“They have had too much wine” (Acts 2:13).
So has it always gone when the gracious testimony to the kingdom of God strikes the eyes, ears, and hearts of the world.
As it was from those onlookers on Pentecost, sometimes that opposition takes the form of the caustic and cynical sarcasm of those seeking to discredit the Spirit’s testimony. Other times the opposition is simply the dull and disinterested apathy of an unbelieving world that convinces itself that the Spirit’s message of Christ offers nothing they want. Still at other times the opposition of “the world” to God’s testimony rises up right within the visible church. My devotion schedule took me this morning to Numbers 16 as Korah, Dathan, and Abiram led a dual focused rebellion that sought to discredit and overthrow the testimony to the truth given by Moses and Aaron.
None of this should surprise us. The comforting and encouraging words of the Gospel for Pentecost (John 15:26-27) are bracketed by sobering warnings for Jesus’ first disciples – and for us. Leading into Sunday’s gospel Jesus intoned, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18). And immediately following the gospel Jesus sought to avoid the offense of stumbling in faith by warning: “They will put you out of the synagogue” (John 16:2).
Indeed, none of this should surprise us. A cynical and caustic discouragement? That is the native language of our own hearts. A dull and disinterested apathy? Forsaking the fire of our first love doesn’t just happen in 1st century Ephesus. Rebellious frustration with those who lead us (or its fraternal twin – harsh complaints about the souls we lead) is not a phenomenon localized to Israel in the wilderness.
And God’s response to all of this? “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26). God’s response to the rejection of his testimony to the truth of Christ? It is patient, ongoing unleashing of his Holy Spirit to continue that testimony. Yes, the day of God’s final judgment on the arrogant unbelief of human hearts will come, but until then, the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son testifies to the Triune God’s saving glory.
How thankful we can be for that ongoing testimony of the Spirit! While the outward signs of wind and tongues and miraculous speaking in languages have not been repeated, the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost has never ceased. Proof of that is found in the Spirit’s quiet testimony to the forgiving truth of Christ crucified that enabled each of us to die and rise again in the water of our baptism. It is that ongoing testimony of the Spirit that speaks to us from the pages of Scripture every day – wooing us away from the mocking stubbornness of our own hearts to his truth. It is the ongoing testimony of the Spirit we hear at each celebration of the Supper where he testifies again and again of what has been “given” and “shed” for each one of us so that our hearts may depart in peace.
But the ongoing testimony doesn’t end there. For God’s never ceasing testimony by his Spirit does not render our testimony useless, but simple means we don’t testify alone. “But you also keep on testifying, for you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27). It is true that death has long-ago silenced the testimony of those about whom these words carried their fullest meaning. Yet no matter how much opposition from the cynical, the apathetic, or the rebellious continues, the ongoing testimony of the Spirit through his church will never be silenced until Christ returns.
And always in the midst of scoffing, apathy, and rebellion, the Spirit’s testimony through his witnesses will win hearts just like yours and mine. Such can be our confidence in the midst of our testimony. Our testimony may be opposed, but we will never testify alone!