Today Christ promises the disciples and us that He will send the Holy Spirit, called the Comforter. Although the word translated, “Helper” in the Gospel can be translated a number of ways, today this sermon focuses on the aspect of the Spirit’s work that He is the Comforter.
Church father Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, “He is called the Comforter because He comforts and encourages us and helps our infirmities. We do not know what we should pray for as we should, but the Spirit makes intercession for us, with groanings that cannot be uttered, that is, He makes intercession to God. Very often, someone has been outraged and dishonored unjustly for the sake of Christ. Martyrdom is at hand; tortures on every side, and fire, and sword, and savage beasts and the pit. But the Holy Spirit softly whispers to him, ‘Wait on the Lord.’ What is now happening to you is a small matter; the reward will be great. Suffer a little while, and you will be with angels forever. ‘The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed in us.’ He portrays to the person the kingdom of heaven. He gives him a glimpse of the paradise of delight.”
Here is how we often want the Comforter to give His comfort: When we feel sad, discouraged, depressed, then He waves a magic wand and the bad feelings disappear. Poof! That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But that is not how the Spirit works.
The Spirit works in and with the Word. He speaks the comfort of Christ. That is how He brings the medicine that soothes our souls.
The problem is, this is not automatic and fast like a magic wand. Sometimes we hear the Gospel, and our emotions still do not respond. This does not necessarily mean that we have lost faith. It simply means that our stubborn feelings sometimes follow the sorrows and fears of the flesh rather than the hope and certainty of the Spirit.
The Spirit often turns our hearts to prayer. When we pray for help in our distress, sometimes we do not even know what specifically to pray for. Does God want me to get better from the ailment that afflicts me? Or does He want me to continue to suffer, perhaps to build character or stronger faith? Does He want me to seek help from others? Does He want me to suffer in silence? In such moments of uncertainty, we may only be able to pray, “Lord, have mercy. Help me according to Your will.”
In times like this, when our spirit groans inside us, God’s Spirit helps us. He is our Comforter even then. When we remember that He understands, He sees, and He is loving toward us, then we know that we are in the best hands. We are safe, and we will be delivered from what troubles us.
The Spirit points us away from our troubles to the Cross. He says, “Look there. That is your dear Lord dying for you. You know that He suffered for your sake, and He rose again for you. He has freed you from sin, death, and hell. He will set you free from all the trials of this life.”
How much we need this comfort! Our human spirits are frail and weak. We stumble easily. We suffer much, and are saddened by much. The Lord who knows this and sees us therefore has sent His Spirit so that we do not suffer alone. We have comfort close at hand at all times.
Particularly in the context of the Gospel today, the Spirit comforts us when we suffer for our confession of Christ. Christ says to the disciples, “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” This is a hard word. It is somewhat easier to suffer when the unbelieving world rejects us. But sometimes people who claim to be believers reject us and call us faithless and Christless and dead. This stings badly. They should be our brothers in Christ, yet they push us away as cold and empty and Spiritless.
Persecution of any kind is bad enough. We have not yet gone as far as the disciples went, to actually shed our blood for the Gospel. Perhaps that time will come. We still suffer little stings and darts and arrows of hate for our faith. Even these hurt.
Then the Spirit says to us, “It will not be forever.” He says, “The glory of heaven and resurrection await you, the home of righteousness.” He says, “Your Lord also suffered. When you feel pain for the sake of Him and His Gospel, then you are living in His image. Your are living a life like His.”
This is not the magic wand. Our sorrows do not ordinarily disappear instantly. But it still helps to be patient when friends or family disparage us because of our stand upon the Word of God. It helps to know that we are not abandoned by God in our moments of pain. No, the Spirit is ever with us, as also Christ and the Father are with us. “I shall send you the Comforter,” says Christ, and again He says, “Lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Our sinful flesh wants to disbelieve these promises when we suffer trouble or persecution. But the Spirit speaks through His Word to say, “Hold on a little longer. Trust. You are loved forever, and you will live in eternal comfort.”
But if we avoid or throw away the Word through which He comforts, then we throw away His comfort with it.
Often our afflictions, even when they are small, bother us terribly. As a tiny splinter can hurt very badly in spite of its small size, so we can suffer greatly in our soul even over relatively small things. The devil wants every little wound to be irritated and infected. Sometimes what gets to us the most is not outright persecution and being thrown to the lions. Instead, we may be bothered by a multitude of bites and stings that drain our strength and the cheerfulness that should belong to believers. We may suffer the loss of our Christian joy because of our struggles.
To this, also, the Spirit applies His comfort. He turns our eyes away from our sufferings toward Christ. Not only is Christ our joy, but it also helps us to stop obsessing over our own feelings of hurt. The hurt is real, the hurt is significant, yet still it is not helpful to obsess over it. So the Spirit says, “This is not all you are. Look to the Empty Tomb. All troubles, from the smallest to the greatest, will be removed in time. Remember who you are. Remember that you are more than triumphant. In Christ, you are already immortal. Listen to My Word, and cling to your Savior. He is everything, and will deliver you from everything that may hurt you. He has already accomplished the victory, and it will only take a little while for Him to complete all things for you. Wait for the Lord.”
The Spirit help us heed His voice in His Word, through which He comforts, and help us never turn away from that Word.
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