Sunday, May 6, 2012

Homily for Cantate (The Fifth Sunday of Easter)


The text of this homily was written by Rev. Paul Beisel. Check out his blog at I rarely use another preacher’s text wholesale, but Rev. Beisel said what I wanted to say better than I could have done it this week.

John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

How could it be to our advantage that the Lord depart and go to His Father? How could this be of any benefit to us? Wouldn’t it have been better for our Lord to remain on the earth after he rose from the dead? Wouldn’t it be better for us to be able to see him with our eyes? So we would think.

And so the apostles thought too. Sorrow had filled their hearts at the news that Jesus would depart from them. They could only see this in a negative light. They looked at it as though their closest friend and companion would be taken from them. Would we be any different? Probably not.

But Christ tells them: “It is really better this way. It is to your advantage that I depart and go to the Father.” But why? Christ says that if He remained, then the Helper would not come. But if He goes, He will send them the Helper. And who is this Helper that Jesus speaks of? Who else, but the Holy Spirit.

Christ knew what the disciples needed to hear. He comforts them with the promise of the Holy Spirit. It is as if he were saying to them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Yes, it is true, you will no longer see me with your outward eyes. I know that your hearts are full of sorrow about this. But things will get better. You will not be without comfort and consolation.”

But what will this Helper do when He comes? He will “convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment. Concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness because I go to the Father and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

Here we have from the mouth of the Lord himself what the role of His Spirit is. First, Christ says, He will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me. The first Office or duty of the Holy Spirit, according to these words, is to put the fear of God into the heart of every man.

This is done when through the Word people hear that they are altogether unrighteous in the sight of God, and deserving of His wrath and displeasure. Now, in our politically correct culture today saying these kinds of things will get you labeled as unloving, impolite, strict, or some other such adjective.

But this is what it means to convict the world concerning sin. And Christ adds, “because they do not believe in me,” so that we might understand that it is not merely the sins of the body that He is talking about, but the chief sin: unbelief.

We often hear much about the sins against the second table of the Law because they are so obvious. And, to some extent, the world expects us to preach about promiscuity, murder, immorality, greed, hatred, envy, dishonesty, and other things that pertain to the commandments. What it does not expect, and what it truly hates, is to hear that its works, no matter how beautiful they may look on the outside, are considered sinful and wicked in God’s sight if they lack faith in Him.

But this, says Christ, is the Office of the Holy Spirit—to convict the world of sin, that is, to proclaim the wrath of God against all unbelief. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” The Gospel teaches that every sin of man will be forgiven. Christ died for the ungodly and the sinner. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

But if a person does not believe, if they are without faith in Christ, then it matters not how many and great their works are, they are still condemned and under God’s wrath and judgment. People do not want to hear this, but they must if they are to have true, godly sorrow, and thus be prepared to hear what God has done for them and for all people on the cross.

The second Office or work of the Holy Spirit mentioned by Jesus is what we would call His proper work: “He will convict the world concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see me no more.” Here is contained everything that pertains to the Gospel. Christ’s suffering and death for sins, his resurrection from the dead on the third day, and His glorious ascension to the right hand of His Father.

The Helper not only preaches a message of wrath against all unbelief, but He also is sent to proclaim the true righteousness of God—the righteousness that comes down from above; the righteousness given to every believer as a gift. A far different thing is this righteousness than the righteousness of the world.

For the unbelieving world, the world that is perishing, righteousness consists in one’s motives and actions. Even some in the church get carried off into error, thinking of righteousness purely in terms of one’s behavior, or avoidance of sin. But the righteousness of which Christ speaks is that heavenly, other-worldly righteousness which is ours by faith alone in Christ’s merit.

To be righteous in God’s sight is to be absolved and forgiven of all your offenses through the Gospel. It is to have a good standing before God, to wear the garment of Christ’s innocence, having cast off the soiled garments of sin and unbelief in our baptism into Christ. This is what Jesus means when he says that the Helper will convict the world concerning righteousness, “because I go to the Father and you will see me no more.”

This is the implanted word that is able to save souls. Without it, and without faith in it, there is no salvation. On the other hand, where this Word is preached, where God’s righteousness is proclaimed as a free gift for the one who believes in Christ, that truly is the greatest treasure and gift in all creation.

But what about the third part? “He will convict the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” This is an especially comforting part of Christ’s words. Anyone who has ever been sent to preach the Word knows how the world rages against both the message of God’s wrath against sin and unbelief, as well as the message of His eternal righteousness.

No one wants to hear that they are under God’s wrath and judgment if they fail to believe on the name of Christ and enter heaven solely through Him. No one wants to hear that their good deeds are filth in the sight of God if they do not proceed from faith in Christ. And so they either plug their ears, or they lash out at the preachers.

Not only that, but there are many who likewise do not want to hear that they can do nothing to merit forgiveness. This goes against our natural way of thinking. There is a little law-man inside each one of us, who is of the opinion that if we want to get to God, if we want to obtain heaven, then it will have to be by our doing.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life, Jesus?” Just tell me and I’ll do it. The problem is, Jesus already did it for us. All that is left is for us to believe it; to receive by faith the completed salvation and righteousness of Christ. And, believe it or not, this is not good enough for some. In their pride, they just cannot conceive of a righteousness that is granted solely on account of faith.

So one way or another, the Ministry of the Word is despised—either because it preaches God’s wrath against unbelief, or because it preaches a free righteousness. The devil cannot stand for either to be proclaimed truthfully in the Church. And so he does what he can to dismantle this preaching. If he can’t lead a preacher to speak falsely against the Word, then he leads him to sin and dishonor so that he might discredit the Ministry among the people.

He howls and rages, because of this Ministry. He wants ever so much to sabotage the good that is done in a Christian congregation by creating doubt and by leading people to focus their attention on things that are of little importance, so that they might not trust in Christ alone. But Christ says: “The ruler of this world is judged.”

This is what Jesus wants to impress upon his hearers: “Remember this, dear apostles. The prince of this world is judged. The victory has already been won. The accuser of our brethren has been cast down. Remember that as the world rages against your preaching. Remember that when you are faced with self-doubt, when the foe would lead you to second-guess yourself. The prince and ruler of this world is judged.”

How comforting indeed—not just for preachers, but for you hearers as well. You look around and you see how small and insignificant the kingdom of God appears in the world. You wonder if God will be victorious, or if the whole Christian house of cards will just tumble. You worry about your children, and grand-children, and the world that they will grow up in because it is so unlike the world that you grew up in.

The problem is, it is not so really different. Men are still sinners. Christ is still the victor. “The ruler of this world is judged.” Stop worrying. Stop being anxious. Cast away your sorrow and your doubts. The battle has already been decided. Jesus rose. He lives! Hear it; taste it; believe it.

In this Gospel, Christ sums up the work and office of the Holy Spirit, which is carried out through the Ministry of the Word. He explains why it is a good thing for Him to depart and go to His Father. This way, the Helper will come. Had He not gone away, had he remained on earth in His present form, then only the disciples would have benefited from His work. Then the disciples would have remained timid in their preaching. Then the command to make disciples of all nations could not have been carried out.

For when the Spirit comes, He empowers the apostles. He strengthens them in their work. He quickens and enlivens the faith of all believers. He guides and directs the holy Christian Church on earth, and leads sinners to Christ, where there is true remission and forgiveness of their sins. He takes what is Christ’s and declares it to us. By this work the Lord Jesus takes away our godly sorrow, and replaces it with songs of joy. Christ is risen!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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