Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter - Cantate - Jn 6:5-15

                                                                                                            Easter 5
                                                                                                            Jn 6:5-15

            The Gospel lessons for all of the Sundays of Eastertide – the Sundays after Easter itself – come from the Gospel of John.  First we hear about Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in the locked room on the evening of Easter, which was followed a week later by Jesus’ revelation of himself to Thomas.  On the next Sunday we hear about Jesus as the Good Shepherd in John chapter ten.
            After that, all of the lessons come from John chapter sixteen, plus two verses from the end of chapter fifteen. This material is all part of the section of the Gospel that is often called the “Farewell Discourse.”  These are the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples after the Last Supper as our Lord and his disciples made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. These are all words that were spoken on the night when Jesus was betrayed.
            At first glance that seems rather odd. After all, we are celebrating the season of Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not Maundy Thursday.  But actually on closer inspection it soon becomes clear why these reading were chosen.  These readings are preparing us for what is about to happen.  They tell us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not the end of God’s saving work.
            Jesus begins our text by saying, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?'
But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”  From the beginning, Jesus made it clear that he had not come purely on the basis of his own plan.  He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”  The Father had sent the Son into our world in the incarnation.  The Son of God, the Word, had become flesh and dwelt among us because the Father had sent him to carry out his will.
            In our text Jesus looks ahead, beyond his passion and resurrection, to what is going to happen after that.  He says that he will be returning to the Father – returning to the One who sent him. The disciples’ heads were surely spinning as they tried to take it all in.  They did not understand what Jesus was saying – that would only be possible after the resurrection.  But any talk about Jesus leaving caused sorrow to fill their hearts.
            Jesus speaks about his ascension.  He speaks about the event that we will celebrate in a little less than two weeks.  Sent from the Father to carry out the will of the Father for our salvation, Jesus was now going to return to the Father. The disciples would no longer see Jesus. And of course, we no longer see Jesus.
            Jesus states in our text, “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”  And it’s not just the disciples who felt that way.  We do too.  We want to have Jesus here with us in the same way the disciples did during his ministry leading up to Holy Week.  We want to see his miracles and hear him teach.  If we only had that, everything would be so different!
            We may feel that way.  But such ideas can only exist if we ignore what the Gospels actually say.  They are clear that Jesus performed miracles and taught … and that many people rejected him.  And we are not just talking about his enemies like the Pharisees.  After one of Jesus’ greatest miracles, the feeding of more than five thousand people, Jesus taught that he was the bread of life – the true bread that had come down from heaven. In the end, some of his own followers – his disciples – said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  Then we learn that after that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said on that occasion, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”
            We often have it all quite wrong. When considering Jesus and his saving work, we think only about his incarnation, his death, and his resurrection.  Christmas Eve, Good Friday and Easter Sunday - I just mentioned the three biggest occasions of church attendance. And two of those require a person to come to church in the evening instead of a Sunday morning.
            But this morning, Jesus speaks about his ascension. And he tells us that it is something of great importance.  He says, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”  Our Lord says that only his ascension will permit the sending of the Holy Spirit. 
            Two chapters earlier, Jesus had said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.”  Jesus says that he is going to send another Helper – the Spirit of truth.  The word used here in Greek is Paraclete, it is probably better to use that term, since the functions of the Spirit are broader than any one word: he helps, comforts, leads and guides in John’s Gospel.
            To describe the Spirit as another Paraclete, puts the Spirit on the same level as Jesus in importance for us.  Our Lord says that we need the Spirit – the Paraclete – and that the sending of the Spirit can only occur if Jesus departs.  That’s simply how God works.  And I guess in a way that even makes sense to us – the incarnate Lord in the Gospels is seen in one place, but the Spirit will carry the work of Jesus to all places.
            Jesus teaches us this morning about the importance of the sending of the Holy Spirit.  Now in John’s Gospel Jesus gives the Spirit to the disciples as he gives the Office of the Keys – the loosing and binding of sins.  But the Church has placed these readings in this time of the Church year because it is leading up to Pentecost – the outpouring of the Spirit that is part of the end times.  We learn that Jesus’ saving work does not end with his resurrection.  In fact, it cannot proceed as it must for us without his ascension and the sending of the Spirit. The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord and the Feast of Pentecost are crucial for you and your salvation. They need to be celebrated as the big time salvation events that they are.  And we do indeed have the Divine Service on both days.
            In our text, Jesus tells us about what the Spirit – the Paraclete will do.  We hear: “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
            The Spirit convicts the world about sin because those of the world do not believe in Jesus Christ.  No one can come to the Father except through Jesus.  To reject Jesus is to reject God – and rejecting God is the root of all sin.  Certainly, you believe in Jesus.  But what thoughts, words and actions come forth from you that do not arise from faith in Christ? What are the things in your life that contradict faith in the Lord?  The Spirit convicts us of these too in order to lead us to repentance.
            The Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness, because Jesus has gone to the Father, and we see him no longer. The ascension of Jesus Christ is his exaltation and the declaration of his righteousness – of the fact that he has carried out the Father’s will.  In the next chapter Jesus prays: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
            People in Jesus’ day, and in our day as well, reject Jesus as Lord.  But the ascension of Jesus was the declaration by God that Jesus Christ had done everything necessary for us.  And in this we find great comfort, for where there is repentance and faith in Christ we know that there is forgiveness and salvation because of him.
            Finally, Jesus says that the Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  There are only two lords in existence – the true One and the false one.  For the world – for those trapped in sin who do not believe in Jesus Christ – the devil is lord.  He rules them, though they do not recognize it.  They think they are free, but that is a lie from the father of lies.  Instead, he seeks to drag them to destruction because is a murderer – always has been; always will be.
            The devil may have trapped the world in sin and death through the Fall.  But the incarnate Son of God entered into the world to free us and give us life.  During Holy Week Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has judged and defeated the devil. 
            Where the devil sought to bring you death, now Jesus gives you life.  You have indeed by been born again – you have been born of water and the Spirit. Through faith you have life now, for Jesus said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.”  It is already yours now, and because the risen Lord won it, this life will never be taken from faith.  As Jesus said before he raised Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

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