“Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment”
John 16:5-15 (4/24/16)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
St.John 16:5-11 5 “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 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 depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… What is the worst possible sin that a person could commit? What is the absolute worst thing that someone could do in God’s sight? The first thing that pops into most of our minds is probably something that has to do with an act of violence or hatred against another human being. And indeed, such things would be terrible sins against God. But there is something that is even worse in the eyes of heaven.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is in the midst of telling His disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He is describing to them and to us what it is that the Holy Spirit will do when He comes. One of the things Jesus says the Spirit will do is this: “He will convict the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” So what is the most damnable sin? Not to believe in Jesus. There is nothing worse than that.
This is the real problem with sinful human beings. It is not simply that society is immoral and rebellious and greedy, although it very much is. However, those are only symptoms of the real problem. The root of the matter, the heart of the situation is that people do not love God or trust in Him or have faith in His Son whom He has sent. They do not worship the Father and acknowledge Him as the source of every good and perfect gift. They do not believe in Jesus as the only Savior from sin or rely on His all-atoning death on the cross. Instead, they believe in themselves and consider themselves to be the master of their own self-chosen destiny. They pat themselves on the back for what they have in this world. They figure that if they keep their noses clean, they can earn their way into some eternal reward by doing more good than bad. They may be religious, but they are religiously focused on themselves. They have no real need for a Jesus who is a Savior from sin.
There is no greater insult to God than to treat Him in that way. Jesus did not take on your flesh and blood and sacrifice His life on the cross just so that He could be another guru or life coach giving you principles for living. Jesus came to give you a whole new life – His own life. Those who love their own lives, who have justified themselves and their behavior, in their hearts reject Jesus and the life He comes to bring. It is this sort of self-centered, self-satisfied, self-justified way of life that is the greatest rebellion against God and the biggest slap in His face.
In John 6 Jesus was asked by the people, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” It is God’s work that you trust in Jesus. That is the work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in you. And apart from that work you can do nothing good. You see, since everything we are by nature is tainted and infected by sin, none of us can do anything that is truly a good work apart from Christ, apart from holding to Him and His saving truth. No matter how good a person may appear to be humanly speaking, if he is not a believer in the Christ of the Scriptures, it is all sewage before God, for it proceeds from a heart that does not trust in Him.
Only that which comes from faith in Jesus is good; for He alone is good. Only works that are sanctified by Christ’s blood are good works. And that is just another way of saying that it is not our works that are good, but Christ’s works are good in and through us. He dwells in us to live in love toward God and our neighbor.
So let us be rid of all thinking or talk which says, “He’s is a good kid or a good person; church just isn’t their thing.” How could that be true if they are persistently ignoring the words and the sacraments of our Lord which alone create and sustain true faith? Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Let us rather be like St. Paul, who followed the law steadfastly even before His conversion, but who said that He counted all of that as rubbish and refuse, “that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” (Phil. 3:8-9)
This is the second part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Having convicted the world of sin – having brought us to repentance – He then proclaims and gives out the righteousness of Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father as Lord of all. This is the heart of what the Holy Spirit is about. Jesus said that the Spirit will “take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”
That is the Holy Spirit’s job, not to point to Himself or glorify Himself but to point to Jesus and glorify Him, to take the gifts of life and salvation that Jesus won for you and dish them out to you. The Holy Spirit is the delivery man of the Trinity, who brings the blessings of the cross to you in the packages of the Word and the Sacraments, that by faith you may receive them and open them by faith. Just as the Son of God was sent to reveal the Father, so now the Holy Spirit is sent to reveal the Son and thereby bring you back into fellowship with God.
The Holy Spirit, then, is the real preacher in the Church. He is the One who preaches the Gospel to you that you may be led into all truth. St. Paul declares (Rom. 1:16), “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” Through the words of the Gospel the Holy Spirit reveals and gives to you Christ’s righteousness. He speaks Jesus’ righteousness into your ears, so that the heavenly Father no longer sees your wretchedness, He sees only the holiness of His Son. Jesus came into this world to trade your sin and death for His righteousness and life.
Through the cross you and Jesus exchanged places. He became the guilty One so that you can stand as the innocent one before the throne of heaven. And that is what you are. You have been put right with God through Christ. It is written (Rom. 5:1), “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” You do not have a righteousness of your own from inside of you but that which is through faith in Christ from outside of you.
Martin Luther once said the following when preaching on this Gospel. “It is a particularly consoling message which the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, proclaimed in the world through the mouths of the apostles. Indeed, what is more comforting than that all sins, regardless of how many and great, are canceled, forgiven, covered up, and not reckoned to our account because we believe in Christ, and that he who has such faith is declared righteous before God without any work or merit on his part, but solely through faith in Christ? A more comforting message could not be preached to the world!”
You must cling by God-given faith to that message of the Holy Spirit with all your heart. Do not be tempted to look at yourself and say, “There’s no way God can forgive or accept someone like me.” Instead say, “Even though I do not deserve it, I know that God loves and accepts me, for He is merciful and compassionate, and He has paid for all my sins in His Son Jesus Christ.” Do not look to yourself; look only to the cross. For through that faith you are saved.
But at the same time be prepared for the devil and the world to come at you because you have such faith in Christ. The world portrays those who follow Christ and take God’s Word seriously as being a bit wack-o and on the fringe of society. They say, “Who are you to suggest that only those who believe in Jesus can be saved? What about all the other good people and religions in the world? Don’t my efforts at moral living count? You Christians just want to impose your thinking on everybody else.”
Take heart and be of good courage; you must not let the opinion and judgment of the world affect you, for ultimately their words come from the devil, who is the prince of this world. And he cannot help but condemn and persecute Christian faith and the righteousness of Christ. Do not fear or waver, for the prince of this world is judged. His condemnation can do you no harm, for he himself is condemned along with all those who parrot his empty words. It is written in John 3, “He who believes in Jesus is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” And it is also written, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (I John 3:8)
This is the third part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit: to proclaim the defeat and the judgment of Satan, the ruler of this world. Christ conquered him forever by His cross and resurrection. Jesus will retain the upper hand when it comes to judging, no matter how wise or powerful the people of the world may appear to be. Jesus alone is wise and righteous, while all others are fools. In the end He will have the last word on the last day.
So then, it is indeed to our advantage that Christ went away through Good Friday and Easter to the right hand of the Father. For only in this way could our righteousness have been won for us. Only in this way is the Holy Spirit now poured out on us to rescue us from unbelief and to bring us to saving faith in Jesus. And what Jesus procured for us on the cross – forgiveness of sins – He continues to deliver to you through His Holy Word and Sacraments. Through these means – and ONLY through these means – Jesus keeps you and me in the one true Church.
God grant you to know ever more fully and deeply this help and comfort of the Holy Spirit, to whom with the Father and the Son belongs all glory, honor, and praise, now and forever. Amen.