Home > Easter > Exaudi 2014. Witness and Martyrdom.

Exaudi 2014. Witness and Martyrdom.


heinrich voes and johann eschExaudi, Easter 6 + St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois + St. John 15:26-16:4 + June 1, 2014 (Confirmation of Alex ) + Witness and Martyrdom

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Friends in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

In the Gospel Jesus teaches us about “witnessing.”  You’ve probably heard before that as a Christian you should witness to Jesus.

 

But there are a lot of mistaken notions about what witnessing means, why we should do it, and what will likely come of it.

 

Today Jesus teaches about how witnessing to Him works—how it happens and what comes of it.

 

 The witness

 

First of all, He says, “When the Helper comes…He will bear witness about me.”

 

Jesus doesn’t discuss how to witness or even tell the disciples that they need to bear witness to Jesus.  First He gives them a promise: He, the helper, will bear witness about me.  I will send Him to you from the Father, and He, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, will bear witness to me.  He will do it not with human strength but with God’s strength.  This is the first thing Jesus says about witness to Him, and it is a comfort, because His first word is, You will have a mighty helper, the Holy Spirit.  And He will bear witness to me.

Second, He tells the disciples, “And you also will bear witness.”  After the Holy Spirit’s witness comes the disciples’ witness to Jesus.  But how are the disciples supposed to do it?  What method should they follow?  Jesus doesn’t say how to do it.  He just says, “You will.”

 

They will do it by the witness of the Spirit.  He first makes us passive witnesses of what Jesus has done for us.  The Holy Spirit makes us see that Christ has redeemed us all by Himself with no help from us.  The Holy Spirit bears witness that through the obedience and suffering of Jesus we have the forgiveness of sins.

 

Then when we believe this we also bear witness to Jesus, as St. Paul says, “I believed, therefore I spoke.”  We speak the Gospel when we believe it.  We confess it out loud in public when we believe it in our hearts.  We bear witness to Jesus to other people because the Holy Spirit first bears witness to us in the Gospel that we have forgiveness of sins through Jesus alone.

 

The response to the witness

Now, what is the result when the disciples bear witness to the world that Jesus has redeemed it and reconciled it to God through His blood?

 

You would think that people would rejoice.  Maybe there would be parades in the apostles’ honor, for “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news!”

 

Just like today.  You’d think that when people hear the good news that God forgives their sins because of Jesus’ suffering and death alone, they’d fill the churches.  You’d imagine that people would gladly and hungrily listen to the good news of the forgiveness of their sins.

 

But that isn’t the case, is it?  We often talk today about how these are hard times for the church.  And they are, as far as what we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

 

But these are actually incredibly comfortable and easy times for the Church when you listen to what Jesus tells his disciples, what He warns will happen to them when they bear witness to Jesus.

 

He says, I’m telling you this so you won’t be shocked and fall away.  They will throw you out of the synagogues.  In fact, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that He is offering holy service to God. 

 

They will do these things because they have not known the Father nor me.  But I have told you these things ahead of time so that, when they happen, you will remember that I told you about them.

 

Yes, the days seem to be coming for the church when we will look back fondly on these times when the biggest hardship we had was that people just weren’t interested in the witness to Jesus or when they responded only with angry words.

 

Jesus doesn’t say that when the church bears witness to Him thousands or even hundreds of decent people will crowd the church.  He says: No, they will throw you out.  They will put you out of the synagogues.  In our day that would be a combination of being permanently excommunicated from the church and consigned to hell and being shunned by the our whole society.

 

We can see this beginning to happen to the church whenever Christians stand against the latest sin that the powers that be want us and our children to approve.  Christians experience some scorn or hostility, but we still haven’t been thrown out of society yet.

 

But Jesus warns of greater suffering.  The time is coming when whoever kills us will think that they are offering God pleasing and acceptable worship.  That it is a good thing to kill Christians.

 

Why does the world react this way to witness to Jesus instead of rejoicing?  Because the Church’s witness to Jesus is that all sins are forgiven through Christ alone.

 

But that also means that if sins are forgiven through Christ alone, then they are not forgiven apart from Christ.

 

And the world can’t stand that witness.  Because that means that all good works apart from Christ do nothing to save us.  And it also means that the sins that the world approves of and the idols it worships are exposed.

 

 

The joy of bearing witness to Jesus.

 

It’s no accident that in the New Testament the word “martyr” and “witness” are the same word.  Witness to Jesus and suffering are two sides of the same coin.  That’s the reason why it’s hard to bear witness to Jesus.  When people tell us to do it they are telling us to embrace scorn, suffering, and death.

 

Are you ready for that?

 

Alex, you are about to formally and publicly bear witness to Jesus today.  Jesus warns you not to be shocked when you have hardship in your life as a Christian—and not only hardship, but even outright persecution, when people treat you scornfully  or hurt you, not just because they don’t like you but because they hate your witness to Jesus.

 

St. Peter, you bear public witness to Christ by coming here and receiving His teaching and eating His body and drinking His blood.  Jesus your Lord says not to be surprised when you have hardship.  When they don’t want to join the Church not just because they don’t like you but because they don’t like Jesus.  But even more, He warns us to expect scorn, contempt, ostracism, even physical violence.

 

Don’t be scandalized by these things, as though something strange were happening.  It’s not strange when the world or even the flesh and blood of church members revolts against the witness of Jesus.  Jesus told us to expect it.

 

But we don’t like this.  We get scared and angry and don’t want to hear it too.  We try to find the easy way out to avoid suffering, even when we want to be faithful Christians.  How often do we cave into pressure and compromise the witness of Jesus by letting false doctrine go unrebuked, by letting God’s law be ignored or perverted in the church and in our households?

 

How are we supposed to have the strength to faithfully confess and bear witness to Christ in this world?

 

The good news is that Jesus makes you His witnesses.  Notice that He doesn’t say, “Do this and do that.”  He says that He will send you the Helper from the Father and you will bear witness.  We can’t do it in our own strength, but Jesus promised His disciples that after His ascension He would send a powerful helper—God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father.  He will bear witness to the truth.  He will bear witness to Jesus.

 

Before He makes you bear witness, the Lord first makes you witness Jesus.  He makes you know Jesus.  He brings Jesus to you and you to Jesus.  He tells you all that Jesus is and all that He has done in the Word, but above all He witnesses that what Jesus has done is for you.

 

So yes, like Peter, you don’t want to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus.  Even when the new man in you wants to, the old nature rebels and you can’t do it.  The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus.  He makes us witnesses of the fact that Jesus is the Savior of Peter and sinners like him who want to gain the whole world.   The Holy Spirit bears witness to you that Jesus has taken up the cross for you and won the forgiveness of sins for you by His innocent suffering and death.  He holds up Jesus crucified for you, Jesus risen from the dead for you, Jesus ascended and reigning for you.  The Holy Spirit bears witness that Jesus’ death that atones for the sins of the world is for you by your Baptism and by giving you Jesus body in the bread and His true blood in the wine.

 

It is by being drawn to Jesus and being made a witness of His salvation that you become one who bears witness.  It is by the Holy Spirit’s help that we find rest and deliverance and peace in Jesus’ wounds.  Then, hiding there, we can invite the world to come with us, and hiding there we have refuge and strength when our witness is met with indifference or scorn or even persecution.

 

Jesus makes you his witnesses.  It’s hard to be a witness to Jesus, make no mistake.  It often seems to bear little fruit, though you pray and pray and work as hard as you can to make your life a testimony to the good news that Jesus died for you, and you speak to your neighbors, coworkers, friends, relatives.

 

It’s not unusual if this wonderful news that our sins are forgiven is met with indifference or hostility.  Jesus said it would happen.

 

But He does not give up.  He ascended into heaven and sends His Spirit to the ends of the earth to keep bearing witness to the world.  He doesn’t give up because He loves the world and died for it.  So we must not give up on sinners when they are indifferent or hard-hearted or even hostile to the witness we bear to Jesus.

 

But we can’t do it on our own.  It’s impossible.  We need the Helper.  He testifies to us each week and comes to dwell in us through His Word and the body and blood of Jesus and through the absolution.

 

And as He strengthens us to bear witness, we will see people be brought near to Christ.  We are seeing it today.  Even if ten kids were baptized in the year Alex was baptized and only one made it to confirmation, there is one today who stands as a witness that Christ is His Lord who has redeemed him.  That is not a human work, but a divine work.

 

As the Holy Spirit strengthens us to bear witness, we will also experience what Jesus warned the disciples about in some degree.  We will experience hardship at the very least.  Jesus tells us to expect more than that—outright persecution.

 

But when we experience hardship and persecution, we are not losing the fight.  When people are indifferent and the church struggles, this is not a sign of failure.  When we are chastened for our sins it’s because the Lord loves us.  And if we suffer for faithfulness to the Gospel, that is not loss but victory.  When we confess and bear witness to Jesus alone, and the devil brings persecution, that means we are winning.  The devil is helping us by killing the old nature that makes us unfaithful to God.  He’s making us better witnesses.  He’s making it so that the witness is not only words on our lips but in scars on our hearts and on our bodies.

 

This is how Satan is overcome.  The Spirit bears witness to us that our sins are forgiven because of the blood of Christ.  We bear witness and repeat what the Spirit says.  Hardship and persecution come, and we return to the Holy Spirit’s help and witness because we have nowhere else to go.

 

The joy of bearing witness is that even though we suffer hardship and persecution because  of it, we are more than conquerors then.  Then even if we see no one joining the church and none of our troubles likely to go away, the victory that we win is that we hold fast to Jesus and the devil puts more of our old self to death, and we have more of the new life.

 

Jesus makes you his witnesses.  And Scripture says that we conquer Satan by receiving Christ’s witness and holding fast to it.  They have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the lamb and the word of His witness….

 

As silver tried by fire is pure

From all adulteration

So thro’ God’s Word shall men endure

Each trial and temptation.

Its light beams brighter thro’ the cross,

And, purified from human dross,

It shines through every nation.  TLH 260 st 5

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

SDG

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