Easter 5 “The Comforting Work of the Spirit” John 16:5-11
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today is we look at the great and comforting work of the Holy Spirit. This fact is beyond dispute within the Holy Christian Church. Which is significant because there seems to be very little that is beyond dispute in the Christian Church these days!
But while the existence and the presence of the Holy Spirit is believed by all who can truly be called Christian, the work of the Holy Spirit – what the Holy Spirit is for and what He does – is a matter of dispute. Entire denominations have been built around their particular understanding of the purpose and work of the Holy Spirit, and even within denominations – including our own – there are groups whose desire it is to focus more on the work of the Holy Spirit, and what He is doing in the church in these modern times. Most of that focus tends to be heavily weighted on individual gifts and abilities and experiences, what the Holy Spirit is doing to me.
And so it is good for us today that the Word of God we heard from St. John tells us quite clearly what the work of the Holy Spirit is. The prophet Joel foretold what would happen on the day of Pentecost, and the book of Acts tells us of how that was fulfilled – but it is St. John – recording the very words of Jesus Himself – who tells us of the significant work of God that is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. And His work is this: And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see Me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, both then and now. And if you want evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit, that is what you should look for.
So what does this mean?
Well first, we heard that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin. Now, when Jesus told us that He would send the Holy Spirit, He called Him the Helper, or the Comforter (John 14:16). But notice how Jesus now says how this Holy Helper, or Holy Comforter, does His comforting – He starts out by making you uncomfortable! By convicting you of your sin. And notice that the word there is sin – singular; not sins, in the plural. The work of the Holy Spirit is to convict you of the sin that is the source of every sin – and that is the sin against the commandment from which all others flow. The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” For the truth is that you and I and everyone in the world do have other gods. And the Holy Spirit, in order to give us His true and lasting comfort, must first make us realize this. And make us realize the seriousness of this sin.
For every time you sin, you are following not the true God, but another god. A god of your own making. And so when you let your thoughts and desires determine your action instead of God’s Word and desire, you are your own god. When you allow money to shape your life instead of God, that is your god. When you look to your job or what you do to give you value, that is your god. When you look for happiness in the things you own, they are your gods. If there is someone if your life you think you could not live without, he (or she) is your god. Or in other words, anything or anyone we rely on or look to for what we need – that is a god. And we must admit, we have many. And if you doubt that, just consider – what happens when the things of this world and life are taken away from us? If you lose all your money, if you get cut off from your family, if you lose your job or have your possessions stolen. How we then fret and complain, worry and whimper! Why? Because we’ve lost our gods, that’s why. We’ve lost what we were relying on, and looking to for our comfort and needs.
So the Spirit convicts us of this sin of ours. He enables us to see that these gods are really no gods at all. That they are only mirages of comfort – that we chase after, but which then disappear and do not deliver what we see or think! So the Holy Comforter begins His comfort by leading us to confession and repentance. For there is only One who can deliver what we need. Only One who can truly comfort, and that is Christ. You have more than enough God in the one, true God. He is strong. He is faithful. He has given you His promise. He is all that you need. And so to comfort us, the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.
But once He does that, the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us there – condemned by our sin, condemned by the Law! That is just the first step. Next He convicts us concerning righteousness, because Jesus has gone to the Father and we will see Him no longer. Now, the word “convict” is used there again for continuity, but that word can also be translated as “convince,” or “bring to light.” And so after the Holy Spirit “brings to light” our sin, He then “brings to light” our righteousness – not that we have any right-ness within ourselves! But the righteousness that is ours in Jesus Christ. First He directs our eyes to honestly look at ourselves, and then He directs our eyes to see Jesus. Not our physical eyes – for we can see Him no longer! He directs our eyes of faith – that we may know and believe all that He has done for us. All that He has done in coming and taking our place. His birth for us. His perfect life for us. His death for us. His resurrection for us. His ascension for us.
In other words, once the Holy Spirit makes us see the filth of our sin that is splattered all over us, and that lives in us, He then removes that sin from us. The work of the Holy Spirit is to give forgiveness. To give the forgiveness won for you in the death and resurrection of your Savior. And so He washes you clean in the water of Holy Baptism. He strips you of your filthy, stinking, sinful rags, and dresses you in the white robe of Jesus’ perfect obedience and righteousness. He takes your hard, stony, other-god-loving’ heart, and gives you a new heart, a new life, that you might be a new creation. And He joins you to your Savior. He joins you to Jesus, and so closely that when the Father looks at us, He sees not us and our sin, but the perfection and love of His Son. And the Father tenderly calls us His children, and we respond, Our Father, who art in heaven. We sinners and enemies of God are adopted and taken into the very family of God! Not through anything that we can do, but purely by grace – by what God does for us. And what a comfort that is! And so that we may have this comfort, the Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness.
Then the Spirit begins His third task. Once He has led us to repentance, and then once He has shown us the forgiveness of sin that is ours in Christ, He then convicts concerning judgment, for the ruler of this world is judged. And here also is the sweet comfort of the Comforter, to convince our hearts that no matter what we see happening in this world, no matter the struggle or the pain in your life, that the ruler, or prince, of this world – the devil – has been utterly defeated. And nothing, no amount of hellish effort, can ever change the fact that upon Satan’s neck rests the foot of our risen, ascended, and victorious Savior Jesus Christ! Satan can kick and scream and threaten and tempt and make all the ruckus he can in our lives – but He does so as a crushed foe. Crushed by the cross. He has lost. The judgment has already been rendered and the verdict passed. Jesus descended into hell, into the devil’s own house, to proclaim His victory and strip the foe of his power! And so let Satan send your way whatever He will – He is powerless over you, and nothing can change that – ever. For in Christ, you are victorious over Satan also! It is important that you know that. We don’t want to belittle Satan and his work, but neither do we want to give him more credit than he’s due! And so to comfort us, the Holy Spirit convicts of judgment.
And that, according to the Word of our Savior, is the work of the Holy Spirit. And it is all that we need! Or to put it in other words and summarize it a little differently, the work of the Spirit is – in all things – to lead us to Christ. So after the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Church, the believers did not revel in the gifts that had been given to them. That was not their focus. Rather, Peter stood up to preach. For this outpouring of the Holy Spirit had one purpose, that everyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved.
So if you are looking for evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, you will not find it in any extraordinary gifts, or feelings, or experiences. But you will find it here, as in Christ’s Church you call on the Name of the LORD. For are you convicted of your sin? It is the work of the Holy Spirit in you. Do you see in Christ your life and forgiveness? It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Are you here seeking forgiveness and the food of immortality, the very body and blood of your Savior? It is the work of the Holy Spirit. His work of testifying to Christ. Drawing you to Christ. Setting the eyes of your heart and mind on Christ. That is His work. It is He who brought you to this Church. It is He that keeps you in this Church. And it is He who will finally take you from this Church on earth, the Church Militant, to the Church Triumphant in Heaven. In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.