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Homily for Easter 7 (Sunday, May 12, 2024)

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Dearly beloved, today’s Gospel once again comes from our Lord Jesus’s sermon in the upper room just after He gave them the very first Lord’s Supper (John 15:26–16:4). In the first part of our text, Jesus once again speaks of the Helper, the Holy Spirit that He will pour out on the Apostles at Pentecost. This “Spirit of Truth” (15:26) will give witness concerning Jesus, for that is His job, He speaks of Him who is the Truth (John 14:6). And, because He will be poured out on the Apostles they also will give witness concerning the truth of Jesus Christ (15:27).

Here, Jesus teaches us once again that the Holy Spirit is chiefly concerning with teaching us to believe and to trust in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. This is also the chief job of the Church’s ministers and pastors: to give witness concerning Jesus Christ. Yet, the Holy Spirit is also given to each believer in Holy Baptism, and Christians are also called to give good witness concerning Jesus within their daily vocations. This witness not only includes speaking, but also actions.

Fathers and Mothers are called to give witness to their children and teach them about Jesus Christ, raising them in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Children are to obey and honor their parents, giving witness to the perfect filial obedience of Jesus to His own Father (Ephesians 6:1–3). Husbands are to give witness of Christ’s love for the Church by laying down their lives for their wives and treating them as their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25–29). Wives are called to be a picture of the Church who receives the love of Christ, submitting to their husbands even as the Church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22–24). Employers and bosses are to deal kindly to their employees, giving witness to the Lord’s own mercy and patience toward His servants (Ephesians 6:9). Employees are to serve their employers as they would the Lord, becoming living icons of Christ who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Ephesians 6:5–8; Matthew 20:28).

Yet, beside the witness that we are to give in our daily vocations, there is also a general witness that belongs to all Christians: to confess the name of Jesus before all men (Matthew 10:32). Each Christian is called to be a witness to the truth and to speak the truth to their neighbors in love. This means speaking both the Law and the Gospel. We are to give witness to the goodness of God’s Law in our actions and in our words. We are to teach what is good and what is evil by the way we live, by avoiding sinful behaviors and embracing holy living. We are not to hide our faith and be afraid of the world, as if candle should be placed under a bushel, but rather we are to let our light shine before men so that they would see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14–16).

Yet, Jesus teaches us this morning that our witness will have consequences. For whenever truth is spoken, it always divides. For when Christians speak the truth in love, there will necessarily come division and persecution. One cannot be a witness without suffering as a martyr.1 This is true in all walks of life. Christians who speak up on behalf of the truth suffer, whether it be in their families, their communities, or their jobs.

Christians who live in the midst of unbelieving families are keenly aware of this. Where they remain faithful and simply stick with Holy Scripture and refuse to depart from it, they are often hated or excluded from family gatherings. Unbelieving family members who were once kind and friendly become harsh and hostile. Yet, Jesus tells us that this is normal. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34–36).

The early Christian Church was keenly aware of this more than we will ever be. For them to be Christians meant that they often had to leave behind unbelieving families and be excluded from family gatherings. They were shamed by those who did not believe in Jesus Christ and ridiculed for their faith. Often, they were not welcome at tables and dinners which they would have enjoyed before becoming Christians.

They also suffered in the greater community outside of their family. Although they would have enjoyed gathering with the rest of the community at the synagogue, they would have been excommunicated and excluded because they believed that the Old Testament Scriptures were fulfilled in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus foretold this in our Gospel reading, so that they would not stumble or lose heart (John 16:1–2).

In fact, Jesus even promised them that things would be so bad and evil that one day men will think that it is righteousness to persecute Christians, and even worse, that they would think they were doing God a service by killing the saints (John 16:2). Here we might think of saints in the early Church who were killed by the Jews, such as St. Stephen, who was stoned to death for preaching the fulfillment of Scripture in Jesus Christ (Acts 7); or perhaps St. James the Lesser, who was killed by the scribes and Pharisees, who threw him down from the temple, stoned him, and bludgeoned him to death. In fact, we should simply consider the life of the Apostles themselves, who were all martyred for their faith except St. John.

Persecution is normal for the Christian, for we live under the cross. We take up our cross daily and follow after Jesus. Sometimes this suffering can be words and insults. Sometimes this means exclusion from family dinners. Sometimes it means loss of friends. Sometimes it might mean loss of job.

Yet Jesus tells us why these things happen. It is not because there is anything wrong with what we are doing. It is not because we are doing things in the wrong way or because we are not speaking the truth sensitively enough. People persecute Christians because they do not share the same faith as them and they cannot stand to hear the truth. This is what Jesus says. “They will do these things because they do not know the Father nor Me” (John 16:3).

So when these things happen, you should step back and realize a few things. First, it is normal to suffer for the sake of Christ. This is what Jesus has promised. If you are suffering it does not mean that Jesus has abandoned you. It does not mean something has gone wrong. So long as you are being faithful, if you are suffering, it is simply because your life is bound to Christ. He bore the cross and so we do as well.

But second, if you are persecuted or hated because of your faith, then you should realize it’s not really about you. It’s about Jesus. When you as a believer bring your Light into the midst of unbelievers, you are bringing Christ into the midst of sinners. Although we would love for all sinners to repent, this is unrealistic. The Gospel is always met with hostility. People who live and walk in darkness prefer darkness to the light. They persecute Christians because they love darkness more than light and they love their sins more than righteousness. This is what St. John says at the beginning of His Gospel, “The Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

Likewise, when you as a Christian walk into a hostile room, you are not merely struggling with flesh and blood. You are bringing Christ and His angels into the midst of enemy territory. You are bringing Jesus’s Light into the realm of darkness, into the domain of Satan and his wicked angels (Ephesians 6:12). Satan does not want to lose. Satan does not want to give up his prey. So you should also expect resistance from him.

Yet, in the midst of all these persecutions and sufferings, we do not have to lose heart. Jesus does not want us stumble. Rather, He tells us all of these things beforehand so that we expect them as thought they were normal. We do not have to panic as if something abnormal has happened to us, as if Jesus has abandoned us. Rather, we have just to remain faithful where we are and place our trust in Christ.

For Christ has purchased us with His own blood. We belong to Him, not to the world. The world has no claim on us. They may be able to harm our bodies, but they cannot harm our souls. So, dear Christians, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Do not fear those who can insult you here on earth but who cannot take away your honor in heaven. Do not be afraid of those who can exclude you and persecute you on earth, but who cannot take away your citizenship in heaven. Do not be anxious about the loss of anything in this life, for whatever you might lose, God is more than capable of restoring double to you in the life to come.

Remember the life of former saints like St. Job, who, even though he had done no wrong, lost everything. He lost reputation. He lost friends. He lost all his property. He lost his family. Yet, in the end, God restored all these things to him. So also, you dear Christian, place your faith in the Lord and wait upon him. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever (Matthew 24:35).

The world as we know it is dying. It is coming to its end. Things will not go on like this forever. And while the world is dying and will perish in its unbelief, you will certainly not die forever. For your life is bound to Christ. You were baptized into His death and resurrection. Where your Savior is, there you shall be as well. As surely as your own flesh and blood is now in heaven before the Father, so will you be raised from the dead in an incorruptible body to see the living God.

So do not be afraid to take up the cross. Do not be afraid to speak. Be bold. Be courageous. Make the good witness of faith. Let your light shine before men. For you already have the victory in Christ Jesus. He did not just bear the cross, but now, Christ is risen.

So, dearly beloved, may this word of Christ strengthen you: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12). “In the world you will have tribulation; but be courageous,2 I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

In the name of  Jesus. Amen.

  1. In Greek, the word for “witness” and “martyr” are the same (μάρτυς). ↩︎
  2. The NKJV translation, “be of good cheer,” is a poor translation. The word here is θαρσεῖτε, which means “be courageous, take courage.” ↩︎