|Cantate Sunday| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 10, 2020| St. John 16:5-15|
“But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” John 16:5-15
Jesus tells his disciples that he is going away to him who sent him. He is talking about his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus had told his disciples that it was necessary that he be crucified and on the third day rise from the dead. They didn’t understand. Now he tells them how this will help them. If he goes to the Father by way of the cross and resurrection, he will send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to them. Unless he suffers and dies for the sin of the world, the Comforter will not comfort them. He won’t have any comfort to give. But if Jesus leaves them by suffering, dying, rising from the dead, and ascending into heaven, then he will send the Holy Spirit. He will lead them into all truth. He will take what belongs to Christ and declare it to them.
By dying and rising, Jesus gained for us eternal treasures. By bearing our sins he won for us forgiveness of sins. By defeating death he gained for us eternal life. Christ did this for us without any help from us. We don’t deserve what Jesus won for us. We don’t deserve the forgiveness of sins. We don’t deserve eternal life. We don’t deserve what the Holy Spirit gives to us. The Holy Spirit gives us these treasures by grace alone. We live by God’s grace alone.
You would think that everybody would want the treasures that the Holy Spirit gives. He takes what belongs to Christ and he sets it before us. In so doing the Holy Spirit brings us into fellowship with God. God is triune. The Holy Trinity is the only God who actually exists. The Son is begotten of the Father from eternity. The Spirit from eternity proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit shows us the true God. Who would not want to know God? Who would not want to hear the testimony of the Holy Spirit? After all, he is the Spirit of truth. The truth he reveals to us matters. He teaches us the truth about sin. He teaches us the truth about righteousness. He teaches us the truth about judgment. Who would not welcome his teaching? Who would not welcome the truth?
The answer is the world: the whole human race. At the time of Noah, before the Flood, the world was living apart from God. Moses records in Genesis 6:3, “And the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh.’” People have, from the fall of Adam, resisted the Holy Spirit. God reveals the truth and the human race prefers lies to the truth. Moses writes:
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)
We are not born with spiritual life. We are born spiritually blind and dead. The original sin of Adam is inherited by everyone born into this world with the sole exception of the virgin-born Lord Jesus Christ. This is why all manmade religions are fundamentally false. They may promote valuable moral precepts – after all God’s law is imprinted on nature and in the conscience – but this world’s religions all teach falsely about how we may find true peace with God. Before anyone can be comforted by the Comforter and led into all truth by the Spirit of truth, the world and her religion must be exposed. The religion of our own sinful flesh is the same as the religion of the world. It is the religion of Satan, the ruler of this world. The truth convicts lies. God convicts the world. The Holy Spirit shows the world that the world is wrong.
And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
The world is wrong about sin. Well, that’s obvious. Many sins are celebrated as virtues these days. Blasphemy is freedom of speech. Showing disdain toward the authority of father and mother is self-expression. Killing babies is women’s health care. Sexual immorality is how to express affection. Oh, yes, the world is very wrong about sin!
But that’s not what Jesus is talking about. He says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin because they do not believe in him. He doesn’t mention such obvious and visible sins as murder, adultery, theft, and false witness. He identifies the sin from which all sins flow: unbelief.
I saw an ad on TV the other day where the My Pillow guy was talking about God and how he could prove God’s existence mathematically. That sounds interesting. But is it faith? Jesus says the world is wrong about sin because they do not believe in him. Faith isn’t believing that God exists. Faith believes in the only begotten Son of God who went to his Father by way of the cross where he suffered and died for the sins of the world. People use the word “Judeo-Christian” as if it refers to a common faith. There is no common faith between those who believe in Jesus and those who don’t. True faith believes that Jesus Christ, the sinless Lamb of God, took away the sin of the world and that for his sake God freely forgives us all our sins. Only those who believe in Jesus have the forgiveness of sins.
Only those who believe in Jesus are righteous in God’s sight. Jesus goes on to say:
He will convict the world of . . . righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more.
The world treasures its own deeds as righteous. It exalts its own achievements. Consider the pandemic that descended on the world a couple of months ago. Do you watch TV? Does anyone point to the pandemic as evidence of the curse that our sin has brought upon this world? Do those who comment on this plague even mention God? Do they talk about repentance, divine deliverance, or God’s fatherly care for those who fear him? Or do they celebrate our collective goodness and worship at the altar of human righteousness?
The Holy Spirit comforts us Christians by showing the world that the world is wrong about righteousness. Genuine righteousness, that is, righteousness that stands before God as righteous, as impeccable, undeniable, perfect, and secure is the obedience and suffering of the Lord Jesus. You cannot see him. He’s gone to the Father. You cannot see him. You don’t see true righteousness. It can only be found in the doings of the Lord Jesus. He fulfilled all righteousness and went to the Father to be exalted above all powers on this earth in everlasting glory. He who is glorified above achieved genuine righteousness here below as he labored under the strict demands of God’s law and obeyed to the letter. His obedience makes us righteous.
The world celebrates its own righteousness. Every manmade religion teaches works righteousness. You become righteous by doing righteous things. That’s what they teach. The Holy Spirit shows this teaching to be false. St. Paul writes:
Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. Romans 4:4-5
The word “convict” here in our text can also be translated “convince.” Only the Holy Spirit can convince you of what Jesus says here. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot understand that sin is not believing in Jesus. Without the Holy Spirit we cannot understand that righteousness is not the righteous things we have done but the righteous things that Jesus has done as our substitute. Just so, without the Holy Spirit we cannot understand judgment.
Sin, righteousness, and judgment all go together. Sinners lack righteousness and are judged. The world denies sin and pretends to be righteous so that God will judge them as righteous. Foolish, yes, because God won’t be fooled by the façade of righteousness that sinners pretend is the real deal. But we can understand why people try. Who wants to stand under the judgment of God? How can we avoid his judgment? We had better figure out of way to get rid of our sins and make ourselves righteous. That’s what manmade religions do. They show you how to avoid judgment. But it’s a sham. God’s not a fool to be deceived by pretense. God sees the heart. You can’t con God.
The Holy Spirit shows us that the world is wrong about judgment. We Christians are not judged. The devil is judged. He who accuses the saints is judged. His arrows lie broken. His accusations are silenced by the blood of Jesus. He presumes to throw up in our face our failures to convince us we are not God’s children. He is judged. His lying head is crushed under the heel of him who died and rose again.
The devil hates the Christian truth with supernatural fervor. He hates forgiveness, reconciliation, and the brotherly love that comes from it. He judges Christians, not to lead them to repentance, but to lead them to despair of God’s grace and rely instead on themselves and thus to place themselves under God’s judgment. Jesus tells us that he is judged. He cannot judge us.
Jesus sent the Spirit of truth to lead the apostles into all truth. He did. They wrote it down in the New Testament. We have in the written Word of God all we need to know about God. At the heart of the Bible is the message that God forgives us all our sins and declares us to be righteous in his sight freely by his grace for Christ’s sake through faith alone. The Holy Spirit who works this faith in our hearts enables us from the heart to express the sentiments of the Psalmist:
Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
The Lord has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. (Psalm 98:1-3)