May 29, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
[Jesus said]: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.”
This Sunday, as the Church enters the week that commemorates the Ascension of Jesus, she hears what her Lord promises to do for His disciples. Last week, you heard Jesus’ words concerning His departure and return: “I go to prepare a place for you . . . and I will come back to take you to Myself.” This morning, you heard your Lord’s words about what He will do to help you, His disciples, while He is physically absent from them.
Jesus was leaving His disciples. But because Jesus leaves this world, not to abandon His followers, but to accomplish things for their benefit, He doesn’t want them to be afraid. So He continues the statements that began as you heard last Sunday: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.” That statement of comfort is extended when Jesus says to His disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans.” An orphaned child is left helpless, with no one around to care for him. The Twelve disciples could think that they were being abandoned by Jesus, becoming like orphans. Their Teacher, their Leader was going away from them. No longer would He walk the gravelly roads of Palestine with them. They would no longer be able to see Jesus with their eyes, hear Him with their ears, or touch Him with their hands.
Though Jesus does depart from His disciples, He doesn’t leave them helpless or fatherless. They won’t be left without anyone to care for them. Jesus knows what they need to survive in this world, to live in the midst of sin and all of Satan’s wiles, when He isn’t physically present with them. So Jesus makes this promise: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” Jesus will depart, but His Father will send a Helper to His disciples.
The promised Spirit—the Spirit whom the Father will send—will keep the disciples from being orphaned. They have a Father in heaven who cares for them through the Spirit. And this Spirit is none other than God Himself, God who “dwells with and will be in” the disciples. It is the Spirit of Truth, that is, the Spirit who confesses the Truth of Christ and makes it known to His followers. It is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit who confirms the words and works of the Father that Jesus has said and done. Jesus does more than not just abandoning the disciples, He has the Father send them a powerful Helper.
This Helper whom the Father sends, the Spirit of Truth and Power, lets the disciples accomplish their purpose here on earth. For just as Jesus doesn’t abandon His disciples, neither does He leave them directionless or without purpose. No, the disciples have a reason for existence, a mission for life. Jesus gives them a glimpse of this purpose, a summary of their mission: “If you love Me, then you will keep My commands.” Those who follow Jesus, who love Him as Lord will obey what He sets down for them. This might seem obvious, but that is what Christ tells His disciples they are to do. And as obvious as it might be, it is not insignificant.
But to keep the commands of Jesus, the disciples need to have the Spirit of Truth within them. This Spirit separates them from the world: the world that neither knows nor receives God. This Spirit changes the hearts of men from hatred and animosity to God to a life of devotion and discipleship to Him. This Spirit brings the will of God and the will of His people into unity, and enables them to act according to it. By His holy inspiration, they think those things that are right; by His merciful guiding, they accomplish them.
As the disciples are guided by this Helper whom the Father sends, they are able to keep their Lord’s commands. Their Lord tells them: “Love one another as I have loved you.” The Spirit that dwells within them binds their hearts together to do so. Their Lord tells them: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” The Spirit that guides them drives them to the ends of the earth to do so. Their Lord tells them: “Leave your life behind; take up your cross and follow Me.” The Spirit that calls them gives them this new life. Their Lord tells them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The Spirit empowers them to absolve even the gravest of sins, so that the penitent may have salvation. Their Lord tells them: “Take; eat. This is My Body. Do this in remembrance of Me. . . . Drink of this all of you. This cup is the New Testament in My Blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.” The Spirit opens their eyes to see recognize their Lord in the breaking of the bread. And in all of this, Jesus’ statement is fulfilled: “Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”
This same Helper, the same Spirit of Truth promised by Jesus and sent by the Father, is what you also have been given. For Jesus’ promise is not limited to the disciples in the Upper Room. No, it extends to all who are His disciples, who have been made His people. You also have been called out of the world that doesn’t know or receive Jesus and the Spirit of Truth. Out of that world of sin, death, and unbelief, you have been brought to love and faith in Jesus. This is what the Helper has done: “[Him] the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
That Helper, that Spirit of Truth, has been given to you in your baptisms. As you have received Him, you have become those who love Jesus and keep His commandments. Through the washing of water and the word, Jesus has made good on His promise to you, His disciples. By fulfilling this promise, He has brought you into union with Him. United to Him, you share in His resurrection, as He says: “Because I live, you also will live.” Made His disciples, you are gathered into the community of faith, a people marked by love of Jesus and the keeping of His commands, even what He has instituted to bring you forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Such is what the chief Apostle Peter has written in his letter to the Church. During the past few weeks, you have heard Peter’s words to those who love Jesus and keep His commandments. This morning, you heard: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God. . . . Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him.”
This change, this calling has been given to you by God Himself. It has made you alive, as Jesus Himself lives. It has made you His people, set apart from others. It has given you the Spirit of Truth, so that you may rightly love Jesus as Lord. And as you live this new life for God, as you love God, you also keep His commands. It is what Luther’s explanation of the Creed says: “Christ redeemed me . . . that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
The Spirit of Truth gives you this new life: the life of faith, love, and service toward God and each other. It is not just a feeling or an idea. It is a very powerful reality, a reality that you experience as you live out the new life God has given us. Enabled by the Helper that your Lord promised, lead the life of discipleship that He desires: “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” Called out of the world and gathered into the communion of saints, be the new people that Jesus has made you, striving for righteous living: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” Living in the midst of sin and death and disaster, boldly confess your faith: “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
Jesus’ words are true: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” But He also makes a further promise to you: “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Your Lord shows Himself to you in the things He has commanded and that you treasure and keep: His Word, His Baptism, and His Supper. It is what you are able to recognize while you live here in this world, as Jesus promises: “Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.”
But you also have one more thing to look forward to. Your Lord will manifest Himself to you on the Last Day, when He calls you to Himself to dwell where He lives and reigns to all eternity. So He has promised: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” That promise is sure: “Of this the Father has given assurance to all by raising Jesus from the dead.” This the Spirit of Truth has made known to you. Receiving this truth and believing the promises, may you all see your Lord whom you love and whose commands you keep.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.