“The Holy Spirit will comfort and sustain us to the end!” Exaudi 2024

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12. May 2024
John 15:26-16:4

But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s Gospel and several in the previous weeks gears us up for the theologically important feast days of Pentecost and Trinity. Theological arguments are meant to lead to a positive confession, not divide the Church. For example, we see a perfect picture of the Trinity in our Gospel, which we confess in the Nicene Creed: The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, sent by the Son. If we keep ourselves strictly to biblical phrases in the Creed, we would have to stick only with the phrase “proceeds from the Father,” as the original Nicene Creed confessed and continues to be confessed in the Eastern half of the Church. The Creed, however, is more than a regurgitation of biblical phrases. We use the expression “one substance,” for example, which is nowhere found in Scripture but is supported by it.

Does Scripture, then, support adding the phrase “and the Son”? Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Son? As the “Fount and Source” of the Holy Spirit, we would look to the Father as the sole Person responsible for this procession. Yet, Jesus is one with the Father, so procession happens by Him as well. Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, and with the Holy Spirit, He breathed the Word of absolution. The most refined way, perhaps, to state it is as follows: The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and [by the sending of] the Son. there we go! We resolved a thousand-year-old argument between the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople (unless the divide was about something else, hint: it was and is.)

More important for us, however, is what the Holy Spirit does. Jesus gives the Holy Spirit three names: the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, and the Witness. First, consider the title of the Holy Spirit, “the Helper” or “the Comforter.” The fact that Jesus calls Him by this word rather than simply “Holy Spirit” is a gift for us. He is named by Jesus as He is directed toward us. In the same way that the Son of God is named after a verb that means “to save” (i.e., the name “Jesus”), so is the Holy Spirit named after another verb that means “to comfort.” He is called the Paraclete, based on the Greek verb “parakaleo.” 

What the Holy Spirit will do for us is best summed up in two of the most famous uses of “comfort” in the Bible. Psalm 23 says, “Your rod and staff comfort me,” and Isaiah 40 reads, “‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ Says your God. ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD’s hand Double for all her sins.’” By the rod and staff of the Good Shepherd, that is, the preaching of the Word, the days of warfare are ended, and iniquity is pardoned. Comfort is the result, which is worked by the Helper, the Comforter, whom Jesus sends. 

The Spirit comforts and assures our hearts and weary consciences so that we can believe that we have become children of God through Christ. We can cry with all our hearts, “Abba, dear Father!” He also makes us bold so we can confess this faith freely before the whole world. In addition, He comforts us in the face of all the tribulation, adversity, and persecution that we are forced to suffer and bear in this world for the sake of this confession. The Spirit overcomes our fear and gives us to speak boldly and confidently. The Apostles even rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer contempt for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). Therefore, Christ says, as it were, “Let the world rage, the devil spread his terror, the tyrants burn with anger. I will send you the Comforter who is all-powerful, protecting and defending you from every danger. He will enlighten your heart with faith, kindle it with love, and comfort it in all troubles, so that you fear neither devil nor world nor tyrants, but will pass freely through, confess Me freely before all the world, and suffer and endure all that may be laid upon you.”

Second, the Spirit is not some generic comforter with trite sentimentalism, emotional coddling, or empty assurances. The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth.” He makes you truthful people who take no pleasure in lies and false teaching but cling to Jesus, the Word of God, and the comfort of the Gospel of Christ’s blood-bought forgiveness, regardless of whatever the devil and the world may hurl at you. The Spirit of Truth says that whatever Christ, the Son of God, teaches, establishes, ordains, and decides is the genuine and complete truth. But whatever is taught, established, ordained, or decided out of human reason are false and misleading lies, born from the Father of lies. The false spirit that proceeds from the devil has raged against the truth from the beginning of the world. But the Spirit of truth has and will sustain Christians against the gates of hell to this day, and will do so to the end. 

Thus, third, the Spirit is called Witness because He bears witness about Christ that He is the Son of the living God and Savior of the whole world. Jesus says, “He will remind you (disciples) of what I taught and proclaimed to you before, and write it in your heart so you never forget it. He will not be a preacher of the Law but a preacher of Grace. He will bear witness about Me that I have overcome the devil, slain death, shattered hell, blotted out sin, taken away the wrath of God, opened heaven, and made all believers in Me heirs of eternal life.” 

After stating that the apostles will also testify of Jesus, He prophesies what awaits those who bear witness of Him. “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” To bear witness is to suffer and possibly be killed for the Gospel. The connection between bearing witness and death is conveyed in the word “martyr.” Martyr is the Greek word for “witness.” For us, it means one who dies confessing the faith. In the end, every Christian is a martyr because each of us will die confessing the name of Jesus. 

Thus, the Gospel talks about the apostles and places their role alongside that of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “[The Holy Spirit] will testify of Me. And you also will [testify] because you have been with Me from the beginning.” Doctrinally and biblically, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is tightly bound up with the doctrine of the Office of the Holy Ministry. Our liturgical exchange confesses this: “The Lord be with you…and with your spirit.” The congregation confesses that the Holy Spirit is with the pastor in his actions through the liturgy, namely, preaching the Word and giving out the Sacrament. The pastor confesses that the congregation gathered about the Word and Sacrament have the Holy Spirit. 

The roots of this truth go back to the first Pentecost. With the giving of the Holy Spirit immediately came the proclamation of the Gospel, baptism, and Holy Communion (Acts 2). And remaining in the Spirit and the means of the Spirit, you are assured that whatever flaming darts the devil’s kingdom fires at Christ Jesus and His Church is in vain. The gates of hell cannot prevail against her. Jesus is with us even in the midst of the cross and suffering, but we cannot succumb to error and attack. The Holy Spirit will sustain us to the end until, at last, God comforts us with eternal joy and blessedness in the life everlasting. God grant it to us! Amen. 

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin