Fourth Sunday after Easter
May 18, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
But even though Christ is risen, we would still be stuck in the old, natural religion without the Holy Spirit. If Christ is simply risen from the dead, we can put the resurrection in our back pockets and progress to what everyone is most concerned about—how to become a better person, how to climb the next step of success and sanctification and spirituality. But, ironically, the world’s spirituality is completely devoid of the Spirit of God, its sanctification is a whitewashed shell of external works, and its success is ultimately doomed to failure.
Jesus spends quite a bit of time both before His passion and after His resurrection speaking of the Holy Spirit. In today’s Gospel, He promises that the Spirit will come after He has returned to His Father, and precisely what the Spirit will do. [Jesus said]: “But now I am going to the One who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are You going?’ But, because of this saying of Mine, sorrow has filled your hearts. But, I am speaking the truth to you. It is to your advantage that I go away. For if I do not go, the Paraclete will not come to you. If I do go, I will send Him to you (vv 5-7).
It is to your advantage that Jesus has gone to the Father’s right hand, because from there, He sends His Spirit, whom He calls the Paraclete—the Helper, Comforter, Counselor, Advocate. He is the One who speaks alongside of you. And when He comes, that One will convict the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment (v 8).
The starting point for the ministry of the Spirit is sin. He will convict the world concerning sin. And if there’s one thing that the world needs right now is a little convicting of its sin. Each new week brings another national conversation about the outdated mores of Western Christian culture giving way to a new hedonism—the only thing taboo in our culture is forbidding an individual from exercising his own autonomy in the pursuit of personal pleasure. Next season we won’t even be able to turn on Monday Night Football without a constant bombardment that we are not only to accept and tolerate the new landscape of sexual self-identification, but that we must celebrate it. Ah, for the days when we only had to accept openly womanizing and adulterous sports idols.
The world could use a good convicting of its sin. So we Christians should take a stand and start to point out all the things people do that are contrary to God’s Holy Law. Shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we tell someone if he’s sinning? Isn’t it our duty to point out the way people run roughshod over the Ten Commandments? But doesn’t seem like these days, the more Christians speak up about sin, the more the world spirals down its self-indulgent tailspin?
The Lord Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, and the first thing He will do is speak with conviction concerning sin. Concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me, says Jesus (v. 9). The root cause of sin, according to our Lord, isn’t disobedience, but disbelief. It’s not that the thief wants to have something that doesn’t belong to him, but it’s that he doesn’t believe that his heavenly Father will actually provide for all his needs of body and life. It’s not that the murderer has so much rage that he has to kill to satiate his bloodlust, it’s that he doesn’t believe that God is the author and giver of life.
The root cause of sin is unbelief.
There is a marvelous statement by Martin Luther in his Heidelberg Theses that goes like this: “The Law says ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘Believe this,’ and everything is already done.” This statement is one to chew on for a while. The Law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. The Law does not give the power to do what it demands. It only has the power to reveal unbelief.
So then, it’s not that we live in a world where morality is going down the proverbial toilet. It’s that the world is convinced that they have a better and more advanced morality than you do. Because the world has a misplaced faith. They do not believe in the God who became flesh, who suffered, who died, and who rose—this is a scandal to the world. They believe in a god of their own making, and from that false faith comes their new morality. A morality that calls good evil and evil good.
In the explanation to the First Commandment, the catechisms continually return to faith. Without faith, the other commandments don’t matter. Without faith, even the best behavior according to the Law is still a damning work before God.
The Spirit’s work begins with sin, but it doesn’t end there. There is another word He has to speak to the world, a word that it hasn’t heard before. The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness, Jesus says, because I am going to the Father, and you will see Me no longer (v 10).
What does Jesus going to the Father have to do with righteousness? The righteousness that counts, the righteousness that avails before God, is not something that you find within yourself. It’s not a product of your own works, or your own spiritual preparations.
Christ is your Righteousness. He goes to the Father because His sacrifice was acceptable on behalf of the world. He goes to the Father because His perfect obedience is vindicated in His resurrection. He goes to His Father in order to distribute the riches that He earned through the ministry of the Church.
True righteousness, of which the Holy Spirit convicts the world, has nothing to do with you and everything to do with Jesus. The righteousness that counts, the righteousness that avails before God, is the Righteousness that sits at His right hand. He is the Mediator between God and man, this Man Jesus Christ.
You do not see Jesus—at least not as His disciples did. He is hidden. But He hides Himself in order to reveal Himself in a gracious way. He doesn’t appear to you in bright, blinding light like He did to Saul on the road to Damascus. He doesn’t show you His full glory—that would simply convict you of your sin once again. He reveals Himself in the ministry of the Church, that is, in the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
“The Law says ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘Believe this,’ and everything is already done.” It’s a wonderful statement that bears repeating. Grace says, “Believe this,” and everything is already done. That is to say, that everything you could ever hope to do to gain favor with the Father in heaven has already been done by Jesus. There is nothing more that you can add.
With the rampant sin and unbelief that is multiplying in this world and not dissipating, with our Lord Jesus departing this world to the heavenly places and entrusting His ministry to sinful men who bungle this Holy Office as often as they carry it out faithfully, it may seem like all this preaching about sin and righteousness is for nothing. It’s rare that things trend towards the good. Relationships still crumble, enmity and violence are the rule across most of the world, broken bodies are confined to bed waiting for deliverance, parents outlive their children. What good is it to hear of sin and righteousness if you can’t use it to fix anything?
The Holy Spirit has a third word to speak, and it’s from this work He gets His name: Comforter, Counselor, Advocate. When He comes, Jesus says, He will convict the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (v 11). Divine judgment has been leveled upon the devil. He is the ruler of this world. His deception and murdering have been the rule since man gained knowledge of good and evil. But the divine judgment delivered by the Spirit of God is that the devil’s rule is over. His manipulation, his deception, his lies and murder are through. He is judged and found guilty. Though he is given reign here on earth, here is the good news. He is bound. The pain, the suffering, the destruction that He works has a limit. And not only is his devious meddling limited for a time and to a degree, his judgment is that his works of evil must also serve the will of God. The devil may be prince of this world, but he is not Lord of heaven and earth.
The Spirit has a word of judgment for the devil, but He also judges you. Jesus says that He will convict the world concerning judgment also. Judgment is a dirty word in our culture. Many young folks won’t even step foot inside of a church because they view us as being too judgmental. And we are a judgmental lot. But remember that judgment can cut two ways. No wrongly accused man who stands before a judge who says, “Not guilty,” will accuse that judge of being too judgmental. Divine judgment according to the Law is always a sentence of “guilty.” But the Holy Spirit is promised to the world so that divine judgment does not end there. For the elect, for those whose faith rests in One whose hands are still pierced, the sentence is: not guilty, innocent, righteous, beloved, restored.
So be comforted. Jesus is Lord. And He sends you the Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life. He is the One who will lead you into all truth. He is the One who kindles faith in your heart, so that you may believe this, and every good work is already done for you. He is the One who justifies you by Word, water, bread and wine, who delivers to you the Righteousness that sits at the right hand of the Father. And He is the One who judges the devil’s every work, the One who ensures that they all work together for the good of God’s elect, that is, for your good. He drives you to repentance, from unbelief to faith, from sin to righteousness. And He convicts you with the divine, gracious conviction: “not guilty.”
The Promised Holy Spirit Is Your Advantage, Because He Leads You to the Truth that Is Found in Christ
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard