In today’s gospel, Jesus says something very interesting to the disciples, something I doubt they believed. He said, “It is to your advantage that I go away.” Of course, in its original context, Jesus spoke those words on Maundy Thursday, not long before He would be betrayed and given into the hands of sinful men. In that context it makes perfect sense to us. It’s imperative that Jesus go away, that He be crucified so He can die and rise again to take away the sin of the world. However, if we think of those words again, in a post-Easter mindset, they don’t make as much sense. “It is to your advantage that I go away.” How in the world is it good that Jesus leaves us? Wouldn’t it be better for Him to stay, always to be here, always to do what He did during His earthly ministry? As Jesus says, when He departs, He will send the “Helper,” that is, the Holy Spirit. Jesus is beginning to prepare the disciples—and us—for the important outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Each Person of the Trinity has a function, and the Holy Spirit is coming to do His.
So, who is this “Helper?” What does He do? To understand the Holy Spirit’s work better, we have to do some unpacking of the name Jesus really gives Him. “Helper,” as we hear it translated, isn’t the best. However, the name Jesus gives the Holy Spirit is a difficult word to break down. You have probably heard the Holy Spirit referred to as the Paraclete. All that word is, is repeating the word Jesus said without translating or interpreting it. Paraclete literally means “one called alongside.” It’s been translated in countless ways—helper, comforter, counselor, and advocate, just to name a few. And they’re all okay, but no one word can encompass everything packed into this name. So, it’s probably best to translate this name literally as “one called alongside.”
Before the name had Christian use, it was a technical term for one who helped in legal situations. The paraclete helped the attorney during trial and also gave comfort and encouragement to the person on trial. He filled a lot of roles, hence a very difficult to succinctly translate word. Which is a perfect way of describing the Holy Spirit. He is one called alongside of us to speak God’s Word to us, and we know that Word is never used in just one way. Sometimes that Word of God convicts us for our sin, holding a bright, revealing light up to our sin. Other times, the Word absolves us, remining us that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and that by His death and resurrection He has forgiven all our sin. And again other times it is a Word of comfort: I will never leave you nor forsake you; nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord. The Word is skillfully applied to us in different ways, the same way a physician uses different treatments to help each patient.
It’s for that reason that Martin Luther said, “Here Christ makes the Holy Spirit a Preacher. One should know and learn that He will be in and with the Word, and that it will guide us into all truth, in order that we may believe it, use it as a weapon, be preserved by it against all the lies and deceptions of the devil, and prevail in all trials and temptations.” What the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit at work in that Word, does is teaches us to put our trust and confidence in something outside of ourselves, to learn that our thoughts and feelings and reason aren’t always right. And, just like the preaching of God’s Word applies that Word in several different ways to each of us every time we hear it, so does the Holy Spirit do. He takes that Word that He has received from Jesus and uses it to our good.
First, Jesus says, the Spirit convicts the world of sin. To do this He reveals that unbelief is the root of all sin. Unbelief is what causes so many of our problems. We have doubt and despair and anger when we find ourselves in a difficult situation and do not believe that God is present nor will He help. We sin against others in any number of ways when we do not believe that God’s Law is good and wise, that the pattern it lays out for our life is good. We sin when we do not believe what the Word reveals about us, that we are not perfect and that we could never have enough righteousness to erase even one ounce of sin. The Holy Spirit reveals our guilt, that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
Secondly, Jesus says that the Spirit convicts of righteousness, because He is going to the Father. What that means is that the Holy Spirit speaks Jesus Word to us, declaring us righteous because He has returned to the Father, the proof that His sacrificial death made the payment demanded to take away all of our sin. Because of His work on our behalf, Jesus gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation, all dispensed by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. He makes us righteous by taking what is Jesus’s and giving it to us.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit convicts of judgment because the ruler of this world, that is, Satan, is judged. Satan is judged because, as Jesus says, he is a liar and a murderer. Since Genesis 3 he has told lies about God’s Word, whispering doubt and uncertainty into our ears just as he did to Eve in the Garden. And when we give in and sin, Satan accuses us, and rightly so. But he is judged and declared guilty as a liar because of Jesus’ cross. That Blood outpoured washed away all of your sin, so when Satan tries to accuse you, to tell God that you are a damned sinner deserving of death and hell, he is lying, just like he always has. He is wrong, because Jesus has covered you with His blood and righteousness.
All of this is the work of the Holy Spirit. He takes everything that Jesus Christ did for you in His obedient life, His innocent death, His sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, and makes it yours. The Holy Spirit completes the plan of salvation. The Father willed it, the Son accomplished it, and the Holy Spirit delivers it. He is active in Holy Baptism, recreating you by drowning the Old Adam and raising up a new creature by the Word of Life. The Spirit is active in liturgy and in preaching, giving forgiveness of sins, a stronger faith, and an increase of knowledge of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit is there in the Holy Communion to open your eyes of faith to see that Jesus truly is present in His Body and Blood, causing you to believe those Words of Jesus: “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.”
The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and gives it to you right here and now. He has been called alongside you by Jesus to be everything you need—a comforter, a counselor, an advocate, a helper. And the best part is that you don’t have to find Him. He comes to you right here, in the Word, just as Jesus promised. And He reminds you that, just as Jesus promised, you are not left alone. You always have the Holy Spirit to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.