Cantate

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Text: John 16:5-15

      Jesus said to the Disciples, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, 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.”[1] Jesus was preparing them for His departure and training their hearts to not be fixed on the things of the flesh. Up until this point, they had still been hoping that Christ would not be leaving them. They were still looking for that earthly reign of Jesus. Remember how the mother of two of the Disciples asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hands in His kingdom. Now it is becoming clear that that reality won’t be happening. Instead, Jesus is going to leave them. Our text this week comes before our text last week. Last Sunday we heard that, even though Jesus is going away and His disciples will be filled with sorrow, they will see Him again and their sorrow will to joy.

      This week Jesus tells us why He is leaving and what will happen after. He says in our text, “I am going to Him who sent me;” or, as He said it in chapter 14, “I am going to the Father.”[2] We’ll sing it this way after the sermon, “Now to My Father I depart, from earth to heav’n ascending, and, heavn’ly wisdom to impart, the Holy Spirit sending; In trouble He will comfort you and teach you always to be true and into truth shall guide you.”[3] All of these are nice ways of saying that Jesus is going to die. He will be violently taken away, His life cut off from the world of the living. He will be brutally executed. But, Jesus says, it is good that this is happening. Today we’ll look at two things: First, what Jesus means when He says that it is to our advantage that He goes away and, second, what the Holy Spirit does.

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      Let us hear the first verses of our text again, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, 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.”[4] What are these things that Jesus has been telling the Disciples? If we walk backwards through the Last Supper in John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus had told them one of the Twelve will betray Him, specifically Judas. Things are beginning to happen just as the Scriptures said they would. And, just as the Scriptures said, Jesus is going to die. Moreover, after His death the world will hate His Disciples just as they first hated Him. In fact, the hatred of the world for Jesus’ followers will be so strong that the time will come when people will kill Christians, claiming to be truly serving God.

      Upon hearing these things, the Disciples were filled with sorrow – only, not entirely for the right reasons. Looking back, we would say that they definitely should’ve been because we know what Jesus is talking about. But, by their own admission, the Disciples didn’t totally understand what He was saying until after the Resurrection. We actually get some clue of what they were thinking when, after Jesus was raised, He says not to cling to Him in the flesh. They were still looking for an earthly reign of Jesus – and themselves. That’s why sorrow was filling their hearts. No, Jesus says, it’s to your advantage that I go away.

      How? If Jesus’ going away means He is going to die and the world’s going to hate us, how is that good for us? Well, remember that for Jesus, “going to the Father,” is code for dying on the cross. And you know how that is good for us. St. Paul says it like this, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”[5] If Christ had not gone to the Father through His death on the cross, than neither could we rise from the dead. If Christ were not crucified, then there would be no forgiveness of sins and we would be lost to death and the devil forever. But, in fact, He has been raised from dead. Notice, too, how Christ talks about His death; He isn’t fearful, but instead calls it going to His Father. That’s how we should look at our own deaths. When we die we are immediately in the presence and joy of our eternal God and Father.

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      Jesus also said to the Disciples that evening, “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.”[6]  Though the Disciples were filled with sadness, it is good for them (and us) that Jesus does depart. For, if He did not go to the Father through the cross, then we would not have the forgiveness of our sins. That was the first thing from the Gospel we should learn: that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. The second thing we should learn from the text this week is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that if He does go, He will send the Holy Spirit after Him. The confirmation students know what the Holy Spirit’s job is – it’s to make and keep us holy, like we confess in the Third Article. If we wanted to be more precise, we could divide His work into three parts: the Holy Spirit teaches, convicts, and comforts. In a couple weeks we’ll talk about how the Holy Spirit comforts us. Today Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit’s work to convict the world.

      The convicting the world is part of what Jesus calls the Holy Spirit taking what is Jesus’ (the teaching) and declaring it to us, and it’s both Law and Gospel. The Holy Spirit preaches Lutheran sermons, you see. Anyway, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin. What does that mean? Well, have you noticed that the world has no problem calling certain things sins? I mean, like sins against the Second Table. Nobody will argue outright that theft, lying, or murder are wrong. They might quibble about what murder is, but not that it is in principle wrong. But, try telling the world that false belief is a sin. That’s what it means that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin – He shows that it’s not just actions that are sins, but also thoughts, including the idolatry that we all commit when we put ourselves above God and our neighbor.

      That brings us to what it means that the Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness. The world has no problem declaring itself righteous. And sometimes, that’s a temptation we also fall into when we declare that we really good people because we do good works. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to preach the Law and show us that all our good deeds are like a polluted garment, as Isaiah says. As soon as He does that, then the preaching of the Spirit moves from Law to Gospel. He preaches the Law through Scripture and the mouth of pastors to convict the world of sin – that everything we are and do is sin. Then, the Holy Spirit points us to the righteousness that is not our own, to Christ’s righteousness. The Scriptures say that as far as the East is from the West, so far are our sins removed from us. That’s because on the cross Jesus takes our righteousness (or, lack thereof) and He gives us His through Holy Baptism.

      Lastly, Jesus says, the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning judgment, “because the ruler of this world is judged.”[7] First, the Spirit convicts the world of sin, because it doesn’t believe in Jesus. Then, He points it the cross where Jesus dies to become our righteousness, which is the only true righteousness. Last, because Jesus has gone to Father – He has died and been raised from the dead – the devil and the world are defeated. The judgment has been rendered and there will be no appeal. Death and all its powers can no longer appall us. They are defeated, and we are victorious in Christ.

      Jesus says at the end of our text that the Spirit will guide us in all truth by taking what is Jesus’ and declaring it to us. And He’s actually doing that right now. There were two things that we should learn from today’s Gospel. We learned about the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. We also learned how it is good for us to have Jesus to go to the Father. For, by that, He means that He goes to suffer and die on the cross. And because He did do that and rise from the dead, we are forgiven our sins.


     

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn. 16:6–7.

[2] Jn. 16:5; Jn. 14:12.

[3] “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice,” Lutheran Service Book, pg. 556. Stanza 9.

[4] Jn. 16:6–7.

[5] 1 Cor. 15:13–20.

[6] Jn. 16:7–8.

[7] Jn. 16:15.

 

The Victory that Overcomes the World

Text: 1 John 5:4-10

I’ve never been much of a winner in my life. Granted, I don’t have a very competitive personality. But when I do compete, I very seldomly win. I don’t think it’s because I’m particularly bad at the things I do. It’s just that, no matter how much I practice, there always seems to be someone better equipped or more skilled than me. Maybe you’ve felt this way. I think my most celebrated victories are in the virtual world of video games or the crowning achievement that is finishing Easter leftovers. But even in that, there’s always someone that can pack in more food than me, both in larger amounts and less time.

The title for the Sunday after Easter is Quasimodogeniti, and it comes from the Introit. It means, “As newborn infants.” Such were the words of St. Peter in his first epistle, “As newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” This text was placed here by our fathers in the faith long ago as part of the continued instruction of confirmation students. In the ancient Church confirmation was three years long, ending on the Vigil of Easter (Saturday evening). There the confirmation students would be baptized and receive the Lord’s Supper for first time. In the Introit for the next Sunday (today) the newly confirmed Christians are encouraged to continue learning God’s Word, which is the pure spiritual milk we all need.

Our text today is from St. John’s first epistle, especially verse 4, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” John writes this to the churches of Asia Minor after his return from exile to encourage them in the faith. In some ways they had become discouraged by the world around them that was so filled with evil and ungodliness. They had lost sight of Christ’s Easter victory, the resurrection from the dead. St. John encouraged his congregation and us that the resurrection is not just for Jesus, but for us as well. His resurrection becomes our own. Through faith in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, we also are victorious over the world and we have the confidence of eternal life.

St. John writes to his beloved flock in a post-Easter world about their new status in life: victorious. Through Christ’s death their sins were forgiven and by His resurrection life and immortality were restored to mankind. The Church celebrated this fact. The letters of St. John, we call them First, Second, and Third, were all likely written during the end of his long career as pastor in Ephesus. By this time the Christian Church had existed for more than fifty years, gathering every Sunday for the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins. The post-Easter Church was a vibrant and lively place, even amidst their surroundings.

St. John wrote in a post-Easter world. Post-Easter, in the sense the resurrection of Christ was a present reality for them. John was an eyewitness of the fact, as were some others who were still alive. But the Church existed even then in a world that was totally and completely opposed to the Christian faith. We believe that John spent most of his career in Ephesus, except for his exile during the reign of Emperor Domitian. Ephesus a short time after that was the third-largest city in the empire. There were about 250k in this seat of Roman power. In addition to being an imperial city, Ephesus was also a center of pagan worship. The principal god of Ephesus was Artemis. You can read in Acts 19 of the riot that happened while St. Paul was preaching there. Everyone yelled back and forth for two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Around this time also emperor worship was gaining steam. It consisted of parades, festivals, and public worship. There was almost no aspect of life that was not affected by the false gods of Ephesus, and all of it was opposed to the Church. The Ephesians could have very easily felt like they weren’t winning.

It’s easy for us to feel the same way. We’re not immune or oblivious to the context we live in. The Christian faith is blasted in the media and on social media. We’re told that our faith is ignorant and harmful. In some areas adoption agencies will not place children in the care of parents who hold to certain core Christian beliefs. The only way that the Christian faith is allowed is when Christ is removed. This is the faith that is comfortably touted from political podiums, “Do unto other as you would have done unto you.” Though Jesus did say that, when left to stand apart from the context, it works against our Christian witness. “Do not be surprised, brothers, when the world hates you,” St. John says. He echoes the words of Christ, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

Sometimes, though, it’s not the world that hates us and robs of the victory in Christ. It’s easy to turn off the TV, ignore the internet, change the dial. Our heart is also a problem. That is the devil’s target: your heart. He wages every war and battle he can to steal the hope we have in Christ from us. He’ll do this by tempting you to doubt God’s Word: to doubt it about Jesus, to doubt the faith of the Church, and especially, to doubt the forgiveness we have in Christ. The truth is that Christ died for every single sin. There is no sin that Christ did not die for. Murder, theft, adultery, homosexuality, alcoholism, abortion. These are all sins, but sins that Christ died to forgive. He offers that forgiveness freely by His grace through faith. The devil will try to tell you that there are sins that Jesus didn’t die for, and if He didn’t die for those sins, how can I be sure that He died for mine? Over against these things: the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, St. John writes, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”

Everyone who believes in Jesus has been born of God and everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. How? By faith. By faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins we receive victory over sin, death, and the devil. We have this confidence for a few reasons. First, Jesus. The text says, “This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by water only but by the water and the blood.” That sentence is a little confusing. John is writing, in part, against those who had infiltrated the Church and were claiming that Jesus only appeared to be human. They taught that Jesus was a spirit being and didn’t actually die on the cross, and other variations on that.

No, St. John says, our confidence is based on the fact that Jesus came by both the water of His Baptism and the blood of the cross. At His Baptism the Spirit descended in the form of a dove and the Father spoke from heaven that Jesus is His Son. The Baptist proclaimed that Jesus is the Lamb of God come to bear the sins of the world, and that is what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus came by water, being baptized for the repentance of our sins, and then He paid for them as a ransom by the shedding of His blood on the cross. This the first reason for our confidence.

The second reason we can claim victory over death and the devil is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was in the Upper Room with His Disciples on the night He was betrayed, He promised to send them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth whom, Jesus said, would reveal to the Disciples all truth. What was the truth the Spirit revealed? Jesus! Jesus is the Son of God who died in accordance with the Scriptures for the sins of the world, and who broke the bars of death by bursting forth from the grave. The Spirit bore witness to the Disciples and through their Word. In the same way, He continues to bear witness even today. He works through the preaching of the Gospel to comfort our hearts. He works through Baptism to bring us the gift of faith and the forgiveness of sins. He works through the Lord’s Supper strengthening that faith and the hope we have in the resurrection.

The third reason that we can be confident of the victory we have in Christ is the testimony of God the Father Himself. We already mentioned the voice from heaven at Jesus’ Baptism. The same voice spoke again at the Transfiguration that Jesus is His Son. He is the one who would bear the sins of the world and win us forgiveness. St. John says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.” Meaning, if we believe something because a man tells us, how much more should we believe something when God tells us. And what has God told us? He has given us eternal life, and that life is in Jesus.

St. John closes his first epistle with these words, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” In other words, St. John writes to assure us that we have the victory in Jesus Christ. It’s easy to be discouraged by the world that hates us, and by the devil who causes our hearts to doubt. But, in these things we are more than conquerors. Christ has been raised from the dead. Death no longer has dominion over Him or over us. In Christ we are more the conquerors, we are victorious and we will live forever with Him in the eternal glory of heaven.