Cantate – Fifth Sunday of Easter
“The Holy Spirit Will Comfort You”
Paul Norris, Seminarian
St. John 16.5-15
15 May 2022
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I recently bought my friend an elephant for his living room. He graciously accepted the elephant, placed it in his living room, and said to me, “Thank you.” I replied to him, “Don’t mention it.”
The idiom, “The elephant in the room” represents a difficult, controversial, or obvious problem that no one wants to talk about or mention because the subject is problematic, uncomfortable, or awkward. In such cases it is easier for those present to simply ignore or pretend the problem does not exist lest they be drawn into a conversation they do not want to be a part of. Or more so, they do not want to hear the true answer. The problem with ignoring the elephant in the room is that eventually, you will trip over the trunk.
This is the situation in which the disciples find themselves in the Gospel reading. Jesus has told the disciples that he is returning to the one who sent him, the Father, but none of the disciples has the gumption to ask, “where?” The disciples have avoided the subject because they do not want to hear the answer, and the thought of Jesus leaving them has filled them with sorrow. Instead of asking Jesus about his leaving and receiving comfort and joy from his answer, they do the opposite and ignore the problem. They avoid the elephant in the room.
Jesus, knowing their sorrow, confronts the ‘elephant in the room’ and explains to them that his leaving is an advantage to them. Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his ascension. But even though the thought of Jesus returning to the father may disappoint the disciples, there is an advantage. God will send The Paraclete, which is a Greek word that means, mediator, intercessor, or helper. Indeed The Paraclete is difficult to write about. Not only because Microsoft Word insists on auto-correcting Paraclete to “Parakeet”, but because as Christians we tend not to give the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity, his proper due.
Giving up something that we love is hard. In this case, the disciples must give up the physical presence of Jesus. But this kind of heartbreak is good and beneficial. Their hearts do not break because of impatience or anxiety, but they resign themselves patiently and submissively to God’s will. The disciples’ love of Jesus is good and proper, and they do not want to give up the earthly fellowship they have with Jesus.
We should first learn from the Gospel that when we meet up with something painful and unpleasant, we should accept it in obedience to God, endure it with patience, and be comforted by trusting in God’s will. God’s way of working in us is that after temptation and trial, once our hearts have been broken, he grants us rich and overflowing comfort. Although this rich and overflowing comfort may not be what you want it to be, it will be according to God’s goodwill. So also, Christ comforts his disciples with the future blessing, the Holy Spirit. The reality is that if Christ remains on earth, the Holy Spirit will not come to them. This is written for us so that we may learn to be patient in our suffering, cross, and trial, and trust God’s good and gracious will.
Even though the disciples desire for Jesus to stay with them, they do not yet know that with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the great plan of salvation for the world will be gloriously carried out in its consummation to the everlasting joy and glory of the disciples. Jesus must complete his work of death, resurrection, and ascension so that the Holy Spirit may take all of Jesus’ work using the Gospel to spread its saving power to the ends of the earth. Jesus tells this to the disciples looking ahead to Pentecost.
The second thing we learn from the Gospel is the nature and the work of The Paraclete, the helper, The Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” The world, means all people in all places, not just the present enemies of Christ which the disciples are witness to. The certainty of the conviction of the Holy Spirit is not in question. All who do not repent will stand convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt. Those who do not repent will be like guilty criminals, who even though they deny their guilt, they will stand unequivocally convicted. The conviction of the world is dealt with by three subjects; sin, righteousness, and judgment. (v.8) These are the three vital points that pertain to Christ’s spiritual authority and his kingdom, of which the world is ignorant.
It is not to be understood that the world does not know anything about right or wrong. Indeed the Law is written on every man’s heart. (Rom 2:14-15) It has laws and it seemingly knows what is good and right. The Holy Spirit does not simply repeat the law of Moses by the preaching of the Law. The world’s conviction in sin lies in one direction, “because they do not believe in me.” (v.9) The real and true essence of sin is unbelief. This is the chief of sins, the denial of Jesus. Outside of Jesus and his saving work on the cross, and in his resurrection from the grave, none can be saved. But those who believe in Jesus, are saved from sin and are forgiven. Those who do not believe in Christ, remain in sin and suffer eternal death.
The conviction of the Holy Spirit to believe in Christ can have two outcomes. It will crush some hearts so much that they will be frightened by their unbelief and cry out to God. The Holy Spirit will lead them to repentance and belief. Or, they will resist this conviction and their hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh. They will continue in life stubbornly fighting against the conviction of the Holy Spirit until they die an eternal death. In their resistance to their conviction, the Holy Spirit will do exactly as Jesus says in John 8:24, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
As for righteousness, the righteousness that the Holy Spirit brings has the same force as it pertains to sin. The Holy Spirit’s conviction of righteousness will either convict men to repentance and faith or it will harden hearts to even more unbelief. The world is far from honestly admitting its sin. It knows sin, especially those sins that are too evident to hide. But the world always seeks to hide and cover up its sin. It will always seek ways to excuse it or make it something less than it really is. But as for righteousness, the world is always seeking righteousness in some form of its own making. The world makes itself the judge of righteousness, or if it does acknowledge God, it makes God a gentle god who deals lightly with sin. It is always coming up with new ways to appear righteous and signal its righteousness and virtue to others. The world thinks that its good deeds will atone for its evil deeds. It readily accepts religions that teach works-righteousness as a way to heaven. The world is always seeking a way to find and secure righteousness by its own merits and efforts apart from God. The world makes the way of righteousness difficult, elite, and almost unobtainable. But the righteousness of God for the sinner is light and easy (Matt 11:30). The Holy Spirit’s work in the world is to convict the world concerning righteousness.
True righteousness is directly connected to Jesus. Righteousness is the state of the sinner that God acquits. Any other acquittal by men or any worldly organization is useless and will not withstand the court of heaven. I know the catechumens remember the large section of the Small Catechism they had to memorize and recite on Justification By Grace, For Christ’s Sake this year. Perhaps, adults, you remember the section from your catechesis.
It is a trial in heaven.
God is the Judge.
The accuser is our Adversary, the devil.
The culprit is man.
The accusation is true; the conscience of the accused witnesses against him, and so does the Holy Spirit, who searches all things.
The guilt is great.
The punishment is endless.
The Law is from Sinai.
The sentence is ready.
Then comes the Lamb of God, our High Priest and Advocate, with the Blood that speaks better things than the blood of Abel. On behalf of the miserable, lost and condemned criminal, he urges his suffering and death in his place, his perfect merit and victory over all our enemies. What an advocacy! The poor sinner near to death embraces his feet, in fullest trust, and full of penitence and sorrow.
Then comes a voice from the Holy of Holies: “Tear down the indictment. The guilty man is acquitted for Jesus’ sake from all guilt and punishment; he is justified, and without price, the righteousness of Christ is accounted his. [The Great Exchange]
True Righteousness only comes to the world by the judicial pronouncement of God which changes your status from death row convict to that of one who is righteous by the blood of Jesus.
Concerning judgment, God is saying do not let the judgment of the world concern you. Instead, the ruler of this world, Satan, has been judged by God. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the devil has been judged and found guilty. His fate is already sealed, and the judgment of God once rendered, is irrevocable. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection which pronounced the final judgment of the devil, this judgment is as sure and certain as if it has already been completed. Even now as Satan moves towards his final defeat, he still tries to convince the world differently. He is the prince of this world, and all who follow him – follow him to a certain guilty conviction and are damned forever. But those who accept the Holy Spirit’s conviction that points to the devil’s judgment will escape the judgment of eternal death. In the conviction of the Holy Spirit, there is acquittal for those who believe in Jesus and are saved. But for those who follow the devil and are lost, there is nothing but eternal condemnation.
But we who heed the conviction of the Holy Spirit have much to rejoice about. We rejoice that God has turned his anger away from us, and now comforts us with the Holy Spirit. (Is 12:1) The Holy Spirit speaks to us from the only source of truth, Christ Jesus. (v.13-14) As we will soon celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Father, we have comfort and joy that Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit who amplifies and deepens all that He taught. We rejoice that the Holy Spirit has given us the gift of faith in our baptism, enlightened our hearts to the truth, and continues to speak to us the Word of Christ. And especially, we rejoice as the Holy Spirit does his work of placing Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord before the eyes of all men, glorifying Him forever.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.