Text: John 16:5-15
Date: Easter V +5/6/07
Every Sunday in the Prayer of the Church we pray that Almighty God would “inspire continually the holy catholic Church with the Spirit of truth,” and would grant “that all who confess [His] holy Name, may agree in the truth of [His] holy Word.” We pray that first petition because Jesus promised that He would send the Spirit of truth. We pray that second petition because there are those who confess the Name but do not agree in the truth. Even as we confess that we “believe” in the things that we cannot see, so do we continually pray for things such as agreement in God’s truth, the existence of which are not always evident or are continually threatened by the divisions of ignorance, false teaching or unbelief. Pontius Pilate was only the most famous one to utter with contemptible unbelief and mockery the universal question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Unlike at the founding of our nation all the way up until about 50 years ago, when God and specifically the Judeo-Christian religion were part of the very fabric of the public square and discourse, that fabric has been quickly deteriorating under the wear and tear of secularism and the tyranny of relativism to the point that most people today believe there is no such thing as objective truth applicable to everyone, there is no one true “church” on earth, and there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong.” In such a world the words of our Lord we hear today ring hollow, and our Easter proclamation of the resurrection of Christ is pretty much ignored and considered as but the remnant of an out-of-touch tradition—nothing to get too excited about any more.
The ministry of the Holy Spirit of Christ, according to our text, consists in these three main themes, to “convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.” It’s been the main theme of the truth from the beginning, these three important items that underlie everything else—the cause of all suffering and death, the only true hope that exists, and the reality of the spiritual warfare that is behind every war and conflict, every crime, every hatred, every division and every unkind word: the devil, “the ruler of this world.”
There is a great hymn by F. Pratt Green that did not “make the cut” of being included in our new Lutheran Service Book called “This is the Threefold Truth.” According to the hymn, the truth that sums up “the hope” of the Christian faith is this: Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!”
This is the threefold truth which, if we hold it fast,
Changes the world and us and brings us home at last:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
The first thing we need to know about this threefold truth is that it is centered in Jesus. When Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will guide the apostles (and us!) into all truth, He says: “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” [John 16:13 (ESV)]. This is a sedes doctrina or “seat of the doctrine” of the Divine inspiration of the New Testament scriptures! The sole function of God the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus Christ! He takes what belongs to Christ and makes it known to us. He does not speak of Himself. He speaks of Christ, because Christ is our connection, our cornerstone.
Now, the truth is not merely a moral code of conduct, as important as morality is. In our day of moral relativism it seems everything is up for grabs. The truth is not found in mere agreement among those who support “traditional morality” (though that’s part of it). For instance, there are many folks across denominational lines that agree with us in matters such as the sanctity of human life, the lifelong union of a man and a woman in marriage, and the binding authority of the Ten Commandments. But that agreement in morality is not yet agreement in the central and most important doctrine of the Christian faith.
Our text says that, in teaching us about Christ, the Holy Spirit acts like a prosecuting attorney. He convicts the world of three things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. In other words “the world” is basically wrong about the subjects of sin, righteousness, and judgment. What is it about the world’s view of sin that makes it wrong, and why must the Holy Spirit show this? Jesus says, simply, “Because they do not believe in Me.” Sin causes our separation from God and from our neighbor. The world is “convicted” because of its refusal to believe in Jesus! This is the ultimate root of sin that convicts sinners.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. In his death, he has taken away the sin of the world—taken it away! It’s gone in Him! Jesus was and is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world! Faith receives Jesus and the forgiveness that He has won for us all. That means that, to still persist in unbelief, then, is the one and only sin that cannot be forgiven: rejecting the forgiveness Christ has won. Therefore it can be said that the world doesn’t understand sin because it doesn’t know or understand Jesus. Only when we, through faith in Jesus, receive the forgiveness of all our sins do we understand the true nature of sin. It is as the Holy Spirit sets you free from the burden and guilt of sin that you learn what sin really is. For it doesn’t consist merely in violating a few rules of conduct. Sin is the turning away from God altogether. It is to worship ourselves. The Holy Spirit shows us, through the Word of Christ, what sin is as He relentlessly shows us how Jesus, the Lamb of God, bears all our sins away.
Then, the Holy Spirit convicts the world as “guilty” when it comes to the subject of what makes for righteousness before God. The world is wrong. For the world teaches that people can make themselves righteous by just doing good things. The truth is that it is because we cannot do good things “good enough” that it was necessary for God to send his Son to fulfill all righteousness for us, on our behalf, and then to offer himself as the only sacrifice for our disobedience and sin. Now, Jesus says, “I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” We see him no longer. But the Father sees Him, looks at Jesus’ righteousness and, solely because of Him, he then turns and proclaims righteous all who trust in him for their salvation. True righteousness is not earned. It is declared, bestowed by the Judge of all for the sake of Jesus.
Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. Satan, the ruler of this world, rules in the hearts of those who do not know or who outright reject Christ. He rules by means of his false, anti-Christ teaching, namely, convincing people that sin is not that bad of a thing, that a person can become righteous by his own deeds and that God isn’t really going to judge and condemn sin and the sinner anyway. Again, left on our own, God’s judgment and condemnation of sin looms with a clear warning that, without the forgiveness of sins, you will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21). The Good News is that, by faith in Christ, the judgment has already happened. It happened on His Cross for the life of the world. The shepherd knows his own and his own know him, and at the last judgment he will separate his sheep from the goats before even a word of judgment has been spoken.
A preacher of earlier days said this: “We know precious little about God, but the little that we do know is precious.” God is mysterious and hidden. There is so much we don’t know about God. But the little that he has revealed to us in his Word is precious and takes a lifetime to learn and to believe. Because before and after all it is by this strange, wonderful, mysterious, miraculous thing called “faith in Christ,” created in the heart of sinners by God the Holy Spirit through the Word of Christ, that we are enabled to live with confidence and daily be ready for his return. Today, and as we will celebrate on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus has sent the Helper, the Spirit of truth to you, so that we can say with the Apostle Paul, the “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” [2 Cor. 4:6 (ESV)].
This is the threefold truth: Christ! Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!