Cantate, The Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Spirit of Truth

Lessons: Isaiah 12:1-6, James 1:16-21, John 16:5-15
Hymns: LSB 480, 483, 741, 548, 475

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      In today’s Gospel, Jesus prophesies the coming of the Holy Spirit who will guide the disciples into all the truth. This prophecy of our Lord is fulfilled at Pentecost, which is just 50 days from Easter. At Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit guides the Apostles to speak to the people in their own languages. Peter’s sermon is recorded in Acts 2 and we will hear some of it on Pentecost Sunday in three weeks. His focus is Christ, who died and rose to grant salvation to all who believe.

      The prophecy by Jesus in John 16 continues beyond Pentecost to today, for the Holy Spirit guided the Apostles throughout their ministries, the same Spirit guided the men raised to be pastors at the fledgling congregations, and God the Holy Spirit guides men who serve as pastors even to this day.

      St. Paul writes of this work of God in 2 Corinthians 4:13-16 in which he quotes Psalm 116. “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart.” We believe and so we speak. As Peter and John said, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

      In fact, the Church prays that this may continue to be done. Hear this familiar Collect for the Church: “Almighty God, grant to Your Church Your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes down from above, that Your Word may not be bound but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, so that in steadfast faith we may serve You and, in the confession of Your name, abide unto the end.”

      Our prayer, as God’s children ought always to be that God’s Word be purely preached in season and out of season, boldly proclaimed in all steadfastness, to all people so that many will join in confessing Christ for the salvation of their bodies and souls.

      The truth of the Gospel is not a private matter but has been publicly revealed by God the Holy Spirit and is recorded in the Bible. As Jesus said, “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. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14).

      The origin of truth does not well up from within us but comes from God Himself. Even the Holy Spirit does not speak from His own authority but speaks what has been granted to Him by the Son of God. His role is to glorify Jesus, by taking what is Christ’s and declaring it to you.

      In the same token, pastors are not to speak on their own authority or speak that which they have not heard. Instead, they are to speak the truth God reveals—truth found in Scripture alone. Otherwise, God’s people would be wandering sheep, tossed to and fro by the winds of mere opinion, led to dangerous places, and deceived resulting in eternal death.

      Thanks to God’s continued guidance by the Holy Spirit, the faithful who have gone before us, and the faithful who are still shepherding Christ’s flocks, we still have the truth of God’s Word preserved among us. But to keep this truth requires boldness to confess, for the Word of God is not welcome in a world corrupted by sin and does not sit well with sinful flesh. Satan does not want the Word to have free course among us for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people. He is looking for ways to replace the truth with lies, to shut the mouths of God’s people, and threaten those who speak.

      But as St. Paul writes, to the Corinthians, “We believe, therefore we speak.” Later in the same Epistle, Paul writes at length of the many crosses and trials he faced as he boldly delivered the Gospel. He wrote, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).

      And permit me now to illustrate some who boldly spoke despite consequences. First, there’s Martin Luther. Two weeks ago, we heard that it was the 500th anniversary of the Diet of Worms in which Luther spoke before the Emperor, “I will not recant. Here I stand. God help me.” Then, on April 26, 1521, Luther was dismissed from the Diet of Worms. Two days later, Luther wrote to the Emperor (AE 48:203-209), emphasizing that “the Word of God should remain free and unbound.” He boldly wrote to the Emperor, “God, who searches the heart, will be my witness that I am definitely ready to comply with and obey Your Sacred Majesty, whether it bring me life or death, glory or shame, gain or loss. I make no exceptions save the Word of God, by which not only man lives, as Christ teaches in Matthew 4:4, but which also the angels long to see according to 1 Peter 1:12. Since [the Word of God] is above everything, it has to be held absolutely free and unbound in all things, as Paul teaches… For to surrender these earthly things, to jeopardize and lose them, does no harm to salvation, since we shall finally have to give them up, even though we have guarded them. Concerning the Word of God and the eternal values, however, God does not allow this risk, that is, that man should surrender [the Word of God] to man. For He has ordered that all men and all things should be submitted only to Him, as He alone has the glory of the truth and is truth Himself… The authority of this Scripture is greater than the comprehension of the whole of man’s reason.” (205-207). Luther would later echo these words in his hymn, A Mighty Fortress in which we boldly sing, “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4).

      Luther preached 500 years ago today at Hersfeld and on May 3 at Eisenach. His preaching violated his safe-conduct pass and endangered him and those who heard him. He later wrote, “They had forbidden me to preach while on my way. Nevertheless I said that I had not consented that the Word of God should be bound; and this is true… The condition that the Word of God should be bound was not within my power [to uphold], nor did I agree to it, and even if I had agreed to it, it would not have been binding since it would have been against God’s will” (AE 48:226). On May 4, Luther was kidnapped by his friends and brought to the Wartburg Castle for safety over the next 10 months. On May 25, Luther was condemned as an “obstinate schismatic and manifold heretic” (Brecht 1:474).

      But Luther was not a schismatic or a heretic. He was stubbornly and correctly convinced that God does not lie, His Word is true, His Word always remains true, and His Word should never be bound in any way. No one on Earth has the authority to stop the preaching of God’s Word in any way. After all, that is what Jesus is teaching in today’s Gospel concerning God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit.

      But what about today? Have we moved beyond the troubles Luther faced? Do not free countries allow the freedom of Christians to assemble? In our day, the attacks on the Church are rising.

      For example, in Finland there are two men who are being charged with incitement against a group of people. Their crime is that they published a book in 2004 declaring that marriage is between one man and one woman, as the Bible teaches. Finland legalized same-sex marriage in 2017. Now they’re being charged with crimes. These two men are prominent Lutherans. A statement was released by the Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (of which our Missouri Synod participates). It was written by Dr. Timothy Quill who has retired from the Fort Wayne Seminary. He wrote, “The implications of the decision to charge Juhana Pohjola and Päivi Räsänen are clear: if the authorities are willing to do this to a respected pastor, reverend doctor, and Bishop Elect, as well as a Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, then that sends a message of fear and intimidation to everyone in Finland who follows the Scripture’s teaching on human sexuality.” Yes, charges have been filed against the Bishop Elect of our sister Lutheran church body there and a Member of Parliament!

      In America, the House has passed the Equality Act and the President supports it. The bill would effectively allow the government to press charges on churches and pastors just as the Finnish government has done to these fellow Lutherans.

      In Alberta, Canada, Pastor James Coates spent a month in a maximum-security prison earlier this year. His crime? A covid regulation required that churches not exceed 15% of their capacity. His church violated that rule, and he was found guilty. Not only that, but the government chained the doors shut and built a chain-link fence around the church. This, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, hearkens back to the Early Church when Christianity was illegal, and no one could safely gather in public. But as we learn from the writings and examples of the Apostles, the Early Church pastors, and Martin Luther, we can never give in to a congregation’s God-given right to hear the Word, no matter the consequence.

      Related to this is a Polish pastor who knew what life was like under the Iron Curtain. Artur Pawlowski serves a church in Calgary and a court order has been obtained to do anything necessary to arrest him. He has compared the actions of the Canadian government with the Gestapo. His crime is also for allowing Christians to gather beyond the 15% capacity.

      Why have we been lulled into so much sleep? How is it that we could ever find these demands reasonable? Do we love Jesus, His Word, and the eternal salvation He offers, or do we love our earthly lives more?

      “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers… Receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:16-21). In this Word of truth, you hear of your Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for you. You hear that Jesus bore your sins in His Body and paid the complete penalty for your sin. He washes you clean, and your sin is removed from you as far as the East is from the West. As a Christian, you are now innocent. God will judge you Not Guilty on the Last Day. This salvation means you will live eternally in perfection with our Lord.

      This is a treasure we must fight to keep. We do so by boldly speaking to our neighbors, standing up for the truth of God’s Word, supporting the election of those who will preserve Christian truths, and generously supporting our church and worldwide missions. When we do not do these things, the Gospel will move on to a more grateful people. Sorrow has filled the hearts of many who watched the Word taken away from them. May it not be so here. May God preserve His Church and God grant that the Spirit of truth continue to guide us all into the way of truth—the way of salvation, found in Jesus Christ alone. Amen.        

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen