May 13, 2018
The rite of Confirmation is not in the Bible. Jesus never commanded that we confirm teenagers before they receive Holy Communion. Jesus did command that the Church baptize all nations. He commanded that we preach the Gospel. He commanded that we have the Lord's Supper. Yet, he never once commanded Confirmation. Confirmation is a tradition, made up by people in the Church.
A few weeks ago, I met a man, who told me that our church was doing things wrong by celebrating Christmas and Easter and doing a bunch of other things, because they are traditions and Jesus didn't command them. He then cited the Gospel of Mark chapter 7, where Jesus says to the Pharisees, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!" Of course, Jesus doesn't here or anywhere else in Scripture condemn all traditions or forbid them. He condemned traditions that go against God's commandments and teaching.
A tradition is simply something that is handed down from generation to generation. They can be good or bad. Our Lutheran confessions state, "Our churches teach that ceremonies ought to be observed that may be observed without sin. Also, ceremonies and other practices that are profitable for tranquility and good order in the Church (in particular, holy days, festivals, and the like) ought to be observed." (Augsburg Confession XV) And this ought to be kept in mind when considering your Confirmation.
Confirmation is a tradition, a man-made ceremony. It can be either good or bad. It is good if it is used to teach the Word of God and for good order. It is bad if it works against faith in Christ and his Word. Our church practices Confirmation, because we are convinced that it does good and promotes the Christian faith. We confirm after the confirmands have gone through thorough Christian instruction. This is in accord with our Lord's command to teach all that he has commanded us (Matthew 28:19) and with the command of St. Paul that ministers teach in accord with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). In Confirmation the confirmands confess the true Christian faith, as it is taught in Scripture. This too is in accord with God's Word. Psalm 119:46 states, "I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame." St. Peter writes, "In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:15) And of course, our Lord Jesus says, "So everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32) So, we have good reason to believe that Confirmation is a good tradition.
Yet, Confirmation can also be used for bad. This is done when you remove learning God's Word and confessing Christ. Sadly, within our church body it has become common for people to regard Confirmation as a life-long ticket to Communion and into heaven. Individuals confirmed in an LCMS congregation believe that they should be permitted to commune at any LCMS altar even when they live in open and impenitent sin, join themselves to churches that teach falsely, or even if they give up hearing the word of God all together, all of which are breaking the vows made in Confirmation. So, it is important to remember that Baptism, which is commanded by our Lord and is given a sure promise of salvation, does not save anyone without faith. How much less can Confirmation, which is a man-made tradition, save those without faith?
God does not command Confirmation. But he does command that we teach the Word of God to everyone, especially to children. He does command that we confess Christ and that a person examine himself, before he eat and drink Christ's body and blood. Therefore, Confirmation is good. But you, Jaime and Luke, are not done learning the Word of God after today. Neither are you done confessing Christ before men. Nor is this the last time you will be examined before you receive the Lord's Supper. Rather, you should continue to learn God's Word throughout your life, confess Christ at every opportunity, and examine yourself every time you receive the Lord's Supper and be willing to be examined by the pastor as well. You are not worthy to receive the Lord's Supper because you are confirmed, but rather because of the faith which you confess in your Confirmation. Likewise, no one ever went to heaven because he was confirmed. But you cannot go to heaven apart from the faith, which you confess today.
Jesus says in our Gospel lesson, "Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God." It is very appropriate that this is the Gospel lesson for this Confirmation Sunday. In a little bit the confirmands will be asked, "Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?", and, "Do you intend to continue in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?", to which Jaime and Luke will answer, "I do, by the grace of God."
Jesus is telling the disciples in our Gospel lesson that they will suffer all, even death, for the sake of the faith that Jaime and Luke are confessing today. Nearly all the disciples died for the name of Jesus. And many more Christians suffered and still suffer a similar fate for the sake of Christ. And do not be mistaken, it is not simply for the sake of ceremony that we have confirmands make this promise even here in cozy safe America. If you are to be a Christian you should be prepared to suffer persecution.
Perhaps you will not be killed for confessing Christ, but you will be persecuted. You will be pressured into silence. People will try to intimidate you into thinking that you aren't as smart for believing in what the Bible says. And you won't be able to choose how you will suffer for Christ. It is a romantic fantasy that persecution will find you standing before the firing squad and being ordered to deny Christ, so that the smell of gunpowder gives way to incense, and the sound of gunfire gives way to angels singing as you confess Christ with your last breath. Remember that John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded for preaching against adultery. And Christian bakers and florists are losing their businesses for confessing marriage between a man and a woman. Yet, they too suffered for Christ.
The world hates Jesus. And if you are a Christian, it hates you too. And the world will show its hatred by pressuring you to consider your faith as inferior to the world. When sporting events for children are scheduled on Sunday mornings, the world shows that it hates Jesus, because they know that is when Jesus teaches his little lambs. When sexual immorality and moral relativism is pushed on you in high school and college both in the classroom and in movies and sitcoms, the world shows its hatred for Jesus. And if you confess Christ, its hatred will turn to you too.
Jesus tells us plainly that we will suffer for having faith in him. Yet, he doesn't leave us without comfort. Christ promises to send the Helper, that is, the Spirit of Truth. The Helper can also be translated the Comforter. The Comforter is the Holy Spirit, of whom we confess in the Creed "proceeds from the Father and the Son." He provides comfort for Jesus' disciples in every generation, even under the harshest persecution. And Christ still sends him to us today.
To understand the comfort given by the Holy Spirit, you need to distinguish it from the comfort offered by this world. The comfort of this world is what you probably are most familiar with. It's being wrapped in a warm blanket next to a fire when it's minus 20 degrees outside. It's having enough money in the bank account, so that you aren't worried about any unexpected expenses. It's being healthy and pain free, having friends and family who like you. This is the comfort the world wants you to cherish.
The comfort of the Holy Spirit is different. It remains when the cold bites and the fire burns, when hunger fills your stomach and when you have no money or friends. The comfort of the Holy Spirit can be with you whether you are free or in prison. The comfort of the world leaves you on your death bed, but even there the comfort of the Holy Spirit remains. The comfort of the world is fragile and fleeting. The comfort of the Holy Spirit endures forever.
This is because the Holy Spirit doesn't comfort you with physical comfort, but with spiritual. How does the Holy Spirit comfort you? Jesus says, "He will bear witness about me." The Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus. That is how he comforts you. He gives you hope for eternal life that cannot be taken away from you.
From Scripture you know that God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24), who punished the whole world with a flood that killed all people except 8 souls. He rained down burning sulfur on sexually immoral and greedy Sodom and Gomorrah. Time and again he sent punishment upon Israel for their false worship. And as you examine yourself according to the Ten Commandment you see that you are indeed a poor miserable sinner, who deserves both temporal and eternal punishment from this wrathful God. Yet, the Holy Spirit comforts you by bearing witness of Jesus, whom God sent to bear his wrath on the cross. In Jesus, you see God's love for you. His blood washes away your sins and appeases God. There exists no true comfort for a conscience burdened by sin outside of the comfort of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which the Holy Spirit preaches to you.
Not only does the Holy Spirit comfort you when your conscience stings with guilt. He strengthens you to endure in the faith and confess Christ, even under extreme circumstances. Take St. Peter for example. He denied Christ three times when questioned by a few people, even calling down curses upon himself swearing that he was not Jesus' disciple. Yet, when the Holy Spirit fell upon Peter, he preached repentance and forgiveness of sins to the same crowd that cried, "Crucify him!" on the day of Jesus' death. And so, the Holy Spirit can strengthen Jaime and Luke, not only to confess Christ in the presence of family and friends today, but before hostile forces throughout their lives.
It is also important to note how and where the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ and gives comfort. Jesus says to his disciples, "And you also will bear witness." Jesus' disciples bore witness of him when they preached and wrote the New Testament. You can find the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which he makes of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures and in the preaching of the Word and administration of the Sacraments. This is why Jaime and Luke will confess that the Scriptures are the inspired word of God and that they intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord's Supper faithfully. This is where the Holy Spirit works and brings comfort: through his Word.
It is impossible to become a Christian without the Holy Spirit working through God's Word. This is how the Comforter takes out your heart of stone and gives you a heart of flesh, so that you walk in God's statutes and obey his rules. This is also how the Holy Spirit keeps you in the true faith.
The testimony of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can give comfort to your conscience when it is burdened with sin and guilt. It is the only thing that can give comfort when you face persecution from the world. It is the only thing that can give comfort when every worldly comfort has left you, even when you are dying. And that is why we rejoice at Jaime and Luke's Confirmation today. Because they have been taught the testimony of the Holy Spirit. And they are going to testify themselves that they believe in Christ. And it is this testimony, which will give them comfort throughout their lives. And it is this testimony that will give them confidence to stand before God on the Last Day. Jaime and Luke, may the Holy Spirit comfort you with the testimony of Jesus Christ today and every day of your lives. Amen.