Plain Speaking

Text: John 16:23-33
Date: Easter VI + 5/9/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

Thanks to Jesus’ own promise the Holy Spirit accurately brought to St. John’s remembrance as he penned his Gospel all that Jesus had said on that night in which He was betrayed. Today we hear the concluding words from the upper room as Jesus summarizes His mission and reassures His disciples of God’s continuing love. “No longer will I speak to you in figures of speech but will speak plainly” He says even as they still have a lot to learn and to understand. As with us and every person, the clear, plain speaking of the Gospel is the avenue or the means through which the Holy Spirit brings about conversion, repentance and faith in a person making him or her a disciple of Jesus, a son or daughter of God, a member of the household of God.

It is still Thursday of the great and holy week, the night in which Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, dragged before His accusers and abusers, church and government officials, condemned to death, beaten and crucified. In less than 24 hours His dead body would be hastily buried in a borrowed tomb. And now He is concluding His final words to His disciples in that upper room of the last supper. He speaks of the results of His earthly ministry and of its completion.

When Jesus says “In that day” to begin today’s reading we need to remember the context, that He had just been telling His disciples about the day when their sorrow will turn to joy, the day when He will see them again, namely on the third day, the day of His resurrection from the dead. But not only that day alone! For this means also to speak of all the coming days of their seeing Him, the next forty days of His occasional physical appearances, the fortieth day at His ascension, which we celebrate this coming Thursday, but all these days with special attention to the Day of Pentecost when He sends the promised Holy Spirit. Then and to this day He invisibly shows Himself to the eyes of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit through the preached Word and the Sacraments administered in His Church. This is His promised place of dwelling, where faith not only sees Him but also receives His constant supply of the forgiveness of all our sins.

“In THAT day,” He says, “you will ask nothing of me,” and, “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” Now certainly there is much for which we ask and are even urged to ask of our Lord in prayer, petitions of all kinds with regard to our daily needs, troubles, emergencies of body or soul. When He says we will ask “nothing” this is in regard to the truth and the Spirit of truth, which we have already been given in the apostolic preaching and New Testament scriptures as we said last week. For everything else, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

Again Jesus repeats the phrase, “in that day,” meaning the days after Pentecost, “you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf.” This needs to be understood the right way, for, of course, Jesus still intercedes for us before the Father as John wrote in his first Epistle, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). Whether you are an apostle or an apostate, a saint or a sinner, holier-than-thou or not, the life of faith is a struggle, a constant struggle, even a life-and-death struggle to remain faithful, to remain full of faith and hope regardless of the bruises, the injuries, the dirt that our sins bring upon us. There is cleansing daily in Jesus. Our sins are already paid for. Not that this frees us or allows us to sin freely, of course, but that this reassures us, even emboldens us to continue to believe and to fight the good fight of the faith in the face of our struggles, no matter how powerful, frightening or seemingly overwhelming.

“In that day,” even as Jesus intercedes for us, “the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” This is a most interesting insight into how much God loves you. For we all know the various words or aspects in Greek of that for which we have only the one English word, “love.” We all know that “God so loves His world,” John 3:16, with the highest love, “agape.” It is the objective love of intelligence and corresponding purpose. It is the love of God that sees a need and rushes to meet that need without regard to the lovability of the object loved. But here Jesus uses the second word for love, “philein,” the affectionate love as of a father for his children, or a brother for his brother. This love, too, seeks to supply the need of the other. But here it is not regardless of the lovability of the person loved, but is especially because of their close relationship, which is why Jesus adds, “because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” After becoming disciples by believing in Jesus, daily contact with Jesus develops a close attachment, loyalty and tender affection for Him. For this affection the Father in turn has affection.

Again, let me emphasize God’s love for you. He showed it and established it in Jesus, objectively, providing the payment for all sin, all of your sin. By faith in Jesus as your Savior from sin and death, in that faith you have become a member of the family of God, actually a son or daughter of God and, as such, you have God’s firm, unbreakable affection; not only His deliverance, but even His indestructible dedication to your welfare.

Jesus, then, concludes His words to His disciples with a pithy but complete summary of His Person and His entire purpose and ministry when He says, (1) “I came from the Father,” (2) “and have come into the world,” (3) “and now I am leaving the world,” (4) “and (am) going to the Father.”

Jesus is the eternal Word, the Son of God, of one being or essence with the Father, yet another Person, very God of very God who left heaven to come to us on His mission.

When He left heaven he “came into the world” not as a phantom or a spirit or a philosophy or any other such thing, but as one of us. By the process and miracle of incarnation He took on our own human flesh being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Now He is both God and Man. Now He has both His Divine nature and our human nature which He has forever. This is what makes our promised salvation even better than our original creation in the garden of Eden, for in Christ God has elevated our human nature to participate in the divine.

Having come out from the Father, and come into the world, now, He says, “I am leaving the world.” He leaves because His work of deliverance is done through His death on the cross, His rest in the tomb, and His resurrection from the dead. “And now I am going to the Father” from whom I came forth, who sent me on my mission, to whom I return in my Ascension, where I reign at the Father’s right hand until I come again at the last day.

The point in this glorious summary is that no one made Him come to save us, and no one makes Him go. By His own will and act He accepted the mission of the Father, by His own will and act He completed that mission, and so by His own will and act he returns whence He came.

The disciples began to catch on. But there was still the severe trial that awaited that night and the next three days to challenge and refine their faith. So there continue to be trials for us, some more severe than others. But in Christ these trials serve not only to challenge but to refine faith which is more precious than gold “that perishes though it is tested by fire,” that it “may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That’s what St. Peter said about this faith, even as hard as it was for him to “catch on.” But now by the Holy Spirit he says of you and me, “though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:5-9).

Of all these things, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me” (that is by faith in Him) “you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Those words ought to form a motto for our faith, “take heart, I have overcome the world.” It ought to be the believer’s motto whenever He runs into the opposition or persecution of the world for standing up for the faith, “take heart, I have overcome the world.” It ought to be our motto even whenever we run into the inevitable, sickening, frustrating, maddening habit of our sin that clings so closely, that so often trips us up: “take heart. Take heart, I have overcome the world,” the world both outside of you and in you. Christ has overcome the world and made us to be His new creation, and nothing and no one can steal us away from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is our Good Shepherd, our Lord and God, our Savior and our eternal King.

Will you please not only remember this but also believe it; believe it with all your heart and all your soul and all your might: God loves you. And there is therefore nothing in all creation that can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Go ahead. Try to name just one thing. You can’t.