Part of the Christian’s life is always looking ahead. We know that this life isn’t the end, so we are always looking forward to heaven. The Church Year always anticipates what comes next, as Advent prepares us for Christmas, Lent for Easter, and so on. Today Jesus prepares His disciples for their ministry after Jesus returns to sit at the right hand of the Father. He tells what the work of the Holy Spirit is and how He comes for our good.
As we heard last week, and as Jesus continues to teach this week, sorrow comes before our joy. In these chapters of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing the disciples for His departure. This was not new news to them, but the time had come for Jesus’ predictions of His death to come true. They knew that tensions between Jesus and the Jewish leadership had heightened. Jesus had just washed their feet, left them a Meal in which they ate His Body and drank His Blood, neither of which can be given without death. And now He reminds them that He is going away and they will not see Him. Their sorrow is impossible to ignore.
But Jesus spoke to them, to us, to give hope. But He knows how hard it is for us to trust that the Father has a plan and that His plan is always for our good, even if there is sorrow along the way. He knows that we so easily lose hope in suffering, that we don’t have the omniscience He does, to see the good that God brings from evil. So Jesus spoke to the disciples, to us, to strengthen us all for what lies ahead.
“It is to your advantage that I go away;” Jesus says. “For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” Jesus calms their troubled hearts with the promise of the Holy Spirit. He has already told them a bit about this Third Person of the Trinity. He told them that He would send another Helper who would be with them forever. And that is a comfort to you, too. The Holy Spirit Jesus gave you at your Baptism is a Spirit who is with you always. He is with you to ensure that you are brought safely to your heavenly home, with your Lord and Savior forever.
And while this Holy Spirit is with you, He works in you. He has a threefold task, of convicting, of guiding, and of glorifying.
The work of convicting is least pleasant of the three. We mustn’t assume that the Holy Spirit has come only to give us happy thoughts. No, the Holy Spirit’s first job is to convict us. But this work is not done out of hatred, but love. Conviction, or as it is sometimes translated, rebuke, is part of brotherly love. Correcting someone’s deadly error is the act of highest love. So it is with the Holy Spirit. He has come to show us our sin and to create in us new hearts, clean hearts that are free from sin. To do that, the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
He shows us what sins we have committed and from whence they come. He shows us our unbelieving hearts that turn to our own reason and strength. We do not trust in God to provide for us what He has promised to give us: clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, all I need to support this body and life. And if there is doubt with the little things, then there is certainly doubt and worry if He will provide the big things He has promised: His Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, a constant defense against danger and all evil.
The Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness by showing us our self-righteousness in which we trusted. He shows us that Christ’s right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory over sin in His crucifixion, without any merit or worthiness on our part. He pleads this Blood, shed for you, before the Father, and covers you with it to give you His righteousness.
And finally the Holy Spirit convicts us of judgment. He reveals to us, leads us to the confession that we deserve to be judged as sinners worthy of hell and death. He uses the Law, in all its bright, revealing light to expose our sin, but His work doesn’t stop there. He does this to prepare us for the Gospel. So the Spirit shows us our judgment. He leads us to confess “Yes, I am a sinner. But I am Baptized. Jesus has claimed me as His own. He has judged me righteous by His Blood.” The Spirit’s convictions always lead to Jesus.
That is the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads you: The confession that Jesus Christ, for your salvation “came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven.” Finally, because of the excellent deeds of our Triune God, the Spirit causes you to confess that you rely only on “one Baptism for the remission of sins” and because of that steadfastly “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
And through these truths the Holy Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son from whom He proceeds. He reminds you that you have a loving Father who eagerly awaits your homecoming in heaven. He reminds you that because of Jesus that homecoming will happen. Because He has defeated death and hell you will enter the halls of heavenly splendor, a place of refreshment, light, and peace.
What great news this is, this glorious truth of the Gospel! This is why Isaiah sang. Though God was angry with us, in Jesus Christ that anger is turned away and you receive God’s comfort instead of His wrath. And just like Isaiah sang, you sing to the Lord a new song, for your salvation, the “good and perfect gift from above, coming down from the Father of lights” is yours this day, by the Blood of the Son, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is yours, with you always, and keeping you in the eternal Easter joy of your Lord Jesus Christ.
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.