“I am leaving you. You will be socially ostracized, and people will kill you because of me.” How is that for a “pep talk”? Would that inspire you to say, “Wow, this sounds like a great deal. Sign me up”?
It probably wouldn’t. Yet that is exactly what Jesus says in our text, and in this portion of John’s Gospel. Our Lord says, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” Then, in the next verse after our text he says, “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.”
Like the last several Gospel readings, our text for today comes from the portion of John’s Gospel in which he is speaking with his disciples on the evening of Maundy Thursday as they made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus repeatedly tells the disciples that he is returning to the Father. John’s Gospel does not narrate the ascension of our Lord that we celebrated this past Thursday. But we learn in the Gospel with absolute certainty that it is going to take place.
Interlaced with Jesus’ announcement that he will be leaving is his declaration that he will send the Holy Spirit – the Helper. In the course of chapters fourteen through sixteen he repeatedly mentions the Spirit and what he will do. We learn that we are experiencing that work this morning, and because we do, we have life through Christ.
Jesus begins our Gospel lesson by saying, “But 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.” Our Lord says that he will send the Helper – the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father. We then hear about two acts of witness that will take place. The Spirit will bear witness about Jesus, and the disciples themselves will bear witness because they have been with Jesus from the beginning. We will learn that the witness of the disciples is made possible by the Spirit.
Our Lord has already spoken about his upcoming death. As we noted last Sunday, he had told Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” He had just said during Holy Week, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Jesus had also spoken of his resurrection. He had said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” And Jesus had declared that he would raise the dead on the last day when he said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Yet in these chapters we learn that Jesus is going to leave. He is going to return to the Father. And while we may want to disagree, Jesus even says that this is a good thing for us. Right after our text Christ states, “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.”
In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes his glorification as one sweeping movement that passes down through the cross into death and the tomb, and then up again in resurrection and ascension. He does this to free us from sin and give us life. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” He does this to free us from death. Our Lord said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Our Lord says that he ascends and returns to the Father so that he can send the Holy Spirit. Jesus says this is a good thing for us, and in these chapters we receive some insight into why this is so. We have noted that in our text he parallels the witness of the Spirit and the disciples as he says, “But 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.”
We learn in these chapters that the witness of the Spirit makes the witness of the disciples possible. In the previous chapter our Lord has said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus says that the Spirit will teach the disciples and cause them to remember what he had said.
Just after our text our Lord again says that the Spirit will guide the disciples in their witness to Jesus. He declares, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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 disciples could not bear it yet, because they had not yet experienced the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet once they had, the Spirit gave them insight into what this meant. The Spirit helped them remember what Jesus had said. The Spirit took what belongs to Jesus and his saving work and made it known to them. He would do this so that the disciples could bear witness about Jesus.
Enabled by the Spirit, that is what they have done. John said at the beginning of his first letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” Then John went on to add the purpose of this witness: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
We receive the witness of the Spirit this morning. We receive the witness of the disciples made possible by the Spirit as we hear the Gospel of John. John says at the end of chapter twenty: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The Spirit who caused us to be born again through the water of baptism continues to sustain that new life through the Gospel of John – through God’s Word. He leads us to continue to believe so that we may have life in Christ’s name – the name of the Lord who died as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and who took up his life again in the resurrection as he defeated death.
Our Lord does not seek to hide the realities of believing in him. He states in our text, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.”
The world acts this way because it is in darkness. It is blinded by the devil, the father of lies. It carries out his will without even knowing it. We have experienced this with ever greater intensity in recent years. We now live in a world that says there is no truth – except for the “truths” the world embraces. Many of these truths are denials of the Sixth Commandment. The world says that sex and living together outside of marriage are normal and good. It says that the homosexuality, same sex marriage, and the means by which same sex couples obtain children are normal and good. It says that a man deciding he is a woman, or a woman deciding she is a man are normal and good. It says that the proliferation of pornography and its use are normal and good.
But God has revealed in his word that these are all perversions of his will. They are sinful and inherently destructive for men and women. Yet to say this, and to live in ways that are true to what God has revealed in the Sixth Commandment, incurs the world’s anger and derision. And while we find this to be a great challenge, remember, no one is going to imprison or kill you for believing in Jesus Christ. Yet that is a reality for our brothers and sisters in Christ in countries like China, Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Jesus says in our text that those who believe in him will experience rejection and even death. Yet the one who tells us this is the One who has conquered sin, death and the world by his death and resurrection. At the end of chapter sixteen our Lord says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The risen Lord has overcome the world. The disciples who were with him – who had been with him from the beginning – knew this to be true. That is why they bore witness to Jesus. That is why they did not fear death as they spread the Gospel. And beyond this they did so because the Spirit of the risen Lord enabled them to bear witness. Indeed, we receive the witness of the Spirit through John’s Gospel this morning. The Spirit sent forth by the ascended Lord has caused these things to be written so that may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we have life in his name.