Jesus has been lifted up in triumph above the heavens. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. To him belongs the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.
And yet, we are told that, if we follow him, we will be persecuted. Put out of the synagogues. Even killed for the faith. And as we look at the headlines, it seems as if that is true. Islamic terrorists killed 28 Coptic Christians in a bus attack this week. Thousands of Christians have died at the hands of Isis in the last year. The attacks keep coming. In our own nation, we have not had the shedding of blood for the faith, but people have been denied jobs or have been removed from them for stating the simple truth that God created them male and female. Suggesting that as sinners, all humanity violates the 10 commandments, that we are deserving of God’s wrath and eternal punishment, and that all must repent of their sin is barely tolerated in the church, to say nothing of polite society.
Jesus words to the disciples are true. Those who follow him will be persecuted. And that persecution is done as if it were in service to God. Those who commit these acts think they are serving their god – whether they worship Allah, or random chance, or their own works. How is it possible that such things happen to faithful Christians? Hasn’t Jesus Christ been raised above all things? As we just sang, he is Lord of the nations. Glory and honor, praise adoration, now and forever more are his.
But the world does not know him. The world refuses to recognize his authority. And so the world also does not know his Father. The world fights against God and His holy word. We must expect that. Jesus tells us that it will be this way – so that when it happens we will remember that he told us. So that we will not be scandalized and fall away. So that we will not shrink from such things as if he did not prepare us, as if it were too great a scandal for the Gospel to be rejected. He told us that very thing.
And yet, though we are pressed on every side, we do not despair. The world does not recognize him, the world does not know him. But, by the grace of God, the Spirit has been given to us, and we recognize him. We know him, and so his Father is our father who art in heaven. Through the waters of Holy Baptism we have been made his children. We are torn from the grasp of Satan and death and have been brought into the kingdom of Christ. Now, we are beloved children of our heavenly Father.
That is what the Holy Spirit gives us – faith to grab hold of the promise. Faith so that we would receive the gift of Jesus, and in receiving him, also receive his heavenly Father. By the grace of God, the Spirit makes us holy. Even in this world of sin, even as we struggle daily, we are declared holy and righteous in the sight of God for Jesus sake. As God has declared it, so it is.
Next week we hear Jesus again predict the coming of the holy Spirit – and in the Epistle reading we hear of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles on Pentecost. The festival of Pentecost – a wonderful day in the church. But this week, the week after the ascension and before the Holy Spirit comes – Today the prediction seems a little bit desperate. It’s almost like it isn’t Easter anymore. As if the ascension has made things worse. The Apostles weren’t being killed before the ascension. Jesus was no longer in danger from the leaders of the people. He was able to appear, disappear, walk through walls at will. It seems like this is a better state of affairs than what was to come. And yet, Jesus told the disciples, it was for their good that He ascends to His Father. What is the result? Jesus says, persecution, cast out of the synagogue, eventually some will be killed, then more and more. Widespread persecution, Peter and Paul themselves would become martyrs for the name of Christ. How is that better than what the disciples have?
And yet, before Pentecost the disciples were still hiding in the upper room for fear of the Jews. They were still afraid. That’s the state of our hearts on our own. As God says through the Prophet Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading– we have a heart to stone, and we need him to give us a heart a flesh.
Our situation in the world isn’t all that great. That’s just the truth. We are strangers, foreigners, pilgrims. Even as citizens of a nation, even as we still live in the world, we are not of the world. Our land, our home is not where we live in this world – it is with God in Christ Jesus. We are, first and foremost, defined by our Baptism into Christ. We are his, and now God the Father Almighty is our heavenly Father. We are of the family of God – reborn into a new life. This past Thursday, we have Jesus, ascended into heaven – liturgically, the paschal candle, which was lit on Easter morning for the first time, is extinguished. Today we have Easter, sort of. Still white. Still Alleluia. Resurrected Jesus, but now the attention turns to what is coming – the Holy Spirit the Comforter on Pentecost. And we wait. And we are in anticipation, but we aren’t there yet. Boldness to confess the Gospel. 3000 baptized instead of just a few hiding in an upper room. That sounds good – we want to be there, but we aren’t there yet.
Just as we want the kingship of Jesus to break through the clouds again with a shout, with a trumpet. We want all knees to bow to him, all authorities to be subject to him. But we aren’t there yet either. We’re still waiting. We still live in this world of sin, that can not accept the word of Jesus. That refuses to recognize him as he is. That will turn any direction except that one – to the extreme rigor of Islam, or the extreme libertinism of our secular society – any lie is better than the truth. Consistency doesn’t matter to the world – as long as the truth of Jesus lordship is denied.
And that is why the world hates us. Because we speak the truth. We refuse to back down on this – that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, The He was crucified for our offenses and raised again for our justification. This the world can not accept. This is the scandal that causes the world the reject the church. This is the scandal that causes the world to reject those who speak the truth. Because a lie – any lie – is more loved by the world than the truth, that we are sinners, and Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins.
That truth just won’t do. And so the world removes the Christians from the polite places, and refuses to hear us. But even we who have heard, who have been reborn into Jesus can only hear because God himself has placed in us a new heart – a heart of flesh in place of our heart of stone. We have no innate ability or divine spark that would save us. On our own we are just as dead in our trespasses. And even renewed, restored, brought back to life by the power of the Spirit, and given a new life in Christ, we still struggle. We still must fight every day to subdue the old Adam in us, to hear the world of life which he gives us, to respond to that word as we aught, and to raise our prayers to our heavenly Father. We still struggle because we are still joined to the sinful human flesh in this world.
We must be always on guard, always watchful that we do not reject that Word of our Lord Jesus – for we can certainly turn away from it. The world rejoices when we do. Our sinful human flesh is eager for it. But the Spirit gives us strength every day to hear and believe the word. To return to the house of the Lord so that we would be fed with the food that does not spoil. To continue in his word, so that we would be strengthened in the true faith, and put to death the old Adam in us. Our Lord has promised that he will not leave us alone. He will not leave us without consolation. And so we come humbly to hear again, the receive again the implanted word, that is able to save our souls. Thanks be to God.