The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Sunday after Ascension Day, 2012
John 15:26 - 16:1 26 " But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27 "And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
This past Thursday we celebrated one of the major feasts of the Christian year, the Feast of the Ascension. Ascension marks the end of Christ’s time on earth, or, or as one Biblical commentator puts it, the “capstone of his earthly ministry.” It clearly identifies Christ as Divine, as he is received up into glory in the sight of the disciples. As well it has fundamentally important theological reasons for its pre-eminence, chief among those is Christ’s physical ascension, taking his body (and Man’s nature) to heaven with him. It is my firmly held opinion that, if Christians really understood the significance of Ascension, our churches would be full. If they really understood that Ascension actually defines their salvation, our churches would be full.
Today’s Gospel occurs very soon before that amazing event, as we see Christ preparing His Disciples for His imminent departure. He tells them: John 15:26 - 16:1 26 " But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27 "And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
What is Christ talking about here? Who is this Helper? Why is His coming to us important and vital to our life as Christians?
We will speak much more on this in about a week hence, as celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, or as we Anglicans call it, Whitsunday. Today, suffice it to say that the coming of the Holy Ghost is the fulfillment of that wonderful O.T. prophecy of Joel, as the prophet tsays: Joel 2:28-29 " And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” This, as we shall read about next week, is fulfilled in the marvelous event of Acts 2, when the Holy Ghost fell on the company of men gathered in
, causing them to speak in strange
tongues, yet understood by all. The
other reason for the miraculous quality of Christ’s sending the Holy Spirit to
us is who He is. He is not just some
“feeling” of good will from God, or some vague sense of the presence of God,
but the Third Person of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, come to tabernacle with
us, forever. Jerusalem
That is one major reason why the Ascension is so important to we Christians. Without the Ascension, there would be no transcendent Holy Ghost to cheer, guide and strengthen us. Remember that Christ said in John 16:7: ”Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”
But, we will have more on that later. Today we want to focus not so much on what Christ said about the Holy Ghost, but why He said it. No doubt at this time, the Disciples would be fairly confused. Not only does Jesus give them a puzzling statement about some heavenly Comforter coming to them, but then he follows it with some very negative words. First, He tells them that they shall be put out of the synagogue. To a devout Jew, as these men were, this is a fearsome statement. Being put out of the synagogue was the same as being cut off from the covenant of
. If one
could not worship in the Israel ,
one could not affirm his affinity with the God of Israel and thus was thought
an infidel, a Gentile, one cut off from the promises of God. Then, to make matters worse, Jesus tells them
that someday, when some Jew kills them, he will think that he doing God a
service! These are very strong words,
They are indeed strong and puzzling until Christ follows up with this statement: John 16:3 "And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.” Just as Christ mentioned that the World hates Him because He is not of the World, so it will hate the Apostles for the same reason. If they were worldly and embraced the same values as the World, the World would love them. But, it is not to be so. We know that the history of the early Church was founded on the blood of the martyrs. We know that up until the time of Constantine the Great, Christianity was a despised, persecuted sect that was accused of horrible crimes such as cannibalism, gross sexual immorality, and treason. We know that it took great courage and faith to be a Christian in the early days of the Church.
Thus, in the words of the old adage, “Forewarned is forearmed”, Christ is telling His Disciples what is to come. In the words of St. Peter: (1 Peter 4:12-13): ”Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
In the same vein, Christ is warning His disciples.
Yet, the glory of this passage is that the Apostles will not be alone in their sufferings for Christ. They will have the Comforter, the Helper, with whom they will be baptized “not many days hence.” They will be endued with power to bear witness to Christ.
Just as Jesus tells them that the Holy Ghost will bear testimony to Him, so the Apostles will bear witness to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In short, they will receive power from on high. With this power, they will change the world. Just as the Holy Spirit made them changed men, so they will spread the life-giving message of the Gospel to all the ends of the earth.
Thus, the message of the Gospel is the same for us today. We too can experience the life-changing effect of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We too can and should reflect the light of Christ to all we meet. We too, when given the opportunity and occasion, should rejoice in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Churches grow by attraction. People should see what we Christians have and want it too. Our joy should be so palpable, so evident, that it overflows into all areas of our life. When this is apparent, it is contagious, wonderfully so. We pray that this is so. On the other hand, as one wit observed, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” It’s a fair question.
Remember, as we are instructed from the Prayer Book, on the Last Day Christ shall call all from their graves and they shall appear for judgment in their flesh. Those who have trusted in Christ for their salvation will reign with Him in eternal glory. Those who rejected Christ in their lifetimes on earth will also be rejected. For those “obstinate enemies of Christ” there will indeed be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I weep for the unredeemed, for those who know not Christ, for they know not what they are going to lose forever. Pray God that we can minister to some of them, to give them the Good News of Salvation. Pray God that they will receive it.
Likewise, we who have trusted in Christ, will hear those blessed words from Matthew 25:34 “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:” We will ascend because Christ ascended before us. We will be able to lead victorious lives because the blessed Holy Spirit is among us, indwelling us, and empowering us.
Thus, we must take heart and be encouraged. We are not alone, we are not deceived, nor are we mistaken. We know whom we follow and whom we have believed,. Armed with truth like that and the power of the Holy Ghost, coming to the Disciples (and to us) on Pentecost, our joy is magnificent, ebullient, and unquenchable.
Jesus is promising that He will send us a Helper if He returns to Heaven. This is the promise that Christ sealed for us in His Ascension. This is how he defined our salvation, for as He is, so shall we be.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Sprit.