Preparation For Separation
5/16/04Times New RomanArial
Our text takes place in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. Jesus is preparing His apostles for His ascension into heaven, preparing them for the time when they'll live without His visible presence, preparing them for the reality we latter day Christians have always known. Our text comes from John 14. All of John 14 deals with questions from the apostles about Jesus' upcoming ascension. First Thomas asks, "Lord, we do not know where You are going; how do we know the way?" Then Philip says, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Finally Judas, not the betrayer, asks Jesus, "Lord what has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?" In answering these questions Jesus prepares the apostles for His Ascension. This Thursday we will remember the Ascension. Jesus wants to prepare us for separation, too.
The first thing Jesus does to prepare us is to tell us: His words are His Father's words and the Holy Spirit's words. The apostles are with Jesus at the last Passover meal. They hear Jesus' words with their own ears; they see His lips move with their own eyes. Then Jesus says, "These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent Me." And not only that, but these words are the Spirit's words as well. Jesus says, "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will remind you of everything I have said to you." The words Jesus orally, audibly, and visibly speaks on earth are the very words spoken by the Father and the Spirit they can't see.
Don't you see what a marvelous thing Jesus is saying here? When Jesus walked the earth and something tragic happened on earth, the disciples could go to Jesus to have it explained. When the tower fell on those in Siloam killing 18 or when Pilate murdered people offering sacrifices, Jesus could tell them how to think about such things. But now Jesus was reascending to heaven. Dark, mysterious things would still happen. There would be tragedy, disaster, illness and death, and they would wonder what God in heaven says about such things. Jesus here promises that neither they nor we have to wonder what God in heaven is saying. Jesus says the words He spoke here on earth, the words we have recorded in our Bible, are the very words of the Father who sent Him.
In the midst of problems, tragedy, sickness, or when you're undone or overdone, even then, you know that Jesus says to you, "Come unto Me all you who are burden and heavy laden." "Take no thought for tomorrow." "Nothing can snatch you out of My hand." You know these comforting words of Jesus, but what Satan does is try to drive a wedge between Jesus' words and the invisible Father in heaven. "O, you know what Jesus thinks, how Jesus feels, but what about the Father whom no man has seen at anytime, who dwells in light unapproachable and is a consuming fire, what does He think, how does He feel toward you?"
You are to take what Jesus speaks into your ears in Scripture as coming from the lips of God the Father. Regardless of how things look, feel, or seem, Jesus says His words are the Father's words. It's true; Scripture do say that God works in mysterious ways His wonders to preform, but the words of Jesus tell you exactly what God thinks and intends to do even by His mysterious works. So be done with speculating, opining, or reasoning about what God in heaven is doing or thinking. Bind yourself to Jesus'words even as Jesus says the Father does.
But there's more. You all know someone who tells you the Holy Spirit is saying this or that to them or maybe even to you. And so you start wonder: "Is that dream I had the Spirit speaking to me? What about this urging or feeling? Could it be the Spirit? What if I don't pay attention to it?" This sort of thinking can be downright demonic leading to a fearful, anxious life. If I don't follow this hunch, this leading, this vague feeling, something terrible might happen to me or worse yet to someone I love. It might not even be that serious. It might just be the feeling that if you ignore the Spirit's voice in your feelings, in your dreams, in the strange coincidences of life, you'll miss God's perfect plan for you.
The only antidote to this sort of torture is Lutheranism which says forcefully, "God gives no one the Spirit...apart from the external Word...We say this to protect ourselves from the fanatics, that is the spirits who boast they have the Spirit apart from contact with the Word...Everything that boasts of being from the Spirit apart from Word and Sacrament is of the devil" (Smalcald Articles, 8:3,10). You don't have to listen to what the devil says. You can ignore the devil, indeed you should ignore the devil, without the slightest fear that you might be missing something.
How can Lutherans be so sure that when we dismiss dreams, urges, feelings, or someone saying to us, "The Spirit told me to tell you.." we are not dismissing the Holy Spirit? Because of the text before us. Jesus says the Holy Spirit is a Counselor, that can be translated and often is translated "Comforter." It's not comforting or even good counsel for the Holy Spirit to be speaking to people by things that can be interpreted a dozen different ways. That dream, feeling, or urging may be fever, bad chicken, or a side effect of medicine. What about the person who says, "The Spirit told me to tell you?" The Spirit comes in the Name of Jesus not His own name. Jesus says He takes of His and gives to us. The Spirit doesn't speak in His own name of His own things but always of Jesus.
Jesus says, "The Holy Spirit will remind you of everything I have said to you." Rather than putting vague feelings, obscure urges, cryptic messages in your heart and mind, the Holy Spirit brings to mind the definite ways Jesus promised to work in your life. The Spirit brings to mind the definite things Jesus has said to you like, "I make you a new creation in Baptism; I've forgiven you in Absolution; I give you life and salvation in Communion." Jesus has not ascended into heaven leaving you to decipher what the Spirit may be saying to you. Jesus words, works, and message in Scripture and Sacraments are the Spirits words, works, and message to you.
Jesus prepares us for separation from His daily, visible presence by telling us His words are the Father's and the Spirit's words, AND by telling us that His peace remains with us even when He goes. The whole festival half of the Church year, from Advent through Easter, which centers on the life of Jesus, deals with peace. In Advent we prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace. At Christmas the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us brings "peace on earth, good will toward men." In Lent we focus on how Jesus, in the words of Colossians, "made peace through the blood of His cross." And at Easter the first words Jesus speaks to the apostles are, "Peace be to you."
The peace Jesus promised, worked, won, and gave is not of this world. Just because you have a calm, quiet heart doesn't mean you have this peace. Just because you live at peace with those around you doesn't mean you have this peace. Just because you don't feel agitated or worried doesn't mean you have this peace. So that means you could have a stormy heart, be a war with people around you, and have more cares than hairs, but still have Jesus' peace. The peace Jesus leaves is the peace He worked and won between God and sinful man. As long as God's Commandments were not kept, He was angry at man. He put away His wrath once He saw Jesus had fulfilled every Commandment. But not only did the Commandments have to be kept, the broken ones had to be paid for. This Jesus did on the cross. So, God looks at the perfect life of Jesus; He looks at Jesus' blood rather than our sins and He breathes a sigh because at last He is at peace with us.
Haven't you ever had anyone mad at you? They intended to punish you, to hurt you. Haven't you ever had someone like that put away their anger? It was appeased. No more looking over your shoulder; no more fearing what they might do. You let out a big sigh of relief. That's what Jesus left to us when He ascended, a God in heaven who is not angry at us because Jesus already bore all His wrath against our sins, a God in heaven who isn't saying, "You'd better do this or else," because He sees all things as already done by Jesus. Big sigh of peaceful relief.
Jesus reascending into heaven means you can be at peace here on earth. For that reason, says Jesus, you don't have to continue to have a troubled heart. These words are a command. Likewise, it is His command that you stop being timid or cowardly. My mom use to quote the saying, "A coward dies a thousand deaths; a hero dies but once." A person who thinks God is still at war with them in every new medical symptom, family problem, or economic downturn dies more than that.
Jesus sweeps all of this from your plate, dumps it off your table, washes it from your heart. He commands you take His holy life and His innocent, bitter suffering and death for your sins seriously. When you trouble yourself because you haven't done everything you think you should, you are turning away form the holy life Jesus lived and the peace He says you have because of it. When you fret and cower over what serious medical problems are in your future or because you think your present medical problems indicate God's angry with you, then you're turning away from the innocent suffering and death Jesus went through and the peace He says is yours because of it.
The devil, the world, and your own fallen conscience will constantly demand you have a troubled, timid heart because after all your are a real sinner. Well, Jesus says you don't have to. In your Baptism, in Absolution, at the Communion rail your Jesus speaks today on earth saying, "Depart in peace," and the Father and the Spirit echo, "Amen." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter VI (5-16-04); John 14:23-29