St. John 16:5-15
But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: 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 go, I will send him to you. And 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.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Last week we began to talk about this text, along with the portion that comes right after it. Jesus’ disciples would suffer a loss in not being able to see Him anymore after His death on a cross. He told them that after a little while, they would see Him (of course, He would rise from the dead three days later). Similarly, all believers live in this world that can have so much sorrow, longing to be with Jesus and to see Him with our eyes. It is a little while that we wait. In the meantime, the Holy Spirit sustains us.
This week we discuss more specifically the comfort and joy that you can have because of the Holy Spirit’s work. We focus especially on the words: And when [the Spirit] 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.
We are living in uncertain times, aren’t we? I hope that you are listening to a message like this because you want to know that apart from all of the confusion you can have true certainty about this, and the next life.
You want to hear this message because you believe what the Holy Spirit has taught you. By means of Baptism, by means of God’s Word, the Spirit has taught you about sin, for one thing.
You believe He has taught you what sin is. Only God can define sin, after all. He is the righteous one Who made all of this. You and I don’t define what sin is, He does. And this unchangeable God Who hasn’t changed in the past ten, or thirty, or one hundred, or two thousand years, though the world’s thinking has (Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6); this God has declared in what Jesus calls unbreakable Scripture (John 10:35), what sin is. With Ten Commandments that establish what love of God is, and what love of neighbor is, He has defined it. The Holy Spirit has enabled you to believe it.
He has enabled you to believe a hard truth about yourself too. You don’t just believe that there is sin, and see it in other people. You don’t just believe that you know what sin is. Also, you believe that you are a sinner. The Holy Spirit works in your conscience. You know what righteousness is by definition of God’s Commandments. You have - sometimes in weakness, other times in outright rebellion - transgressed God’s Commandments. You have known what is godly, and you have failed to accomplish it. In fact, your inherited nature makes it impossible for you not to fail.
Today’s Collect says, Grant unto Your people that they may love what You command and desire what You promise; that among the manifold changes of this world our hearts may always be fixed where true joys are to be found. “Love what you command and desire what you promise…” That brings to mind the fact that sometimes even in accomplishing what we’ve been asked, we are sinful. Isn’t that something? When your mother asked you to clean up after the evening meal, and you did, but you murmured about it - irritated that you had to do it - you sinned even in what you might have thought was obedience. God would have you love what He commands; but sometimes you haven’t. Sometimes you’ve bristled under what He has commanded.
Jesus says in our text that the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.
The Bible often uses the term the world to describe those who do not believe in Christ. The Holy Spirit convicting the world for its unbelief is clear enough. But the line between belief and unbelief can become very thin. Jesus is warning believers here too.
For a time, King David was hiding a grievous sin, certainly from the world, but also supposedly from God (from Whom, of course, nothing is really hidden). He describes his spiritual state during that time in a couple of the Psalms (32; 51). His description of himself is of one who is very lost. His aim is to elude God’s approach rather than to be saved by it. He’s Adam and Eve hiding themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). He cannot (as from the Collect) desire what God has promised, because in protecting sin he is refusing God’s forgiveness. Even if God is following after you with open arms, you have to want to be without your sin in order to receive Him. Otherwise, you just keep walking away from Him so that He doesn’t prevent you from doing what you want to do.
Whenever you have protected sin, determined that you would just go on with it as if God isn’t seeing it or doesn’t care about it, you have been acting in unbelief. It’s difficult to think of it that way, isn’t it? But it’s a choice you have made to trust in your own will rather than in the Lord’s will. And it’s a dangerous game to play. God calls you to repentance in those circumstances like He called King David through the ministry of Nathan the prophet (2 Samuel 12), and like He called Adam and Eve when He confronted them in the garden. The Holy Spirit convicts all of us of sin, and calls us to repent and believe.
When Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness, He offers in explanation these words: because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.
The disciples hadn’t really been able to think past Jesus being with them as He had been for the past few years. How could they? They were where they needed to be, as far as they were concerned. But God’s eternal plan to save the world was bigger than that. Jesus would be glorified, and would be enthroned over all the world, and would have all power in heaven and on earth. He would send the Spirit to work through means of Word and Sacrament. The Christian ministry of the Church would proceed under His care and guidance, glorifying Christ as the One Who makes sinners righteous in Himself.
The Holy Spirit has enabled you to believe this. You believe that Christ is the Righteous One Who makes you righteous. The Holy Spirit silences any other apparent righteousness. It’s a lie. It doesn’t exist. Sin has corrupted everything and everyone except this One Who is begotten of the Father from eternity, and born of the Virgin Mary, without corruption. It is He Who must make you righteous. You believe that because of the Holy Spirit’s work.
And you cling to Him as your Savior. You desire the true joys that He has promised (again, from the Collect). I said that I hope that you are listening to a message like this because you want to know that apart from all of the confusion you can have true certainty about this, and the next life. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
What the Holy Spirit has taught you about judgment should give you certainty about this, and the next life. Your certainty isn’t in whether or not the thoughts, words, and deeds of your life will be considered righteous before God and fit for His kingdom. They won’t. Your certainty is in the One Who was punished for your sins, Whose righteousness has been declared as your righteousness before God. The ruler of this world - the devil - has no claim on you anymore because Christ, your Passover Lamb has been sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7). He has taken the judgment for your sins upon Himself so that you are innocent, guiltless to stand before God’s throne.
In the beginning of our text, Jesus says to His disciples: I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ He says this because He wants them to ask Him so that He can tell them this news that will quell the sorrow that has filled their hearts, that will lift their spirits. His going to the Father means that God’s gracious plan is advancing to its climax. The Son Who has been given out of God’s great love for the world (John 3:16) proceeds toward the cross and grave, and then toward the glory that anticipates the glorifying of all who believe in Him.
You are among those believers who will be glorified on the Last Day. That reality is yours on your masked journey through the grocery aisles, and in your anxious consideration of your pandemic finances, and in your longing to be back to a more normal way of life. The Holy Spirit has taught you by means of Baptism and God’s Word to cling to Christ, in Whom you have God’s full and free forgiveness. God’s love for you is certain in the manifold changes of this world (as the Collect says). It is certain in this life, and in the life to come. God be praised. Amen.
You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
“Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.
“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.