Sermon for Cantate
Isaiah 12:1-6 + James 1:16-21 + John 16:5-15
Jesus’s eleven apostles were sorrowful when they heard Jesus talk about His imminent departure as they walked with Him to the Garden of Gethsemane. They didn’t know where He was going, or why He was going. And they couldn’t imagine how it could be a good thing that He was going away at all.
You can understand that, can’t you? I mean, just imagine what it would be like if Jesus had never gone away, if He had remained on earth and were still dwelling in Israel or somewhere else in the world. Just imagine what it would be like… Hardly anyone would know Him. There would be no world-wide Christian Church, just the church that met where Jesus was. If Jesus had never gone away, then He would still be in one place on earth, and you would have to go to that place to find Him and to receive help from Him. If Jesus had never gone away, then prayers to Jesus would have to be in person, as they were during His earthly ministry, and Baptism and Holy Communion wouldn’t even exist as means of grace. There would be no preachers anywhere else but where Jesus was, and even if there were, their preaching would fall on deaf ears all the time, because it would have no divine power to create faith or to save. If Jesus had never gone away, then no one else on earth could forgive sins. No one else on earth could reconcile sinners with God. If Jesus had never gone away, it might be wonderful for the relatively few people who could live close to Him and interact with Him. But for the billions and billions of others, Jesus would always be far, far away.
That’s why He had to go away. As He explains to His apostles in our Gospel, It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.
Jesus’ “going away” on Maundy Thursday night also included His going away to suffer and die on the cross. The need for Jesus’ death, the need for His resurrection from the dead—that’s clear, isn’t it? He had to go away to the cross and shed His blood as the atoning sacrifice for the world’s sins. He had to rise from the dead in order to apply His blood to sinners through faith and to impart His righteousness to all who would believe in Him for our justification. But how does that happen?
It happens as the Helper, the Holy Spirit, brings Jesus and His righteousness to the world in a different way, a bigger and better way. And understanding that way, that manner in which the Holy Spirit works, is crucial. He works through the Word, through the preaching of the Gospel, which is, as Paul says, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Why is it the power of God? Because it is the tool of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit sets the Son of God before our eyes in the Gospel, right now, in the present tense, so that the preaching and teaching that you hear actually has the power to bring you to faith in Christ Jesus and to work forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Without the Holy Spirit, there is no Absolution, no Baptism, no Holy Communion, no power of God in the preaching of the Gospel, no divine help in the building of the Church. But with the Holy Spirit, there is.
Through the preaching of the Gospel, the Helper will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because, Jesus says, they do not believe in Me. Jesus is making a distinction here between the unbelieving world and His saints, His believers, His Church. So the Holy Spirit will convict or rebuke the world concerning sin. Why? Because they don’t believe in Jesus. We preach the Law of God, His commandments, His moral requirements, to the world. We proclaim what is right and wrong, and we proclaim that all have sinned against God’s Law. Where there is faith in Christ, there the blood of the Lamb of God has been applied and sins have been washed away so that they aren’t counted against believers. But where there is no faith, people are still held accountable for their sin—all of it. So through the Christian preaching that goes on throughout the world, the Holy Spirit rebukes the world for its sin—for not believing in the only One who takes away sin. And He threatens eternal condemnation.
We preach the Law also to Christians, but differently. Not so that believers in Christ should imagine they are now condemned again and outside of God’s grace, but so that Christians, too, may know that they stand only by faith, and that apart from faith in Christ they couldn’t stand for one minute before the holy God and His holy Law. The Law makes no one righteous before God, but only reveals our sin, which will result in condemnation for everyone who does not believe in Christ. So in the preaching of the Law to Christians, the urgency is revealed of continuing to cling to Christ our Redeemer all the way to the end of our lives. For those who are in Him, there is now no condemnation.
He will convict the world of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more. The world either thinks it’s already righteous, or it imagines that it can become righteous. Ask just about any non-Christian you know, “Do you think you’re a good person? Do you think God would consider you a good person?” In our country, in our time, the vast majority would answer, “Yes!”, or at least, “I hope so!” or “I’m trying!” That’s because the world refuses to acknowledge that only Christ is righteous before God. Only Christ is a good Person in God’s eyes. So the Holy Spirit convicts the world and rebukes it for its self-righteousness and declares that all righteousness is wrapped up in Christ, who has gone away to the Father.
So how can anyone on earth be righteous if the only Righteous One has gone to the Father? Again, it’s the righteousness of faith. See what the Holy Spirit does! Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. The Holy Spirit takes of what is Christ’s, takes His righteousness, His record of obedience as God and Man, and declares it to you. He brought back the righteousness of the ascended Christ to the world on Pentecost. He applied the righteousness of Christ to those who were baptized—both then and now. He hands it out and covers the penitent with it. That is now mankind’s only connection to the righteousness that counts before God, our only link to Christ and all that is His—the much-needed work of the Holy Spirit.
And He will convict the world of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. The unbelieving world’s judgment is severely flawed. People honestly think they can make up their own morality, their own rules, their own moral justice and get away with it. They deny the God of Scripture. They reject His commandments and create their own. They reject His pure doctrine and create their own false doctrine. They rejected Christ when He was here on earth and they reject Him still. So, no matter what “god” people claim to worship, if they refuse to repent of their sin, if they reject Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, then they have Satan for a ruler.
Is there any doubt that Satan is the ruler of this world? Have you heard of Ashley Madison? It’s a dating website—for married people looking to hook up with someone else. And what is this world’s judgment of such an abomination? The website boasts 34 million members spanning 40 countries, the second-largest dating website in the world. You know the stats on abortion well enough, and what is this world’s judgment? That it is a good and noble thing. If you’ve heard of the riots in Baltimore, then you’ve probably also heard people defending the violence that has been committed there. You’ve heard how frequently people now talk about a woman having a wife or a man having a husband, as if it were perfectly normal and acceptable, and you’ve heard phony “Christian” preachers going along with all of it. The world is indeed ruled by Satan.
But there is the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the true Christian Church, rebuking the world for its faulty judgment. People think they can get away with it, but the fact is, the ruler of this world is judged. The Lord Christ has come and crushed him already by His death and resurrection, and He will come again and cast him out into outer darkness forever. That should send shivers down the spine of unbelievers. Satan doesn’t win in the end. He’s already lost. Their god, their master, their leader and their ruler is condemned. And so will they be, along with him, unless…unless they repent during this day of grace, unless they heed the Holy Spirit’s rebuke and turn from their sin to the grace that is being offered in the Gospel.
That’s the point. The Holy Spirit convicts and rebukes the world now through the Gospel, so that they may repent and not be rebuked and convicted on the Last Day. This is the time of the Helper, the time of the Spirit, from now until Christ comes again. Now the Word of God is still sent out into the world. Now the Spirit rebukes with words, not with hell-fire. Now the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the true faith. Now the Spirit comes with His much-needed help.
You haven’t seen Jesus. No one on earth has for nearly 2,000 years. He died and rose again and ascended into heaven long before you and I were ever born. All we know is a world where Jesus isn’t. But that’s not exactly true, is it? The Helper, the Holy Spirit, has brought our Redeemer very close to us, even grafting us into the body of Christ as branches are grafted into a tree. The Spirit alone could do this and has done it and will continue to do it until the end of this age. Sing a new song to the Lord for the much-needed help of the Holy Spirit! Amen.