In a 1968 version of the Burt Bacharach tune "Promises, Promises" Dionne Warwick sang, "Oh, promises, their kind of promises can just destroy a life...those kind of promises, take all the joy from life." Our text is Jesus preparing His Church to live with an ascended Jesus, and He does so with promises, promises. Make no mistakes the promises in this text are for us. Although the text takes place Maundy Thursday, Jesus is speaking about after Good Friday, Easter, and Ascension. It's true that the disciples in the text haven't celebrated these yet, but we have. We can't hear the text as if we haven't. If we do, we won't hear the promises rightly.
Jesus gives the promise of another Counselor. Counselor is not precise enough. We think therapist when we hear the word counselor, and the Holy Ghost isn't your therapist. Translating "Counselor" is certainly better than "Comforter" which only makes me think of a thick blanket. No, this should be translated the same way it is when John uses the word in 1 John 2: "Advocate." The word really means a friend but especially a legal friend (Morris, John, 649).
It's key to note that Jesus promises us post-Ascension disciples another Advocate, another Legal Friend. In 1 John 2:1 John says of Jesus, "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Jesus is not an Advocate of the not guilty but the guilty. He's not an advocate of those who won't confess their sins but of those who do. He is not a legal friend to those who defend their right to keep their sins but of those who admit their sins have no defense and want to be free of them.
Jesus defends Peters who deny knowing Him. Thomases who doubt Him, and He even takes the case of Judases who betray Him. Why? Because He came into the world to bear sins. The Father sent Him into the world to be made the sins of the world. The Father held Jesus guilty of them all. The Father was pleased to crush Jesus for the iniquity of us all. So Jesus stands beside sinners. When we stand before the bar of Divine Justice and the Judge tells us to rise Jesus stands up with us. When we plead guilty of all sins especially the ones we know and feel in our hearts, Jesus lifts His hands and says, "See Father; I suffered, bled, and died in place of this guilty sinner."
But we're talking about another Advocate. Jesus says that once He ascends into heaven, He will ask the Father to give us another Advocate, another Legal Friend. Where does that happen? Are you looking inside right now? Are you looking toward your thoughts, feelings, or imagination? Don't do that. Go to the text. Jesus says the Father gives the Spirit to those who love Him and observe (not keep) what He commands. What commands did Jesus specifically leave those who love Him? The 10 Commandments? No, those were left by Moses; those are written, dimly now but still there, in the hearts of all men. What commandments did Jesus only leave to us?
"Go make disciples of all nations baptizing and teaching." "Even as my Father sent Me so I send you. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven." "Take eat this is My Body; take drink this is My Blood. Do this often." There you have the commands of Jesus, and it is in these Sacraments that we have the Holy Spirit, another Advocate. The Spirit of Jesus comes with the things of Jesus: His Water, His Blood, His Body, His Words. Jesus keeps His promise to send you another Legal Friend in the baptismal Water you bathe in; the Word you study; in the Body-Bread and Blood Wine that you partake of.
Okay, then tell me how does Jesus fulfill His promise that the world wouldn't see Him any longer but we still would? Doesn't that seem like one of those promises that can just destroy a life and take the joy from it because it doesn't seem in any way kept? Do you see Jesus today any other places then the world does: on crosses, in paintings, and sculptures?
Jesus prepared the first disciples with how it would be after His Ascension during the 40 days between Easter and Ascension. Remember how Jesus appeared ever so briefly and then disappeared. It wasn't at all like during His earthly ministry when He was physically with them 24/7. Well those post-Easter, pre-Ascension appearances were types, they prefigured, they showed them, and us too, in advance how it would be once Jesus ascended. After the Ascension, no one would see Jesus again the way they had been seeing Him until He returned in glory.
How did Jesus show Himself after Easter? On the road to Emmaus how did Jesus make Himself known to two disciples? In the Breaking of Bread. He could have just showed them His hands, feet and side, the way He did in the upper room. But that wouldn't be how it would be for post-Ascension disciples like us. Jesus doesn't promise we'll He see Him like the apostles who poked, prodded, and handled Him. He promised in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday that whoever does what He does has His Body and His Blood, and He tells us that we're literally to do this "to bring Me back to you." That's what that particular Greek word we translate "remembrance" means.
Jesus made Himself known to the Emmaus disciples in Holy Communion. Looks like, tastes like, seems like, just plain Bread and Wine, but Jesus tells us what it really is. The very same Body He gave over into death on the cross. The very same Blood He shed there. That's why when we come to the Lord's Table we bow before we kneel or leave. Even as you would acknowledge the king of England by bowing before and after entering his presence, so we bow before the King of kings. And when able, we kneel in His presence too. All of these actions with our bodies, testify what we confess is really there. We see our Jesus as He promised we would. Oh the world can't see Him, but He told us they wouldn't be able to.
You should ponder, wonder, and adore the fact that in Communion Jesus comes to us not with terror as the king of kings but kind and gentle with healing in His wings. The King of all creation that can shake the world with just a touch shows us Himself so meekly, so mildly that your kids are safe in His presence. Though His presence here is so real, so tangible, so powerful that it could cause you to be weak, sick, or even die, He doesn't want to do that to you. No, He wills His presence here to be forgiving, life-giving, saving.
The appearances of Jesus after Easter but before Ascension were to prepare us for how Jesus would be with us from then to the Last Day. They illustrate for us how it would be that we would see Him but the world wouldn't. The last promise Jesus makes to us is that He will emphasize Himself to us. I know that's not what your insert says. It says, "I will show Myself to him." But this is not the usual Greek word for show. That word was used in last week's text by Philip, "Show us the Father and it is enough." This is the Greek word emphanizo (em-fa-ne'-zo). You can hear our word "emphasize" clearly, and this word is where ours comes from.
Acts tells us that it was in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Others called them that. Why? Because all they talked about was Christ. Paul says in Galatians that the Spirit God the Father sends into our hearts, the another Advocate, the another Legal Friend is the Spirit of Jesus. That's why Paul knows nothing else among the Corinthians than Christ and Him crucified. That's why John says Christ in you is the hope of glory.
Again we see this emphasis in the pre-Ascension appearances of Jesus. In Luke 24 Jesus appears to the disciples; directs them to Holy Scripture, and then He opened their minds to understand that the Scriptures were all about Him. Today, it's to those disciples who open the Scriptures that Jesus emphasizes Himself to. Surely you've seen this in your studies. The saving of Noah in the Ark and the crossing of the Red Sea are really about Jesus' Baptism. The Passover Lamb is really about Jesus, the Lamb of God. The eternal kingdom promised to David is really Jesus. It's through studying Scripture that Jesus emphasizes Himself to us as opposed to the world and we end up singing "Jesus, Jesus only Jesus."
Did you notice how the end of the text goes back to the beginning? "Whoever has My commands and keeps (not obeys) them he is the one who loves Me." We show our love for the Jesus we can't see by using the Baptism, the Bible, the Communion that we do see. To the degree you neglect these things you neglect Jesus. But do you see how it's not a one for one, tit for tat thing? Using your Baptism, Bible, and Communion is how you love Jesus. But such a one is not just loved by the Father but by the Son too. It's a two for one deal. Twice as much love comes back to the post-Ascension disciple who takes refuge in His Baptism, uses the Word, or eats and drinks Jesus' Body and Blood. But wait; there's more!
Jesus says such a one is not only loved by My Father and Me but "I will emphasize Myself to Him." That's why a confirmation kid says: "I don't know the exact answer but I'm sure it has to do with Jesus." That's why Christian pulpits sometimes have where only the pastor can see it that verse from Acts, "We would see Jesus." That's why a pastor, new to a church, when bugged because he didn't publish sermon titles could tell the secretary to put in every bulletin, every week that the title was "Jesus." As John the Baptist said, "Jesus must increase; I must decrease." That's what happens through the Spirit sent into our hearts by Word and Sacrament. Jesus increases; we decrease, and we see things as they really are. The ascended Jesus is everywhere.
The promises Jesus has left us post-Ascension disciples are not empty ones taking hope and destroying life like Dionne Warwick sang in one part of her song. No they're like she later sings. His kind of promises "lead to joy and hope and love." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday of Easter (20110529); John 14: 15-21