John 15:26-16:4

Jesus says that whoever confesses Him before others, He will confess before His Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32).  The Apostle Peter says, “Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).  So, every Christian in his everyday life is to point others to Jesus.  But we can get this all wrong if we don’t understand what Jesus also told His disciples in today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus said, “You also must testify [about me]” (John 15:27).

Testify–that’s legal language, courtroom language.  And testifying in a courtroom is about speaking and confessing what is true.  That’s what’s supposed to happen in a court of law.  And that’s what’s supposed to happen when we testify about Jesus.

The Apostle John described this: What we have seen and heard about Jesus, we testify and declare to you (1 John 1:1-3).  That’s what Jesus’ first disciples did: they spoke of what they had heard and seen Jesus do.  They spoke of what Jesus did and said for us and for our salvation.  And that’s what we are to do, as well.

Well, if “testify” is a legal term, a courtroom term, who then is the jury?  We would naturally think the unbeliever would be the jury.  For if we testified to an unbeliever, wouldn’t he act as the jury and decide based on what we testified?  It surely seems that way.  But that’s not the case.  For here we are dealing in divine matters.

When we testify to another about Jesus, the Holy Spirit does the deciding.  That’s because, as the Apostle John wrote, we are spiritually born, “not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13).  Faith is created in you by God.  As Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, unless you are converted … you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

We normally don’t think that way, do we?  We’d think the person gets to choose, to decide.  But Scripture says otherwise.  It says, “God … made us alive in Christ even though we were dead in trespasses.  By grace, you are saved!” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

You see, a spiritually dead person can’t choose to believe in God, even if from his perception that’s exactly what he does.  Faith is something that God brings about in someone.  It’s being “made” alive in Christ!  For if God isn’t doing the doing, then we aren’t saved by His grace.

So, we now know what evangelism is not.  Evangelism is not simply giving out information, so someone can decide to choose God.  The Apostle Paul already told us an unbeliever, someone “dead in trespasses,” can’t do that.  An unbeliever isn’t simply an uncommitted, neutral person whom we need to sway, like in a human courtroom.  He doesn’t decide for Christ.  Jesus has already decided.  That’s why Jesus sent HIS Helper, the Holy Spirit, to carry out the right judgments when, where, and how He pleases.

It’s as Jesus says: “The One 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” (John 15:26-27).  So then, what part do we have if we also are to “testify” about Jesus?  It’s exactly that–we testify, we confess, Jesus to others.  That’s what we do.

But it’s the Spirit who judges, not the hearer.  The Spirit works through our confession of Christ, not because of it!  Again, the Spirit works through our confession of Christ, not because of it.  That’s how God the Holy Spirit brings sinners into His Kingdom!

But there’s more.  Did you notice that Jesus didn’t say only to testify to unbelievers?  For just because you are saved, that doesn’t mean that you still don’t need to hear more of Jesus.  If that were so, then why did God always call His people–in both the Old and New Testaments–to gather around Him to receive the forgiveness He gives out?

Yes, we are to proclaim the saving works and words of Jesus even to those who are in the fold of the Church.  For Christ has given His Church the work of testifying about Him–not only to bring others into the Church–but also to build up and mature those within the Church.  The Holy Spirit builds us up and keeps us in the Kingdom the same way He first brought us here: through Word and Sacrament!

So, we testify about Jesus.  Yet, so also does the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, “The One I will send to you from the Father–the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father–He will testify about me.” (John 15:26).  Yet, this dual testimony by us and the Spirit isn’t simply some divine division of labor.  It’s not as if we testify, but it’s the Spirit who convicts the hearer.  What did Jesus say?  He said the Spirit also testifies.

This Spirit doesn’t testify to complete what we start.  After all, He’s not OUR helper.  The Spirit doesn’t take over at some point when we are testifying to finish carrying the message through to repentance and faith.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to be HIS Helper.

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17).  It is Christ’s Word that we proclaim.  Jesus saves through the Spirit He has sent.  The Holy Spirit is there in Christ’s Word, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).  It is Christ’s Word that packs the power of the Spirit, not you or me.  We’re just the delivery service in the various vocations where God has placed us each to serve.

When we testify of Christ, so also does the Spirit–from beginning to end!  God sends His Spirit through His Son–to put His Word into our mouths and to be in that powerful Word–to extend and build up His Church.  The Spirit testifies of Christ and saves sinners in, with, and under our proclamation of the Word, our proclamation of Jesus.  This takes place privately in our speaking.  And this also takes place when God’s Word is preached and His Sacraments are dispensed according to Christ’s command.

But Jesus hasn’t finished.  He also warns us what may happen if we are properly testifying about Him.  He says, “They will throw you out of the synagogue.  The time is coming when those who kill you will think that they are doing a service to God” (John 16:2).  The indicators Jesus gives us to let us know that we are properly testifying about Him aren’t the signs we would expect–or even want!

Today, we often measure evangelism by the results.  If people are thronging to a church, well, they must be doing something right!  Success and popularity are the indicators we would use to see if an evangelism strategy is the right one.  Of course, this assumes the Holy Spirit can only as competent at His work as we are at ours.  When we become better at saving sinners, then miraculously, so does the Spirit!

Can you not see the heresy in such thinking?  Jesus tells you what may happen if you are successfully testifying about Him.  He says, “They will throw you out of the synagogue.  The time is coming when those who kill you will think that they are doing a service to God.”   Jesus gives us the signs.  You will get thrown out of churches, and some religious nutcases, who think they are doing God’s will, may even kill you for it.

When Christ’s disciples are faithfully testifying and the Spirit is at work, His disciples are being thrown out of churches, persecuted, and maybe even killed.  Who would have thought that?  But that’s what Jesus says.  That’s how Jesus says others may respond.

Next week, we will celebrate Pentecost, when Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit from the Father.  But in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was preparing His disciples for what would happen after the rush and high of Pentecost were no more.  For the spectacular nature of Pentecost would not be the norm.  What’s the norm?  Jesus says, “They will throw you out of the synagogue.  The time is coming when those who kill you will think that they are doing a service to God.”

We are living in the time after the rush and high of Pentecost.  Persecution is the indicator that Jesus gives us, so we may be prepared.  This is a hard truth.  We don’t want it.  We’d like this truth to die its own death.  But know this: such an abrasive teaching comes from Jesus Himself.

But not all is doom and gloom for Jesus’ followers.  Later, in John, chapter 16, Jesus says the Holy Spirit “will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8).  And this judgment Jesus is talking about is not something for His followers to fear.  For Jesus says, because of this judgment, “the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:11).  So, take heart.  You are acquitted; the devil stands judged.  You know the future!

When Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will deliver His final verdict.  Jesus will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21)  But not so for the devil and all the powers and forces of darkness.  Jesus will banish them forever.

As Jesus says, “All this I have told you to keep you from falling away.”  Hiding from hard news does not strengthen us to withstand it.  Jesus tells us the unflinching truth to keep us from falling away from the faith.  Jesus tells us the unflinching truth that we may not grow weary but, instead, remain firm in the faith.

There’s no sugar-coating it: we will have persecution and suffering.  It’s just a matter where, when, and how much.  Yet, this is not forever.  You know the future.  Never-ending, joyous times are on the way.  In a little while, the majestic, heavenly party will begin.  And then you will say, “That’s the Spirit!  That’s the Spirit, indeed!”  Amen.