5-12-24 Exaudi (Confirmation)

Bible Text: John 15:26-16:4 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus

Dear friends in Christ, especially you confirmands, beloved of God, baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, heirs of eternal life, Zander, Zaylin, Daphne, Chase, Austin, Connor, Sophia, Newman, and Piper, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The devil wants to make you into a coward. He tempts you with the quick and easy road. He is a coward and his children are cowards. Jesus wants to make you into true men and women, courageous, fighters for the truth, worshippers of the true God. Jesus speaks to the courageous and he compels them to do courageous things. It seems a strange thing for Jesus to encourage his disciples by telling them how bad things are going to be. “You’ll be kicked out of the synagogues, people will hate you, they’ll think they’re serving God by killing you.” Isn’t this the way to discourage Christians, to terrify the disciples? Is this what you want to hear from your Savior, “if you follow Me, things will be outrageously hard, people aren’t going to like you, and they might just kill you. You’ll have to bear a cross,” and don’t forget that a cross is a torture device. Does that excite you for life? Don’t you want to hear Jesus say happier things?

But no. There are happier things Jesus will say. But not a word from Jesus is discouraging. Not a word, and especially not these words. The good general tells his soldiers how fierce the enemy is, how many they are, how difficult the fight will be. Why? To discourage them? To scare them? No, to fire them for the fight, to stir up in them the courage needed to win. When Caleb and Joshua saw how the men in the promised land were like giants, they were excited for the fight. The cowards took their eyes off of God and His power and His promise to fight for them, and they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. The Lord Jesus fires us for the good fight of faith. Yes, your enemies are strong, the temptations to run away are fierce, they hate you, they want you dead, but you are stronger, you have truth and justice and God Himself on your side, and in Me you cannot fail.

So Jesus speaks courage to the courageous. They will put you out of the synagogues. That means they’ll close down churches to you. Will this be the truth for you? Is this what is coming on the next generation of Christians in America? That the powers of this world, of this country, will put you out of the church? It was for Jesus’ disciples. They kicked them out of the synagogues – read the book of Acts, St. Paul gets kicked out of more synagogues than you can count, in city after city, and the Jewish leaders end up stirring up all Jerusalem to demand Paul’s blood, “Away from the earth with such a man.” Is this what awaits Christians in America?

People are obsessed with this question. And I’ve heard our young people actually scared, sincerely worried, because they think America is suddenly going to fall and there will be open persecution of the Christian Church.

So let me answer this first. It doesn’t matter very much. It’s nothing you have to worry about. What matters far more is whether you care about being a Christian. Whether going to church, hearing the word of Jesus the crucified, eating His body and drinking His blood, receiving forgiveness from your Creator, being a Christian, staying faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, is the most important thing in your life. Because if it is – and you will soon be swearing that it is – it doesn’t matter what “they” do to you, what laws they make against you, whether America becomes more friendly to Christianity or less. Because this won’t be taken from you. No one can take it from you. You are in the strong grip of the Lord of the Universe who purchased you with His own life. They put them out of the synagogues, but then they had church in their homes. They put some of them to death, but they live forever. The world hated them, but all the faithful love one another in Christ who loves us. He who seeks finds, to him who knocks, the door is opened. There is no taking Christ away from the Christian who loves Him more than life itself. Even death now cannot part from its Lord the trusting heart.

I’ve heard older Christians say that they sure are glad they grew up when they did and not now when the world is becoming less and less Christian, more and more hostile to the Christian faith. But there is nothing new under the sun. When Jesus said, The world will hate you because they don’t know the Father nor Me, He was talking about the unbelieving world of all times. That’s a constant.

So, to young and old, the government won’t make anyone stop worshipping Jesus. They can’t. It’s literally impossible. You learn to sing it, learn to believe it and mean it. “And take they our life, goods fame, child and wife, though these all be gone, they still have nothing won. The Kingdom ours remaineth.” Add a church building to the list. “And take they our church building.” “And make they laws against us.” No physical force can put an end to Christ and His Church and the faith in your heart, which is more precious than all the treasures of this world. You can put a gun to my head and tell me to deny the Lord, but there is no force on earth that can make my tongue say it or my heart deny Him. The power of the Holy Spirit is greater than all the powers of this world.

So there’s excitement ahead. There isn’t, “I think I was born in the wrong century.” Nonsense, God placed you here and now, and you are exactly where you belong, and it is the Father who supplies for Christ’s sake the Spirit who gives you more than enough strength and wisdom to conquer in the good fight of faith.

What makes people stop worshipping the Lord Jesus is not in the end external force. It is the cowardice that puts the things that pass away above the things that are eternal. Look at Stephen, the first of the Christian martyrs to fulfill the words of Jesus, “He who kills you will think he is doing God a favor.” They applied all the force they could. They kicked him out of the synagogue and when that wasn’t enough they stoned him. And he won. He confessed Christ to the end. He died praying for his enemies, that God would forgive them. He saw the Lord Jesus standing up at the right hand of the Father to welcome him into heaven. He conquered. All those who lived then are dead. All those who stoned him, all those who persecuted the Christians. But Stephen lives and every Christian lives forever, and you can apply that to every age and time, where is Nero, where is Diocletian, where will the current rulers be? But those who have Christ have eternal life with the Holy Trinity forever and ever.

It is very unlikely that the government will apply much of any force to shut down churches in any of our lifetimes. They won’t be like the Jewish leaders and stone the leaders of Christianity. Look what happened during Covid. The government shut down some churches, for a time, but here in Wyoming if you wanted to stay open you stayed open. For the most part churches closed, because people valued their body and the stuff it can enjoy more than the communion of saints and the life everlasting. That’s what they take comfort in day after day – stuff. This is the false god Jesus constantly warns against – not the government and what it might do to you; but Mammon, Money, all the stuff we worship instead of the God who made the stuff and gave it to us.

So the warning to the next generation is not “they will kick you out of your churches and take your churches away.” They might, but then just go underground and have church in people’s homes. The real warning is the one that applies to every generation. Don’t you kick yourself out. Don’t you play the coward and give up eternal life because the devil tempts you with the quick and easy road. The devil is the fake comforter. Sleep in, work on Sunday to get more money, take every weekend to camp or hunt or fish, don’t use the tiny bit of self-control it takes to say prayers to God daily, don’t use the tiny bit more self-control it takes to read the Bible. God won’t care, get your pleasure now because life is short. And then the fake comforter leaves you with a bad conscience, depressed, anxious, not knowing what life is for. Because you weren’t made to live life as cowards who only think about the pleasure of their bodies.

So Jesus promises and gives the true Comforter. He is the Spirit of Truth, God Himself, the Holy Spirit. He bears witness to the truth. That’s how He comforts. This is how He gives courage to His children. He tells you the truth. The truth is you have a God in heaven who created you for eternal life. The truth is that your greed, your lust, your grudges, your refusal to forgive, your disrespect to parents and other authorities, your laziness, your doubt of God and His goodness, your pursuit of quick pleasures and false comforts, your cowardice, this will never give you happiness, it will only separate you from the God who made you, make you run away from the true joy that is found only in Him. But God loves you. That’s the truth. For His own sake, because He is love, He loves you. The Father sent His Son to become your Brother, to be a man and live as a man, just like you, but without sin, with only righteousness and perfect love and courage. The truth is that He has bought you back to God, has paid the price of God’s life for your life, took all you deserved in His own suffering on the cross, and won you the right to be children of God, heirs of everlasting life. That’s the truth. And this right to be children of God, the Holy Spirit gave you in your Baptism, united you to Christ Jesus your Savior, so that you died with Him and rose with Him and now God declares you righteous, forgiven, free from all sin, His own child, and an heir of eternal life.

Here is where true courage is found. Anything life throws at you, you can handle because you know this truth, hear it every Sunday, eat and drink it in the body and blood of your Savior.

God will give you many joys, many comforts, many sunny days and good friends and warm hugs from family and good meals and awesome scenes, and when you know the truth that He gives them to you for Christ’s sake, you can enjoy them truly and bravely without making them your god.

And God will give you crosses. You will get sick, you will have pain, many people will dislike you because you’re a Christian, you will have to say no to what looks like pleasure, and yes to what looks like pain, you will have to say God’s will be done when death comes to those you love, and you will feel weak and the devil will tempt you to be cowards with the world.

And you will see, over and over again, you will see that your strength comes from the truth. You will look inside yourself and see all manner of weakness and cowardice, but the Holy Spirit will point you outside yourself to Jesus Christ your Savior, to the truth that God is now your Brother, that He will not leave you, that He fights for you with hosts of angels, that what awaits you is to see His face, that He will work everything to good and it will be a wonder to see it, some on this earth and some in the time to come. The truth of the wounds on His hands and in His side witness to the fact, His triumphant cry, It is finished, the words of His resurrection, peace to you, these witness to the truth that He is with you always even to the end of the age.

So be excited about the life ahead of you. It is a beautiful life, being a Christian. Your God will remain faithful to you. He has proved it. He will forgive you every sin, strengthen you in every trial, shower you with gifts, and in the end give you everlasting life. Be faithful, be courageous, love the Lord who bought you, and you will receive the crown of life that will never fade away. Amen.

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