John 16:12-15: Receiving All–the Deposit of the Faith

The Deposit of the FaithWe’ve inherited a strange way of reading the Bible.  When someone reads Scripture, he often thinks each passage is a direct line, straight from God, telling him what to do.  Such a notion, however, isn’t true.  Read the Bible and you will find out otherwise.

Here’s an example.  Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your husbands as you do to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22).  Who is Paul addressing, husbands?  Are they to force their wives to submit?  (Not if they want to live!)  Even more, if you think so, you are a poor reader of Scripture.

To whom does Paul direct the passage?  He begins, “Wives…” Paul is speaking to wives, not husbands.  The wife is to figure out how to submit, how to place herself to receive from her husband.  That’s her job, not his.  But her role does not extend to forcing her husband to love her as Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25).  That’s his job.  Do you now see the importance of knowing whom Scripture addresses?

So, what about today’s Gospel reading?  We listened to Jesus speak: “I still have much more to say to you”?  Who are the “you”?  They are Jesus’ disciples, not long before He goes to the cross.  Even before His death, Jesus is preparing His Apostles-to-be for Pentecost Day, “when the Spirit of truth [will] come.”

The “you” isn’t you.  Jesus isn’t preparing you for Pentecost Day.  Pentecost Day is a completed event.  God now gives us His Holy Spirit in baptism.  “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).  After the Spirit had descended on Peter, on Pentecost, he preached: “Repent and be baptized… and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

So, Jesus is speaking to His disciples, hours before He will die.  He’s preparing them for Pentecost, when He will send them the Holy Spirit.  Here’s the question: Why do they need the Holy Spirit?  Jesus tells them.  “[The Holy Spirit] will guide you into all the truth….  He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14).

Jesus will soon make His disciples into Apostles, sending them to be the foundation of His Church.  Ephesians 2:20: The Apostles are the foundation of Christ’s Church with Jesus as the cornerstone.  For them to become the foundation, they need “the truth,” which the Holy Spirit will give to them.

The Father is the source of this truth.  The Son receives from the Father, who then gives to the Spirit.  The Spirit, in turn, gives to the Apostles.  Are you beginning to sense a pattern here?  What are the Apostles supposed to do with what they receive?  Hoard it?  No, they pass it on, as the foundation of the Church, to the Gentiles and the next generation.

Some of this passing on of the faith is to write down this truth.  Their words and teaching will become the New Testament.  What they write down will be reliable, for those words are a product of the Holy Spirit.  Earlier, Jesus told them (not you or me), “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you” (John 14:26).

So, what the Apostles receive from God the Father, through His Son, through His Spirit, the Church receives through the Apostles.  Some of this later becomes Scripture; some remained the spoken Word.  How do we know?  Scripture tells us.  2 Thessalonians 2:15, written to a congregation, reads: “stand firm and hold to the traditions we [the Apostle Paul and Pastors Timothy and Silas] passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

What the Apostles received, they taught and preached, as God gave them to do.  They are the foundation of the Church.  But what will happen after they die?  Implied in being a foundation is others receiving their mantle and carrying it forward.  We see this also taking place in Scripture.

In 1 Timothy and Titus, New-Testament books written to pastors, we find what those first-generation pastors are supposed to do.  Paul gives them the qualifications for a man to be a pastor (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9).  Why would he give the standards for someone to serve as a pastor to pastors, and not the congregation?

It’s because Paul also commands those pastors, not the congregation, to select qualified men to serve as pastors (1 Tim 5:22, Titus 1:5).  That is how the Holy Spirit worked to ensure the deposit of the truth passed from one generation to the next.

We find those words of Scripture to be strange to our ears, for they don’t reflect our practice.  True, but aren’t you here to receive the truth?  You should be.  Doesn’t God call me to preach the truth, revealed in Scripture?  Yes!  Even more, what we may want may not match up with what Jesus wants for us.

Jesus told His Apostles-to-be: “[The Holy Spirit] will guide you into all the truth….  He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14).  The truth, which the Apostles received, which the Holy Spirit handed to them from God the Father through Jesus, you are to receive.  You come to church for “the truth” of Jesus, or should come, which I am supposed to preach and teach.

Why does this even matter?  Did you catch the words “all the truth”?  Jesus considers the truth He passes on to the Holy Spirit as something intact, a package, not to be compromised or corrupted: THE truth.  “THE truth” must matter in some way, even if we don’t understand how.  Jesus allows no Gospel reductionism: as long as they believe in Jesus…  Jesus doesn’t want us to live the faith in such a way.

What does Jesus say?  What did He command of His Apostles, where He also commanded baptism?  He told them “to teach them all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  Not some, but all—the “all” is what you are to receive.  You should expect, even demand, as much.  The “all” of Jesus is to have its way with you, changing you, inside and out.  Jesus gives no one authority to change His “all.”

The Apostle Paul commanded Pastor Timothy: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound words, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Guard, through the Holy Spirit, who lives in us, the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).  In the Holy Spirit, Paul commanded Timothy to guard the deposit of the faith, which Paul passed on to him.  Earlier, Paul commanded Pastor Timothy to “guard what [God has] entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20).

What Paul commands is important, for the deposit of the faith delivers Jesus.  Jesus gave the deposit to the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, in turn, gave it to the Apostles.  The Apostles entrusted it to the first pastors of the Church.  Those pastors, in turn, selected qualified men, whom they appointed to preach and teach the deposit of the faith.  Jesus set up His Church that way through the Spirit He sent them.

Today, when you come to Church, you are to receive the deposit of the faith.  For in that, the Holy Spirit is at work, pointing you to Jesus (John 16:14).  Jude, a pastor of the Church, wrote these words to a congregation: “contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints, once, for all” (Jude 1:3).  Contend, demand, expect; such strong words, but for good reason.  Why?  The deposit of the faith is the reason.

What is the deposit of the faith?  What does Jude write?  “The faith… delivered to the saints, once, for all.”  The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles the deposit of the faith, once, for all, for everyone.  Contend and accept nothing less than what the Spirit passed on to the Apostles from Jesus.

We hold Scripture in high regard.  We even use an expression, “Scripture alone.”  Then sin comes along, and we even disown our Lutheran saying about Scripture.  For when we find something in the Bible that we’re not used to or don’t like, we figure out a way to explain it away, making ourselves the judge over God’s Word.

Scripture calls that idolatry.  To combat such a self-created understanding of Jesus and the faith, Jesus created His Church.  He set up His Church to be the place where you receive “THE truth,” which may or may not match up with what you are used to or even want.  Against such a backdrop, Scripture calls “the Church of the living God [as] the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Listen to those words of Scripture again.  “The Church of the living God [is] the pillar and foundation of the truth.”  You can read it in 1 Timothy 3:15.  How ironic for Scripture to call the Church, not Scripture, “the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Scripture calls the Apostles the foundation of the Church.  Scripture also calls the Church the pillar and foundation of the truth.  What’s the connection?  The Apostles and what Jesus gave to them through the Holy Spirit.  Where Apostolic doctrine enters your ears, there you receive Jesus for life and salvation.

Our Lutheran Confessions answer the question of where you can find the Church.  “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is preached in its purity, and the Sacraments are correctly administered” (AC VII 1).  The Gospel taught in its purity is the Apostolic doctrine.  Apostolic doctrine will lead to the correct understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper.

All this matters because you receive Jesus where the Church is still the pillar and foundation of the truth.  And where you receive Jesus with His forgiveness of sins, you receive life and salvation, ever anew, once more.  What’s more important than that?

Receiving the real Jesus, you receive real forgiveness and salvation.  Jesus founded His Church to guard the deposit of the faith for you into eternity.  In Christ, all is yours. So, come to receive Him still.  In Him, all eternity is yours.  Amen.