May 18 & 19, 2013 Pentecost
John 15: 26-27
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. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Recently it seems that our country was entranced by the Jody Arias’s murder trial. Many witnesses were called to the stand to testify against and for the defendant. The defendant herself spent over two weeks on the witness stand to testify about what she did or didn’t do, and why.
Today Jesus talks about testifying about him. The disciples were called on to tell people about Jesus. This would not be easy, for they would be facing a hostile crowd. In the verse after our text Jesus says, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” It would be difficult for them to testify to the truth. But that’s what Jesus called them to do. And that’s what Jesus calls on us to do as well. He wants us to:
Testify to the Truth
That picture of the “defense lawyer or prosecuting attorney” is really what this text is drawing for us. Jesus wanted his disciples to testify to the truth. But he didn’t leave them on their own. He said that the “Counselor” would come. That word is literally referring to someone who speaks on behalf of another person, like a defense attorney. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit as an attorney for the disciples.
Let’s picture a court. You’ve got the devil, the father of lies, on the one side. And you’ve got the disciples on the other side. After Jesus’ death and resurrection the court went into session immediately. The devil called his lying witnesses to the stand, the soldiers. He paid them to testify that Jesus’ body had been stolen. But the disciples had seen with their own eyes that Jesus was risen from the dead. But as witnesses of the truth, the devil had made it difficult for them to testify to that truth. The religious world was against them. The government was against them. Their own neighbors were against them.
And so, Jesus promised them in our text that he would send the Professional, the Holy Spirit, to help them testify to the truth. This happened on what we now know as Pentecost. While the disciples were in a house, not testifying but scared for their lives, the Holy Spirit descended on them. Through a tongue of fire the Holy Spirit rested on each of them. Then the Holy Spirit changed their tongues so they could speak in different languages. He gave them the courage to go out. They testified to the truth and in so doing the Holy Spirit converted 3,000 people in one day!
What would have happened to the Church if the Holy Spirit had not helped them on this day? It would have died! For God’s Word says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) That’s why, time and again, you see the believers praying for the Holy Spirit in the Bible. David prayed in Psalm 51, “Do not take your Holy Spirit from me.” In Acts it says that Peter and John prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit. The prophets and apostles throughout the ages understood very well that if the Holy Spirit was not present to defend the faith and to help proclaim the truth, their work would be completely fruitless. That’s why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit. The disciples needed help!
The story is told of Fran Tarkenton, a quarterback for the Vikings who wasn’t a big man. He was asked by the coach to make a block on a defensive lineman. Well, he made a great block and the running back went in for the touchdown. Watching the game films with the team the next day, Tarkenton expected a big pat on the back for what he’d done. It never came. After the meeting, Tarkenton approached coach Bud Grant and asked, “You saw my block, didn’t you, Coach? How come you didn’t say anything about it?” Grant replied, “Sure, I saw the block. It was great. But you’re always working hard out there, Fran. I figured I didn’t have to tell you.” “Well,” Tarkenton replied, “if you ever want me to block again, you do!”
Think of this same scenario in our spiritual life. The devil is prowling around trying to devour us. And the Holy Spirit is out there defending our faith. Through God’s Word and Communion he’s keeping us in the faith. And think of how often we take him for granted. Think of where we would be if he stopped defending us. We would lose our faith and soon be on the highway to hell. Every day we may lecture our kids about manners, especially to say, “Thank you.” Yet every day we eat at the Holy Spirit’s table and so often fail to thank him. We need the Holy Spirit’s expertise. We need his power which comes to us through the Bible and the Sacraments. Let’s thank him every day for all that he does for us.
If you’ve ever watched a trial on TV you realize that the expert attorneys don’t just stand up and do all of the talking. They will use anything that they can to get their point across. Remember the O.J. Simpson murder trial? He is in the news again as he is seeking a new trial for the Las Vegas incident. Remember the famous line from his murder trial? “If the glove doesn’t fit, acquit.” A glove was used to acquit someone who seemed to be guilty of murder. It is the duty of the attorney to use anything possible to get the truth across.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit uses some amazing things to testify to the truth. He uses the sun, moon, and stars to testify to the wisdom and power of God. He used an instrument of death, the cross, to testify to God’s love. He uses mere words, the Bible, to testify to us that he is a God of justice but also a God of compassion. He uses governments to keep order. He uses illnesses to wake people up.
But one of the most amazing things that the Holy Spirit uses is located in our mouths. He uses our tongues. The same tongues that have lied, the same tongues that have denied Christ, the same tongues that have uttered profanities, the same tongues that have been used by the devil, the Holy Spirit uses to proclaim the truth. Isn’t this just a great testimony to God’s grace? There once was a man who had a crush on his dental hygienist. So, before he went in for a check-up he ate a whole box of Oreo cookies so it would take longer for her to clean his mouth. That’s in a spiritual sense what it was like for the Holy Spirit to enter our mouths. They were, and at times still are, full of disgusting sins in every nook and cranny. Yet, instead of cutting our tongues out and throwing us into the hell we deserve for our sins, he brought us to faith. Through the Gospel of Christ he cleansed our hearts and our souls. He made us pure and clean. Because of Jesus’ perfect life for us and his death paying for our sins, we are forgiven. He forgives us day after day. Now the Holy Spirit uses our tongues to testify to the truth of Jesus. What grace!
When the disciples had been too afraid to testify to the truth the Holy Spirit, through the tongues of fire, changed their tongues and made them able to testify to the truth. Instead of testifying on his own the Holy Spirit used the disciples’ tongues. He enabled them to speak in different languages so they could communicate with the Jews who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks from all over the world. He gave them the courage to speak the truth. And the Lord promises us the same. The Holy Spirit can change our tongues. He can clean up our language. He can enable us to control our anger. He can give us the courage and ability to testify to the truth of God’s Word.
If you came to church today wishing that you had better control of your tongue, pray to the Holy Spirit for that. If you wish you had more courage, pray for it. But don’t be naïve about it. We can’t just sit here and pray for it and assume the Holy Spirit will just miraculously appear in a tongue of fire on our head. Jesus promised the disciples this. He didn’t promise us this. Throughout the history of the Christian Church the Holy Spirit has never operated in a vacuum. On Pentecost he worked through tongues of fire. With Moses, he spoke through a burning bush. He always uses means. And today he says faith comes from hearing the message, the Word of God. How important that we be in that Word of God.
Jesus wanted the disciples to know that they weren’t just going to sit back and watch the Holy Spirit do all the work. He told them, “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” He made it very clear that the Holy Spirit would use them to testify to the truth. Why would he use them? Because of their experience, they had been with Jesus from the beginning. They had seen Jesus heal people. They had seen him raise Lazarus from the dead. They had seen Jesus raised from the dead. They could use these things they had experienced and seen in their lives to testify to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior.
So can we. When we have common experiences with other people, they are easier to talk with and more willing to listen. All of us have experienced God’s love in different ways. If you’ve experienced the Lord’s patience through a difficult marriage, maybe you could express this to someone else who is going through similar problems. If you’ve seen how the Lord used your health problems to draw you closer to him, you could use that experience to testify to other people. Whether it’s alcohol problems, divorce, the death of a loved one, whatever it might be, the Holy Spirit wants you to use your experience - good or bad - to reach out to those who don’t know Christ. That’s what your life is all about. There are so many people in the world who are on their way to hell and need someone to tell them of Jesus. You know that Jesus has died for all. You have the experience to know what God’s love is all about. You have the Holy Spirit to give you the words to convey this truth to them. Testify to the truth through the power of the Spirit today. Amen.