven our sins and have life with God that begins now and is brought to perfection in eternity.

The second reason the disciples can’t yet bear the things Jesus wants to teach them is that Jesus hasn’t yet sent the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Him

This second reason is what Jesus addresses next in our lesson: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he 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. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of Truth.” Jesus tells us that the Spirit will guide us into all the truth. The truth Jesus is speaking of here isn’t an abstraction. It’s not the mere opposite of a lie. Jesus says elsewhere, you know very well, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) What Jesus means is that God, one God in three Persons, of which Jesus is the second, God the Son, is the foundational truth, the cornerstone, on Whom the whole creation is founded. Jesus claims that He is Who Psalm 118:22 was describing when it said, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus also says that it’s the wise person who builds their lives on Him as their Rock. (Matthew 7:24) Because God has given no other name but the name of Jesus by which we can be saved from sin and death, the old hymn nis right when it says that “all other ground is sinking sand.” (Acts 4:12) Our natural impulse is to build our lives on falsehoods, things that won’t last like self-sufficiency, our own presumed goodness, material wealth, good health. But only Jesus, the Truth, can give us life with God that never ends. “Everyone who believes [in the Son of Man, Jesus says, referring to Himself] may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:15) So, Jesus is saying in today’s gospel lesson that after He has died, risen, and ascended, He will send the Holy Spirit to guide us to Jesus. The Spirit will speak the words and deeds of Jesus to us through the Word and the Sacraments–Holy Baptism and Holy Communion–and lead us to believe in Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit, working through these means, Who makes it possible for us to believe what the first disciples found hard to believe. “I want you to know,” the apostle Paul would write to the Corinthian Christians some three decades after the events in today’s gospel lesson, “that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

Jesus sends the Spirit then, to first, give us the truth about us: the truth that we fail to love God wholeheartedly and fail to love others with the same passion and commitment with which we love ourselves.

And the Spirit also makes it possible for us to believe the gospel, the good news that God loves us and has overcome our sin, death, and darkness through Jesus. Romans 5:8 says: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, He brings faith to those who are drenched in the gospel Word at their Baptism, who stand under that gospel Word, and who, in faith, receive Christ’s body and blood with His words, “This is My body, given for you! This is My blood shed for you.” The Word that comes to us from the Holy Spirit is what enables us to believe, no matter the circumstances of our lives. Because the world is such a dark and death-filled place, we need to hear and receive this Word over and over again, especially in the fellowship of the Church.

The story's told about a pastor newly arrived at a congregation who, on his first Sunday, preached a stirring sermon. People greeted him at the door after worship and said, "Nice sermon, pastor," "Good sermon, pastor." The next Sunday, he preached the same sermon. People filed by after worship with the same words, "Nice sermon, pastor," "Good sermon, pastor." This went on for several weeks. Finally, a perceptive member of the congregation said, "You know, pastor, I can't help noticing a similarity between the sermons you've been preaching." The pastor said, "When I'm sure you've heard it, I'll stop preaching it." 

We need to hear the Gospel over and over again, Martin Luther observed, because we forget it all the time. And so, if there's a sameness to the sermons from Sunday to Sunday, there's a reason. Do you remember the children's book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever? In it, some neighborhood kids who had never before had any connection to the Church get involved in a local congregation's annual Christmas play. "What's it about?" one of the kids asks. "Jesus" is the answer. The kid responds, "They can't stop talking about Him here." 

We cannot stop talking about Jesus. And so the Word comes to us again and again so that we might believe.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me,” Jesus then tells the disciples. (John 16:16) Soon, He’ll die on a cross, then He will rise. To the disciples, these words are a riddle. Jesus, being God, knows their thoughts and supposedly secret conversation. He tells the disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16:20)

Friends, this promise is for you too. Today, you don’t see Jesus, Who is seated at God’s right hand. But Jesus still comes to you in those means of grace–Scripture, Baptism, Communion–and in the fellowship of believers. In the Word given to us by the Holy Spirit, given to us personally and directly, Jesus comes to you and helps you to trust that because Jesus has died and risen, you belong to God forever! The Spirit reminds you again today of Jesus’ promise that even when, “you have sorrow now…I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) One day, by God’s grace through faith in Christ, you will see Jesus face to face and live in His perfect kingdom eternally.

Rosie was right. It is a blessing to live today, on this side of Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The Holy Spirit has been unleashed so that you can believe in Jesus and so have eternal life with God. You can thank God for that! Amen