Jesus says something scary: “Now I am going.” Frightful. We know it confused the disciples, because they asked: “Where? Can we go?” Then: “If you go, I’ll go. I’ll die with you.”
Worse than “I’m going,” Jesus talks in past tenses. In John 16:4 he says, “I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.” Then in John 17, Jesus prays, “While I was with them.”
Jesus muddies things, though. He also says, “I’m still in the world,” or on Easter, “I haven’t yet returned to the Father.” Though he also says, “Don’t hold on to me.” Jesus views himself residing in some way station, some purgatory: not here, not there. “I’m going.” “I’m here.” “I haven’t returned.” “Don’t hold on.”
So much about God, Jesus, and the plan we can’t understand; this we can: waiting. We know what’s coming; we want it done. Over one hundred men and women recently went through this. They graduated and received calls as pastors and teachers from Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
When graduates receive calls someone doesn’t hand them an envelope. Our schools announce assignments in a Divine Service: lessons, hymns, preaching. I can testify: it’s a painful experience.
I came across something on Facebook that explains it well: a “Guide to a Call Service Sermon.” On one side it lists the preacher’s outline; on the other the candidates’ thoughts. The preacher talks about the excitement of getting a call. He preaches forgiveness through Christ. He talks about the joys and struggles of serving God’s people. What do future pastors and teachers think during the sermon? “Just tell me where I’m going.” “Just tell me where I’m going.” “Just tell me where I’m going.”
You haven’t been there, perhaps, but maybe it’s waiting for your assignment after completing boot camp. Or, as we celebrate the anniversary of D-Day, think of the soldiers in England boarding ships to sail across the channel. Fear coursed through their veins, yet a voice hammered, “Just get me on that beach!”
Waiting kills, so Jesus goes back and forth: “I’m here,” “I’m gone.” This confused the disciples, but not as much as, “I have to go for you to be happy”: “It is for your good that I am going away.”
Jesus isn’t being wishy-washy. He’s not even being Paul who doesn’t know if he wants to live or die, “Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two.” Jesus knows for sure and for certain what’s happening, how it will go, and why it must go that way. He’s just waiting. He’s almost, but not quite, that guy whose body is here but his mind is elsewhere. That limps, because Jesus never flags or fails. He never loses focus. That’s why he says, “I am telling you guys the truth, everything I’ve said tonight, everything about to happen, it’s good. Good for you.”
This saddens the disciples. They abhor Jesus leaving. They don’t get it. They ask, “Why? Where? When?” Peter comes forward and says, “I’ll die with you!” That’s why, as Jesus says, sorrow fills their hearts. Not for Jesus, but for themselves. “I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.”
The disciples hear, but don’t hear. Jesus always spoke this way. “I’m here for a specific job: suffering, dying, rising from the dead.” They hear, but don’t hear. “I’ve always talked this way; you’ve hardly listened.” It’s the “their hearts were hardened” of Mark 6. It’s Peter screaming “Never, Lord, this shall never happen to you.” Peter boasting: “I will lay down my life for you.” We don’t quite get what we say, what we claim or ask for.
We don’t always listening. Nor do we think of God and his Christ first. It’s us first. “Because I have said these things you are filled with grief.” We mourn the wrong things. We mourn the inconvenience to us. “Now what am I going to do? Don’t you see the work you’ve stuck me with, Lord? How can I carry the church with you gone?” Me, me, me. I, I, I. We can’t see how being without Jesus is good, because we put the burden on ourselves. “It’s up to me, now. I have to carry the load. Thanks, God!”
What presumption! What arrogance! What hubris! The moment we think that it’s about me the church falls and hell opens its jaws. In that moment you’ve forgotten your catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.” When Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus made sure to rain on any pride parade: “This was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven….On this rock I will build my church.”
On his own, Peter knew nothing. On our own, we know nothing. On his own, Peter couldn’t do anything to preserve the church. Neither can we. Only the Father made Peter know. Makes us know. Thus, the catechism: “The Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel.” Jesus: “I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
Jesus doesn’t just wait for his suffering, death, and resurrection. He waits for Pentecost and pouring out the Spirit. “He needs to come,” Jesus says. “I want him to come. I’m waiting for him to come. This is good for you: me leaving; him coming.”
Why? The Spirit coming means the Church of Christ has everything we need. When Jesus finishes what he became man to do, when he pours out his blood for your sins, when he lets death wrap its arms around him, when he rests in the tomb, only to rise again, Jesus accomplishes what the Father intended: sin paid for, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous. Jesus gained an immeasurable treasure with his holy, precious blood given in his innocent suffering and death. For you!
And the Spirit comes to give that to you, to the world! God pours out his Spirit as God promised through Joel and fulfilled on Pentecost. Here God gave birth to the New Testament Church. Here God reverses Babel: the many languages sin divided the world into get united in a message and faith that transcends nation and tongue: “Christ is risen! Repent! Believe! Be baptized for your forgiveness, you and your children, all who are far off! Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!”
And Jesus says he will send this Spirit to make sure we get it, that we believe: because we don’t always. We tend to think of our Triune God’s work as mostly touchy-feely. So many of the graphics on Facebook, the art you can buy, the books Christian stores sell give us a soft God. They whisper about how the Spirit will fill your heart and warm your chest and make you feel good, right, and full. You’ll just suddenly know things because the Spirit murmurs it into your ear and lays it on your heart. You’ll suddenly know the will of God for your life down to the last detail.
No. This is swallowing the Holy Spirit, tail feathers and all. This makes God in your image and likeness. What happens when your chest is cold, your heart empty, your mind blank? What haven’t you done right? You must not believe enough. You’ll fall. Instead, Jesus says the Spirit rebukes, convicts, and cross examines. He comes in fire and tornadic winds; a different kind of warming.
The Spirit convicts the world, Jesus says, about sin, about righteousness, about judgment. He tells us what sin really is: missing the mark, and specifically, rejecting Jesus as the root of all sins. This rejection doesn’t just happen in those free thinker signs we see around Sioux Falls touting the joys of thinking free so long as it isn’t about religion, and especially Christ. It’s not hearing Jesus at any point, putting your thoughts and feelings above him.
About righteousness too, he speaks. What is it really? It’s not our own, but Christ’s righteousness for us, him for me, and then his new radical demand that comes from his death and resurrection for us: “Love one another as I have loved you,” the compulsion that comes from seeing Jesus die for me and rise for me and now having the same attitude as Christ. This righteousness I have by the Spirit’s power! And am: living it, breathing it!
Then judgment. Notice who gets judged: the ruler of this world, Satan, who Paul calls “the god of this age.” Those two titles link us to him. He rules as a god in this world, and too often we follow. But he’s crushed, destroyed, fallen from heaven like lightning; crushed, destroyed and hurled down by Christ. It’s why Jesus appeared, to destroy him who holds the power of death, the devil. To disarm him. To remove him so that you can say to the devil and his sin, “You’re dead to me.”
This is good. Jesus lived and died and rose for you. For your forgiveness. For your life. And He sends this Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to tell you that over and over again. Not through imprecise feelings or impressions or warming of your chest, but by bathing you in the Baptism 3,000 received on Pentecost, feeding you with the meal of Christ’s body and blood that the first Christians ate just as we do this morning, reminding you of Jesus in the Word, just as the Spirit reminded the apostles as they wrote that Word, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing have life in his name.
Through faith in Jesus we wait too. We wait for him who left to come back. Like the D-Day soldiers, like Call Day candidates, we itch to say, “Just get it over with.” John actually encourages that when he ends Revelation saying: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Yet God’s quick and our quick aren’t the same. We wait. Earth is our purgatory. We know we don’t belong here. We belong there, in heaven, with Christ, because of Christ, “To die is gain!” Paul said.
We wait, but while we wait, we have the Spirit Jesus sends. The Spirit who tells us about Jesus, again and again and again, who reminds us what we’re waiting for, and why we get to wait for it. The Spirit who keeps us in the one true faith, who makes sure that in this Christian Church he daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers. Which I need – forgiveness, daily, fully – until the day when forgiveness ends, when what the Spirit promises happens: Jesus returns. And Jesus will not disappoint, because everyone who calls on him will be saved! Amen.