The Holy Spirit, The Comforter

Text: John 14:23-31

“Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia.” These were the words we sang just before the reading of our Lord’s Gospel. They come from the mouth of St. Peter when he gave answer to our Lord’s question of whether the twelve might like to turn away from Him, as well. Jesus had just given the crowd the hard teaching: salvation is by faith in Him alone and not by the works of human flesh and blood. Upon hearing this teaching, many – including some who were previously followers of Jesus – turned away. Peter gladly confessed, with the other apostles, that by the work of the Holy Spirit they had found in Christ something which the world cannot give: the forgiveness of sins, the hope of eternal life, and the peace that flows from a good conscience before God.

The work of the Holy Spirit is brought up by our Lord in the Gospel text and we see the Spirit’s work in the reading from Acts. There, the Spirit worked the reversal of Babel when He proclaimed through the apostles, in many different languages, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to bring the peace which the world cannot give, the peace of sins forgiven. This is what our Lord promises as He sends the Spirit to us, as well.

I.

For a number of weeks now, the Gospel readings have all been from St. John. In particular, they’ve all been from a certain chunk of St. John’s Gospel: our Lord’s final teaching to His disciples. Our text today, as with others in the Easter season, comes from the last hours of our Lord’s earthly ministry. His goal in this teaching was to prepare them for the world they were soon to encounter after His departure and to comfort them. Therefore, He taught about the work of the Holy Spirit, saying, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:25-27 English Standard Version)

Our Lord anticipates the fear His disciples would have after He is parted from them. Therefore, He promises to them whom He calls the Helper, although a better translation would be, “the Comforter.” This helping comforter would be none other than the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would help them by always directing them to Jesus’ Word. He would bring to their remembrance all that Jesus said and did, with the result that they should be at peace before God and among themselves. The Holy Spirit would sustain them in the faith and work through their preaching and teaching to create and sustain faith in others, as we witness in the Book of Acts. On the Eve of His passion – the time where our Lord suffered for the forgiveness of our sins – He promised His disciples a helper to be with them always: the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.

II.

They would need this comforting, too. In the last few weeks, we’ve heard our Lord’s teaching about how the world would react at His death – it would rejoice. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” (Jn. 16:20) The devil and all his host were overjoyed to see our Lord die on the cross. Thinking that they had won, their joy at our Lord’s death led to threats of violence toward our Lord’s Christians. It’s not without reason that the disciples were locked away when the Lord first appeared to them. After our Lord’s ascension, we read in the Book of Acts how His enemies carried out their wrath on the Apostles and early Church. St. Paul is an example of this. Prior to his conversion, he attended the stoning of Stephen and watched the coats of those throwing stones. When he was converted, he had been on his way to Damascus to round up the Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem where they, likely, would have been killed for their faith.

After our Lord’s ascension, the world – thinking it had won – poured out its wrath on the Church. But you know what happened? The Church grew. We heard when we celebrated Ascension that the Apostles were continually in the temple preaching and teaching about Jesus. In time, they were arrested for this; but the Lord freed them and they went back to preaching. They were gathered again and beaten but it says in Acts that they, “[rejoiced] that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:41-42) The Apostles spent the rest of their lives preaching and teaching the forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ alone. And, although many of them met violent ends, they persisted because they had among and in themselves the peace which the world cannot give: the forgiveness of sins through the faith worked in them by the Holy Spirit. But what does this all have to do with you and me?

III.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The world that you and I live in is really not that different from how it was in the time of the Apostles. The number of faithful Christians compared to those living in sin’s delusion is small and the Lord’s little flock is increasingly set-upon by the world. In addition to these we have the pressing concerns and miseries of our own lives – whether they be with our finances, our health, our relationships, or some combination of the three. We also wage daily war against the sin that still clings to our flesh and we bear those scars. Even still, Jesus says to you: “My peace I give to you.”

When Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, He was promising them the gift of the Holy Spirit who would sustain them in the faith and point them to all that Jesus said and did for them. The Spirit is also our comforter, our helper. The same Spirit Jesus breathed out on the Apostles, He has poured into our hearts through Baptism. By the washing of the water with His Word, we received the same Holy Spirit and He does the same thing for us – He points us to Christ. When we are suffering, He reminds us of all that Christ suffered for us. When we are troubled, He points us to the hope we have in Christ. When we sorrow over sin, the Spirit comforts us with the promise that through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are truly forgiven. The result is that we have the peace which the world cannot give. We have an eternal peace with God the Father through the resurrection of His Son.

Martin Luther once said something along the lines of: God doesn’t always remove the Christian from danger, but He removes danger from the Christian. That is, even amidst a sinful, fallen world, our Lord’s Christians – we – have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we have the forgiveness of our sins and a joyful hope that no one can take away from us.

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