Easter 5 (Cantate) Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
What did it mean, in the case of the Disciples, to be a disciple of Jesus? For them, originally, it meant to follow Jesus literally. You went where He went, ate where He ate, and heard the words that were coming out of His mouth.
If that’s your “normal,” imagine hearing that Jesus was about to leave you behind. Well, we don’t have to imagine.
Jesus says, “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” (Jn. 16:5-6).
After Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, and that’s what Jesus is preparing His disciples for, His ascension, this would be the first time that a disciple of Jesus, one who is literally a follower of Christ, couldn’t follow literally.
So, what are they to do?
Sorrow fills their hearts, because Jesus says what He does, and they don’t understand.
How could they be disciples, which literally means “followers,” if there’s no one to follow? Like usual, the disciples don’t understand (1) that Jesus must die, and (2) that’s for their own (and our own) advantage.
We probably don’t consider how foolish it must look to non-Christians that we believe what is impossible to have seen.
We don’t believe in what’s called “progressive revelation,” where God immediately intervenes in our lives, in a personal way, conveying new information to us.
It’s not biblical, and it’s not Christian, for God to speak us now, apart from the Scriptures, the Bible.
We know what we believe, because we’ve heard it.
We’ve read it.
We’ve spoken it out loud.
But we’ve never seen it.
And for those who must see to believe, the Christian faith is ridiculous. Christians look like simpletons who deny science and hate learning, because we believe that “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29).
But, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
And from time to time, that’s going to bug you.
You base every day of your life, and you base your expectations for after, on something that’s impossible to see.
Disciple of Christ, though you are, you do not literally follow Jesus around the world, going where He goes, eating what He eats, hearing the words that come out of His mouth.
Today, a disciple of Jesus is not so easily recognized.
“Nevertheless,” Jesus says, “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. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:7-8).
Jesus says that it’s for our benefit that He goes away, because then He’ll send us the Holy Spirit.
But who wants to sign up for what the Holy Spirit brings?
He will convict the world. And if “the world” means everyone in John 3, it means everyone, you included.
The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Jesus—not believing, not listening to, not confessing Christ, is sin.
The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness, because Jesus goes to the Father and we will see Him no longer. Where is your righteousness right now? The disciples were beginning to wonder, and we need to know how to answer that question, too.
And, the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
No one wants to be convicted. And these sound like potentially terrifying things. But, in truth, to be convicted of all three is exactly what you need.
American Christianity doesn’t want to admit it, but what Jesus describes is exactly what the Christian life should and does look like.
The whole world, Christians included, is convicted of sin.
To be saved, then, we must be convicted of righteousness.
Whereas the Disciples were recognized easily enough by their proximity to Jesus, from where does our righteousness come?
Some say from inside. Some might sing their answer: “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives inside my heart.”
But that’s not good enough. Hearts are filthy, fickle things.
Thus says the Lord, through Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). No one, Jeremiah, no one can understand the heart, that’s why we shouldn’t look inside our own hearts for confirmation of our faith or righteousness.
Instead, we should look to Christ. We should look extra nos, outside ourselves, for our righteousness.
Even though we believe what we have not seen, faith is still an issue of certainty, and certainty has to come from somewhere.
It is better that your certainty comes from a source immutable, unchangeable, than a heart that changes with the frequency of a radio.
The world is convicted of sin. But Christ our Lord is our righteousness.
And then, the world, us included, is convicted of judgment.
Consider this, the word “satan,” [שָּׂטָן] in Hebrew, means “adversary” or “accuser.”
What has become of our adversary, the devil, and his accusations? We know he’s a liar, and it makes sense that the accusations of a liar wouldn’t stick.
But some of what the devil accuses us is true.
What about those accusations? What about when the devil knows your sins as well as you do? That’s the question.
The convictions of which Jesus speaks provide the answer.
This is the Christian life: We hear the Word of God and we confess.
When sin is defined, we’re found guilty.
Don’t think that you or this congregation need less forgiveness than someone else. The more you hear God’s Word, the more sin you’ll have to confess.
Hear me rightly, that’s a good thing. From Proverbs we know that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).
So, we speak God’s Word back to Him, confessing our sin, and reminding God of His promise of mercy, shown perfectly in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
That’s the Christian life.
For “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:8-9).
You didn’t see that on tv, and you didn’t feel that way down in your heart. God’s Word tells you that.
We hear God’s Word and confess it. Believe it. Trust it.
But the devil’s an old foe. He knows the buttons to press. He knows the dollar amount that will make you look twice.
You don’t have to teach a child to sin. You do have to teach a child to share.
You don’t have to teach someone to lie. You do have to teach someone to confess their sins.
When satan attacks, when he tempts you, when he throws true accusations at you. Flee to the Word of God.
The world is to be convicted of its sin only so that it can be convinced and convicted of the Righteousness of Christ.
Righteousness belongs to Christ, the Innocent Lamb who was slain in the place of poor, miserable, sinners.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10).
Those are the words of the saints in glory. Those are the words of faithful sinners who heard the Word of God and confessed their sin and the one true faith.
Those are the Words of Holy Scripture to which we flee again and again.
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Righteousness and salvation are His to give. And He gives it.
Jesus says, “[The Holy Spirit] 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” (Jn. 16:14-15).
The Holy Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and declare it to you.
What is it that belongs to the Lamb? What is it that belongs to Jesus?
Righteousness and salvation.
It is as if Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit will take the salvation and righteousness that belongs to Me and declare it to you. The sins that was yours is mine. And the righteousness that is my own is yours.”
Convicted of sin, convicted of righteousness, you are now set free for Christ’s sake.
His earned righteousness is your righteousness given.
And the ruler of this world is judged. Every accusation, the lies with the truth, is judged. Silenced. Thrown out of court forever, because there is a stronger Word that endures much longer.
The Word of Christ, the Word of the Lord, endures forever.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!