The Holy Spirit, the Comforter

Text: John 15:26-16:4

Let us pray,

O King of glory, Lord of hosts, uplifted in triumph far above all heavens, leave us not without consolation but send us the Spirit of truth whom You promised from the Father; for You live and reign with Him and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

This prayer, the Collect of the Day for the Sunday after the Ascension, is a wonderful prayer. It ties very well into the readings, which speak about the work of the Holy Spirit. It recognizes that we have celebrated the ascension of our Lord to the right hand of the Father and asks that He would send upon His Church the promised Holy Spirit.

In the prayer, the Spirit is called the Spirit of truth who offers us consolation, or, perhaps one might say, comfort. Our text this week comes, again, from the final instructions Jesus gave His Disciples before His passion. In it, He teaches that, though the world will rage against His disciples – and they will be tempted to lose heart – Jesus will send them a helper from the Father: the Holy Spirit. This Helper would help them by comforting them with the Word of Christ – that He will never leave them nor forsake them, and that by faith in Him their place in heaven is secure. In our text, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to His disciples, to comfort us in all our distress by pointing back to Christ.

I.

Our text today is a hard speech to hear. John 13-17 are all part of Jesus’ final instruction to the Disciples, bits and pieces of which we’ve heard over the Easter season. We heard chapter 13 on Holy Thursday and the last number of weeks have been in chapter 16. Last week, we heard Jesus’ invitation to prayer and promise that the faithful are heard by their Father in heaven. The portion we hear today is difficult because Jesus detailed the opposition His disciples would face after His departure. Up to this point, the opposition they faced – say, from the Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests – had mostly been directed toward Jesus. Jesus was the one they were really after. Though, their ire did start to spread – St. John told us that they had wanted to kill Lazarus, too, since many were believing in Jesus because of him.

After Jesus ascends to heaven, though, the opposition directed toward Him will pass unto His apostles. Our Lord described some of things the world would do to His chosen ones, “They will put you out of the synagogues,” Jesus said. “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”[1] We don’t have to get too far past Pentecost in the Book of Acts, to see these things being fulfilled. The apostles were thrown of out synagogues and called unbelievers. In Acts 7, we hear how St. Stephan was stoned, being the first martyr. The men who killed him thought that they were doing a good work for God. The same happened with James, the brother of our Lord, when he was thrown from the top of the temple.

In other words, it’s going to get bad after His ascension, according to our Lord. The hatred of the world for Him and the Gospel will pass to His followers. However, Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”[2]When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”[3] Jesus means, that although the world will rage against His followers and against His Gospel – and though they will be tempted to despair – Jesus will preserve them by sending them a helper, the Holy Spirit.

II.

The word rendered into English in our text as “helper,” is the Greek word Paraclete, which also means, “comforter.” Given the context, comforter is a better translation and gives us a better sense of what Jesus is saying. What He is saying is that, though the sea roar and the world rage, no harm shall come to His Church. The hymn goes, “Built on the Rock, the Church doth stand.” Christ preserves His Church and His faithful ones by sending them the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to comfort us, by pointing us back to Christ.

When we talk about the Holy Spirit, we most often talk about His work in connection with Pentecost. It’s the Holy Spirit who works through the Word to call all people to faith in the saving work of Christ. We are all Christians because the Holy Spirit has brought us to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that we have life through His death for our sins on the cross. It is also the Spirit’s work to comfort the faithful in Christ. St. Paul said, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.”[4] When the beloved of Christ’s flock are faced with trial and distress, it is the Spirit’s work to comfort them and make them bold.

We see His work in the Apostles. What Christ told them in our text did come to pass. Yet, none of them fell away. The Apostles faced persecution, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, and death. Yet, they remained faithful through the work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit continually put before their eyes the promises of our faithful God. He is our Good Shepherd who never forsakes His flock; He has opened paradise to us by His death on the cross; and, by His resurrection, our own deaths will prove to be but the doorway to eternal life. The Holy Spirit comforted the disciples by pointing them back to promises of Christ.

III.

In our text, Jesus preached a hard sermon to the disciples. The hatred the world had for Him would pass to them. Nevertheless, He would send upon them the Holy Spirit, who would comfort them and make them bold. Jesus said, “He will bear witness about Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”[5] The Holy Spirit would comfort them by bringing to their remembrance all the words and works of Christ for them, and thus they also would bear witness to others.

Now, to us. We do not face the same immediate dangers the disciples did, but we face trials and difficulties of other sorts. The disciples faced excommunication from the synagogues. With each passing year, faithful Christians face excommunication from the world as our confession – that Jesus is the only true God – becomes heresy. The teaching of our Lord in the text is mainly directed to this end, that though world rage against the work of Christ and the spread of His Gospel – His work will go on. To comfort us, we who are His hands and feet, He sends us the Holy Spirit to remind us of His promises to never leave us nor forsake us, to never abandon His Church, and to bring us into eternal life.

We might also say something about the experiences of our own personal lives. The comfort of the Spirit is not just limited to making us bold in the face of persecution, but also confident in the promises of Christ within our daily vocations. Because, as if being a faithful Christian isn’t hard enough, living is hard. Some of us are facing cancer, some work difficulties. For some of us, even as we celebrate Mothers’ Day, we recognize that our family life is rife with turmoil. Even if we don’t notice the persecution of the world personally, our own lives themselves cause us no end of trouble.

The work of the Holy Spirit is not just to make us bold in our witness as Christians, but also to comfort us in our weaknesses, as St. Paul said. And He does this by pointing us back to Christ – in His Word and in His Sacraments. When our bodies fall apart, the Spirit points us to the resurrection, where they shall be restored. When our loved ones die in the faith, the Spirit points us to the blessedness of heaven – which we have through Christ’s work on cross. When we face the loss of our goods, the Spirit reminds us that Christ had no permanent home and that He suffers their loss with us. And, when our faith seems weak, the Spirit points to the Sacrament – where our sins are forgiven, and our faith is made strong.

Jesus said, “when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.” As the disciples were to face the difficulty of life in a world that hates the Gospel, Jesus sent upon them the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. The Spirit comforted the disciples by pointing them to Christ and emboldened them in their witness. So, also, does the Spirit work in our lives. When we suffer and are heavy laden, the Spirit points us to Christ, who bore all our sorrows and all our sins.


[1] Jn. 16:2-3, English Standard Version.

[2] Jn. 14:16.

[3] Jn. 15:26.

[4] Rom. 8:26.

[5] Jn. 15:26-27.

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