Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Today in our church, nine young teenagers will be confirmed. They have finished a two-year course of study in which we examined the Bible and Luther’s Small Catechism. Now we are ready to celebrate their hard work and pray for them as they begin a new stage of their relationship with the church.
Because today is Confirmation Sunday, today’s sermon will speak to some specific needs and concerns of our young people. But it will also be a message that is meant for all ages and for all who seek direction from the Lord through His Word.
I would like for us to focus on two statements of Jesus to his disciples from today’s Gospel reading. The first statement is from verse 16. Jesus tells them, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”
What does Jesus mean by these words? How long is the “little while” he is talking about? When will this happen? Why will this happen?
The disciples of Jesus who were first listening to these words of his had these same questions. Jesus addressed their questions by giving a few extra bits of information. He said that they will mourn when Jesus leaves, while others will laugh. However, their mourning will only last a short time– just as the pain of a woman giving birth lasts only a short time.
This extra information from Jesus would help the disciples prepare for his leaving, but it still leaves unanswered many of their questions. He still wasn’t telling them why he was leaving, when it would happen, and for how long he would be gone.
Jesus thought it was best to not answer all their questions. Looking back at this situation, we know why. This conversation with his disciples happened on the day immediately preceding his death. He had already prepared them as much as needed. If they needed to do anything different, he would have told them.
At that point, on that day, he simply needed them to trust him. He needed to encourage them. He needed them to maintain hope in the midst of some difficult days. He needed them to watch closely so they would later understand what he was doing.
One of the questions I always ask the Confirmation students on their final exam is, “True or False – the Bible has all the answers to all of life’s questions.” The answer is false. The Bible tells us a great many things about God and about this world he created, but there are still many things we must discover on our own, or that we may never discover.
What we can be sure of is that God has equipped us thoroughly for this life with what He has given us in the Bible. There will be times when we, like Jesus’ first disciples, crave more information. In those times we should hear the encouragement of God to have faith. We should hear Him tell us that though there may be difficulties, they will only last a short time. We can trust God to care for His faithful people.
When Jesus told his first disciples that he would leave for a short time and then return to them, he was telling them about his death and resurrection. He would leave them by being taken away by the governing authorities of his day and crucified upon a cross. The “short time” that he refers to in his speech to the disciples was the three days he spent in the tomb. His return was his exit from the tomb– his coming back to life and his walking and talking among them again.
In these words, Jesus was referring to his death and resurrection. However, there are other meanings of these words as well. As with many of Jesus’ statements, these words have multiple applications.
These words of Jesus are a part of a long speech given to the disciples which include a number of teachings. Foremost in this speech is the promise of the coming Holy Spirit.
When Jesus says he will leave and come back again, he is also saying that he will someday be gone from this earth in the form they have come to know him. He will no longer be the God-man Jesus with human flesh walking among them on this earth. He leave to return to his Father in heaven. However, he will soon thereafter come to his disciples in a different way– through the Holy Spirit.
Certainly the promised Holy Spirit is a different entity than Jesus. Jesus speaks of the Spirit as someone different than himself. He say, “But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” However, Jesus also says in this text, “the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known unto you.” The Spirit is different, but the Spirit is also the same.
We, of course, know of this paradox as the Triunness of God. God is best understood as three-in-one– the Holy Trinity. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus said he will be with his disciples always. We take him at his word. We understand that this presence of Christ happens through the Holy Spirit. We understand, also, that this presence of Christ happens through the meal of Holy Communion. God is not bound by time or space as we are.
When Jesus says he is leaving and then coming back, he is also talking about his final return at the day of judgment. He has already spoken to his disciples many times about this return. He has told them plainly that he will come again in glory some day to usher in a new heaven and a new earth.
This return may not seem like a “little while.” It has already been almost two thousand years since Jesus the God-man left this earth. But in the scheme of things, measured against eternity, even two thousand years, or whatever the wait for his return will be, is a little while. Certainly we ought to be thinking of his return as happening soon, not happening some far off time in the future.
Yes, Jesus has told us some very specific things. Today we meditate on the fact that he has come among us, that he is still with us, but that he will come again in a new way someday. As we say in the liturgy: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
We have these sure and certain words of Jesus to guide us and sustain us all our days. We have taught them to our confirmation students. We proclaim them again and again. However, there is one more statement of Jesus in our text that we do well to examine today. Jesus also says to his disciples, “I have much more to say to you.”
I bring these words to our attention today for a couple of reasons. First, it reminds me of a message that it is important to share with our confirmation students. They have learned a great deal in their two years of instruction. Most of them have also had many years of Sunday S
by this point. They have heard some of the same stories being told a number of times now.
However, they need to know that there is still much more for them to learn. “I have much more to say to you,” said Jesus to his disciples. I felt the same way on my last class with the confirmation students. I also feel that way after most classes I teach here. Our confirmation students, like our church members, have learned a lot, but they are not experts. There’s a lot more to learn.
Likewise, I also hear these words of God spoken to me when I study. I have a seminary degree and perhaps qualify to be an expert in some sense, but I still know that Jesus has more to teach me. Even if I had the whole Bible memorized word-for-word, I know that Jesus could and would still teach me through my meditation upon the Word and my application of it to life.
As we look at the immediate application of these words of Jesus to his first disciples, we remind ourselves that the disciples had always found it difficult to understand why Jesus must suffer and die. Their grief-stricken hearts could not endure any further words on the subject, or perhaps they still weren’t ready to comprehend the reasons for it, which is why Jesus told them in this text that it was more than they could bear.
But Jesus follows up by saying, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
What Jesus had been unable to make fully clear to them during his earthly life, the Spirit of truth, speaking from the ultimate source of truth, would expound to them further after his departure. It would, however, not be any new truth that he would unfold, but the truth that was implicit in what Jesus had said and done. He would explain in greater detail the divine plan of salvation, and disclose the eternal significance of the crucial events that were now imminent– the death and resurrection of their master.
The irony of this second statement of Jesus– that he would have more to say to his disciples– is that Jesus did his most powerful speaking without words. We listen to the words he spoke, for they, of course, are critical to our understanding. But his most powerful statement was the one he made when he went to the cross.
They say that actions speak louder than words. It is true. Jesus acted boldly and decisively when he gave up his life for us. Through his death on the cross he paid the price for our sins. By his resurrection from the dead his victory over sin and death is complete.
Once the disciples had seen the death and resurrection of Jesus, they would be better prepared to understand its significance. The Holy Spirit did come to them, and the Spirit gave them fresh insight into this truth, enabling them to have a more complete vision of the glory of God seen in the face of Jesus Christ. The Spirit enabled those disciples to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus with clarity and with power.
We, today, are the disciples of Jesus. It is our prayer that the Holy Spirit would come to us to give us fresh insight into the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. We pray for a more complete vision of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And we ask to be enabled by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus with clarity and with power.
Jesus will continue to speak to his Church through the Holy Spirit. Not that new doctrines will be revealed, but that Scriptural teachings will be clarified, individual understanding will increase, and application of truth for the sake of the Church’s mission will be made effectively.
God has come to us in Jesus Christ. He is coming again someday soon. Until that time, we are to continue growing in our faith, to proclaim his salvation to the world, and trust in his provision. In the name of Jesus. Amen.