21. May 2023
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you…But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
When the disciples returned from the Mount of Olives, they knew more about Jesus than any other people have ever known. If Christianity had been a matter of knowing the teaching of Jesus and living by it, they could have begun to preach immediately. But now they waited patiently in an attitude of prayer, at the command of Jesus. What was it they were lacking? Let us think for a moment about the work that was awaiting them. They had been given the responsibility to witness to Jesus. They had been along from the beginning. They had seen it all and had been instructed by the Lord. Above all, they were witnesses to his resurrection.
But here was the real difficulty. While Jesus was on earth, His enemies hated only Him, not His disciples. But when He ascended into heaven, the world turned its hatred on the disciples. The enemies hated Jesus without a cause. Later these enemies hated the disciples without a cause. The Acts of the Apostles is one long account of the suffering disciples.
The man they were to bear witness to had been executed as a blasphemer and a troublemaker. They, too, could expect to be met by violent resistance. Jesus had told them many times that they would be persecuted. The disciple was not above his teacher. If they had called the master Beelzebub, what would they do to the servants? It implied they must not fear those who can destroy the body but could do nothing further.
But their task was even more difficult. They were to preach to the people who had crucified Christ so that they might understand that they had crucified the Messiah. They must be able to break through the wall of impenitence that even the Lord’s own words could not shatter.
And still more. It meant that they were called to preserve the purity of the message. To preserve their unity, to stick together even when there was no Master among them, and to preach the gospel even though there was none to counsel with. All this demanded more than human powers could supply. But Jesus had never expected them to fulfill their responsibilities alone. But Jesus had armed them, armed them, and went with them.
God himself would fulfill the task with them. He would clothe them with power from on high. He would open the way for the Word by convicting men of sin and of righteousness. He would give his messengers power and wisdom which would overcome their enemies. He would lead them into all the truth. He would preserve the vision of Christ living and untarnished. He would himself speak through their tongues and words.
The disciples needed preparation and training for their apostolic vocation, and with that, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Why? First, because of the attitudes of the world. Jesus warned them of the world’s “hatred.” It’s a hatred “without a cause.” While Jesus was on earth, His enemies constantly hated Him without a cause. It began when He was an infant. Satan worked through Herod and the state. Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt. While Jesus was growing up, He was in favor with God and man. But when He told the Jews about their sins, they began hating Him. It finally brought Him to an unjust trial and an unjust death.
Likewise, with the disciples. Beginning with Acts 3 and to its very end, the hatred of the Jews against the apostles is very clear. Why did they hate them? Because they preached about the Lord Jesus. By nature, sinful man hates God. He is an ally of the devil who hates Jesus. It is today as it was in Jesus’ time. The world still hates Jesus and His disciples.
Second, they hate Jesus and the apostles not only in rejecting His Word but also in the works that He does in and through His Church. Jesus says that He had spoken as He did so that they would not be offended and would not fall away from Christ. In Jn. 9:22, we read that if anyone confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Jews would throw him out of the synagogue. That’s what they did with the formerly blind man who confessed Christ. And that’s what they did with Jesus’ disciples. They went so far as to say that such action was a service to God. Can it happen today? It happened to Lutherans in Germany after the Reformation. They were killed because they confessed Jesus as the Messiah. But Jesus made it very, very clear as He foretold it. When it happens, our faith in His Word is confirmed and strengthened.
So, how do the disciples receive preparation and training? He arms them with the Truth. Jesus said to Pilate: “Everyone who is of the Truth hears My voice.” Pilate answered: “What is Truth?” Jesus said to the Father: “Your Word is Truth.” He called Himself the Truth. The Holy Spirit is called “The Spirit of Truth.” The Triune God and especially the Spirit tells us the Truth about ourselves. Our sinfulness is so great that it cannot be comprehended. It must be revealed and believed. But, likewise, the love of God in Christ is so great that it cannot be comprehended. It must be revealed and believed.
All this would take place through the Holy Spirit. Christianity is not simply knowing about Jesus and following him. It can be found only where God is at work in the presence and person of the Holy Spirit. For the disciples, this was a daily experience. Therefore they spoke of witnessing together with the Holy Spirit, that they and the Holy Spirit acted together, that they walked in the Spirit and by the Spirit. But this gift is not for them alone, but for every Christian, you in your vocations.
The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus. Paul says that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God, is like a sword. The sword is used both offensively and defensively. Our enemies are the devil, the world, and our flesh. The Holy Spirit uses the sword, the Gospel, to fight these enemies. When the devil accuses you of sin, use the Gospel to drive him back. When the world tempts you with its glitter, use the Gospel to drive the world back. And when your flesh tempts you to unspeakable evils, use the Holy Spirit’s sword, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to protect yourself. And when the occasion arises for you to testify to others, use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, the Gospel.
Jesus warned and armed the disciples. He does the same for us today. Without the third article of the Creed, our faith is not a true Christian faith. But with the Spirit, we can face whatever the devil, the world, and our flesh throw at us, for God’s kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin