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Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 16:12-22

James T. Batchelor

Easter 5, series C
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Apr 24, 2016 

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are more than just a once-in-a-lifetime set of experiences.  They are unique in all of time and space.  That is what makes the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel such a challenge.  We are in the upper room the evening before the crucifixion and Jesus is preparing His disciples for the next few days.  In a few hours they would be in Gethsemane.  Jesus would soon be arrested and taken before Annas and then Caiaphas, the high priest.  The next morning, Jesus would stand before Pontius Pilate.  He would spend much of the next day on a cross and in less than twenty-four hours, Jesus would be dead and buried in a borrowed tomb.  Then on the first day of the next week, Jesus would bodily rise from the dead.

We, with our 20 /20 historical perspective, know that all these things will soon happen to Jesus.  Jesus … knew that they would happen.  The disciples … DID NOT.  Jesus had told His disciples that these things would happen, but the disciples weren’t ready to understand what Jesus told them.  There is a tension and a drama that arises from the fact that Jesus must prepare His disciples for events that they can’t understand until after they have happened.

The Gospel of John brings out this drama and tension as John gives an account of Jesus’ words in that upper room.  John the Evangelist dedicates five whole chapters of his Gospel to those words.  Jesus, in His great love for His disciples, is giving them preparation and comfort for the upcoming ordeal.  Even though the disciples don’t understand – even though the disciples will endure terror and sorrow during these events – even though the events of the next few days will overwhelm them – the words of Jesus will sustain them through this ordeal.

The reading that we heard earlier begins at the point where Jesus has told the disciples all that they can handle.  He Himself says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) Even then, He has words of encouragement for them.  “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13–14) With these words, Jesus re-introduced the disciples to the Holy Spirit.  He also told them of the special role the Holy Spirit will have as they witness to the words and deeds that they witnessed while they were with Jesus.

So, even though the disciples did not understand Jesus’ words at the time, the Holy Spirit will bring those words back in crystal clarity.  The Holy Spirit will help the disciples put the pieces together so that they could proclaim the Gospel to others.  John the Evangelist Himself tells us, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” (John 12:16) It is the work of the holy Spirit to bring these memories back to mind and enable them to understand.

This is very important for all who read the Bible.  We would not have the New Testament if the Holy Spirit had not come and helped the disciples.  Without the Holy Spirit, their thoughts would be confused and their memories would be foggy at best.  With the Holy Spirit, their memories became sharp and accurate, and they understood the teachings of Jesus.  Without the Holy Spirit, there is no way that they could have written what they wrote.  With the Holy Spirit, their writings are the power of God unto salvation.

These words about the Holy Spirit are important in another way.  These words tell us how we can discern the true prophet from the false prophet.  In today’s Gospel Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will not speak on his own authority.  He will take what is mine and declare it to you.  He will never ever change what Jesus has already said.  He will only tell us what Jesus has already said.

Down through the ages, there have been many false prophets who said that they had a word from the Holy Spirit.  Even today, you can hear false prophets say, “I have a word for you from the Holy Spirit.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will always and forever agree with the words that we already have in the Bible.  If someone ever disagrees with the Bible, they are not of the Holy Spirit.  They might be under the influence of a different spirit, but it is NOT the Holy Spirit.  Jesus made it very clear that the Holy Spirit will not tell us anything new.  Instead, He will clarify the things that Jesus already said.

Martin Luther explained it this way: In this way Christ sets bounds for the message of the Holy Spirit Himself.  He is not to preach anything new or anything else than Christ and His Word.  Thus we have a sure guide and touchstone for judging the false spirits.  We can declare that it surely does not indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit when a person proclaims his own thoughts and notions and begins to teach in Christendom something apart from or in addition to what Christ taught.  No, that betrays the presence of the loathsome spirit of lies, the devil, of whom Christ declares in John 8:44: “When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature,” that is, what he himself has fabricated. 

Nothing has changed since Martin Luther preached these words.  Our old sinful nature still entices us to believe something is true because it feels good.  Our culture tells us to let our feelings be our guide.  The devil tempts us to constantly search for the next mountain top experience.  The forces of evil will do anything and everything to prevent us from finding the Holy Spirit where He has promised to be … in the Holy Scriptures.

Today’s Gospel account continues to remind us of the roles that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit take as they give salvation to us.  We see the Father sending, the Son redeeming, and the Holy Spirit declaring.  It is the Holy Spirit’s role to declare the salvation that Jesus earned for us.

Jesus said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; …” (John 16:16) A little while after Jesus said these words, Judas betrayed Him into the hands of the enemy.  Then the enemy mocked, tortured, and crucified Him.  After He died, His friends laid Him in a tomb.  He left their sight.  They saw Him no longer.  This is the work of Jesus that the disciples did not yet understand.  This is also the work of Jesus that earned salvation for all people.

Jesus also said, “… and again a little while, and you will see me.” (John 16:16) Jesus did not remain in the tomb.  He rose from the dead and He lives forever more.  The disciples saw Him again.  The disciples witnessed Jesus as He redeemed the world to God.

The Holy Spirit came to the aid of these witnesses.  He kept their memories sharp, and He helped them understand what they had witnessed.  They were able to place the witness of their testimony into a written form that will be with us forever.  Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)

Jesus Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit proclaims Christ’s salvation whenever we hear the Word of God in its truth and purity.  Through that proclamation the Holy Spirit establishes, maintains, and strengthens faith.  Through that faith, the Holy Spirit delivers the gifts that Jesus Christ, our Redeemer purchased and won for us with His life, suffering, death, and resurrection.  The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son to give us eternal life in the presence of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen

Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Jn 16:13 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).

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