Cantate

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Text: John 16:5-15

      Jesus said to the Disciples, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”[1] Jesus was preparing them for His departure and training their hearts to not be fixed on the things of the flesh. Up until this point, they had still been hoping that Christ would not be leaving them. They were still looking for that earthly reign of Jesus. Remember how the mother of two of the Disciples asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hands in His kingdom. Now it is becoming clear that that reality won’t be happening. Instead, Jesus is going to leave them. Our text this week comes before our text last week. Last Sunday we heard that, even though Jesus is going away and His disciples will be filled with sorrow, they will see Him again and their sorrow will to joy.

      This week Jesus tells us why He is leaving and what will happen after. He says in our text, “I am going to Him who sent me;” or, as He said it in chapter 14, “I am going to the Father.”[2] We’ll sing it this way after the sermon, “Now to My Father I depart, from earth to heav’n ascending, and, heavn’ly wisdom to impart, the Holy Spirit sending; In trouble He will comfort you and teach you always to be true and into truth shall guide you.”[3] All of these are nice ways of saying that Jesus is going to die. He will be violently taken away, His life cut off from the world of the living. He will be brutally executed. But, Jesus says, it is good that this is happening. Today we’ll look at two things: First, what Jesus means when He says that it is to our advantage that He goes away and, second, what the Holy Spirit does.

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      Let us hear the first verses of our text again, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”[4] What are these things that Jesus has been telling the Disciples? If we walk backwards through the Last Supper in John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus had told them one of the Twelve will betray Him, specifically Judas. Things are beginning to happen just as the Scriptures said they would. And, just as the Scriptures said, Jesus is going to die. Moreover, after His death the world will hate His Disciples just as they first hated Him. In fact, the hatred of the world for Jesus’ followers will be so strong that the time will come when people will kill Christians, claiming to be truly serving God.

      Upon hearing these things, the Disciples were filled with sorrow – only, not entirely for the right reasons. Looking back, we would say that they definitely should’ve been because we know what Jesus is talking about. But, by their own admission, the Disciples didn’t totally understand what He was saying until after the Resurrection. We actually get some clue of what they were thinking when, after Jesus was raised, He says not to cling to Him in the flesh. They were still looking for an earthly reign of Jesus – and themselves. That’s why sorrow was filling their hearts. No, Jesus says, it’s to your advantage that I go away.

      How? If Jesus’ going away means He is going to die and the world’s going to hate us, how is that good for us? Well, remember that for Jesus, “going to the Father,” is code for dying on the cross. And you know how that is good for us. St. Paul says it like this, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”[5] If Christ had not gone to the Father through His death on the cross, than neither could we rise from the dead. If Christ were not crucified, then there would be no forgiveness of sins and we would be lost to death and the devil forever. But, in fact, He has been raised from dead. Notice, too, how Christ talks about His death; He isn’t fearful, but instead calls it going to His Father. That’s how we should look at our own deaths. When we die we are immediately in the presence and joy of our eternal God and Father.

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      Jesus also said to the Disciples that evening, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”[6]  Though the Disciples were filled with sadness, it is good for them (and us) that Jesus does depart. For, if He did not go to the Father through the cross, then we would not have the forgiveness of our sins. That was the first thing from the Gospel we should learn: that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. The second thing we should learn from the text this week is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that if He does go, He will send the Holy Spirit after Him. The confirmation students know what the Holy Spirit’s job is – it’s to make and keep us holy, like we confess in the Third Article. If we wanted to be more precise, we could divide His work into three parts: the Holy Spirit teaches, convicts, and comforts. In a couple weeks we’ll talk about how the Holy Spirit comforts us. Today Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit’s work to convict the world.

      The convicting the world is part of what Jesus calls the Holy Spirit taking what is Jesus’ (the teaching) and declaring it to us, and it’s both Law and Gospel. The Holy Spirit preaches Lutheran sermons, you see. Anyway, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin. What does that mean? Well, have you noticed that the world has no problem calling certain things sins? I mean, like sins against the Second Table. Nobody will argue outright that theft, lying, or murder are wrong. They might quibble about what murder is, but not that it is in principle wrong. But, try telling the world that false belief is a sin. That’s what it means that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin – He shows that it’s not just actions that are sins, but also thoughts, including the idolatry that we all commit when we put ourselves above God and our neighbor.

      That brings us to what it means that the Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness. The world has no problem declaring itself righteous. And sometimes, that’s a temptation we also fall into when we declare that we really good people because we do good works. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to preach the Law and show us that all our good deeds are like a polluted garment, as Isaiah says. As soon as He does that, then the preaching of the Spirit moves from Law to Gospel. He preaches the Law through Scripture and the mouth of pastors to convict the world of sin – that everything we are and do is sin. Then, the Holy Spirit points us to the righteousness that is not our own, to Christ’s righteousness. The Scriptures say that as far as the East is from the West, so far are our sins removed from us. That’s because on the cross Jesus takes our righteousness (or, lack thereof) and He gives us His through Holy Baptism.

      Lastly, Jesus says, the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning judgment, “because the ruler of this world is judged.”[7] First, the Spirit convicts the world of sin, because it doesn’t believe in Jesus. Then, He points it the cross where Jesus dies to become our righteousness, which is the only true righteousness. Last, because Jesus has gone to Father – He has died and been raised from the dead – the devil and the world are defeated. The judgment has been rendered and there will be no appeal. Death and all its powers can no longer appall us. They are defeated, and we are victorious in Christ.

      Jesus says at the end of our text that the Spirit will guide us in all truth by taking what is Jesus’ and declaring it to us. And He’s actually doing that right now. There were two things that we should learn from today’s Gospel. We learned about the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. We also learned how it is good for us to have Jesus to go to the Father. For, by that, He means that He goes to suffer and die on the cross. And because He did do that and rise from the dead, we are forgiven our sins.


     

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn. 16:6–7.

[2] Jn. 16:5; Jn. 14:12.

[3] “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice,” Lutheran Service Book, pg. 556. Stanza 9.

[4] Jn. 16:6–7.

[5] 1 Cor. 15:13–20.

[6] Jn. 16:7–8.

[7] Jn. 16:15.

 

This is My Body, This is My Blood

Text: The Sacrament of the Altar

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, tonight we gather again in observance of our Lord’s passion. This past Sunday we celebrated with hymns of victory and praise. We left the sanctuary with palm branches in our hands, symbols of our King’s victory over sin, death, and hell. Tonight, Holy Thursday, marks the night when our Lord was betrayed into the hands of sinful men, an event foretold in Sacred Scripture and necessary for our salvation. Yet, on this night we also celebrate the most holy meal given us to eat. The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Tonight we momentarily continue our Lenten devotion as we meditate on the gift of our Lord’s precious body and blood in His Supper. In this meal we receive the true body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins. As our Savior went willingly to His death, He left us His last will and testament in this Sacrament, desiring that we receive it together until He returns at the end of time.

The Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and the Lord’s Supper are all names for the same meal we confess and celebrate this evening. Already we’ve heard what the Church knows as the Words of Institution. These are the words that Christ spoke as He reclined with His disciples in the Upper Room. It was in the midst of the Passover meal, the meal that Jesus said He earnestly desired to eat before His suffering, that Christ gave us something new. At a certain time He took bread. After He had given thanks, He broke and gave it to the disciples saying, “This is my body which is for you.” In the same way He took cup and, when He had given thanks, gave it to them saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” With these words Christ gives us the Sacrament of the Altar and explains to us what it is, what it gives, and who it is for.

First, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is as Jesus says in His own words: His body and His blood. As we learn it from the Small Catechism, “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.” In Holy Communion the very body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins are given to us in the form of bread and wine. Though we see with our eyes only the bread and wine, yet through faith we know that, by the power of His Word, Christ Jesus joins Himself to the elements. As St. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [communion] in the body of Christ?”

We therefore believe that these words of Christ are plain and clear: “This is My body…This is My blood.” The bread is not just bread, but the real body of Christ. The wine is not just wine, but the real blood of Christ. We are not cannibals. We simply believe in what theologians call the sacramental union, a technical term that basically means: “Jesus is God. He knows how to do things I don’t understand. He says the bread is His body and the wine, His blood. Therefore, it is.” We believe that the Words of Institution mean exactly what they say, such that even a child can read and understand them and confess that when Christ says “is,” He means it.

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In the Lord’s Supper we receive in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is the same body and blood that was bruised, broken, and shed on the cross, and which rose from the dead to be seated at the right hand of God the Father. Christ gives this meal to us freely; but for what purpose? Jesus said so in the words we heard at the beginning of the sermon, “Given for you…shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” If someone asked you to give them the Christian faith in a nutshell, what would you say? Probably the best answer is that it’s about the reconciliation between God and sinners through Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins. Christianity’s all about the forgiveness of sins. What do we receive in the Lord’s Supper? The forgiveness of sins.

We believe that we receive our Lord’s body and blood in His Supper for the express purpose of receiving forgiveness. This is not a special forgiveness, mind you. You are not receiving a different forgiveness than you received in Baptism or through the preaching of the Gospel or through Holy Absolution. You are, though, receiving it in an especially neat way, though. Christ, through His Word, gives into your mouth His very body and blood to bring to you the forgiveness He won for you on the cross. In the Supper He is intimately joined to you, and you to Him.

There are other benefits that we receive from the Lord’s Supper, though the most important benefit remains the forgiveness of sins. Along with it we receive eternal life and salvation. Where there is forgiveness of sins death no longer reigns, hence eternal life and salvation in Christ. We also receive in the Sacrament the strengthening of our faith in Christ, which leads us to also love God and our neighbor. Lastly, by communing together, there is also a public demonstration of our unity in faith. St. Paul writes, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Likewise, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

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We believe from our Lord’s Words of Institution that what we receive in His Supper is not just bread and wine, but also His true body and blood, broken and shed for us. In the Holy Sacrament Christ gives us these gifts for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. We’ve now heard what the Lord’s Supper is and what it’s for, but now we must ask who is it for? Let us hear the words we’ve learned from the Small Catechism. “Fasting and bodily preparation are, indeed, fine outward training. But a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given … and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” What does that mean? The Lord’s Supper was instituted for the sake of poor sinners like us. In the Sacrament Christ offers peace and pardon in the forgiveness of sins, and He invites to His table those who believe His Words; namely, that the Supper is His true body and blood, not symbolically but sacramentally, given for the forgiveness of sins.

Our individual beliefs do not make it the Lord’s Supper, but the power of Christ’s Word alone does. Neither do we receive the benefits of the Sacrament just by doing the motions, as if a ritual could merit us salvation. Rather, the power of the Sacrament lies in Christ’s Word and its benefits are received only by those who believe what Christ says about it and desire what Christ gives in it. Those who do not believe Christ’s Words or doubt them should not receive the Lord’s Supper. For, St. Paul writes, “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

In the Lord’s Supper we receive a visible, tangible gift of God and the assurance that Christ is with us, always at work forgiving our sins. Jesus gave us many promises in His ministry, “I am with you always; I will never leave you nor forsake you; Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I; This is My Body, This is My blood for the forgiveness of sins.” In His Supper Christ is with us in a real, bodily way. In the feast of His body and blood He unites Himself to us for the forgiveness of our sins. He makes His home in us, strengthening the faith that was created through the preaching of the Gospel and washing of Holy Baptism. His presence leads us to love and serve God and our neighbor. In His Supper Christ gives us exactly what He says: His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. God grant that this meal would be preserved among through all time until we feast with all the saints at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which will have no end.

 

Jesus Prays for Us

Text: John 17:11b-19

This week we return again to the night on which Jesus was betrayed. The last two weeks our Gospel readings were from John 15 where Jesus assured us that He is the vine and we are the branches. He promised that as we abide in Him and His Word, He abides in us and causes us to bear fruit. Bearing fruit is the work of the Holy Spirit, who leads us to speak the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people without partiality. However, Jesus names a solemn consequence of the work that the Triune God does among the body of believers. Jesus says to the Disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”[1]

It is on account of this reality that Jesus does one last thing before He departs for Gethsemane to be betrayed. Knowing that we who are kept in the Word of God by His grace will be hated by the world, Jesus prayed for us.

I.

Jesus knew that His departure was at hand. Soon He would be delivered into the hands of sinners; soon He would be given a mock trial, and crucified. We would expect Jesus’ main concern to Himself. After all, being crucified has to be one of the most painful ways to die. But, Jesus’ main concern is not for Himself. He prayed to the Father, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”[2]

Jesus’ chief concern is for those who remain in the world as He returns to the Father. He is returning to resume the glory He had in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit before all Creation. Part of that involved that the Disciples remain behind. We’ll get back to that in a little bit. Jesus’ prayer includes a request that God the Father keep the Disciples in His name, the name which Jesus shares, that they may be one. Jesus called the Disciples out of darkness into the Light by the confession of faith in the Triune God. While Jesus was with the Disciples He guarded and kept them in the name of God Most High. Despite the pot-shots and criticisms of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the derision of even their own families, Jesus guarded and protected the Disciples during their time together. Not one of them was lost, save Judas the betrayer, in order to fulfill Scripture.

II.

Christ’s work calling the Disciples and guarding them in the confession of the Truth bore fruit. It bore fruit in that already through the ministry of the Disciples many had been called to faith in Jesus. But it also bore fruit in another way. Jesus continues praying to the Father, “Now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”[3] Jesus has given the Disciples His Word, which has borne fruit in the world, and the world hates it. The world hates Jesus and persecutes those who believe in Him.

Jesus said that His followers should not be afraid if the world hates them, for so it hated him. He taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we should, “Rejoice and be glad,” when others revile us and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely on His account, “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”[4] Just as Jesus is not of the world, so are we not of the world, and it hates us for it. Nevertheless, Jesus does not ask that the Disciples be taken out of the world, but that they be kept from the evil one. The devil seeks to devour and destroy the Truth of Jesus Christ. He tried to destroy the Apostles and early Christians through persecutions and trials. He is trying to do so today by infiltrating both society and the church. Satan influences the workings of the sinful nature to try and choke out saving faith in Jesus Christ not by denying forgiveness, but by denying sin. Therefore the world hates us. Jesus prays that we be kept from the evil one, which we echo in the Lord’s Prayer.

III.

Jumping ahead in Jesus’ prayer, He makes it clear that He is not just praying for the Disciples, but for us as well. He says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”[5] Jesus’ prayer to the Father for the Disciples and us is that God would sanctify us in the truth of His Word. For that reason, Jesus says, He consecrates Himself. This means that Jesus has set Himself apart; He has dedicated Himself to the work of God, namely His own death and resurrection, that we be sanctified in truth. To be sanctified means to be made holy. Jesus died as payment for our sins and rose from the dead so that we may be made holy through faith in His Word.

For what purpose have we been saved by grace and made holy by His Word? Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”[6] At His Ascension, Jesus instructed the Disciples to go to all nations, making other disciples by baptizing in the name of the Triune God and teaching them to observe all that Christ has taught them. For this purpose Jesus prayed for the Disciples and us: that we be kept in God’s Word and protected from the evil one, even as we are sent out into a world that hates our confession of faith in Jesus.

Today we returned to the night on which Jesus was betrayed. It was the same night He washed His disciples’ feet, giving them a new model of love. He also instituted the Lord’s Supper whereby He gives the forgiveness of sins. He would shortly be going to Gethsemane to be betrayed, suffer, and die for our sins. We would understand if Jesus took the opportunity to pray for Himself. We probably would at least get a quick one in if we were Him. But instead, He prays for His disciples.

As He goes to the Father by His death, resurrection, and ascension, the Disciples will remain behind. He has given them His Word, which has made them holy. The world hates the holiness that comes through faith in Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus didn’t pray that they be removed from the world, but that they be protected from the Devil. As Jesus was sent into the world to proclaim the Good News, so does He now send His Disciples and us. He sends us out into the world to preach the truth of His Work for us. Though the world hates our faith, Jesus will always be with us and will keep us in His Word.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn. 15:18–19.

[2] Jn. 17:11–12.

[3] Jn, 17:13–16.

[4] Matt. 5:11-12.

[5] Jn. 17:20.

[6] Jn. 17:18.