But 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. This is the Word of the Lord.
On this Fifth Sunday of Easter, we see that some weeks out here we are already tilting toward the Day of Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit. The Helper that Jesus promises here is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity, also known as the Comforter and the Paraclete.
Jesus tells His disciples in the upper room before His arrest and crucifixion that He’s going away, and that it’s for their advantage, their benefit, that He does so. For if He does not go away, He explains, if He does not win salvation on the cross by dying and rising and ascending to His Father in heaven, then the Holy Spirit cannot come to them. And when the Holy Spirit does come to them, it will be far better for them than when Jesus is physically by their side.
It’s hard to know exactly how the disciples understood all this at the time – probably not too well. Like the sweet fellowship of the disciples, there is also a sweet fellowship in the books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. When their protector, the wizard Gandalf, explains he’s got to go, that little tribe of dwarves and hobbits are filled with fear. But Gandalf’s tendency is to depart, as he always puts it, to attend to urgent business. The kicker is that when he does return, the central character Bilbo has proved himself a hero and brokered a peace deal between dwarves, men, and elves. It was to their advantage that Gandalf go away. It got Bilbo and Frodo out of the soft security of their hobbit hole, put them both on their feet, and made them courageous and bold leaders – in turn bringing peace to Middle Earth.
So when Jesus tells His disciples that it’s better for Him to depart, He’s not just giving them a line. He’s got urgent business to attend to. The most important business ever, like going to the cross, like saving rebels, and bringing peace to the whole world.
After Jesus rises from the dead, He makes good on all those promises. The risen Lord appears to His disciples, breathes on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.… Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”
And fifty days later, at Pentecost, He sends the Holy Spirit to be with His disciples forever – that’s you and me, by the way. “Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
And our Lord tells us what this Spirit-filled activity is all about. And when He comes. When the Holy Spirit comes, says Jesus. “First, he will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in me. Second, concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer. And third, because the ruler of this world is judged.”
What’s all that mean? First, the Holy Spirit, through His called men, will preach to us that we do not believe in Him. Folks, none of us wants to hear this! The recalcitrant sinner in all of us doesn’t want to admit that we’ve got a problem with unbelief. But we do, and we’ve got to hear it. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none who is righteous. No, not one! All have turned aside. The people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. This whole world and you and I must know that we are not righteous, and have been trapped in the worst of sins. And underneath it all, the ugliest of all – is unbelief – clinging to us all. Which is not to fear God, but instead to fear the opinions of men, seeking out the praise of this fallen world, forgetting all the while that everything the world worships is doomed.
This is the sort of preaching we’ve got to hear. And yet when we are brought low, to know and feel the gravity of our sins, and to despair of ourselves, then and only then are we ready to hear the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus says He will send His Spirit to convict the world of righteousness, because He goes to the Father. All Lutheran ears should perk up here.
It’s what we call objective justification. The Spirit actually convicts the world of righteousness, because Christ goes to the Father. Simply put, it means God reconciled the world unto Himself through the death of His Son. As we established, this presupposes that man, through his natural condition and his thoughts, words, and deeds, is a transgressor of God’s law, subject to wrath, and condemned to eternal death. As Paul says, “God consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
We receive this righteousness through faith – all human merit excluded. And when the sinner is justified, declared righteous through the merit and mediation of Christ, he has peace with God, he enjoys Christian freedom, he does good works, he loves his neighbor, and he is filled with the hope of eternal life.
Third, Jesus says that the ruler of this world is judged. That’s the judgment of the devil, our arch enemy, and the deceiver of the whole human race. Those are also words of judgment for whoever wants to blindly follow him instead of the Lord of Life, our only Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom alone is life and salvation.
Such wonderful promises about the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lesson this morning! He was given you in your Baptism. He guides you into the way of truth. And then this morning, Jesus leaves us with this: “He, the Holy Spirit, will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” And then He ramps things up a bit and declares, “All that the Father has is mine, therefore He (the Holy Spirit) will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Just ponder that amazing promise! Jesus possesses the glory of the Father. And all that glory He sure doesn’t keep for Himself, but it’s His heart’s desire to share it all with you, His Christians. And what does He have to share? How about His holiness, His righteousness, His eternal life, and blessedness – all that He is and all that He has. All yours. And all received by faith.
I hope you can see what Jesus was getting at when He tells us that it’s to your advantage that He go away. Don’t make the mistake of thinking, “Oh, if only I could go back to the cross. If only Jesus was physically by my side right now. If only I could see some miracle right now before my eyes.” That would be making a big mistake. Because the way that Jesus is with you now is far, far better than when He was walking the streets of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Because once He was limited by space and time, but not now. On Pentecost, Jesus’ one voice became twelve, and now on this Lord’s Day, His voice is heard at thousands upon thousands of altars and pulpits and bedsides the world over. Proclaiming His undying love for sinners.
Isaiah in our first reading tipped us off on the secret and source of all our Christian joy: “Sing praises to the Lord. Shout and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” That’s the secret, that’s the key, right there, that Jesus, God’s Son, the Holy One of Israel, is in our midst. And that His departure from our sight, rightly understood, was really no departure at all! Not when you’re talking about the Holy Spirit and the means of grace: The Spirit-filled words of absolution proclaimed by pastors, and the means of grace in water, and body, and blood.
You better believe that the Holy Spirit, even this morning, unites us with Christ and Him with us. You participate in the love of the Father. You are grafted into the life of the Holy Trinity, in a perfect communion of love, and the Spirit of God dwells within you. And we joyfully confess and sing: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” In the name of Jesus. Amen.
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