The Spirit convicts the world before the Day of Judgment

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Sermon for Fifth Sunday of Easter – Cantate

Isaiah 12:1-6 + James 1:16-21 + John 16:5-15

I almost didn’t waste my time preparing a sermon for this morning.  After all, if you’ve been following the news, you know that Judgment Day was supposed to come yesterday, May 21st, and with it, the Rapture, sweeping all believers up to heaven and leaving behind the unbelievers on earth for awhile.  Of course, we Lutherans reject the teaching of a Rapture, because the Bible clearly teaches that when the end comes, it will come for all at once – believers and unbelievers alike.  That day, Jesus says, will come like a thief in the night. “No one knows the day or the hour.”

That means that they are frauds and false prophets who set the date for Jesus’ return for judgment and plaster it on billboards and signboards.  They make a mockery of the real day of judgment that is to come, like the boy who cried, “Wolf!” when there was no wolf, and so on the day the wolf did come, no one in the town was prepared.

You and I know that the real Judgment Day is coming, Jesus has told us that.  And he’s told us that when that day comes, it will be too late to prepare for it.  You have to be ready now; you have to be ready before that day comes, because the actual judging takes place before Judgment Day.  That’s a good thing, though, because it means that those who believe in Jesus now don’t have to wonder what the final judgment will be.  And those who don’t believe now are still being given time to be convicted of their guilt and to turn to Christ for forgiveness.

And the one who does the convicting is the Holy Spirit himself.  That will be our theme this morning: The Spirit convicts the world before the day of Judgment.

Again, like last week, our Gospel today takes us to Maundy Thursday evening, the night before Jesus went away to his death.  He’s told his disciples that he’s going away – referring to his death but also to his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God the Father. And they’re very sad about that, but Jesus tries to comfort them.  He says, I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.  Why?  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  A few verses later, Jesus identifies that Counselor as the Holy Spirit.

And what will the Counselor – the Comforter – the Helper (there are many meanings for that word in the Greek) do?  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

First, before the day of Judgment, the Spirit will convict the world in regard to sin.

The world already has an idea about sin, but it’s incomplete.  The world knows, for example, that adultery and homosexual behavior and drunkenness are sins that deserve God’s righteous judgment, that disobedience to parents and others in authority is bad, that murder and stealing and lying are wrong.  That isn’t to say the world doesn’t try to change what it knows.  In our times, the world has been very successful at painting any or all of those things as normal, acceptable, even good.  Still, try as they might, people can’t escape the law of God written on all men’s hearts that identifies those things as sin.

What the world doesn’t understand about sin is that it infects everything people do. Original sin makes us altogether sinful and unclean, so that everything is bound together as sin before God.  That’s why it takes the Spirit of God to reveal the ultimate sin to the world: He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, Jesus said, because men do not believe in me.  There it is, staring the world in the face.  For all those who thought they were doing a pretty good job avoiding sin, the Spirit of God deals a crushing blow. Everything is sin, and forgiveness is found only in Jesus. Not believing in Jesus is the chief sin and that which makes a person guilty before God forever.

Now what does it mean to believe in Jesus?  Not just acknowledging his existence, or that he is the Son of God or that he died, or even that he rose again.  To believe in Jesus is to believe that he took your sin to the cross and paid for it there and reconciled you to God through his perfect life and his innocent death.  To believe in Jesus is to believe that he rose from the dead and is your living Advocate before God the Father, and to trust that your sins are forgiven for his sake alone.

That is the Holy Spirit’s message to the world, and through it, he convicts the world of guilt in regard to sin, because they have not believed in the One whom the Father sent but have wanted instead to hold onto their sins, and that means they have to answer for everything – every word, every deed, every thought and attitude of their hearts. Above all, they have to answer for their rejection of God’s Son.

Second, before the day of Judgment, the Spirit will convict the world in regard to righteousness.

Now, the world already has a notion about righteousness.  Righteousness, in the eyes of the world, comes from you, comes from your prayers, your good deeds, your acts of charity.  And, let’s be honest, the unbelieving world can do lots of great things – helping the needy and the sick, being nice neighbors, helping you change a flat tire.  Those are good things and should be done, but here’s the problem: when an unbeliever does those things, he doesn’t do it for love of Christ.  He does it as part of his own righteousness that he offers up to God.

But Jesus says that the Spirit will convict the world of guilt in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer.  In other words, all the righteous acts that the world does count for nothing when it comes to a person’s standing before God.  True righteousness comes only from Christ who earned for us all righteousness and innocence by his perfect life and innocent death, and who now has gone to the Father where he holds his righteousness up before God so that all who believe in him can claim it as our own.

Is it God’s will that you lead holy, righteous lives? Yes! Do this!  Make choices in your life that honor God and serve your neighbor, choices that deny yourself and benefit those around you.  Stop doing things that hurt others.  But never for a moment imagine that these deeds of love on your part are what reconcile you to God.  Only the righteousness of another can stand before God, and that righteousness of Christ is credited to the one who has faith in him.

Finally, before judgment day, the Spirit will convict the world of guilt in regard to judgment.

The world has a notion about judgment – that it isn’t coming.  How many are scoffing even now after the failed prophecy of Harold Camping that Judgment was supposed to come yesterday?  Then there are men of the world who call themselves Christians.  Rob Bell, a rather famous Evangelical megachurch pastor, has recently written a book called, “Love Wins,” in which he teaches that God is too loving to judge anyone, to send anyone to hell.

People convince themselves that God is too loving to judge anyone, or that they have no one they have to answer to, that this world and this present universe is all there is – so turn to science for answers, look to outer space, trust in humanity, preserve the environment at all costs.  Live for this world. Make up your own morality.  Where is this “coming” that he has promised?

But then along comes the Spirit of God, who will convict the world of guilt in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.  The world is wrong.  There is judgment.  There will be condemnation.  You can be sure of it, because the prince of this world, Satan, has already been condemned.  The Christ has been raised from the dead, and by his death and resurrection, he has undone the work of the devil.  So if the prince of this world has already been condemned, then all the citizens of this world can expect the same condemnation.

But all of this convicting happens before Judgment day, right here and now, through the preaching of the Gospel.  Through the preaching of the Gospel, the world’s judgment is proclaimed now, so that men are without excuse.

So don’t expect that, when the Gospel of free forgiveness in Christ is preached, the world will come running.  That same Gospel convicts the world of guilt.  The world doesn’t want Christ and his Gospel. Those who, in the end, are sentenced to hell will go there because they didn’t want what God had to offer in Christ.

The thing is, you wouldn’t want what God has to offer in Christ, either.   You were likewise, at one time, dead in sins and trespasses, just as hostile to God and to his Christ.  But in his great mercy, God’s Holy Spirit has convicted you of guilt and has turned your hearts to look to Christ for forgiveness. In Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit worked death in you, death to the world, and also life, making you citizens no longer of this world, but citizens of heaven. The Spirit has convicted us of our guilt before Judgment Day, and now, as believers in Christ, we have been justified by faith and will be declared sin-free on that day, through faith in Christ Jesus.

A Christian’s purpose on this earth is not to hold up billboards and signboards with scary dates plastered all over them.  A Christian’s purpose on this earth is to sing the praises of Him who is our innocent verdict when that day of Judgment comes.  Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  As we sing his praises (“Cantate!”), the world will hear, and some of the world – God’s elect – will be converted by our singing – or speaking or preaching or proclaiming, because our songs tell the story of God’s salvation in Christ, and that’s how the Holy Spirit convicts the world to get it ready for the day of judgment.  Sing to the Lord a new song! Amen.

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