Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Spirit of Truth

 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.  But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.  And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

"I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you.  All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you."

Sermon for Cantate Sunday                                                              04/28/24

The Spirit of Truth

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

He is not coming.

He is here!  The Spirit of Truth of which Jesus spoke.  He is here through Word and Sacrament.  And, yes, it would be correct to say that He continues to come in the preaching of the Word and in the gifts of the Sacraments.  My point is, however, that it is no longer merely a future event.

The Apostles were looking forward to the coming of Pentecost, although they did not know it.  Jesus had not died yet, and they were not expecting that, so how could they be anticipating Pentecost?  The Spirit is at work among us already, convicting the world and teaching us the truth.  It is this work that is so important that it is to our advantage that Jesus is not among us now, so that the Spirit may be among us and working His work.

What is that work?  Convicting the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgement, and leading us into the truth.

He convicts the world concerning sin.  That doesn't mean that the world becomes convinced about sin.  The world's certainty about sin comes and goes - it waxes and wanes.  We are presently in a time when most of the world, including the part that calls itself Christian, is unconvinced – and usually unconscious – about sin.  That is why we have legal abortion and preferential treatment of homosexuals, and women ministers, and such things.  Part of the problem, of course, is that so many preachers do not preach the law clearly.  Too many have decided that what the Church has to offer is so weak and pathetic and undesirable, that we must approach people in a socially appealing way, and sell them on the sweetness and delight of the treasures we distribute or they want to change the message altogether.  They think we must find some sort of sugar-coating to get people to take the bitter medicine of the Gospel.

You can't tell people that they are wicked and sinful and expect them to come back to church week after week.  That is how the story goes.  Unfortunately for such preachers, that is the only tested and true way to make people want to come back.  Those who hear such a message are the only sorts of people who will come back week after week, faithfully.  Sinners need forgiveness and salvation.  Those who are not really sinful need to be entertained and "uplifted," and they don't really need it every week.

The whole thing really comes down to the "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me," that Jesus spoke in our Gospel a couple of weeks ago.  The Good Shepherd comes to rescue us, not entertain us, or please us with His bag of tricks.  Too much of the world around us thinks that the purpose of religion is to make us happy or to make life make sense for us.  The Gospel does that, but that is a secondary benefit.  We find that life makes more sense when we know that we rest secure in the hands of the Good Shepherd, and when the real issues of life and death are resolved for us.  Jesus came to solve the problem of death and hell, not give us a heartwarming hour of praise music, or deal with the injustices of our society or of the world around us.  The world wants so much less from God than He wants to give us.

Thank God that He has done just what we really needed, solved the problem of dying and of eternal misery in hell.  One of the reasons that you don't hear so much about that problem is that Jesus has saved us.  Too many people figure that since we have salvation, we should talk about something else, and not dwell on the negatives - - like sin, and God's wrath, and guilt.  People want to feel good.  Since Jesus has saved us, they say, we should look at the positive side, and stand up and sing happy songs, and just feel good!  So that is what most churches do.  It certainly seems like it should be more appealing to people than sin and guilt and death and hell.  And the big churches generally prove that point.  The unbelieving world wants to feel good, and they believe it is the job of their churches to make it so.

The Spirit, meanwhile, convicts the world of sin because they do not believe in Jesus.  The world believes something about Jesus, that's for sure.  But the world believes, basically, in themselves.  Some figure that their choices and decisions are what make the difference in their salvation - so they really believe in themselves.  For others, their feelings determine how they are and how things are going, not Jesus, not the promises of God, but how they respond to the preacher and the worship "event."  

That's the big thing for them.  Truth be damned, how you feel inside is what really counts.  So, they figure that if they feel good enough, or pious enough, or repentant enough, or "spiritual" enough, that is what is important.  That is what they count as saving.  Jesus can tell them that their sins are forgiven because He died on their behalf, and to them that is nothing but words.  Their preachers do not dare to speak either the absolution or the retaining of their sins.  He (or she, some of them have women preachers) may not believe it himself, but even it he does – who does he think he is to do that, only God can forgive sins!  Jesus had the same problem with the Pharisees a long time ago.

Since the world does not wish to hear about sin, and the members of the world do not place their hope completely on Jesus, they stand convicted of the sins they do not want to hear about, do not want to repent of, and do not want to hear the absolution of spoken to them.  

They stand convicted because they called Jesus a liar when He said "This is my body, given for you," and "This is my blood, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins."

They stand convicted because they will not take Jesus at His Word when He tells them that Baptism is step one of the two step program for making disciples, or when Jesus says that one must be born again by Baptism (by water and the Spirit) to enter the kingdom of God  – and they call Peter a liar when he teaches us, by the inspiration of Jesus, that Baptism saves you.  Oh, they practice baptism, but they do so only after carefully calling Jesus a liar and saying that it is only a rule we must follow – and not the very gift of life itself.

The Spirit of Truth convicts the world of sin by preaching it to them, and they simply will not listen.  You can ignore those letters from the IRS, too.  But if you do, eventually, they will come and take your stuff away from you – and when people ignore it and reject it and call it a lie when the Holy Spirit preaches the Law to them, and reject the wonderful gift of forgiveness and life which He brings to them in Jesus' name – they still stand convicted of sins, precisely because they refuse to believe in Jesus.

The Spirit of Truth convicts them of righteousness, too, because Jesus is righteous, and he has gone to be with the Father.  It is not their righteousness, however, that they stand convicted of, but Jesus'.  He is perfectly righteous, otherwise He could not stand in the Father's presence.  But we Him see no longer, as did the disciples of old, because He is righteous and can stand in the presence of the Father, interceding for us, and bestowing upon all that believe His own perfect righteousness.  Believing or unbelieving, the righteousness of Jesus stands as a truth, and He gives it to each one of you – by grace, received through faith.

Your sins are forgiven!  Each of you stands before God as perfect and holy, just like Jesus, because Jesus died for you, and forgives you.  It doesn't matter how you feel today, or tomorrow.  It is simply the truth.  If your life doesn't make sense to you, that's okay.  Your salvation is still the truth of God!

Then, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of Judgment, because the ruler of this present, sinful world has been judged.  Court was held on the cross, and in the grave that once held Jesus.  The resurrection was the verdict.  Christ is arisen!  Your sins are forgiven.  Now death and hell have been destroyed!  No one need ever suffer eternal death and condemnation.  The only people who will are those convicted of sin!   Remember the great courtroom scene of Romans 8?  Listen again as I read it for you.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?  Who will bring a charge against God's elect?  God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Far from being convicted of sin, you are each justified!  Your sins are forgiven and are nowhere to be seen!  The only people who will face judgment are those who refuse to be rescued by Jesus.  They are the ones who stand convicted of sin.  These are the truths into which the Holy Spirit leads us.  These truths are not accepted by everyone.  They are not even accepted by everyone who boasts of the name "Lutheran".  Nevertheless, they are true.  They are God's treasures, poured out on all mankind, but received only by them that believe.  To the rest, these truth are all either just a dream, or they are an error, and the world does not wish to participate.  They often dress their rejection of life and salvation up as wisdom, or science, or spirituality, or inclusiveness and compassion.  It is rejection, however, and it is their mistake - a tragic and fatal mistake.  They stand convicted of judgment.

The Spirit of Truth teaches Christ.  He proclaims forgiveness won by Christ and freely bestowed – and totally undeserved by every single one of those that receive it.  The Spirit of Truth speaks of the Love of God and of confidence in His good will toward us within which we may rest secure.  Every bit of it is true, because it is from Jesus, and Jesus got it all from the Father.  Human opinion does not carry any weight here, because these things are work of Jesus Christ and the trustworthy teachings of the Spirit of Truth.

Our part - and it, too, is a gift, really, is to speak the "Amen."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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