A sermon based on John 16:12-15
Sunday, May 22, 2016 - Trinity Sunday C
I'm sure you're familiar with scene from the 1992 movie classic, A Few Good Men, where Lieutenant Kaffee, a Navy lawyer played by Tom Cruise, questions Colonel Nathan Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson) on the stand. Jessep challenges, "You want answers?" Kaffee replies, "I think I'm entitled to them." Jessep repeats, "You want answers?" to which Kaffee shouts, "I want the truth!" And then, Colonel Nathan Jessep responds with one of the best known and most parodied lines in recent film: "You can't handle the truth!"
On the night before his death, perhaps on his way to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told his disciples something similar, "You can't handle the truth... at least, not yet." But he promised that he would send his Spirit to them soon to make the truths that they could not know on their own, clear... so they could handle the truth.
Likewise, it is true that "You can't handle the truth!" Not all of it. Not right now. And neither can I. But God the Father sends his Holy Spirit to reveal the Son to us. The Triune God enables us to handle the truth, at least all we need to handle to obtain eternal life with him.
Listen now to Jesus' promise that his disciples (both then and now) could handle the truth by his grace. This promise is recorded for us in John 16:12-15…
12"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
I. You Can't Handle the Truth... On Your Own
Imagine how the disciples must have felt that night. In an act of deep humility Jesus gets down and washes his disciples feet, later, at the Passover celebration he institutes a new sacrament giving them not the body of the lamb, but his body, not just a cup of wine, but his blood. Then he speaks to them of his departure—that is, his death—telling them that they cannot come where he is going. And when they're already plenty confused, and full of questions, Jesus tells them, "Though "I have much more to say to you," I can't tell you any more, because all that I have to say is, "more than you can now bear." In other words, "You can't handle the truth!"
Friends, the same is often true of us. The truth is that we can't handle the truth. We can't handle every truth of God and fit it inside our heads. How God could be three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in one God, where the persons of God cannot ever be separated or mixed, defies human logic. How Jesus could be 100% God and at the same time 100% man, not 50% of each, nor a 200% hybrid, but fully God and at the same time fully human, is beyond our understanding. That in, with, and under the bread and wine that we see, smell, and taste in the Lord's Supper is the very body and blood of Jesus, goes against human wisdom. And the very heart and core of the Christian faith, that Jesus Christ, true, immortal God, who cannot die, died on a cross in our place… well, it seems to defy reason itself.
You want answers? You want answers? You want the truth? Well, you can't handle the truth! But make no mistake. That doesn't mean these things are not true. It just means that we cannot handle those truths as God himself said in 1 Corinthians 1:25: "the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom."
Try explaining how to fill out a federal tax form to a 4 year old. It's not that it's impossible to understand the tax code. (I hear there are some accountants who actually do understand it.) It's just that the concepts go waaaaay over the kid's head. No matter how you explain it, that 4 year-old is simply not capable of understanding the concepts. LIkewise, the truths of God are not ir-rational, that is, they make no sense. Rather, they are supra-rational. They make sense to God (somehow), they just go waaaaay over my head. I can't get them.
But these supra-rational truths aren't the only truths I don't get. You see, I can't handle the truth of my sinful condition either... not on my own. It is more than I can bear. On my own, I can't handle the truth, not because it defies my logic or understanding, but because I am by nature spiritually dead and hostile to God. I choose not to believe it.
In his rant from the witness stand, Colonel Jessep tried to justify his command that resulted in a man's death. He told Lieutenant Kaffee, "You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives... You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall."
Jessep argued that Kaffee couldn't handle the truth, not because it went over his head, but because he didn't really want the truth. In a similar way, we don't want to hear the truth of our sin. We don't want to hear that we are dead, blind, and lost in our spiritual condition before God. We don't want to hear that we are incapable of change. And so, on our own, we can't handle the truth.
But God lovingly reveals it to us. He makes us face the truth of who we are by nature. But he does this so we might confess to him and turn to him for help. Because he knows that on our own, we can never discover the truth of his solution. We cannot sit in a corner and meditate, or search the earth to find that truth. But God -- the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- remedies that situation. He gives us the truth. And he enables us to handle the truth for our salvation...
II. You Can Handle the Truth... By God's Grace
Jesus didn't end his dialog with the disciples with, "[What] I have... to say to you [is] more than you can now bear." but continued... "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you."
If I walk into the unoccupied house of a man I've never met, I might learn a few things about him. I might learn his decorating preferences, and what he likes to eat, I might learn about his sense of style, about the meds he takes, or even something of his profession or his family. But I cannot know his thoughts, his feelings, his attitudes. But if I should find that man's diary, where he's recorded his thoughts, his ambitions, his feelings, well, then I'd get a glimpse into his soul.
Likewise, by observing his creation alone, no one can know the heart of God. But that doesn't mean we can't know the heart of God. For God reveals his heart and his attitude toward us, not in a diary, but by his Holy Spirit, through the Word.
Did you hear the progression in Jesus' promise? "All that belongs to the Father is mine." God gave all truth to Jesus. Jesus in turn gave all truth to the Spirit. Jesus said, "The Spirit of truth... will speak only what he hears, and he will... [take] from what is mine..." And in turn, the Spirit gives that truth to you and to me. "He will guide you into all truth... he will tell you what is yet to come... making [what is mine] known to you. " This [holding the Bible] is God's "diary" where he makes his heart known to you.
This is what we confess in Martin Luther's explanation to the third article of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts..." God the Father has sent his Holy Spirit to reveal the person and the work of the Son. When we could not handle the truth, or even know it, God made it known.
You know what Jesus has done for you: How he lived a perfect life in your place, never committing any sin or doing anything wrong. You know how he took your sin, your imperfections, your mistakes all on himself. You know how he took your punishment on himself on the cross and how he gave his perfection to you.
You know God's heart. You know God's great love for you, clearly revealed in Jesus, by the Holy Spirit! And by God's grace—the grace of the Triune God!—you and I can handle the truth!
And as we rest in the truth of what God has done for us in Christ and revealed to us by the Spirit, we can handle the rest, trusting even those truths we can't fully understand.
My boys still don't understand the tax code or know the difference between a 1040 and WD-40. (Let's face it, I don't get clergy tax law.) But I can also tell you that they don't care. They don't want to know what a 1040 or a W-2 or a Schedule A are. They're not worried about a visit from the IRS. They don't need to know about any of that stuff because they're confident that their dad will take care of all that stuff so they don't have to. And they know that because because they know their dad loves them.
Likewise, what God has revealed to us, we believe. We know he loves us—enough to die for us!—enough to suffer hell for us! And he's left plenty for us to study that we can understand. Let's concern ourselves with that. [Again, holding the Bible.] Let's diligently study what he has revealed right here. The rest, that we can't understand, need not concern us.
But rejoice in the truth, dear friends! You can handle the truth! For in love for you, God the Father has revealed through God the Holy Spirit what you need to know about God the Son and his sacrifice for you! So, keep handling the truth. Handle it every day. Don't worry about what you can't understand. But what God has revealed, that you can understand. So read it, learn it, study it, memorize it, and by it grow in your faith! For by God's grace, you can handle the truth! And that's a gift that we cannot take for granted! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen!