If the task and responsibility of a Christian is to hear and learn the Word of God—not some or part but the full counsel thereof—then some days and chapters and verses will be more difficult than others.
Here’s what I mean.
Thus says the Lord in today’s Old Testament lesson:
“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came…From all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezekiel 36:22, 25).
Generally, we’re taught that God is acting for our sake, for our benefit. So to hear that—in this chapter and verse—He is acting for the sake of His holy name, not for our sake—because we, His people, profaned His holy name, cursing and swearing—that should cause us to think at least a few deep thoughts.
Is God’s name hallowed among us?
Or—do we profane His name still?
Did He—Does He—Will He—ever do the same again?
Act not for our sake—but to vindicate the holiness of His great name?
Some chapters and verses, like this, are more difficult for us to hear—because of the rebuke.
St. Peter writes in today’s Epistle lesson:
“The end of all things is at hand…Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:7, 12-13).
The sufferings of Christ are no one’s wishlist items.
Who wants to suffer hatred while confessing the truth?
Who wants to be hated by basically everyone because you have a different idea of who God is and what He’s doing?
But the way St. Peter writes, such suffering is not only possible but eventual for us.
He says, “Don’t be surprised by the fiery trial.”
And that’s difficult to hear, too.
As is what Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson:
“They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).
That hour is coming for all Christians.
And—for some—that hour is here.
We just don’t like to admit it.
If the task and responsibility of the Christian is to hear and learn the Word of God—and it is—then some days and chapters and verses will be more difficult than others.
Here’s what I mean.
Thus far, I’ve selectively quoted from the lessons appointed for today.
Old Testament lesson, Epistle, and Gospel—they’re full of warnings and what we might easily consider to be bad news.
But—thus also says the Lord in today’s Old Testament lesson:
“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you…And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27-28).
Doesn’t that sound better?
Don’t we like the conclusion a lot better than the action before it?
St. Peter concludes today’s Epistle lesson this way: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).
Who doesn’t want to be blessed by God?
Yeah, yeah, he talks about being insulted, but the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us.
Finally—some good news.
And in today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness” (John 15:26-27).
Every Christian will get to bear witness about Christ, will get to take what the Holy Spirit has delivered and share it with another.
We get to be the instruments God uses to bring people into the faith.
There’s nothing better—nothing more important—nothing nicer than that.
But if the task and responsibility of the Christian is to hear and learn the Word of God, the difficulty is hearing both warning and promise, rebuke and responsibility, and learning to rejoice in the Word of the Living God—who says both.
The proper work of God is to help, save, and comfort.
Not because of who you are but because of who He is.
“The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, because he is love. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, because he always speaks the truth. These two things, truth and love, sustain us Christians throughout our lives” (Rev. Andrew Preus).
Thus says the Lord in today’s Old Testament lesson: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that [the Lord] is about to act, but for the sake of [His] holy name, which [we] have profaned among the nations…And the nations will know that I am the Lord…when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (cf. Ezekiel 36:22, 23-25).
The Lord your God is not content to leave the world to unbelief—but convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness, judgment—that His name would be kept holy among us—that all who call on the name of the Lord would be saved—that through the seeming folly of what we preach, God’s holiness, and goodness, and lovingkindness, would be vindicated before their eyes.
That is to say, He will create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. He will sprinkle us with clean water and put His Spirit within us, and cause us to walk in His statutes, and be careful to obey His rules.
He will call us out of darkness and into His marvelous light to be His peculiar people.
And He will be our God.
That’s the full counsel of God for today’s Old Testament lesson.
Well, a summary of the full counsel of God.
But do you see?
“To lecture about sins without mentioning threats is not to teach the Law but to abolish it” (Martin Chemnitz).
And to preach or to know the warning of God apart from the comfort He provides, is to be without the blessing God bestows on all who believe.
St. Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).
The Lord your God doesn’t abandon you to fiery trials. Rather, you are blessed: the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
But no one has the Spirit of God and is not tested.
St. Peter also writes: “[And] in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
That’s the full counsel of God for today’s Epistle lesson.
Or, a summary.
Do you see it?
Nothing strange is going on when you share in Christ’s sufferings or are insulted for the name of Christ.
That is as it is and as it should be for all those redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified—
Who says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).
This is specifically about the Apostles, the first pastors of the church, who were literally with Jesus from the beginning.
But this is also, generally, how the Holy Spirit works.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets and the Apostles.
And, thus speaking, bears witness about Jesus.
And you also will bear witness, because you have received the Light of the World.
No one who has received the Light hides it under a basket—but rather places it at the entrance of His home so that all who enter there may see—and hear, and believe, and be saved by—the Light of the World.
This is the full counsel of God:
Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (John 16:1-4).
We aren’t surprised at the fiery trial, when it comes upon us.
Nor are we offended that God would act to vindicate His name.
Rather, we rejoice in the full counsel of God.
Who cleanses us of our idols.
Gives us His Holy Spirit.
Blesses us, who call upon His name.
And keeps us from falling away.
Let all the worlds give answer: Amen! So let it be.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Exaudi (Easter 7), 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt