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.

Neither Gone, Nor Forgotten

Text: Acts 1:1-11

“Gone, but not forgotten;” that’s what we might say when someone impactful on our lives is no longer accessible. Often, the phrase is found etched on headstones as reminder to us of those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. Implicit in this phrase – what is assumed – is that the person in question is now permanently separated from us. Their only influence upon us now is through our memories. That’s also what people say, “they live on in our memories.”

Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord, but His separation from us is not like those who are separated by the grave. Rather, when Jesus was taken up into the cloud, He sat down at the right hand of God. From there, He continues to be present in all places, and especially where His Word is read or spoken, and His Sacraments are received. Our Lord’s ascension is part of His exaltation. He returned to the right hand of God to resume the glory that was His before the foundation of the world. Christ, our dear Lord, ascended to the right hand of the Father to rule over all things for our benefit, even as He continues to be with us in His Word and Sacrament until He comes again. He is not gone, and neither has He forgotten us.

I.

Today we celebrate, for Christ’s ascension is further proof that He defeated death and hell. By His death on the cross, He made payment for all the sins of the world. By His resurrection, He broke the bars and loosened the chains of death. As He now lives forever, so, too, will all those who believe in Him. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let us hear again from St. Luke. He wrote,

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.[1]

The Book of Acts is a continuation of St. Luke’s Gospel. Whereas the Gospel is primarily about the words and deeds of our Lord Himself, Acts continues the account of our Lord’s work through His Apostles. The reason we are celebrating Ascension today is because today is when it happened – 40 days after Easter. Our Lord Jesus Christ, after He had been raised from the dead, did not immediately ascend into heaven. Rather, He remained for 40 days. Some of the things He did, we’ve heard about already – how He appeared to the disciples even though the doors were locked and how St. Thomas felt the mark of the nails and spear. St. Luke also wrote that Jesus appeared to two disciples on the way to Emmaus. There was also a miraculous catch of fish after the resurrection. St. Paul wrote that Jesus once appeared to over 500 people at one time.[2]

Jesus remained those 40 days to provide definitive proof that He had, truly, defeated sin, death, and the devil. Imagine that you heard of someone claiming to have come back from the dead. Perhaps it would take you a while to believe, too. But, not only did Jesus prove by many acts that He was alive, He also continued to teach the disciples. A few weeks back we heard that Jesus had more things to teach them, but they couldn’t bear it yet. Now that their minds had been opened to understand the Scriptures, Jesus taught them all that was necessary. Then, according to St. Mark, “The Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.”[3]St. Luke adds that two angels came and stood among the Apostles and said, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go.”[4]

II.

Thus far the narrative. Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. He remained for 40 days to teach and prove that He was alive. Then, He ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. But, what does this mean? What does it mean that Jesus has ascended into heaven? For starters, “the right hand of God,” is not a placein the way that we use the word. When we say we’re in a place, we mean that we are fixed in a specific location. We cannot be in two placesat once. However, the right hand of God is figure of speech to describe how Christ has returned to His throne on high. Since Scripture tells us that God is everywhere, His throne extends over every place. Our Lord did not ascend to be away from us, but to be with us everywhere. He said, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[5]

But, what is our Lord doing at the right hand of God? He’s not resting; He did that already in the tomb. Our Lord said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”[6]Our Lord ascended into heaven to rule over all things for the benefit of His Church. St. Paul said it this way, “[The Father] put all things under[the Son’s] feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church.”[7]Our Lord, at His ascension, resumed the glory that He had before the foundation of the world. As the victor over sin, death, and hell, He rules over all things for our good. He blesses us and watches over us; He works all things together for our good and salvation.

And, not only does Jesus rule and watch over all things, but He is also the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, as we heard back on Good Shepherd Sunday. He intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. When Satan brings charge against us, Jesus pleads our case with His own blood. Our Lord prays for us. Just as an earthly priest prays for those in his care, Jesus – who is a priest forever – prays for us, we who have been united with Him in Baptism. He also watches over our souls by sending faithful pastors into all the world. He defends His Word from corruption and, by His Holy Spirit, continues to call and comfort us all in the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus also said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[8]That is, Jesus is also preparing our place in His presence in His eternal kingdom.

III.

When someone dies and is parted from us, we sometimes say they are “gone, but not forgotten.” In His Ascension, Jesus is not gone from us – for the right hand of God extends to every place. The Lord has said, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?[9]At the right hand of the Father, Jesus rules all things for our good, He prays for us, He prepares a place for us at His side. He is not gone in the Ascension, and neither has He forgotten us. Though His throne extends over all places, our gracious Lord has also left us His promise that there are specific places we can find Him. He has left us promises so that, though we know He is everywhere, we can know that He is herewith us.

Our Lord has said, “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”[10]Though Christ can be and is everywhere, He has promised that where two or three are gathered in His name – He is there with them. It’s one thing to know that Christ is everywhere, but it is another to know that He is here. Even now. He is present wherever His Word is read or spoken, and He is present, also, in His Sacrament. On the night He was betrayed, our Lord gave us this most precious meal. We receive in, with, and under the bread and wine, the true body and blood of our Lord – the same which were broken and shed for us. In this sacred feast, Christ continues to be with us for our good, to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith.

Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many rooms…if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”[11]Remember what the angels said to the Apostles; Christ, our Lord, will return to us in the same way He left. Someday soon, our Lord will return on the clouds. He will raise us and all the dead. Then, we and all believers in Christ will be gathered to His side to enter in both body and soul into the new creation.

Today we celebrate our Lord’s victory over death and the grave. His Ascension to the right hand of God is the capstone of His achievement. From the right hand of God, He rules all things for our good, He intercedes and prays for us, He prepares our place at His side. He is not separated from us, but is in all places and is with us where His Word and Sacrament are received. Soon, He will return on the clouds, that where He is, we may be also. Alleluia. Christ is risen.


[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ac 1:1–3.

[2]1 Cor. 15:6.

[3]Mk. 16:19.

[4]Acts 1:11.

[5]Mt. 28:20.

[6]Mt. 28:18.

[7]Eph. 1:22.

[8]Jn. 14:2.

[9]Jer. 23:24.

[10]Matt. 18:20.

[11]Jn. 14:2-3.

A New Heart and a New Spirit

**The audio for this sermon may be found here:https://www.spreaker.com/user/trinitystjohn/2016-05-08-exaudi-sermon**

Text: Ezekiel 36:22-28

Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations…I will sprinkle clean water on you…and I will give you a new heart.” Such were the words of the Lord God that Ezekiel preached beside the Chebar canal in southern Babylon to anyone who would listen. The nation of Israel was his audience, which, during his ministry, was carried off into exile in a number of waves and ultimately destroyed through the Fall of Jerusalem. The ones standing immediately before him were the ones carried off to Babylon early in the exile and they had just heard that Jerusalem had indeed fallen. The walls were torn down and the temple destroyed. What hope could be left?

It is good that our fathers in the faith placed this text here in the lectionary, the Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost. We heard from Jesus in the Gospel how the world will react after His Ascension. Some will claim to be worshipping God by killing Jesus’ disciples. St. Peter likewise reminded us in our Epistle not to be surprised when faced with trial and tribulation. In the Collect of the Day we prayed to our ascended Lord Jesus that He would not leave us without consolation, but send us His Holy Spirit. That is what God tells Ezekiel to prophesy about in our Old Testament text. God promised that He would do something marvelous. Even to those poor, dejected exiles, and to us in our suffering, God promised that He was actively at work to vindicate His name and remove their plight. From our text we’ll learn about God’s work, including the work of His Son. Today we’ll especially celebrate His work in Holy Baptism, for it is in the washing of Holy Baptism that God gives us the new heart and Spirit that He promises in our text.

  1.   

Before we go any further, we should talk a little bit about what’s going on in our text. Long story, short: Israel is in exile in Babylon. Now for the longer story: When we study the Old Testament we usually divide it up into two categories, the Law and the Prophets. We can also divide the Prophets into two categories, the Major and Minor Prophets. The Major Prophets are called that because their writings are longer (try reading the 66 chapters of Isaiah), the Minor because they’re shorter. Ezekiel is one of the Major Prophets with Isaiah and Jeremiah. The Fall of Jerusalem happened in 587 B.C. Isaiah prophesied about 100 years earlier. Jeremiah and Ezekiel preached at the same time around, during, and (in Ezekiel’s case) after the Fall of Jerusalem – Jeremiah in Jerusalem, and Ezekiel in Babylon.

Ezekiel prophesied to a people displaced and removed from their homeland. God gave the land of Israel to His chosen nation as gift promised to Abraham, but now they have been driven out of it because of their sinfulness. For generations God spoke to His people through the prophets that Jerusalem would fall unless they repent of their sin and be forgiven. Remember when God sent Jonah to Nineveh with that same message? Nineveh was a pagan city, and they repented and believed. But Jerusalem, the city of God, rejected Him. Instead of living in faithfulness to God and love toward one another, the people were altogether corrupt, hating each other and being hated in return, cheating everyone they could, worshipping false gods, and putting themselves first in all things. Even when they did come to worship God, it was tainted by sin and false pretense. God said through the mouth of Isaiah, “When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.”

But, now, God says in our text, this is all going to stop. Israel’s uncleanness, its disregard for God and His Word led to the Fall of Jerusalem and the Exile – but even then it didn’t stop. The Fall was meant to lead to repentance, but instead, God’s name continued to be profaned. The nations surrounding Israel gloated at their demise rather than repent of their own sinfulness. And Israel, instead of being sorry for their sin, just continued to sin in Babylon. But now God has had enough. He is going to do something radical. He’s going to do something amazing to purify Israel from their iniquity and vindicate His name among the nations. What is He going to do? He’s going to send His Son. That’s what God is talking about in our text. Already His plan is in motion, just as He promised to Adam and Eve to send them a savior. This Savior would be the Son of God who would bear the weight of the world’s sin on the cross to redeem us from our guilt. And, not because we are particularly special or good or merit salvation, but as God says, “It is not for your sake…but for the sake of My Holy Name.”

In our text we get the joyous opportunity to touch on one of the distinctives of our Lutheran faith. We call them the Solas: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura. In our text we get a beautiful picture of God’s grace. Even in the mire of Israel’s iniquity, even in the despair of the exile – the just consequence of their sin – God promises to save. He promises to purify them from their sin and rescue them from death, not through any works of their own, but by His grace alone. God also promises in our text to save us and to cleanse us from our iniquity, and in fact He has through the washing of Holy Baptism.

  1.  

God says these beautiful words in our text, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove your heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you.” In the midst of their iniquity and sinfulness, their depravity and darkness, God promised to sprinkle His people with water, and this water will make them clean. That is what Baptism does. You might remember this question from the Small Catechism. “What Benefits Does Baptism Give? It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.”

God promised to His people our text that He would sprinkle them with water and make them clean. In doing so He would remove their callous hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. And, this is what makes our text fitting for this Sunday, the Sunday after the Ascension. As He ascended into heaven, Jesus promised to put His Holy Spirit within His people. This happens in Holy Baptism when the Triune God puts to death the sinful nature within us and makes us new creations. In Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ’s death and burial, so that we too die to sin and rise to righteousness.

In our text from Ezekiel God promised to His people that He was going to vindicate His name. No longer would Israel’s sinfulness be in the spotlight. Instead, God is going to wash it away. He did this by sending His Son Jesus to die for the sin of the world, both for Israel in Ezekiel’s time and for us now. Then, in Holy Baptism, washes us clean. He rips out our hearts of stone and gives us beating hearts of flesh. In Baptism He gives us each His Holy Spirit. And what does the Holy Spirit do? Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “When the Helper comes…He will bear witness about me.” That is, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to make us Christians through the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments, and to keep us Christians through the same. And, having received a new heart of flesh and God’s Holy Spirit, we are led outside of ourselves.

In the washing of Holy Baptism, we are made new creations. We no longer live seeking to serve our own flesh and passions, but we live for those around us, serving those in need in response to the love we receive from Christ. That is what St. Peter exhorts us to do. This is how he said it, “Keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.”

This week we stand with the Holy Apostles. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, has ascended into heaven to be with us always and everywhere. Two thousand years ago the Apostles waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and we likewise are expecting Christ’s return. In our texts this week we learn about how God operates. He spoke through Ezekiel that He was going to vindicate His name and remove the iniquity of His people. He did this by sending His Son to die for the forgiveness of our sins, which He gives to us by grace alone. Then, in Holy Baptism He gives us clean hearts of flesh and puts His Holy Spirit within us. May He ever continue to grant us His Holy Spirit that we be led to live in love toward Him and our neighbor.