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Dear Friends in Christ,
It’s good to be prepared for things. During this time of the year we are reminded through the media to be prepared for bad weather. We are instructed what to do, and what not to do if a storm warning or tornado warning is issued and we hear the sirens. Before you have surgery, doctors and nurses will explain what they are going to do and what to expect when you wake up, and what recovery might look like. They might even ask you to watch a video that explains the surgery and what others have experienced as they recover. If you know in advance what usually happens, it’s easier to handle it when it does. That’s what Jesus was doing for his disciples. He told them in advance about what was going to happen when he left them to return to heaven so that they would be prepared to handle those things when they did happen. He wanted them to be prepared, to witness about him, and to suffer for him.
Jesus has a lot to say about the coming of the Holy Spirit in chapters 14-16 of John’s gospel. Jesus calls him the Paraclete, a word that is often translated “Counselor” or “Comforter”. The idea of the word Paraclete is maybe best understood by picturing a good coach. It literally means to call alongside. It’s the picture of a coach calling a player over, putting his arm around their shoulder, and telling them something they need to know. That something might be correcting what they were doing wrong, instructing them how to do something better, or just providing encouragement if he sees they are frustrated. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for us. Through the word he corrects us when we are doing something sinful. He instructs us regarding what the will of God is. He encourages us by pointing us to the promises of God that never fail.
The instruction, correction and encouragement that the Holy Spirit gives is always spot on. He is the Spirit of Truth. He cannot lie. His primary work is to testify about Jesus; about who Jesus is and what he accomplished by his life, death and resurrection. His work is not to draw attention to himself, but to make sure Jesus gets all the attention. In carrying out his work he would remind the disciples of everything Jesus said and did, making sure that what they taught and wrote about Jesus was the truth, without error. He would guide them into all truth. And since they had been with Jesus from the beginning, he would enable them to testify, to give witness about everything they heard Jesus say and saw Jesus do.
The book of Acts records for us what happened. Jesus did send the Holy Spirit to his disciples on the day of Pentecost. They were moved and enabled to witness, to testify about Jesus. They no longer hid behind locked doors but stood before large crowds, before the Jewish leaders, and anyone who would listen. They told them the truth. God sent his son Jesus into the world to save the world. But the world did not receive him. Although he performed many signs and wonders proving that he was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, he was rejected and accused of doing what he did by the power of Satan. They were very pointed in their witness. They told the Jewish leaders and those living in Jerusalem, “God sent you the Messiah you were looking for, and you killed him!” But when people were terrified that they had done such a terrible thing, they assured them that he accomplished his mission in spite of them. “God raised Jesus, whom you crucified. He is Prince and Savior. God has exalted him to his right hand and placed all his enemies under his feet. Salvation has been purchased by him for all so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Even though you and I did not personally witness everything Jesus said and did, by God’s grace we know who he is, what he said, and what he did. The Holy Spirit had these things recorded and preserved for us. He has brought us to see that we too crucified Jesus because we too have sinned and our sins were included in the cause of his suffering on the cross. He has brought us to see that, in spite of us, Jesus accomplished his mission and rose from the dead so that repentance and forgiveness of sins could be preached among the nations until it even reached us. He has moved us to call on Jesus to grant us forgiveness so that we are saved. That makes us witnesses too.
Peter reminds us that we are always to be prepared to give anyone who asks a reason for the hope that we have in Jesus. How prepared are you? The early church grew by leaps and bounds as Christians gave witness to Jesus by their words and actions wherever they went. Could it be that one of the reasons so many Christians churches are shrinking is that too many Christians are not prepared to give witness to Jesus? Could it be that too many Christians hide their faith in Jesus? Could it be that too many of us would rather talk about the weather, or sports, or even politics, rather than about Jesus?
As you see your failures to witness about Jesus may the Holy Spirit remind you again of what Jesus has done for you. He was always a faithful witness in your place. On the cross he paid for all your failures to witness. Now, in the joy of our forgiveness, devote yourselves to being witnesses about Jesus. Make use of the training that is available so that you can be a channel for the Holy Spirit to testify to others about how Jesus is their savior.
We, like the disciples, are always to be prepared to witness to others about Jesus. But, Jesus wanted to prepare the disciples, and us, for what will happen when we do witness to the truth about Jesus. It won’t always go well. Not everyone will immediately come to faith. There will always be some who have a strong negative reaction and who will try to silence those who give witness to the truth by persecuting and even executing those who give witness about Jesus.
Jesus told the disciples, they will put you out of the synagogues. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who murders you will think he is offering a service to God.
These words remind us of Saul, who persecuted Christians in Jerusalem, having them excommunicated and even imprisoned if they refused to deny Jesus. He even got letters of introduction from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to go to Damascus to do the same thing there. On the way, Jesus appeared to him and he became a Christian. He writes that, while he was persecuting Christians he thought that he was offering a service to God. He thought he was doing what God told his people to do with false teachers.
There are still people who think that way today. Radicalized Muslims believe that by executing Christians they are doing the will of God. Others think that by silencing Christians they are saving the planet, or ridding the earth of troublemakers, or preserving gay rights or abortion rights. Still today, if you witness to others about the reason for the hope that you have, that Jesus is the only way, truth and life, you had better be prepared to suffer.
Most of you probably witnessed a confirmation or two this past month. At those confirmation services you were reminded of what you promised at your own confirmation. You promised that you would remain faithful to Jesus no matter what, even in the face of persecution and death. Have you always remained faithful? Have there been times when your remained silent to keep from being laughed at or persecuted in some other way? Have there been times when you denied Jesus because things that you said and did were contrary to what you know is his will?
As you think about those times in your life that you have been unfaithful, when you have hidden your faith to avoid suffering, remember that the Holy Spirit is pointing you to Jesus. He is reminding you that Jesus never was unfaithful. He never tried to hide who he was, or the truth of God’s word, to avoid suffering. The fact that he was truthful at his trials before the High Priests and before Pilate is what led, humanly speaking, to his crucifixion. On the cross he took the punishment we deserve for all the times we have chosen to hide our faith to avoid suffering.
In love, Jesus didn’t sugar coat what would happen when we witness about him and proclaim that he is the one and only savior. He warned the disciples and he warns us still today, that when we do witness about him we need to be ready to suffer. But because he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven he has sent the Holy Spirit to be our Paraclete, our coach. Through the word of truth that he inspired and preserved for us he continues to correct us when we sin. He continues to point us to Jesus for forgiveness. He continues to prepare us, to witness and to suffer.
Jesus says to us what he said to the disciples.I have told you these things so that when their time comes, you may remember that I told them to you. I have told you these things so that you will not fall away. I have told you these things so that you would be prepared to witness about me and to suffer for me.