Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sermon on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15, for Pentecost, "The Holy Spirit"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last week we talked about bearing witness, or “taking the stand” for Jesus, as we are called by God to testify about who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Today is Pentecost, the celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Christian Church. It was the day when the apostles of Jesus first gave public witness of what they had seen of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, that one of the primary jobs of the Holy Spirit is also to testify or bear witness about Him. In the Gospel reading Jesus gives His disciples a preview of the coming and work of the Holy Spirit. The key work of the Spirit is to point people to Jesus. He doesn’t take the disciples in a different direction than where Jesus has led them, but continues on the same mission for which Jesus had prepared them.
If we step back a moment from this reading, we see that all three persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—work in unison for this task of drawing people to Jesus. In John 6:44, Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” So we cannot come to Jesus unless the Father draws us. Then in John 12:32, describing the way in which He would die, Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Through Jesus’ death on the cross, He draws all people to Himself. It is His saving work. And the Holy Spirit, as we just heard, testifies of Jesus, and John 14:26 also tells us the Spirit will teach us all things and bring to our remembrance Jesus’ teachings. So God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is drawing all people to Jesus Christ, that we find life in Him. So the work of the Holy Spirit is always in that larger picture of God’s total action toward humanity. And the three persons are one God, and one in unified purpose and action, directing us to salvation in Jesus. The Bible is also emphatic that all true witness and confession of Jesus Christ as Lord, comes from the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ preview of the giving of the Holy Spirit, He says that Holy Spirit is going to convict the world. Convict can make you think of a courtroom sentence, or it can also make you think of bringing you to a strong awareness or agreement with something. As in forming strong convictions. The word shows up in 18 places in the New Testament, and arguably every one of them is related to showing someone their sin, with the purpose of moving them to repentance. That’s the best understanding of the word here—the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Jesus briefly explains each.
The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in me, Jesus says. Naturally this conviction is pointed at repentance. As the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, one of His works is to expose the lie. The devil is the father of lies, and however he can twist the truth into a lie, he will do so. If that is to ignore sin, redefine it, or even make us believe we can never be forgiven for it, the devil has a lie suited for every occasion. But the Holy Spirit speaks the Truth and leads us into that same Truth. The Spirit convicts the world of sin. But interestingly, Jesus names the definitive sin as unbelief in Him. Unbelief in God, and in Jesus Christ, whom He sent, is the root of all sin and disobedience against God. Every other sin stems from this root cause—unbelief in God. And unbelief in Jesus is really the only sin that damns. Apart from believing in Him, and having His forgiveness, we are lost.
Which leads into the second convicting work of the Holy Spirit; He convicts the world concerning righteousness. Jesus says this is because He is going to the Father and we will see Him no longer. This statement is perhaps a little more mysterious, though it clearly points to righteousness as being related to Jesus and His departure. What does the Scripture teach about righteousness in relation to Jesus?
Why does the world need to be convicted concerning righteousness? To start with, it’s that the Holy Spirit has to expose the lie of our own self-righteousness. We don’t understand what true righteousness is, unless we have the righteousness of Jesus. Many religious and non-religious people alike, are very moral, upstanding citizens. They are not tied up in crime, they may be successful and agreeable people. They may have the respect and admiration of others. But it would be another of the devil’s lies, to believe that this righteousness of our own would put us in good favor before God, or make us deserving of heaven. This would be to be saved by our good works—which is the basic assumption of virtually every world religion except for the teaching of Jesus. Jesus routinely exposed the false righteousness of the religious leaders, who supposed they had a righteousness to stand on. The Holy Spirit continues that work of exposing false righteousness and shining the spotlight on Jesus’ true righteousness.
The Bible teaches that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). It’s not our wickedness that God says is like dirty rags, but our righteous deeds. Boy, that rains a hammer blow on my pride. Romans echoes this, by saying there is no one righteous, no, not one. Not one who seeks after God. Another blow to our own righteousness. So if our righteousness, if human goodness is shot to tatters, than in whom or what can we trust?
The Bible is quick and plain to answer, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. His righteousness is perfect, intact, pure and good, and more than that, it’s freely given to all who would receive it. God lavishly clothes all of His lost children who come home to Him, in Christ’s best. He dresses us in Holy Baptism with Jesus’ righteousness to cover all our sin. So if the Spirit of Truth teaches us to reject our own righteousness as beyond repair—then He also teaches us to take the freely offered righteousness of Jesus Christ. With this we are properly clothed and will find favor to enter God’s heavenly wedding banquet.
The third work of the Holy Spirit, is that He convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Shortly before this farewell speech about the Holy Spirit to His disciples, Jesus explained this statement. He described the near hour of His death on the cross, the climax of all His saving mission. In John 12:31–32, Jesus says: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The ruler of this world is Satan, and Jesus was judging him and casting him out. Jesus’ death on the cross would topple the devil’s lies, and answer all his accusations against our sin, by suffering our full penalty on the cross. The Holy Spirit continues to testify of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil. The Holy Spirit testifies to the world that Jesus’ judgment over the ruler of this world has triumphed. The devil’s everlasting sentence is the lake of fire. His chief remaining ploy is to try to turn people away from Jesus, and create the sin of unbelief. But his fate is sealed, he is judged.
The Holy Spirit gives us the truth to combat the lie. He points us to Jesus, who has defeated the father of lies, the devil. He fastens the belt of truth around us, and arms us with the breastplate of Jesus’ righteousness. With the Word of God as the sword of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit equips us to stand firm in the evil day, and stand against the schemes of the devil.
Today is the day of Pentecost, when this Holy Spirit was first poured out in new measure on the disciples of Jesus. The same gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out on us in the waters of Baptism, and is active in the preaching of Christ’s word, which generates faith in us. We daily pray for the activity and strength of the Holy Spirit within us, and seek that gift in the study of God’s Word, in the receiving of His gifts, and through fervent prayer. With His Spirit, we can boldly witness of Jesus—telling what He has done for us. We do not have to fear the devil’s growl, because we know that Jesus has conquered Him. And we can accomplish mighty things for Jesus’ kingdom, by the One who lives and moves in us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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    1.  The word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit, translated “Helper” in the ESV, comes from the Greek word paraclete, which is also sometimes translated “Comforter,” “Advocate”, or “Counselor”. How do these words help capture the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s work? John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:6-15.
    2. Why would Jesus’ departure bring sorrow, but still be for their own good? John 16:5-7.
    3. The Holy Spirit’s work is described as convicting. The word here can mean “convict, convince, or reprove.” How will the Holy Spirit do this work concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment? See 8:24, 46; Acts 17:31; John 12:31.
    4. v. 12-15—Why might the disciples have not been ready for further teaching at this point? Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. Does the Holy Spirit teach a novel or different message than what Jesus taught? Rather, whose authority and teaching does He bring to bear? How are we warned to respond to those who claim to have a novel teaching “revealed to them” by or in the Spirit? 1 John 4:1-6;  On whom does He focus His spotlight? John 15:26.
    5. Since the Holy Spirit directs us to Jesus, how does that effect the shape of our Christian spirituality? Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:2; Hebrews 12:2.

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