Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate) + May 19, 2019
Text: John 16:5-15
The Sundays of the Easter season remind us how it’s possible for Jesus’ disciples to continue to be in fellowship with Him and to glory in the resurrection for the long haul. For four Sundays in a row, from John chapter 16, we hear our Lord speak reassuring words to us, His disciples of this day:
Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 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.
Parting is never easy, and nobody wants to. Early on Easter morning, Mary wanted to cling to Jesus and treasure that moment where she was delivered from the tragedy of losing her Lord (John 20:16-17). But in all love, Jesus tells us not to cling to that part of His ministry. He has a bigger plan in mind: He must go away and ascend to the Father.
Now, in human movements, when the leader goes away, things fall apart. After Martin Luther’s death in 1546, the Evangelicals started being led in different directions about fundamental parts of the faith. Phillip Melanchthon, who wrote the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (refuting the pope’s claim to rule the church unquestioned and invent new doctrines), wanted to start compromising on worship and Communion practices to make peace with his catholic neighbors. Andreas Osiander started teaching that we aren’t actually declared righteous on account of Christ, but that Christ’s divine nature dwells in us to the point that our sins are like a drop of water in the ocean. It sounds like a sermon illustration gone terribly wrong. But the point is when a human leader leaves, things usually fall apart.
But when Jesus leaves His disciples in the Ascension, it’s actually the greatest thing that could happen for the disciples—and for the world which will hear the Word of God through them.
I will send [the Helper] to you. And 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.
The Holy Spirit—who was there in the beginning of creation, hovering over the waters—will begin His work of a new creation through Christ. It’s a new creation that will require judgment and destruction of the old, but it will bring everlasting restoration for all who receive Him. The Holy Spirit goes to work in those very areas that need the most desperate attention: He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.
He will condemn men not simply for thinking and doing the wrong thing (because if He did that, He’d have to wipe out the whole human race). He will condemn men’s refusal to believe in who Jesus is and what His coming means. The Spirit will condemn all human righteousness as worthless, because Jesus is the only man worthy to go to the Father: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart” (Psalm 15:1-2). The Spirit will also convict the world concerning judgement. While men are busy passing judgments on each other and cursing God for what they perceive as sleights and neglect toward the world, Satan seems to slip out the back door. It was Satan’s temptation that brought this world of sin, death, and lifelong subjugation. But God has not forgotten what He promised in the Garden after the Fall: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Satan, the instigator of all evil must be judged and all his works destroyed, especially rebellion in men’s hearts and false teaching.
This is the ongoing work of the Triune God, reclaiming and restoring His creation to Himself. The work wasn’t over when Jesus died, or when He rose victorious over the grave, or even when He ascended into heaven. His work will not be finished until the Last Day when the faithful are gathered around Him, singing blessing, and glory, and honor, and might to Him forever. The Lord Jesus continues:
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
It’s the Holy Spirit Who continues God’s saving work. He came at Pentecost, He came each time the Apostles and Evangelists wrote (2 Pet. 1:21), He comes in Holy Baptism (Acts 2:38), and He comes every time the Word of God is preached (Gal. 3:5). And His work is done through the Word of God. This is immensely important to understand—God wills to be found through His Word. Everywhere else is a gray area. For example, people might tell you about a dream they had, or an inspiring thought that came to mind. They might even talk about a miracle that they witnessed. But that is not where people are to seek God, because if those extraordinary experiences are from God, they are not for everyone. If we have a dream or an idea, it must agree with Scripture. If we see a miracle, that’s not the thing that will convince a person to believe (otherwise everyone would need miracles to believe, and Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” Matthew 12:39)
From the beginning, Almighty God has chosen to interact with creation—with humanity, with you and me—through His Word. Anywhere else you think you find God, you may well have found the devil.
God does it this way because He wants us to have certainty about Him. Sin and the devil have only brought confusion, hearts that are afraid when they shouldn’t be, and at ease when they ought to fear God. But when the Spirit guides us into all the truth, we can be sure of God’s heart and will for us.
One of the debates that plagues our time (and has for a couple centuries) is the question of whether the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God, or if it contains human errors that need to be sifted out. A Lutheran professor from the early part of the 20th century, Franz Pieper, cuts to the chase: “The Jews [in John 8] heard Christ’s Word, but since they were not children of God, they could not recognize Christ’s Word as God’s Word, but revolted against it. Christ here established the fact that acceptance of His Word as God’s Word is confined to the Christians.”
The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and declares it to the world. The Word of God glorifies the Son. But that Word is only received by Christians. If you hear someone arguing that you can’t trust the Bible as God’s Word, they are serving the devil, the Father of Lies. Every branch of Christianity that has allowed for errors in the Bible has quickly lost what is Christ’s—the condemnation of unbelief, the righteousness that counts before God, and the exposure of the devil’s lies. False teachers, under the banner of Luther, thought they were liberating the Church from stodgy, old-fashioned ways soon had lost the true Christ. In His place, they had to put a message of social justice, tolerance, and equity on earth. The Bible became nothing more than a patchwork of sayings to be mined for a given agenda. But in the message of such false teachers, there is no salvation to be had, because they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and spat in His face. God, preserve us from such a terrible fate!
Jesus has ascended into
heaven, and the Church commemorates this on the 40th Day after His
resurrection. But what He left us with
is far greater than His local presence.
He has given us His Holy Spirit, Who brings us out of unbelief into
faith, and who guards against the deceitful schemes of the devil and
unbelieving men. Yes, He has gone from
us (for a time), but He is truly with us.
With the Holy Spirit’s aid, we hear His voice today just as clear as if
He stood here Himself. We receive His
Body and Blood today in that same confidence, because as God and Man, He is
able to fill all things—even this humble bread and wine. How do we know? The Holy Spirit has taken His Word and
declared it to you. Amen.
 Psalm 14:1-2, Psalm 143:2
 Revelation 5:13
 Christian Dogmatics I, 299