Cantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter: Christian Conviction

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
Jesus tells his disciples of the Holy Spirit’s power to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment., based on John 16:5-15. From a book by Veit Dietrich summarizing the entire Bible (1562).

Lessons: Isaiah 12:1-6, James 1:16-21, John 16:5-15
Hymns: LSB 463, 459, 741, 865, 633, 466, 478

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      It wasn’t until my college years that I became interested in becoming a pastor. I recall some non-Lutheran evangelist visiting with me on campus before I had much interest in theology. He asked me a question that I haven’t forgotten. “How sure are you that you will go to Heaven?” I answered in a way that did not express much confidence. I was not sure. Thoughts of my own sins and temptations ran through my head. As a bit of an aside, this evangelist asked me in a time when I was probably wrapping up reading the entire Bible for the first time by following a three-year plan found in a Bible I received at my Confirmation. When my Mom told the one who gave me the Bible that I’m reading it, her response was, “You’re kidding me.” With a reply like that, why give a Bible if you don’t think it will be read? Perhaps it reflects the giver—let’s give a nice Bible so it can sit on a shelf and collect dust and eventually get thrown away. No, Bibles are translated and published to be read—to mark, learn, and inwardly digest.

      Anyway, back to the evangelist. Because I wasn’t absolutely confident that I would go to Heaven, he said he said he wanted to work with me until I was absolutely certain that I would go to Heaven. I don’t remember if he followed up with me. What I do know is that I found the local Missouri Synod congregation and became active there. It was by the grace of God through the faithful ministry of that congregation that I could finally say with absolute confidence that I would go to Heaven. For Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to convict us.

      You see, my lack of confidence was because I had placed my hope and trust in the wrong place. I looked inward. I didn’t find Jesus there, but I found my sin. I cannot save myself, for I cannot purify myself and cleanse myself of all unrighteousness. In fact, despite having a Christian evangelist speaking to me, Satan put it into my head that I should be judged to Hell.

      But had I looked outside of me—to my Savior who loves me and shed His Blood for me, then I would have had complete confidence that salvation awaits me. You see, faith does not naval gaze. Yes, in faith, we consider our sin as we examine our lives according to the Ten Commandments. In faith, we recognize our own weaknesses and need to grow in Christ. But these actions of faith are not done to determine our worthiness or ability to be saved. Instead, they are done in accordance with our Lord’s Word.

      The Word of God is outside of us. It informs us. And the Holy Spirit is at work through His Word. The Word is sure and certain. The Scriptures are infallible—trustworthy. The Bible is inerrant—without error. All Scripture is inspired by God the Holy Spirit so that holy men of old wrote as they were guided by the Spirit. And God has preserved the Scriptures to our day. While some translations may be weak, we can be confident that the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts that we have match what was first written by the original authors.

      Today’s Gospel makes it clear that we are not dealing with subjective ideas or theories when it comes to Christianity. We are dealing with facts. Too many people assert uniformed statements like, “The texts we have today are nothing like what was written 2 to 4 thousand years ago.” Oh? Then why do the Dead Sea scrolls match our Hebrew texts—copies that were lost before Jesus walked the face of the Earth? Or people will say, “Jesus couldn’t have walked the face of Earth.” Why not? What evidence do you have for that? Why did so many people begin to follow Him? Why were so many so convinced of Him in the early Church that they were willing to die as they contended for the faith? No made-up religion would have taken root like Christianity did. There are many fine books on apologetics that give good defenses that Jesus is true God and became a Man to take away the sins of the world through His death and resurrection. And remember the words of St. Paul, “If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:12-22). You see, nothing but a real Savior came to pay for our sins. He is our real God, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. From eternity, God is our Triune God. While our world will teach that all religions are virtually the same—making the claim that the important thing is you’re sincere—this cannot be the further from the truth. All religions apart from true Christianity are religions of the Law. They teach some sort of salvation by what man can do. They lead you to believe that you can somehow save yourself. And all other religions take your focus off the author and finisher of your faith—Jesus Christ (Heb. 12:1-2). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6).

      For many, this claim is too exclusive. They bristle at the idea that there could only be one truth when it comes to creation, salvation, and eternal life. What if someone said there was no Civil War, another said the Civil War’s only battle was here in September 1861, another said the Civil War spread throughout the entire globe during those years, and another said it was started in Wyoming? We would say they’re all out of their minds. We don’t have any living eyewitnesses of that war, but we know enough about it to distinguish truth from error. Those who may believe sincerely about their wrong views like the ones I just made up about the Civil War cannot be accepted as holding to their own truth as others hold to theirs. Historical facts are historical facts. In the same way, those who hold to other religions or other views on Biblical doctrines cannot be accepted as holding to some sort of legitimate belief. The Bible teaches true history.

      More than that, the Bible directs us to our Savior who died for us and rose for us. We have accounts of what Jesus did as He conducted His ministry. That’s what the Gospels teach, and the Epistles expound. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we can read a harmonious account of the life and works of our Savior. In Acts, we learn of the joys and the trials of the early Christian Church upon our Lord’s ascension.

      On Maundy Thursday, Jesus was preparing His disciples for what was about to come. He did not say, “Well you can have your truth and I will have mine.” Instead, He prophesied the truth. In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus teach about His upcoming crucifixion and resurrection as He said, “In a little while you will not see Me and again a little while and you will see Me” (John 16:16). This week, Jesus teaches what would come after His resurrection. He will go away and He will send the Holy Spirit. He will ascend into Heaven and the Holy Spirit will come to convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgement, as we heard in our Gospel. The Holy Spirit will not speak on His own authority. That is, He will not invent His own truth and expect some to hold to it. Instead, the Holy Spirit will speak what He hears. He will take what is Christ’s and declare it to you.

      By convicting the world of sin, the Holy Spirit will use the Law to expose unbelief and the impossibility of sinners to save themselves. By convicting the world of righteousness, He will spread the Gospel truth that Christ paid for the sins of the world, fulfilled the Law perfectly on our behalf, and He covers sinners with His very righteousness. Having done this, then sinners like me can be totally confident that God will graciously receive them into everlasting life.

      The Holy Spirit will also convict the world of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. A few days before Jesus spoke the words of today’s Gospel, Jesus said, “There is a Judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day” (John 12:48). Many somehow think they are judging when they tell someone that what they’re doing is wrong. Where in the Bible does it say that? Judge not lest ye be judged (Matt. 7:1) does not mean you are judging when you repeat what the Bible teaches. When the Bible teaches that something is sinful or that something is good, you are not judging when you say that something is sinful or that something is good. Judging is to reject the words of Christ and go with another interpretation. Judging is to hold people to a line in the sand that you’ve drawn, not the line drawn by the Lord and revealed in Scripture. Those who reject Christ and do not accept the words of Christ will be judged, as Jesus taught. That’s why Satan is judged. Telling someone caught up in His sin that He needs to repent is not judging. It’s a most loving act to help that person be released from his sin and be restored into Christ’s fold. It’s finding the lost sheep. It’s helping the prodigal be restored (Luke 15).

      Today, Bryar will state that he has conviction—that he believes the teachings of the Bible and that he will be faithful in his use of the means of grace—that he will suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this Christian conviction. He can only fulfill this by the work of the Holy Spirit. I urge you, my dear friends in Christ, to pay careful attention to the rite of Confirmation. Look to see how well you are keeping your own promises. And work to fulfill them. The main way in doing so is by simply hearing Christ by going to Church each Sunday, listening carefully, and receiving His Body and Blood. The next way is through Bible study, family devotions, and daily prayer. Be in the Word. Day in and day out. That way you can have the clear conviction that you are God’s own child, baptized into Christ, and that salvation awaits you because Christ Jesus has acquitted you of all sin through His substitutionary atonement on the cross. He lives, and so do all who abide in Him. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen