Ps. 98; Acts 10:34-48; 1 Jn. 5:1-8; Jn. 15:9-17
Testify, And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree (vv. 6b-8).
The Spirit, the water, and the blood testify that Jesus crucified and risen is Son of God and Son of Man, Christ and Judge. From ancient times (Gen. 1:2) we have heard about the Spirit; but who are the two other witnesses, “the water” and “the blood”?
Jesus declared he is “the Truth” (Jn. 14:6). Today St. John identifies the HS as well, “the Truth” for witness to Jesus. Along with the Spirit, Jesus’ work on the cross is personified as “the water” and “the blood”. On completing sin’s propitiation, Jesus handed over the Spirit to the Father (19:30) and releasing from his riven side “the water” and “the blood” into the earth (v. 34).
Jesus provides three truthful witnesses (cf. Deut. 19:15) of his all-sufficient sacrifice in our place before God and man. Their testimony speaks to the truth of Christian Baptism, that the church is united in Spirit, water, and blood into Jesus’ death and his rising to God.
Today’s Gospel concludes Jesus’ teaching as “True Vine” (Jn. 15:1). Jesus is God’s planted Seed into the earth (12:24) from which he has been taken, “second Adam”, Source, and “Tree of Life” in the church’s NT garden.
In Eden God instructed that the man might eat of any tree save one. Over against the forbidden fruit promising havoc and death, stood the Tree of Life. Adam with the woman was fashioned to proclaim the Tree’s Life Source in the creation.
Later Israel entered the Promised Land, a new garden for the people’s communion with God; Moses reprised God’s instruction to Adam: “See, I have set before you … life and good, death and evil. If you obey the instructions of the LORD … I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life …” (Deut. 30:15, 16a, 19b, c).
Today’ Gospel fast forwards: following Jesus’ institution of the Holy Supper’s eating, he explained to his Apostles in what they had just participated, saying “I Am the true vine”, that he is their Source for being fruit of God’s love and Life in a new garden, the Christian church.
Jesus continues to invite our participation for fruit, “Abide in my love. If you keep my instructions, you will abide in my love” (Jn. 15:9b, 10a); his instructions are not burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3). Jesus having born all our burdens at the cross, instructs us to partake of love’s fruit, the church’s Eucharistic meal; bread-Flesh and wine-Blood, the sum and substance of Jesus’ rule for our Life in the world. As we are “yoked” with Jesus (Mt. 11:18-30) by word and sacrament he bears our sins, cleanses, and sustains us in faith by the Spirit.
Baptism, following the Resurrection, from the beginning has been a stumbling block. St. John was overseer of congregations bleeding membership precisely over Baptism’s witness to Jesus’ work in our lives by Spirit, water, and blood. Jesus’ and the Spirit’s truth causes among many “sacramental offense”, first registered by Thomas, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, “… I will not believe” (Jn. 20:25).
Baptism is not a symbolic spiritualized washing; rather it is a palpable physical event into the flesh of Christ for real cleansing received with the Spirit’s gift of faith. Only when Thomas was baptized into Jesus’ wounds from which the water and the blood issued did he receive the Spirit’s witness for overcoming offense at the church’s sacramental real presence.
Some pastors and congregations obsess over member numbers; but numbers or the lack are not material. Many under the pastorate of Apostle-Elder John rejected Jesus to whom the Three witnesses testify, absenting themselves from the body of Christ for heretical associations, for “another Jesus, different spirit and gospel” (cf. 2 Cor. 11:4).
For St. John the horror of loss was that those baptized into the family of God so easily abandoned their fellowship and witness in Christ’s flesh and blood. Again, Jesus exhorts we, “Abide” in his love by keeping his instructions.
There is not one of us who hasn’t experienced the pain of family loss, whether in nuclear families, or those who have withdrawn from the congregation’s orthodox Holy Communion.
Consider the baptismal glue to which “the Three” testify and ask the Christological question, “Which came first, the ‘blood-stained water’ (cf. M. Luther) or the Spirit?” Last Sunday the Ethiopian eunuch hearing God’s word from Philip converted to receive baptism and Spirit. Saul converted at the preaching of the risen Lord and Ananias and was baptized for the Spirit.
Both instances are typical; gospel word for repentant faith then Baptism for the Spirit. On Pentecost Day Peter instructed Jewish converts according to the typical order, “Repent and be baptized… for receipt of the HS” (Acts 2:38). But with Cornelius’ family, Peter was non-plussed at a reversal of the typical order: first reception of the Spirit followed by Baptism.
We might call the event in Cornelis’ household “Gentile Pentecost”, Jesus explained to Nicodemus, “The Spirit breathes where he wills …” (Jn. 3:8a). Peter recognized the out-pouring of the HS with tongues at God’s word as evidence of the Spirit’s universal truth that directs all to Holy Baptism; and instructed the Cornelius’, to nevertheless “be baptized in the Name of Jesus” (Acts 10:48) for full communion in the church.
By this insight into the truth of the HS, Peter now comprehended the meaning of his dream, that what God made clean was no longer common or unclean. Gentiles receive the same Baptism as NT Jews; and Peter was to eat and associate with Gentiles in the Holy Supper without discrimination for lack of circumcision; rather on account of Jesus’ flesh.
In Baptism, “the Three Witnesses” are: the preached Voice of the Spirit, “the blood” and “the water” of Christ crucified. All Three proclaim Jesus, Son of God and Christ in his flesh by his work on the cross for a new creation. Each witness is associated with the other and none testifies apart from the others.
By faith we abide in God’s instructions for discerning his love and our responsive love of his children. This then is the love of God; that we live for the sake of his instruction according to the truth of the Spirit (1 Jn. 5:2, 3). Amen.