Sermon for Exaudi, the Sunday after the Ascension, AD 2021

John 15:26-16:4

On Thursday, we celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord – that Jesus, forty days after His resurrection, was taken up into heaven to the right hand of the Father. On Good Friday we remember that He has died for us, taking on all our sins. On Easter we remember he is risen from the dead, showing that His death truly accomplished our salvation and defeated sin, death, and the devil. Ascension is His final work until He returns, that He has come to the right hand of God, that Jesus, our brother is the Father’s right hand man with all authority and power over heaven and earth for your good. He is not now absent from us, but fills heaven and earth and comes to us where He has promised to be – in His Word and Sacrament.
           
Yet it is true that now we only grasp Him by faith. We trust in His Word, knowing that it is true and He has the power to make good on all His promises. We trust that one day faith will no longer be needed and we will behold him by sight. In the resurrection of the dead, we who believe and are baptized will behold His face forever. But that is not now. Now, we need strengthening, we need a helper. This Sunday after the Ascension, we hear about the Helper Jesus sends to us, the Holy Spirit. For we are not alone in our faith, but the Spirit is here to continually bring us to Christ and His promises.
           
Who is the Holy Spirit? He is not an impersonal force. He is not just some aspect of the Father and the Son. He is the Third Person of the Trinity, equally God to the Father and the Son. We confess in the Nicene Creed that He proceeds from the Father and the Son, as we read in our gospel lesson today. Jesus says the Holy Spirit is one, “whom I will send to you from the Father…who proceeds from the Father.” This is the Biblical way we distinguish the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from one another – the Father is not begotten and does not proceed, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Beyond this, we leave to God, it is beyond our knowing. But what we do know is that the Holy Spirit is true God, a person distinct from the Father and the Son, and most of all He works to help us and bring us Christ in this life.
           
Jesus describes the Holy Spirit in three ways – as the Helper, the Spirit of truth, and the witness. Now Helper can be a very broad term, and it brings up many different images, not all of which are equal. We might call a little boy holding wrenches while his father works on a car a helper, he’s there but not particularly necessary. Or a tutor who assists with homework could be a helper, to make you better at something than you could have been yourself. Or a helper could be someone whom you depend on, a close friend and ally, without whom you could not have made it through a difficult time.
           
When we think of the Holy Spirit as the Helper, we should think of Him as closest to this last example, yet much more. For Helper, or any other word, doesn’t fully describe what Jesus calls him – the paraclete. There is no direct word in English which corresponds to paraclete, but you can look at different Bible translations and see various words used – Helper, Advocate, Comforter, and Counselor, for example. These are all fine, because He does all these things – helps, advocates, comforts, and counsels.
           
It is no coincidence that this is what Scripture does as well, for the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God to bring us our help. As St. Paul writes, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). All scripture is inspired, filled with the Holy Spirit, and brings to us all those works which the Helper does for us, to console, counsel, and comfort. The scriptures are never platitudes, they are never mere nice sayings to make us feel better. They are truly an inspiration – the source, the fount of life where the find the Helper working on us.
           
As the Helper, the Holy Spirit works against any terror we may face in this world, especially the terror of doubt and despair. He comforts us when we are in persecution, affliction, or trouble. He counsels and encourages us to believe that we have become children of God and therefore have a true Father who cares for us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, our new man is strengthened, we are encouraged to pray, encouraged to trust in God, encouraged to love our neighbor. This work happens as we go the inspired Word, to remember our baptism, to receive Christ’s body and blood. These inspired places are here for our constant help, to hold us close and pull us out of the mire of despair.
           
Through the inspired Word all false teaching is destroyed, for the Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of Truth. It is impossible to be truly helped and comforted by nice-sounding lies. We must have a Spirit of Truth which fights against all falsehood, but bring us the truth of Jesus Christ and what He has done for us in His death and resurrection. We don’t only need the Spirit to help by bringing us the comfort of the Word, but the Holy Spirit also brings us the truth of the Word, and makes us desire that truth. The new hearts we are given in our baptism make us into truthful people who take no pleasure in lies or false teaching, but seek what scripture teaches, what Jesus the Son of God has said. If the Holy Spirit was not also the Spirit of Truth we would seek false comfort in nice sounding falsehood, but in the Spirit we desire the Truth of God’s Word, of Christ’s work for us, the only help and comfort for sinners lost and in doubt.
           
It is through the Spirit of Truth that the Christian church is preserved, as Christ said, that the gates of hell would not overcome it. How do we know we believe the same things as the first Christians? How do we know the message which gives us the great comfort of eternal life has not been lost? We know because the Spirit of Truth preserves it. No man, no pope, no church structure can preserve the true Word of God without the Spirit of Truth. It is Christ’s promise we trust, that the Holy Spirit will preserve Christ’s church in truth until Christ returns.
           
For Jesus has sent many to bear witness about Him, that He is the Son of the Living God and Savior of the world. This is the work of the Holy Spirit as well – to bear witness to Jesus. So the church is founded on Jesus, on the confession that He is Lord, which is the witness of the apostles Jesus sent and all true teachers of the church who come after. The bold witness of Jesus is necessary against the tyrants of this world, who wish to crush and deny any talk of Christ. The Holy Spirit not only comforts and gives us the truth, but makes us bold to confess it as well. The church has shown this from the beginning, as almost all the first apostles were martyred for the faith, witnesses to the truth of Christ’s gospel through their blood.
           
Therefore you can see that many great threats face you in this world. Do not think you do not need a Helper. Jesus tells us there is always the threat of falling away. So many forces in the world, due to their wickedness and ignorance, neither know Jesus nor the Father and want to cause Christians to doubt and lose faith. Jesus talks about being removed from the synagogues – in his time, this would be removal from the entire community, from any earthly help. Even in our country, people want Christians to lose their livelihoods for their beliefs. Ultimately the devil’s goal in this is to cause you to lose faith in Christ and reject His Word and the Holy Spirit.
           
Cling to the Word and you will know that whoever is a Christian will have no paradise here. This is not our final home. The wage of true Christians, and faithful preachers, is suffering. Christ received no better. He did no harm to the world, yet it paid him a bitter and unjust death. He suffered that death as a man for us, and is with us in our suffering. And ultimately, Christ conquered all suffering and affliction. Nothing can overcome His love for us or come between Him and us. These are the words the Holy Spirit brings to you and wants you to know. For the Holy Spirit, the Helper, Spirit of Truth, and witness, is here to bring the help, truth, and message of us Christ to us. In our baptism, as we are strengthened in Word and sacrament, He promises to comfort us with the true and bold confession which is our only hope in this life until Christ returns and we see His glorious face. Amen.

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