In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
The Church Year is always preparing us for what comes next. In the middle of Advent, the Third Sunday tells us to rejoice, because the Lord’s coming is near. In the middle of Lent, the Fourth Sunday calls us to rejoice again, because the salvation which Christ came to bring is about to be accomplished. Like those two Sundays, today encourages us to look ahead. In the middle of Easter we look ahead to Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us what the Holy Spirit will do for us, and because of His work in bringing to our mind all that Jesus has done for us, we are told to sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things, a song we can only sing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That’s really the summary of all of the Readings today. Without the Holy Spirit, Isaiah would not have known to praise the Lord for his salvation. Without the Holy Spirit we would not be able to heed James’s instruction avoid sin and receive the Word of God. Without the Holy Spirit, the work of conviction and revelation of Jesus needed for our salvation would not occur.
Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit has three chief duties: to convict, to guide into all truth, and to give you the Words of Jesus. However, these three duties can all be summed up in one: the Holy Spirit’s job is to open the Word of God to you. Any other thing the Holy Spirit has ever caused, things like speaking in tongues, performing miracles, or knowing the future, is secondary. He caused those things to happen in service to the Word. That is not the Holy Spirit’s primary job, and that is why they occur so infrequently and since the closure of the writing of the New Testament and the end of the Apostolic period we no longer look for nor expect these things. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God. He’s not flashy. He’s plain. He likes ordinary things like words, water, bread, and wine and transforms them into life-giving Gifts. That’s how the Holy Spirit works. He teaches us not to look for Jesus in sunshine or animals or emotions, but in the places where He has promised to be: the Gifts He left to His Church.
Through these gifts, all of which flow from and receive their power from the Word, the Holy Spirit carries out the peculiar-sounding task of convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment. What does this mean? Jesus explains it a bit: We are convicted of our sin which flows from unbelief. We are convicted of righteousness because Jesus has paid the price for our sin and reigns with the Father. We are convicted of judgment because there is no one to judge us who are in Christ Jesus.
When Jesus says we are convicted of sin, this is an easy thing to understand. We are sinners. We confess that quite openly. What we may not expect is the root of sin. Jesus says that sin happens because we do not believe in Him. We don’t trust Him. We think He’s holding out on us, that He doesn’t care what we want or think we need to be happy. So we take care of it for ourselves. If we believed, we wouldn’t sin. We would wait for God to supply what we want and need, and trust in His care and wisdom when we don’t get what we want or think we need.
And besides, sin never works out the way we think it will. In the Eighth Commandment God forbids speaking ill of our neighbor. Gossip never helps; it only hurts you and hurts the person you gossip about. Think of the last time you gossiped about someone. Did it feel better afterwards? No! You felt worse afterwards, wondering if the person you just talked about would find out what you said and come back to you demanding an explanation. On the other hand, how often has the Holy Spirit taken over and kept you from gossiping and you felt better afterwards for not saying anything? Every time! Avoiding sin never comes with regrets! That’s because the Law is good. It shows us what is good, the best way to live, the way we were made to live. As good as it felt to keep the Law, we trick ourselves into thinking that sin feels better, so we break the Law time after time. We hurt people, hurt ourselves, and dishonor God. We come full circle, convincing ourselves that God is holding out on us and in the end find out that He really wasn’t and knew what was best all along.
But that conviction of sin isn’t the only conviction the Holy Spirit makes. He convicts of righteousness. What does this mean? It means that the Holy Spirit, in this conviction, has a two part action. First, He shows that what we think to be righteousness really isn’t, and is like filthy rags. Second, He reveals who alone is righteous and makes us righteous, and that is Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy to go to the Father and offer His Blood as the fulfillment of the Law’s demands. Jesus has come to earth and taken on our flesh, made Himself a sacrifice for sin, defeated hell, death, and the devil, and has gone to heaven, to the Father, as a Man. He has opened heaven to all believers. You are righteous because Jesus has paid your debt and gone to present your case to His Father. Yes, you are a sinner, but Jesus came to save sinners! He died for your sins. This conviction that we are sinners is not bad or evil. In fact, it is the opposite! This news that we are sinners drives us to the Gospel, where we find that if we are sinners, then we have a Savior! Jesus points to the marks in His hands, feet, and side and reveals that there is a payment made in full for your sin. The Law has no accusations left; the devil is defeated and you are righteous.
This is what the Spirit takes from Jesus and declares to be yours. Jesus has made a great exchange. In mercy He took your sin, guilt, shame, and mortality and in exchange, by the Spirit’s declaration, gives you what is His—His righteousness, innocence, holiness, blessedness, the service of the angels, the Name of His Father, access to heaven, and everything else. This is what the Spirit reveals to you, that for Jesus’ sake, at Jesus’ Word, you are righteous.
And finally the Holy Spirit convicts us of judgment. He reveals to us, leads us to the confession that we deserve to be judged as sinners worthy of hell and death. He uses the Law, in all its bright, revealing light to expose our sin, but His work doesn’t stop there. He does this to prepare us for the Gospel. So the Spirit shows us our judgment. He leads us to confess “Yes, I am a sinner. But I am Baptized. Jesus has claimed me as His own. He has judged me righteous by His Blood.” The Spirit’s convictions always lead to Jesus.
When we are judged in heaven’s courtroom we are like Barabbas. We are the ones who deserve, not just to be locked away for life, but to die for our sins, both in this life and eternally. But Jesus reveals His sacrifice and we go free because He has been punished in our place. That is the judgment of heaven. You have no sin; you are forgiven. You are judged innocent.
By the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction, of guiding into all truth, and giving us the Words of Jesus, our hearts are fixed where true joys are to be found. The Holy Spirit keeps our eyes pointed to Jesus and His work for us, not just for what that means here in this life, but for what it means for the life to come. Because of His merciful work for us, delivering to us Jesus and all that He has done for us, we are forgiven, and we can sing to the Lord a new song eternally.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).