Summary: On this the Birthday of the Christian Church we pray that the Holy Spirit give us the strength and courage to witness to him in this unbelieving world.
There is a tendency among mankind to honor the dead while persecuting the living. For centuries, even millennia, people have scorned, mocked, abused and killed those who are faithful to God’s Word. Many a prophet of the Old Testament was killed by his own countrymen for being a messenger of God’s truth. History tells us that all of Jesus’ disciples (except John) died a violent, martyr’s death. For centuries the early church was persecuted by governments and peoples who didn’t want to except the “foolishness of the cross.”
So now, let me ask you a question. Would you be able to face whippings, prison, hanging or being beheaded? When posed with the question: Jesus or your life – would you choose Jesus? Could we ever give such unwavering testimony as those great men and women of the faith who centuries ago gave their lives instead of denying their Savior?
Honestly, by ourselves, probably not. But we see in our text for this morning that we’re not alone. That Jesus sends us his Holy Spirit and that with his help we can stand firm and witness to our Lord in whatever the situation. So on this Pentecost Sunday, on this the Birthday of the Christian Church, we pray: Come, Holy Spirit, Come! Testify to us about Jesus and testify to the world through us.
I. Testify to us about Jesus
Now our text for this morning doesn’t take place on the Day of Pentecost, but rather 53 days earlier. It is Maundy Thursday, the day before Jesus would die on the cross for the sins of the world. Night has fallen. Jesus has spent the last few hours in the Upper Room with his disciples celebrating the Passover. The meal is now over. Jesus has already washed his disciple’s feet, predicted Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial and instituted the Lord’s Supper. Our text for this morning lies in the middle of a long sermon that Jesus gave to encourage his disciples. In the words that directly precede our text, Jesus warns his disciples that the world would hate them, just as it hated him. In a matter of hours the disciples would see that hate. They would see the mob that went to arrest Jesus. They would run in fear, hearing only in echoes the cry, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They would find themselves hiding behind locked doors for fear of those who murdered Jesus.
In that context, the words of our text are meant to comfort and strengthen the disciples. On the day of Pentecost, when these words of Jesus were fulfilled, the disciples were able to face without fear that hating world, that world which would call them drunks, persecute them, throw them into prison and eventually kill almost all of them for their faith. So this morning let’s take a closer look at these words of comfort that are found in our text.
Jesus tells his disciples in verse 26: When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. Jesus was going to send them a Counselor. The Greek word for “counselor” is “paraclete”. No, not a parakeet... A Paraclete (with an “l”). A “paraclete” is literally a person who stands at your side to defend, guide and help you, much like a good defense lawyer. Throughout this sermon to his disciples, Jesus promised them that this paraclete would teach them, would guide them in truth, and as we see here, would testify to the truth about Jesus.
You see, this Paraclete is the Spirit of truth. He would testify to the truth about what Jesus had done to save them. He would help them remember and apply what Jesus had taught them. He would give them the confidence and courage that Jesus is the risen Son of God, their Savior.
And on Pentecost, Jesus kept his word, sending them his Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, they no longer hid behind locked doors. They were given confidence and courage. And so they didn’t back down when some men called them drunks, when thrown in jail, when threatened and persecuted.
And you know what? The Holy Spirit is our “paraclete” as well. Working through Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit testifies to us. He testifies to us first about who we are. You see, we wouldn’t see any need for Jesus, any need for a Savior, if we thought that we could stand firm on our own, that we could go to heaven by what we do. So through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit shows us the mirror of truth. We look in that mirror and say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all.” And God says in his Word, “Not you.”