Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sermon for Easter 5 at Zion, Lahoma

Easter 5 – May 22nd, 2011 – John 16:5-15

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
Again this Sunday our Lord prepares the disciples and us for life in the New Testament Church – life in His Church after His ascension. And our Lord begins this passage by saying something that we can have a hard time believing sometimes. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” Now, one of the common complaints, the common questionings that I hear, sometimes from Christians, often from skeptics, is this. If Jesus Christ rose from the dead, why didn’t He just hang around on earth and run the Church Himself, directly and personally? Why isn’t He hanging around still in Jerusalem where we can all go and visit Him and see the marks in His hands just like Thomas did? I’ll admit it, there are times where I think that it would have been better this way, that if I were Jesus I would have just stuck around and run things here on earth. But those thoughts only come up because I am a sinful and foolish man. Our Lord speaks truly here – His ascension is to our advantage.

Sometimes we think that Jesus is far from us, and that if He hadn’t ascended, we’d be so much closer to Him. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I was watching a show on the History Channel about the Vatican, and it showed the Pope stepping up to his apartment window, and from the crowd you could just see this teeny, tiny man in white, and you could hear his devotion over the loud speaker. What Roman Catholic parishioner, what typical person has any access, any relationship with the Pope? Not many? Maybe you’ll get to see him if he visits your country, or you can hear him from a distance. And that’s just the Pope. Imagine the crowds, the difficulties there would be if that were Christ Jesus Himself. In our lifetimes, most of us would never get near Him. In this world, that just won’t work well – we are bound by time and space, and our time would run out before we got close enough to Jesus.

No, it is better for the Church, better for us that Christ ascends, and why? “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.” No, Christ will ascend, and on Pentecost He will shower the Helper, His Holy Spirit, upon His Church. This is what we see at Pentecost, and suddenly the Church explodes across the world. What the Holy Spirit does is this – He spreads the Church throughout the world. We don’t have to go to one place, we don’t have to hit Jerusalem or Rome and wait in massive lines to be connected to God – the Holy Spirit has come, and by His power the Church has spread throughout the world; indeed, the Holy Spirit calls us to gather together in Congregations where Christ is present for us in preaching, present for us in baptism, present for us in His Supper. Ponder this – we don’t have to wait in line to hear Jesus – by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Christ’s Word is written and read to us now, even in our own language. Brock and Braden didn’t need to be put on a 75 year waiting list to be baptized. We don’t have to wait in line to touch Christ – whenever the Holy Spirit calls us here to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we receive Christ’s Body and Blood. This is to our advantage. Now, instead of being bound just to one place, we receive Christ Jesus in literally millions of places around the globe, until the day when Christ returns and we are brought to eternity, where we step beyond the bounds of time and space that would limit us now. This really is a neat thing, a wondrous thing. The Church is a great gift and comfort to us.

However, we need to get some things clear so we understand what is going on. As we move through the rest of this text, we are going to be talking about the Holy Spirit and what He does in His Church, and how that is a blessing. We need to make one thing clear here – when the Holy Spirit works in His Church, He does so through the Word. When we look at what the Spirit will do in the Church, we’re aren’t talking about you just walking along and then sudden *ZAP* the Holy Spirit has whacked you upside the head. Jesus always talks about the Holy Spirit speaking, about Him using Words. On Pentecost, when the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, what do they do? Do they say, “Oh, we are such awesome Christians because we have the Holy Spirit and you don’t, neener neener neener?” No – they go to the temple and preach – Peter stands up and starts preaching on Joel, starts proclaiming Christ and Him crucified – and that is precisely what is going on here. We are gathered around the Word of God – and so the Holy Spirit is active. When we study the Word, when the Word is preached, yes right now, the Holy Spirit is present and active. And I’ll even say this – that these verse that speak to what the Holy Spirit will do describe what preaching should and ought to do if it is to be considered Christian preaching. So, let’s dive in.

“And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” So, we have three things that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of – that word “convict” means that He will state things plainly and pin them to us – we are dealing with matters of truth. And we have three of them, so let’s ponder the first – “He will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” Preaching will be about sin, and it will be blunt about sin. And Jesus ties a tight little knot here – all sin is at its core disbelief. All sin is an ignoring of God. What is the First Commandment? Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Every sin is an act of unbelief, every sin is a matter of fearing, or loving, or trusting in something above God. This is why we can’t soft sell sin, this is why we can’t beat around the bush with it, why we can’t just say, “Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s not that big of a deal.” It is. Your sin is you choosing to ignore Christ Jesus, your sin is you saying that you will do things your way and His way can go to hell. That’s what sin is – whether it’s the most vile murderous rampage, or whether it’s the little lie that we tell ourselves is okay and doesn’t hurt anyone. Sin is a turning of our backs upon God. And proper preaching, preaching guided by the Holy Spirit upon the Word of God will be blunt about this. This is what we call the preaching of the Law. The Law always condemns, the Law always shows how we fall short – the Law always teaches us that we cannot rely upon ourselves, because in and of ourselves we are vile and even our works are nothing but filthy rags before God. Whenever someone soft cells sin, they aren’t speaking by the Holy Spirit.

The second and third things, though, are a comfort to us, they are Gospel. The Holy Spirit will convict “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see Me no longer.” This is pure, pure Gospel. Christ Jesus knows your sin, He knows the struggle you face against it. And so, for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and did everything required for you to be saved. He lived perfectly in your place – He knew no sin. He died in your place – He became sin for you and suffered its wages for you. He rose for you – He lived again so that you would know that you will live again because of Him. All this He has done – this is His righteousness, the fact that Jesus does that which is good and right and perfect – and that is your salvation. And why does the Holy Spirit preach this – because Christ has ascended to the Father. There is no more work He needs do to win you salvation – your sins are all atoned for, death and Satan and hell are defeated. It is finished. Jesus doesn’t leave a job half done, and if He has ascended to the Father, you can rest assured that everything that needs to be done for your salvation is completed. Indeed, in Christ’s Church, we don’t *do* anything to be saved – we simply receive Christ’s salvation as it is poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit who gives, who showers Christ’s righteousness upon us.

And finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” This too, is utter comfort for you who have been called to Christ Jesus, joined to Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. Salvation is yours, and there’s nothing the world can do to you that will take away Christ’s salvation from you. This is what we sing in A Mighty Fortress – “this world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none, he’s *judged*, the deed is done. One little word can fell him.” As Christians, we live in a messy, dangerous, evil world – but we live confidently, for we know that in Christ our sins are forgiven, we know that in Christ we have the promise of life everlasting. And while the world rants and raves around us, while things get messy and worse and nasty and horrid and evil – we know that this world of sin and suffering does not last – and that it does not conquer over us. The world is judged, and we are rescued from it. Christ Jesus has done it all for us, and so we are not bound to the troubles of this fallen world, but we have the promise of the new heavens and the new earth.

This is what Christ’s Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will proclaim until Christ Jesus returns. And this is the beautiful part – this is all for our benefit. God loves you richly, and He has procured for you your salvation. We hear this verse in closing – “All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” Everything that belongs to God, His holiness, His righteousness, His love, His mercy – all of it… Christ Jesus gives to you whenever the Holy Spirit declares it to you by the Word. Always Christ showers His gifts on us in His Church through His Spirit. And that is a wondrous thing – the mystery of the ages, the reason why we rejoice now along with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. Christ Jesus is our Lord, and we have salvation in Him. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

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