“If I depart, I will send Him . . .”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Triune God does not necessarily work the way we think the Triune God should work. Once again this week we see Jesus telling His disciples that He must depart from them, that He must “return to the Father”; and the disciples look sorrowful at the thought of the departure of Jesus. Who among them could possibly imagine that they would be better off if Jesus was no longer in their sight? And who could blame them for thinking that way? Have you never imagined your life being different, better, if only Jesus were physically and visibly present with you? Have you never envied the apostles their firsthand witness of the life and acts of Jesus? Certainly it runs counter to reason and logic to believe that you would be better off without the visible presence of Jesus in your life. And yet, that’s precisely the point Jesus made to the disciples in our text. He said to them, “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 depart, I will send Him to you.” With these words Jesus began to prepare His disciples for His death, resurrection and ascension. He prophesied to them concerning the sending of the Holy Spirit, a sending first in the upper room on the evening of the resurrection, and then on the day of Pentecost. It still seems illogical, though. Why would you need a helper if Jesus would just stay?
As you heard the Sunday after Easter, Jesus spoke to the Apostle Thomas saying, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” After the ascension, the Apostles, the sent-ones, would no longer be able to present Christ to the world in a visible way. The Son had disappeared from their sight, promising to be with them always, yet not in the way in which they had grown accustomed. It would be the job of these Apostles to preach the good news, to present the truth of Jesus and His victory over sin and death; but they could not point to the visible presence of Jesus and say, “This is the Christ, the Messiah. Look at His hands, His feet, His side. Look upon Him and believe.” These same men who had run away from Jesus and denied Him would be called upon to give a bold confession of the Christ to the world no less hostile to Jesus than those who came to arrest Him. They would have to confess and stand firm with and rely on a Jesus they could no longer see. By the day of Easter, they had already proved that they could not be relied upon to confess Christ boldly in the midst of persecution of their own power and free will. They could not even understand with their own reason why Jesus had to suffer and die.
This is the state of the world around you, as well. The world is full of unbelief. It’s full of people who believe that Jesus was merely a teacher or a prophet at best, and at worst was just a rebel against the established authority of His day. It’s full of the self-righteous, people who believe that their own good works will earn for them sufficient merit before the almighty Judge—and that’s if they believe that such a Judge exists. It’s full of people who do what is right in their own eyes, who deny that a day of judgment is coming, who deny that a righteous Judge awaits them. Children of sinful Adam, you stand with them. Conceived in sin, you would rely on your own merit and self-righteous works. You doubt the goodness of God in your life. You doubt that you face judgment.
And so Jesus promised He would send to the disciples the Holy Spirit: the Paraclete, the Helper, the Guide. Everything Jesus had said to them, everything Jesus had done for them and for the world, would be made clear to them by the power of the Holy Spirit. And through the Spirit, you yourselves have this victory of Jesus made clear to you. You know this is true because you have the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles recorded in the Gospels: two Gospels written by the Apostles themselves, and two written by Evangelists—all inspired by the Holy Spirit. You have the testimony of the Acts of the Apostles, where you see Peter the denier and Paul the persecutor making bold confession of the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the known world. You have the testimony of the writers of the Epistles. You have the bold confession and faithfulness of the martyrs. You have the daring confession of the Church fathers who formulated the ecumenical creeds which you confess to this day. You have the plain language of the liturgy to guide you in your prayer life. You have the courageous confession of Luther and Chemnitz and the other formulators of the Book of Concord. And you have the preaching of faithful pastors who continue to preach the good news to you.
Look at what Jesus came to do. He came to die, bearing your sins to the cross, and then rise again so that you would have salvation and eternal life through Him. He came to deliver to you His own body and blood. Jesus died and rose again to win the victory over sin and death for you. And by the work of the Holy Spirit, mere mortal men have preached and continue to preach to you the good news of that victory and what it means for your life with God. Jesus won that victory, and the Spirit makes it known to you. You who have never seen Jesus with your eyes, who live only by the faith you have received in Holy Baptism and which is fed by the hearing of the Word, have more benefit from the work of the Holy Spirit than the disciples had from the personal, visible presence of Jesus!
Through the Holy Spirit, the world stands convicted in its unbelief and self-righteousness. Through the Holy Spirit, the prince of this world has been judged. But the Spirit doesn’t stop there. Through the Holy Spirit, you know the judgment that awaits you has been borne by Christ Himself. Through the Holy Spirit, you know that the Old Adam in you has been drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism. Through the Holy Spirit, you know you receive the body and blood of Jesus for your forgiveness and salvation. Through the Holy Spirit, you know that the victory which Jesus won for you is yours forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.