Sermon for Cantate – Fifth Sunday of Easter
“Sing to the LORD a new song!
John 16:5-15 + Isaiah 12:1-6 + James 1:16-21
We go back to Maundy Thursday again today, back to the upper room where Jesus had some final instructions to give his disciples before he was betrayed. The eleven disciples were heartbroken and sorrowful, because Jesus had just broken the news to them that he was going away, and he meant more than his departure to the cross and his resurrection on the third day. Yes, they would see him again after a little while when he rose from the dead. But very soon He would return to the Father, just 40 days after his resurrection. And they wouldn’t see him again—not for a little while, not until they themselves would lay down their lives as martyrs. For as long as they lived on earth, they wouldn’t see Jesus again.
Of course that made them sorrowful! Where Jesus is, there is life and forgiveness and mercy to be had in abundance. Where Jesus is, there is truth and teaching and authority. Where Jesus is, there is peace and protection against every evil, even against the Evil One himself. Where Jesus is, there is access for sinners to God. Where Jesus isn’t, there is no access, and no protection, and no truth, no heavenly authority, no divine teaching, no mercy, no forgiveness, no life.
Yet, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, Jesus told his disciples. How on earth can that be? For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. Now, for this Helper—sometimes translated Comforter or Counselor—to be better than having Jesus there in person, He must be pretty awesome. If Jesus can say that it’s better to have the Helper there than to have Jesus himself there—what kind of Helper could He be?
The Helper is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Third Person of the most holy Trinity. And it is to our advantage that Jesus has gone to the Father and has sent this Helper to His Church. Because, if Jesus had remained in that mode of existence in which he lived with His disciples and went from one place to the next, bringing mercy and forgiveness and life wherever he went, then we would be on our own whenever we weren’t there with Jesus. But now Jesus has gone to the Father, and this is His gift to us: He sends the Helper, and The Helper brings Jesus to the world.
Everywhere—all at once, when and where the Word of God is proclaimed in its truth and purity and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution. The Helper brings Jesus to us with his mercy, peace, life, forgiveness, grace, protection and access to the Father. And so God’s people sing for joy that Jesus has gone and has sent back to us His Holy Spirit. No, it’s not the same as having Jesus here visibly. But in a way, it really is better, at least until the Helper’s work is done.
And what is that work? Jesus tells us. When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
He will convict the world. Let’s break that down first. First, the world. Here Jesus is making a distinction between His believers and the unbelieving world. Second, he will “convict.” He will show the unbelieving world its fault, its guilt, its wrongness. That doesn’t mean everyone will repent and believe in Christ. It does mean that the world is left without excuse, because God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit has come and has presented the evidence to the world, so that the world is without excuse.
And third, “He” will do the convicting—not you. The Helper doesn’t need your help. It’s the other way around, isn’t it? The Holy Spirit is not a coach who encourages you to do your best at convicting the world. He is not a crutch that supports you as you walk through the world, trying to convict the world. He’s more like the person pushing you around in the wheelchair. That’s the kind of Helper we have in the Holy Spirit.
Let’s pause here for a moment and consider this a little further. Some will say, “A really good preacher can convince a lot of people.” That may be true when it comes to earthly things, but when it comes to spiritual things, it’s an absolute lie. Neither a preacher’s eloquence nor his level of sincerity nor his friendly personality will move people a hair’s breadth closer to Jesus. Nor will his lack of those things prevent the Holy Spirit from doing His work. Some will say, “If you really engage the world, attract the world, impress the world, give the world some of what it wants, then you’ll convict the world.” That’s a lie. Some will say, “If you ‘do church’ a certain way, if you worship in a certain way, then you’ll convict the world.” That’s a lie. The Holy Spirit convicts.
Ah, but some others will say, “Right on! The Spirit convicts. But! He expects me to gather him an audience. He depends on me to get people through the door, so that he can do his work.” That’s a lie. The Spirit convicts the world.
The Helper convicts the world through the weak and powerless mouth of Jesus’ apostles. He chooses the weak things of this world to shame the strong, and the despised things to shame the noble things. The Helper brings Jesus to the world in the humble message of Christ crucified and risen.
He will convict the world concerning sin…, because they do not believe in me. What is sin? Ask the world what sin is, ask a lot of Christians what sin is. What will they say? At best, they’ll agree that breaking the Ten Commandments is a sin, although most people aren’t even convinced of that anymore. When more than half of our country can’t even admit it’s a sin to kill a little baby in her mother’s womb, it’s pretty clear that the truth about sin has gone out the window.
What is sin? Sure, it’s the abuse of drugs and alcohol, it’s gang violence, rape and murder and theft and sex outside of marriage. It’s also greed and lust and hatred and bitterness and grudges.
But Jesus doesn’t mention any of these here. What is sin? “They do not believe in me.” That is the chief sin, from which all other sins flow. Not to believe in Jesus, the Son of God, the seat of God’s mercy. Because where there’s faith in Christ, he wipes out all sin. Sin can’t exist where Christ is. He forgives it all, because he paid for it all. The righteousness of Christ cancels out all sin in those who believe in him. So not to believe in him leaves a person guilty of everything.
He will convict the world…concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer. Who would have thought? That righteousness does not consist in giving to charity. Righteousness does not consist in making lots of money or in nice and proper speech or in standing up for women or for children, for rich or for poor. Righteousness does not consist in a dedicated prayer life or in going to church. Righteousness consists in Jesus Christ and him crucified, buried, risen and gone to the Father and reigning at his right hand. He is the world’s righteousness, if the world wants him. But either way, the world stands convicted by the Holy Spirit.
Righteousness before God is faith in the ascended Christ. And where there’s faith, then the heart that didn’t want to do a single good work now produces good fruit as naturally as an apple tree produces apples, or a grapevine produces grapes.
Who would have thought that righteousness is not something we are to offer to God, but rather is something that Christ has done and now offers to us, like a gift wrapped up in Jesus? Again the works of the world are condemned. The righteousness of Christ is only handed out by the Holy Spirit in the Gospel. That’s part of his work as the ascended Lord Christ. To send out His Spirit to hand out his righteousness through the Gospel, to faith.
Finally, he will convict the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. What a horrifying message for the world: its prince, the devil has already been judged. Judgment happens here and now. The Spirit convicts and announces the judgment—condemnation for the devil and for all who are found in his kingdom. All false belief stands condemned. All adding to or subtracting from the Scriptures stands condemned. All the works of the world stand condemned. Not by you or by me, but by the Spirit of God.
And as He convicts the world concerning judgment, His Word is always effective—it always produces some result. Either people will be convicted and enraged, or they will be convicted and brought to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus in whom there is now no condemnation, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, in whom there is no judgment or answering for sins, because his blood answered and blotted out sin for all who believe in him.
This is the Spirit’s work. This is the gift Jesus sent back to his disciples from heaven. The Spirit of Truth, the Helper brings Jesus to the world.
You realize, don’t you?, that this is better than if Jesus himself were walking around, going from here to there and preaching His Word? Because this way, by the help of the Helper, Jesus can be here with you today, with each one of you, and wherever his Word is preached and wherever his body and blood are given to eat and to drink. This way, Jesus doesn’t have to come through town one time to preach the Gospel and then leave you to go somewhere else. Instead, he takes up residence here in His baptized believers and never leaves. This way, you don’t need to fly to the land of Israel to receive mercy from Jesus. Instead, the Holy Spirit brings His mercy to you, so that all who look to him for mercy receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.
The Helper has brought Jesus to the world and will continue to bring him until His work is done and the world is convicted and those who have been called out of the world to faith in Christ are brought home safely. You and I have never known Jesus in any other way than by the work of the Helper in the Gospel. And if we can know Him and love Him here and now by the work of His Spirit without seeing Him, just think of the joy there will be when we do see Him face to face. If we sing for joy now, we will truly sing for joy then. Amen.