In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Today gives Jesus’ last Words of instruction as we leave the Easter season. We have come down from the mountaintop of Easter exuberance and now walk back into the valley of the shadow of death, the daily life of a Christian in this fallen world. And Jesus doesn’t promise us sunny skies or the admiration of the world. In fact, He promises quite the opposite. There is no sugar coating today’s message: You will be hated because of your confession of Christ. No matter how charming or kind you try to be, as long as you say that there is one absolute truth as found in the clear, inspired Word of God and Jesus is the only way to heaven, you will be hated. Look at how worldly admiration has gone for the Prophets and Apostles! Jeremiah is handed over to the king to be put to death because people thought the message of repentance and divine destruction was treason. John the Baptist was beheaded for condemning Herod’s adultery. Stephen was stoned for telling Israel that they rejected the Messiah and committed the unforgiveable sin of rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit. Of course, none of this is surprising because the One to whom all of these martyrs pointed was crucified, and if that is the fate of their Lord, it is no surprise that their fate is similar.
Today’s message is a harsh reality. Notice what Jesus says: He says that those who confess Him before the world will be hated and killed by those who think they are offering a service to God, and in the midst of all of it, the Holy Spirit, the promised Helper, will testify of Jesus, that is, He will bring to mind all Jesus has said and done. Jesus doesn’t say “I will send angels to rescue you” or “the Holy Spirit will convert those who hate you and everything will be just fine.” Those things can happen, of course, but it is not the promised course of action. Essentially Jesus says “They will kill you, and I won’t necessarily stop it. But I will not leave you as an orphan, I will not leave you comfortless. The Holy Spirit will be with you and He will keep you steadfast in the face of evil.”
Our Lord’s Ascension, which the Church celebrated on Thursday, teaches us to look beyond this life for our comfort. St. Paul instructed the Colossians: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4). And don’t forget the message of the Angels at the Ascension: “Me of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Jesus Christ will return triumphant, to take you with Him! You will appear with Him in glory; through Him you heirs of heaven are made. There is an end to the suffering, to the weight of confessing Christ in this world, and that end is glorious. Christ’s Ascension is the promise of your own. He has gone to heaven wearing your flesh, removed the cherubim with the flaming sword from the entrance of Eden, and opens the gate to you. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
So, what do to until then? What do you do when you are hated by the world for standing up for the one, objective truth of Scripture, rejected by family and friends for confessing Christ over keeping the peace, and scorned by other Christian denominations for not turning the Bible into a buffet? Find your hope, peace, and confidence in the Word! Trust the Holy Spirit to do His work! The Father and the Son send the Spirit to do the work of keeping you in the faith. He will cause you to walk in the statutes of the Lord, and will take you to the eternal land promised to your fathers. He will cause you to remain steadfast in prayer for strength and patience and for everyone to hear the Word and be converted, and He will lead you to use your God-given gifts in service to your neighbor. But most importantly He will repeat to you all that Jesus has said and done for you. He will remind you that in the world there is tribulation, but Jesus has overcome the world. He will repeat to you Jesus’ Words: “These things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them,” and if Jesus told you of it, He will be with you through it!
He will not leave you as an orphan; Jesus has made that promise and will keep it. He draws near to you in this place. He comes to you in His Word, speaking His comfort into your ears, heart, and soul. That Word comes from the Word-made-flesh, a Word that does what it says: a Word that casts out demons, heals the sick, raises the dead, and forgives you all your sins. And as the Word-made-flesh, He comes to you in His crucified and risen Body and Blood in the Holy Communion. He comes to you to once again forgive your sins, and also to refresh you through that salutary Gift and to strengthen your faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another. And on top of Word and Sacrament, He promises to hear your prayers. He is always listening, always eager to hear your prayer. And He intercedes to the Father on your behalf, always seeking your greatest good.
It may be a startling and sobering message of Jesus that persecution will come. But you are not left comfortless. By His Holy Spirit Jesus is always with you, to the end of the age. He will speak to you Words of comfort and grace, reviving your soul and giving you the strength to endure to the end, when you will receive the crown of life.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).