Jesus makes a comforting promise

Scriptures: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; John 14:15-21

Before we look at this particular passage, I think that we need to set the context a little. It’s the Last Supper. Jesus is talking with his disciples, there in a private room. In the passage before this one, Jesus spoke of going to prepare a mansion for his disciples and friends.

He told them he was going to have to leave. He gave them cryptic information about being the only way to the Father, and making a statement about the Father and Him being one.

Now imagine you were one of the twelve disciples. You just heard Jesus – your best friend – tell you that he was leaving soon. You’d be kind of perplexed to say the least. After all, isn’t he the Messiah?

The one who had come to set the captives free, to throw off the Roman yoke, to set up Israel as the new Kingdom of God? How could Jesus say that he would leave when he promised to always be with you? The disciples must have wondered what all of this meant.

How about you? Do you struggle sometimes with these words? Many people do. People wonder – perhaps you’re one of them – why Jesus had to leave. I mean, life would have been so much simpler if Christ had remained on earth. Then we wouldn’t struggle with doubts or questions. Right?

Well … wrong! Christ Jesus had to return to heaven so that our salvation might be made complete. He did this not to complicate things, but rather to comfort us, to allow for the Holy Spirit’s coming.

In fact, in our text we find that Jesus gives us two comforting promises here. First, Jesus promises to care for us, and secondly, Jesus promises to be with us.

Everybody likes to feel needed. Everybody likes to feel cared for and loved. And now for a small sum of money, you can pay people to tell you those things! In many parts of the country, on almost every weekend, select groups of people are meeting; hoping to find a secret power that will develop all their hidden abilities and bring them to a new level of life experience.

I found one advertisement for such a seminar that read as follows: “Start the major love affair of your life by spending a weekend with yourself. Take two days out of your life to spend just with you. Discover the most fascinating, wondrous, magnificent person you will ever know – yourself – in an experience you’ll never forget.”

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? The ad makes some bold claims and promises wonderful results. You may be wondering, “What’s the catch?” Well, the cost of this particular seminar was a mere $250 per person

It seems seminars, retreats, and self-help groups are in vogue right now. I think the self-help section of most bookstores is bigger than the non-fiction section of most bookstores. You can find groups of people meeting for all sorts of reasons. Now, I’m not knocking weekend retreats or seminars.

In a sense, the Gospel reading for today is an account of a first century retreat, a special seminar, which Jesus conducted for his disciples. In John 13, we find Jesus telling his disciples about true greatness. He says greatness is found in humility and service to others.

Then Jesus demonstrated that greatness by washing his disciples’ feet, something that only a slave would normally be required to do. Jesus told his disciples about a radical concept: Christian love. This was the very heart and core of Christ’s love shown his entire life.

This love would find its culmination on the cross, as Jesus sacrificed himself for us. In order to do that, Jesus had to give up everything – the very glories of heaven – so that we might have a home with him in paradise, later. Jesus gave himself wholly to his Father’s will.

He dedicated himself to every law, decree, and command his Father ever uttered. It says in Hebrews that he was like us, yet without sin. He did this for us, so that we might find favor in God’s eyes. Everything Christ Jesus accomplished was for us. And this was all part of God’s plan to provide comfort and healing, care and mercy.

Now in John 14:15, Jesus expands on God’s plan of salvation. He promises to send another Person, whom he calls the “Counselor” or the “Advocate” or the “Helper,” depending on what translation you read.

Jesus was promising to send the Holy Spirit. Jesus was foretelling the events of Pentecost. He did this to comfort his disciples. He even explains, later on in Chapter 15, that it is necessary for Him to leave in order for the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Truth – to come fully into the world and dwell within them. As long as He’s here, the Holy Spirit won’t come.

He knew they would be confused as they witnessed his crucifixion and death. Jesus wanted to let his disciples know that he would not forsake them, that He cared for them. And so he makes a promise. He would send the “Counselor.” The original Greek word Jesus uses was “Paraclete.”

As I said, we translate that as “counselor” or “advocate” or “helper.” I like the word “advocate.” That Greek word has the idea of one who walks along side you, encouraging and instructing. It’s a picture of someone who cares, someone who’s working on your behalf, for you and with you.

I can’t think of a better way for Jesus to describe God’s care and concern than his description of the Holy Spirit. It reminds me of when my father first taught me how to drive. He was a “paraclete” or “counselor” of sorts.

He sat in the seat next to me, pointing out the gas from the brake pedal, showing me the clutch and getting me so I learned to drive on a stick. One of the things my father said was if you learn to drive on an automatic you can drive an automatic. If you learn to drive on a stick you can drive anything.

He showed me the proper way to grip the steering wheel. He instructed and encouraged. Sure, he pointed out my mistakes, but he always did so with care and concern, and because he’s my father, with humor.

As a counselor, the Holy Spirit comforts, guides, and instructs. He does this with the Word of God. First, the Holy Spirit shows us that we need a Savior. The Bible tells us that we cannot love ourselves into heaven.

No amount of self-esteem can earn salvation. No amount of positive thinking cannot remove sin from a guilty conscience. No amount of good deeds can earn our way into heaven. A pow-wow with the Holy Spirit is needed. Jesus promised this to his first twelve disciples and he promises it to each one of us.

This is a promise that he intends to keep. Just listen to the determination in his words: “and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” The Lord shows his care and concern by dealing with the truth.

The truth is that God calls sin what it is: sin. It is an infraction of God’s holy commands. And the Holy Spirit reminds us that we have broken God’s decrees again and again and again. We encounter our sins every time we read the Bible.

We come face-to-face with the truth as the Holy Spirit convicts us. He shows us that we are sinners. And I have to say that often, we don’t like it. But the Spirit does this so that we don’t trust in ourselves for salvation.

It may sound harsh, but God wants us to despair in ourselves, so that we trust in him for all things. The Holy Spirit’s main job is to turn us from ourselves and towards Christ for certainty of forgiveness and salvation. The Spirit needs to force us to look into the mirror of God’s law and see our sins.

Sadly, today, a lot of people deny this truth. Consider Christ’s words: “the world cannot accept the Holy Spirit because it neither sees him nor knows him.” As a whole, this world looks at the profound truth of Christ’s love and pronounces it foolish. It looks at God’s pronouncement of sin and calls it narrow-minded

This world is happy enough with lust and sex. People enjoy romance, or the feeling of “being in love.” And as I’ve often said at every wedding, there’s a difference between being in love, and loving someone. Because loving someone, you see, is a choice of the will. You choose to love them even when they are not very lovable.

A lot of people talk about charity and peace, but rarely will anyone get close enough to anybody else to actually love, to come along side and help. We’d rather give money to an organization or the government and let them do it.

It’s when we come along side to help one another – to put our Christian love into practice – that the Holy Spirit feels at home in our hearts. He moves us to love each other even as we have been loved by God. In this way, we obey God’s commands.

It’s all about humility and sacrifice. We do not love each other when we do things only to get a pat on the back, or some other kind of recognition or bragging rights. Christian love gives when the sinful heart isn’t willing to do so.

Christian love gives when it is inconvenient or unappealing to do so. In short, Christian love is the willing response the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. And it’s evident in our lives, as He leads us to focus on God’s faithful love and promises.

Jesus made this clear when he said that the Spirit both dwells with us and will be in us. Talk about loving faithfulness! The Spirit has been with us much longer than we ever knew. While we were yet sinners, God sent His Son to come and die for us, and make a way for us to be with Him. We were still, Paul said, enemies of God. Yet God loved us.

Before we knew Jesus or even thought about spiritual things, the Spirit has been calling out to us, drawing us to Jesus. This is not a relationship we can create on our own.

As Martin Luther correctly states in his catechism: “I believe I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one truth faith.”

The Holy Spirit sought us out and made his home within us. He did this through the gospel: the message of salvation in Christ.

The Holy Spirit is responsible for our faith in Jesus Christ. He’s also responsible for keeping that faith alive and allowing us to live for Christ. It may sound a bit unsettling for Jesus to say, “If you love me, you will obey what I command”, but those words need not frighten us.

It would be scary to think that our obedience to Jesus was based on our own merits or worthiness, or our own efforts and whims, but it’s not. We can’t even believe in Christ on our own, let alone obey him. Again, this is all credited to the work of our Savior-God. The Holy Spirit leads us to obey God, by reminding us of his faithful promises.

The Spirit uses the Gospel in the Word and the Sacraments to remind us that we have a faithful God who loves us so much that he died for our sins and rose again so that we might live with him eternally, as new creations in Him. That message of love leads us to trust, listen, and obey. As the old hymn says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.”

It’s all because the Holy Spirit keeps whispering the song of the Gospel in our ears. Have you ever been driving in the car, when suddenly an old familiar song came on the radio – one you hadn’t heard in years – and it made you smile? Why is that?

When we don’t hear those old familiar songs for a long time, we fill our minds with other things and forget those old songs. There’s the possibility for that to happen to our faith. We fill our minds with other things and we soon forget the song of the Gospel.

So many other songs come along and compete for our attention: songs of worry and fear, of lust and greed, and they fill our hearts, leading us to forget that Christ promises to be with us, when we feel alone and despair. Christ keeps his promise of abiding love by continuing to send the Holy Spirit to whisper the lyrics of the Gospel song in our ears.

He reminds us that we are God’s children. At baptism, the Holy Spirit whispered, “You are mine. You are cleansed in the blood of Christ.” In Holy Communion our Lord says, “Take and eat; take and drink. Receive what I have given to you. Do this, remembering me.”

The Holy Spirit leads us to know that the gifts of hope, forgiveness, life and salvation are ours. Our Lord promises it. When you come to worship, go to Bible study, or have a family devotion, the Holy Spirit continues to whisper the mystery of God’s love into your ears.

God’s love, which in Greek had its very own special word. The Greeks liked to classify things. They had five different words for love. God had His own: agape. It is more than we could give on our own. He reminds you that the Bible was written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and by believing you may have life in his name.

Weekend retreats and seminars are nice. They can provide a “shot in the arm”, as it were, rejuvenating a person’s outlook on life. In fact, it’s good to get away and focus on the simpler things once in a while.

For many people, worship on Sunday is that kind of “shot in the arm.” We need it. We need to be here together, asking the Lord’s blessing, and giving Him praise. But the Holy Spirit also does that for us each and every day.

Each day He reminds us of the simpler things of faith: forgiveness, salvation, and the hope of heaven. We don’t have to listen to a charismatic, world-renowned speaker to inspire us, as good as some of those TV evangelists may sound. And thank God you don’t have to listen to just me. It’s all right here in the Bible.

So listen to God himself. Read it for yourselves. Read it every day, and not just here in worship on the weekend. After all, we don’t have to spend a small fortune to hear about the secrets of salvation. God’s love is a gift of His grace, and it’s free of charge.

His Spirit is a gift of His love, showing us the truth of that good news, and encouraging us to follow it. So, don’t doubt. Simply believe. And you too can know the peace and joy of experiencing the presence of Christ with you and within you. After all, God promises it, and God is faithful.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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