Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 12:13
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Jesus told his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes… he will bear witness about me” (Jn 15:26). The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus. He teaches us the truth, and the world cannot bear to hear it. Why not? Is it acceptable to talk about God in public? Sure. People do all the time, and nobody bats an eye. Will people tolerate the occasional prayer or Scripture verse? Generally people won’t have a problem. But there is one truth about Christ that it is absolutely forbidden to say. The Holy Spirit says it anyway: “Jesus is the only way to God. There is no salvation apart from him. There is no other name by which we can be saved except the name of Jesus.” Whenever a Christian makes this claim, echoing the very words of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” there will always be outrage and hatred. Whoever speaks these words will receive only persecution and ridicule at the hands of our fallen world.
The early Christians expected this. They were not fed to lions because they worshipped a new god that the Roman Empire didn’t know. The Romans were always adding new gods to their stable of deities. The first Christians were tortured and executed because they refused to acknowledge all other God but Jesus. When St. Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John was burned at the stake, the crowd shouted, “Away with the atheist!” The early Christians were called atheists because they rejected the world’s claim that there are many paths to God. Instead, they confessed that Jesus is the only God. People knew that to become a Christian was to become an enemy of the state. They understood that Christianity and the culture were incompatible.
Things might seem different today, but they’re not. It’s true that Christians aren’t being fed to lions, but the devil is still filled with murderous rage against anyone who confesses Jesus, the only way, truth, and life. So, we should not be shocked to discover that the world hates the true church. St. Peter writes, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet 4:12–13). Of this you may be sure: any pastor, any church, any Christian that takes a stand upon God’s Word will be persecuted. If you are faithful to the truth you will have all manner of evil things spoken against you. You will be slandered. You may lose close friends and family members. Today you may lose your job. Tomorrow you may lose your life. But St. Peter tells us to rejoice, because we are sharing in the suffering of our Lord.
Suffering hurts. No one likes it. So, when we see that the message of Jesus is in conflict with the culture that surrounds us, Christian are tempted to escape in one of two ways. The first way of escape is to withdraw from the culture entirely. You might think of the Amish, who choose not to participate in society. They avoid conflict of any kind, and live quiet lives in their own closed communities. But this is not the path on which Jesus bids us, “Follow me.” If the world hates the Holy Spirit of truth who bears witness about Jesus, then the world must hate you too, because Jesus says, “You also will bear witness about me” (Jn 15:27). Refusing to engage is not an option for the Christian. We do not have the liberty of remaining silent about the truth. We must speak. If ever you are called upon to choose between the love and respect of your friends and the truth of God’s Word, you know where you must stand. Some people here have recently made this choice and are suffering for it. Rejoice, for you are sharing in the suffering of Christ!
The second way that Christians try to avoid suffering is by watering down the message of Christ until it is no longer offensive. The world tells us, “You can talk about Jesus, as long as you don’t say that he’s the only way to heaven. You can mention the word ‘sin’ from time to time, as long as you don’t call us to repent of it.” But a Christ-less Gospel that does not lead us to repentance is powerless to save. If we whittle away at the truth until it is no longer offensive to our culture, there will be no truth left. The true church cannot avoid suffering by changing the message of Scripture. We must be faithful to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. He says to us says, “You also will bear witness about me.” And all who testify concerning the truth will suffer.
Here is what Jesus says will happen, “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” (Jn 16:2). To be put out of the synagogue means to be excommunicated. Unbelievers don’t practice excommunication. This only happens within the church. Jesus is telling us that so-called Christians who claim to be representing the true church will put the followers of Jesus out of their church. People who claim to be righteous, loving, God-fearing believers will publically condemn and reject the teaching of Christ and his followers. They will cast those who confess the truth out of the church. This is already happening today. If you believe what the Bible teaches about the sanctity of life, if you believe what God says about marriage, that it is between a man and a woman for life, if you confess that only believers in Christ will be saved, you will be called all kinds of vile names. If you are an athlete, you will lose your sponsors. If you hold public office, you will receive death threats. If you are a baker, you will lose your business. If you are a grandmother in a small church, you will be shunned by members of your own family and closest friends. “Indeed,” Jesus says, “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is committing an act of worship to God.”
Perhaps it seems like I’m painting a dark picture of what it means to live as a Christian in our world, but we ought never to forget that our faith is incompatible with this culture. Yet we do not despair because Jesus has not left us alone as orphans in a hostile world. Instead, he says, “I will send you the Helper, the Spirit of truth” (Jn 15:26). The Holy Spirit is called the Helper, but the original word is Paraclete. It’s difficult to translate this, because it means so much more than Helper. A paraclete is a legal aide, an advocate, a helper, advisor, comforter, and counselor. A paraclete speaks in court on behalf of the one he represents. This is what the Holy Spirit does for us. In the midst of the great trial of life, he speaks on our behalf. He brings to remembrance the words of Jesus and gives us these same words to speak. He advocates for us and defends us against all accusations. He comforts us with the certain knowledge that we are true members of Christ’s true church, no matter what the world and the devil may say. He assures us that our sins are forgiven, that God loves us and is pleased with us for Christ’s sake. And in the midst of suffering, he teaches us to hold fast to the promises of Jesus and rejoice in them.
“The world will hate you,” Jesus said, “but take heart. I have overcome the world.” And he has given us his Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, as a pledge and guarantee of this promise. “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” (Jn 15:26–27). Take heart, dear Christians, when you suffer for the name of Christ. You have the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. You are in Christ’s hand, and nothing can snatch you away. The craziness of this sinful world will run its course, and the gates of hell will not prevail against the true Church that is built upon the Word of Christ. Amen.