Cantate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| St. John 16:5-15| April 24, 2005
This past week I enjoyed watching TV and reading the newspaper to see the reactions to the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as the new pope. Ratzinger is one of the best theologians in the Roman Catholic Church today. Those who know him speak well of him. But he has come under sharp criticism, criticism that is duly reported by the print and television media.
Is he being criticized for the extravagant claims of the papacy that have no basis in the Holy Scriptures? No. Is he being criticized for denying the central truth of God’s Word that a lost and condemned sinner is fully forgiven of all his sins and justified by God through faith alone in Christ the Savior and Mediator? No. He is being criticized for insisting that there is such a thing as truth that will not change from one generation to another.
Now it is fine and even necessary to disagree with the new pope where he is wrong. But it is precisely when the pope stands up for the truth and rejects what he calls the “tyranny of relativism” that he receives the harshest criticism! And why is that? It is because our generation doesn’t believe in the truth.
This is because our generation does not understand Jesus, the Father who sent Him, or the Holy Spirit whom He sends. Jesus identified Himself as the way, the truth, and the life and the only way to the Father. How often does Jesus say, “I tell you the truth”? Before ascending to the Father He promised to send the Comforter whom He also called the Spirit of truth. Christianity is all about truth. Truth doesn’t change. The popular ideas of this world change with the winds of fashion. God’s truth is permanent and unchanging. As Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words will not pass away.”
But it is not enough to know that truth exists and that it will never change. We must also know what it is. Our Lord Jesus tells us of a threefold truth that the Holy Spirit reveals to us. It is the truth concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit revealed this threefold truth to the apostles and led them to write the New Testament, which serves as the standard for the church’s teaching. Let us then consider the truth the Holy Spirit reveals about sin, righteousness, and judgment.
The first thing we need to know about this truth is that it is centered in Jesus. When Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will guide the apostles into all truth, He adds:
He will not speak on His own authority, 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.
The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ. He takes what belongs to Christ and makes it known to us. He does not speak of Himself. He speaks of Christ. This is vital to know if we are to know the truth.
The truth is not centered in morality, as important as morality is. At a time of moral relativism we might be tempted to set aside the truth about Jesus and how He is our Savior in order to unite with likeminded people who support traditional morality. There are many people of goodwill in our country who agree with us about such matters as the sanctity of human life, the lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage, and the binding authority of the Ten Commandments. We might be tempted to look at such agreement as if it constitutes spiritual unity. When religion becomes the topic of conversation it is usually centered on questions of right and wrong.
But Jesus did not come into this world merely as a new lawgiver who had more demanding standards than Moses. He came to testify to the truth. And the Spirit of truth, whom Jesus sends to us from the Father, is not primarily a teacher of virtue. He is a teacher of Christ.
In teaching us about Christ, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. Why is the world wrong about sin? What is it about the world’s view of sin that makes it false and why must the Holy Spirit show this to the world? Jesus states it simply: “Because they do not believe in Me.” The Holy Spirit does not convict the world of sinning against the Ten Commandments even though the Ten Commandments stand as God’s holy law, written by the finger of God on Mount Sinai. The Holy Spirit doesn’t convict the world of murder, lying, stealing, or adultery. He convicts of the world of not believing in Jesus. That is the sin that condemns sinners.
Jesus has taken away the sin of the world. We sing, “O Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.” Why do we confess in our singing that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Because He is! The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us as this Lamb. Faith receives Jesus and the forgiveness that He has won for us all. To persist in unbelief is the sin against the Holy Spirit. Every other sin can be forgiven, but when Jesus is rejected the forgiveness of sins is being rejected. There is salvation in no other name than in the name of Jesus. The world cannot understand sin because it doesn’t know Jesus. Only when we, through faith in Jesus, receive the forgiveness of all our sins do we understand the true nature of sin. It is as the Holy Spirit sets you free from the burden and guilt of sin that you learn what sin really is. It doesn’t consist in violating outward rules of conduct. Sin is a turning away from God to worship ourselves and the things we make and do. The Holy Spirit shows us what sin in as He shows us how Jesus, the Lamb of God, bears all our sin away.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of righteousness. That is, He shows that the world is wrong in what it thinks about righteousness. This is shown by the fact that Jesus goes to the Father where we don’t see Him anymore. At the right hand of the Father Jesus displays His righteousness. This righteousness of Jesus is His obedience to God’s law that He rendered for us all. It is His suffering the penalty we had brought upon ourselves for our disobedience to the law. Christ’s righteousness was won by His obedience. His obedience was active as He actively did all that God’s law commanded us to do. His obedience was passive as He suffered all that we, by our sins, deserved to suffer. This righteousness of Jesus won the approval of the Father.
Jesus says, “I go to my Father and you see Me no more.” Jesus goes to the Father. You can’t see Him, but the Father can. The Father looks at Jesus’ righteousness. He looks at the righteousness of the world. The righteousness of this world cannot possibly stand beside the righteousness of Jesus. The world is wrong in what it teaches about righteousness. It teaches that people can make themselves righteous by doing righteous things. But you cannot become good by doing good things. The only way a sinner can become righteous is by having God reckon to him the righteousness of Christ.
Here is what the Holy Spirit says to those who are trying to earn a place with God in heaven by their own works of righteousness. Do you think that your works are better than Jesus’ works? Do you love more purely? Do you submit more patiently? Do you serve more dutifully? Do you speak more truthfully? Do you think that your works of righteousness can compare to Jesus’ works of righteousness? Are you willing to stand before God clothed in your own good deeds? What will God see? How will He respond?
The Holy Spirit urges this world to toss aside all reliance on its own works and to trust instead in Christ’s works. His works constitute a righteousness that is flawless. God sees what Jesus did in our stead as He lived and died for us. The Father takes pleasure in the righteousness of His only begotten Son. He sees His Son’s righteousness and it meets with His approval. And if you want to find approval from God you must have Christ’s righteousness. You must have Christ. If you don’t have Christ through faith you aren’t righteous before God and you stand under God’s judgment.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. Satan is called the ruler of this world. He rules the hearts of those who don’t know Christ. He rules over those who trust in their own righteousness. He rules over people by means of his false teaching and all of the devil’s false teaching boils down to the religion of works righteousness, that we become righteous before God by doing good works.
Christians confess that their own righteousness is, as the prophet says, like filthy rags. We lay claim to Christ’s righteousness. This is how we can confidently claim heaven as our home. Nothing can keep us away from God. Not our sin because it is forgiven for Christ’s sake. Not our lack of righteousness because we have Christ’s righteousness that meets with the full approval of our Father in heaven. Not God’s judgment because it is the devil who is judged. We are not judged. We have eternal life right now through faith in Christ. This simple truth is at the very heart of Christianity. It is the central truth of our holy faith. All righteousness by our works is vain. But we have Christ. The Spirit of truth says so. This is the truth in which we can live with confidence and die in peace.