The Whole Truth
Cantate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 9, 2004| St. John 16:5-15
They were sad because Jesus was leaving but they didn’t even bother asking Him where He was going. If they had known where He was going – and why – they would not have been filled with sorrow. They say that ignorance is bliss. That’s not really true. True happiness comes from knowing the truth. True happiness comes from the Comforter who is the Spirit of truth. True joy and true worship flow from true faith and true faith comes from the Holy Spirit who gives to us what belongs to Christ.
Today is Cantate Sunday. Cantate means to sing. This Sunday gets its name from the opening words of Psalm 98, “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.” That victory was won when Christ crushed Satan’s head on the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus conquered Satan. His resurrection declared His victory to the world.
The world was not there to see it. Jesus was born, lived, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven with most of the world remaining completely ignorant of Him. But Jesus promised to send the Spirit of truth. He sent the Spirit of truth. The Holy Spirit has broadcast the gospel of Christ all over the world for nearly two thousand years. Everywhere the Holy Spirit goes He guides people into the truth that elicits songs of praise.
This is because the truth Christ reveals to which the Holy Spirit testifies is a comforting truth that makes us happy. It is not a frightening truth. True doctrine brings us peace. It is error and false doctrine that should frighten us. Imagine putting your confidence in a friend that you thought you could trust only to learn that your friend betrayed your trust. Lies hurt. God does not lie. He tells only the truth. It’s a truth that will never change.
In today’s Epistle Lesson St. James describes our Father in heaven as “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” God does not change from day to day and neither does the truth. When Jesus promised to His disciples that He would send to them the Spirit of truth He was making it crystal clear that there is such a thing as truth that is constant and unchanging, just like the God from whom it comes.
Remember when Jesus said to Pilate that He came to testify to the truth? Pilate responded with a sneer, “What is truth?” Pilate is the voice of countless religious agnostics who are persuaded that the truth about God and man, good and evil, heaven and hell, time and eternity simply cannot be known. The word “agnostic” comes from the Greek word for ignorant. And they are ignorant. They are, as St. Paul writes, “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)
Jesus promised to send the Comforter or Spirit of truth to the apostles. First, He had to leave and go to the Father. When the Comforter came He would convince or convict the world of three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. He would show clearly that the world is wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. He would reveal the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit speaks the truth. The world lies. We Christians live in this world surrounded by its lies. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit, that is, it is only by the power of the gospel and sacraments of Christ through which the Holy Spirit comes to us, that we can be preserved in the truth and protected from lies.
The Holy Spirit shows that the world is wrong in regard to sin. The world considers sin according to the act. It establishes elaborate and quite impressive ethical systems. It explains how and why this act is right under these circumstances while wrong under those circumstances. It expends enormous time and energy to define sin just so. That is, to define sin in such a way that the one defining it is not guilty of it. That’s an endless task. But the whole process is a lie.
According to Jesus the Spirit of truth will show that the world’s teaching regarding sin is wrong. You cannot define sin according to the act. Sin is much deeper than that! Sin is the corruption of the whole person. Jesus said that an evil tree cannot produce good fruit. You can invent all sorts of rules by which you persuade yourself that you are doing good and not sinning but if you are a sinner you are sinning.
But Jesus became sin for us. By bearing all our sins in His sacred body He took our sin away. He removed all our sin as far as the East is from the West. By becoming the substitute of all sinners and by bearing the penalty of all sin He washed away the sin of the whole world by His blood. All sin is forgiven. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He bore it. He removed it. God, for Christ’s sake, forgave it. And the Holy Spirit takes this forgiveness that Christ has won and He gives it to us.
And He convicts of sin all those and only those who do not believe in Jesus. Jesus said in the last chapter of St. Mark, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but He who does not believe shall be condemned.” He does not say that he who has sinned much will be condemned. He says that he who does not believe in Him will be condemned. As Jesus says in our text, “He will convict the world of sin because they do not believe in Me.” Unbelief is what condemns unbelievers. Their sin was washed away by the blood of the Lamb.
The Holy Spirit shows that the world is wrong in regard to righteousness. How is that? Jesus goes to the Father where we cannot see Him. The world thinks that true righteousness is something that can be seen and measured and praised. It holds up its righteousness for others to admire. It thrives on the praise it receives from others, and so its righteousness is for show. Look at me! See what I have done! Give me credit, give me merit, give me praise.
The Spirit of truth shows this righteousness to be nothing but filthy rags, filled with uncleanness. He convicts the world of its false pretense of righteousness and shows us true righteousness. Jesus said, “He will convict the world of righteousness because I go to the Father and you see Me no more.” He goes to the Father by way of the cross. Instead of promoting Himself, He humbled Himself. Instead of praising Himself, He bore the insults and slander of the world. Instead of offering a dazzling display of beautiful deeds, He offered His face to be slapped, His back to be whipped, His hands and His feet to be nailed to a cross, and there to bear crucifixion in public humiliation and shame. And the Spirit of truth convinces us that this is true righteousness! This is our righteousness. This innocent suffering is the obedience that cancels out all of our sin and covers us with the white robe of righteousness. We dare to stand before God without any shame because Christ has gone to the Father. In going He won the righteousness that the world cannot see. It is the only righteousness that avails before the judgment seat of God. So we toss aside all reliance on ourselves and put our trust solely in Him who went to the Father by way of the cross.
And we will not be judged. Rather, the ruler of this world is already judged. Satan, the liar and murderer of souls, is judged. The woman’s Seed crushed the lying head of the serpent so that He can deceive the nations no more. Wherever the Spirit of truth proclaims Christ He proclaims the judgment of God against the devil and His lies. Jesus said, “He will convict the world of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged.”
The chief lie of Satan for which He stands condemned is the denial of the gospel. It is Satan who is the author of the religion of works-righteousness by which sinners try to turn themselves into saints. It is Satan who said to Eve that God had lied and that God was denying Adam and Eve something they could gain only by eating the fruit God commanded them not to eat. God taught Adam and Eve to live by faith. Faith relies solely on the word of God. Satan, the father of lies, taught them to ignore the word of God and to base their faith instead of what they could see, taste, feel, and do. God had taught them to rely, not on themselves or their own knowledge, but on His word that would give them the pure and unadulterated truth. Satan taught them to deny God’s word. In so doing they denied God’s truth and they enslaved themselves and their progeny in lies.
The Spirit of truth sets us free from lies. He does so by taking what belongs to Christ and bringing these treasures to us. He convicts us of our sin and in so doing He persuades us of our helplessness. Then He enlightens us by the truth to the truth that makes us and keeps us free. This truth stands opposed to the world’s notions of sin, righteousness, and judgment. And so we stand opposed to the standards of truth promoted by the world.
We live in a time of religious agnosticism. What was true yesterday is no longer regarded as true for tomorrow. Most obvious are the radical changes in moral standards we have witnessed during the past generation. Abortion, fornication, divorce, homosexuality, and other evils are no longer regarded as evils. But the moral decay masks a deeper and far more dangerous decay that has been eating at the very foundations of the church in America. That more dangerous decay is the lie by which the devil deceived Eve. It takes the form of a simple question: “Did God really say?” The moral degeneration has not occurred in spite of efforts of Christian churches to stop it. It is precisely because churches have attacked the Holy Scriptures by denying that they are the inerrant and infallible word of God that a generation of Christians is confused and uncertain. They no longer regard Jesus as the only hope for salvation for sinners. How could they? They don’t know what sin is. They don’t know what salvation is. They don’t know who Jesus is.
But the Holy Spirit is still the Spirit of truth. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth. He did. They and their successors have been preaching the truth concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment for nearly two thousand years. This truth is written down in the New Testament so that every Christian can know it. This truth is the most precious treasure we have in this life because it will lead us into the eternal joys of heaven.