The Law, and How to Keep It

Text: Matthew 22:34-46

Our Lutheran Book of Concord says this near the end,

The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of…properly explaining and understanding the Scriptures…We must guard this distinction with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other…When that happens, Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely.[1]

Today we have another text in which the distinction between the Law and the Gospel brought up and taught to us by our Lord. When questioned by the Pharisees about the Law, Jesus explained the holy and righteous will of God, the actions that all the Commandments are pointed towards: love of God and love of neighbor. As Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”[2] Our Lord went on to explain the Gospel: that He is both the promised Son of David and David’s Lord, his Redeemer.

The thing about the Law and the Gospel is that you can’t have one without the other. These two teachings must remain and be preached in the Church until Christ returns. If you take away the Law, the Gospel gets turned into a new Law. If you take away the Gospel, then you doom people to eternal condemnation. Therefore, our Lord rightly teaches both the Law and the Gospel in this text. Today we confess that in the Law we are taught God’s holy and righteous will and in the Gospel, we are taught what Christ has done for us.

I.

The text this week takes place during Holy Week, around the Tuesday. Sunday was the Triumphal Entry, and much of the first part of the week Jesus spent teaching in the temple. While He was teaching, the challengers just kept coming. First, it was the chief priests with the elders, then the Pharisees. Then came the Sadducees – who don’t believe in the Resurrection. Then came the Pharisees, again, in our text. Their plan? Get Jesus to trip up and incriminate Himself. So, the text begins, “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?‘”[3]

This was an on-going discussion for the Pharisees. They and their scribes and the rabbis would argue back and forth about which is the greatest commandment. If Jesus said something different than the others generally responded, then they got Him. Jesus won’t be caught in their game. He cuts through the muck and goes right to the heart, as only the author of the Law could. He cites from Deuteronomy 6, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[4] As Jesus said, this is the first Commandment. We are to fear, love and trust in God above all things. But, a second goes with it – again from the Old Testament – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[5]

These two commandments are the sum of the whole Law. In fact, all Scripture is directed to this end: that we love God and love each other. Sounds pretty simple. But, remember, Jesus is preaching the Law here. He’s speaking to the Pharisees, of whom we’ve had examples over the last number of Sundays: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector or the parable about humility from last week. The Pharisees were known and loved for their outward piety. But in their hearts, they did not love their neighbors and, therefore, did not truly love God. And neither do we.

The great commandment is that we love God with all that we have and are, but do we? To use an illustration from Luther, we would rather have a gold coin in our pocket that we could use to feed our appetites than hear the whole and pure Gospel read. God’s holy and righteous will is that we love our neighbor as ourselves, yet so often – for all we care – our neighbor can take a hike. Like the priest and Levite, we pass by while the Samaritan suffers. Even if we don’t pass by physically, we hold both contempt and apathy in our hearts.

II.

The will of God is given to us in the Law: we are to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. This is good, right, and true. Jesus says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” And, I think that’s devastating. Because, the whole of Scripture directs us to those two things, and condemns for our failure to do them. This is what the Law does: it shows us what we are to do, and it condemns us when we don’t. Therefore, the Law must not be preached alone. But, after the Law, the Gospel. This is what Jesus does. He has just taught the right understanding of the Law, which is both good and hard for us to hear. In it we hear what we are supposed to do, but that which we fail to do. What we need now is the Gospel.

Jesus preaches the Gospel here in an odd way, by talking about King David. King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sang Psalm 110, which says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’[6] We know from elsewhere in Scripture that the Messiah would come from the David’s bloodline. This is shown in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. But, here David – and Jesus by citing it – says that not only would the Messiah be his descendent but also his Lord. And, by “Lord,” he also means “Redeemer.” To redeem someone, in the Scriptural understanding, is to buy someone back from something else. In David’s case and ours, Jesus is our Redeemer and Lord, for He has bought us back from sin, death, and the devil.

“Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Jesus is David’s son and Lord, and ours, by purchasing us out of death by His own suffering and death in our place. But, before He died for us, He kept God’s Law for us. First, He did truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Second, He perfectly loved the whole world by dying for the whole world on the cross. By these things Jesus both fulfilled God’s Law in our place, and secured for us the forgiveness of our sins. This is the distinction between the Law and the Gospel: the Law shows us God’s will for us and condemns transgressions against it, the Gospel shows what us Jesus did for us and gives to us.

But, if we cannot do the Law or obtain merit before God by our works, why is the Law still preached? Well, because the Commandments remain holy and righteous and good. They are God’s will for us as Christians. Besides, it is good to not steal or kill or commit adultery. Sometimes we need the reminder. When Jesus was questioned about the Law, He didn’t say we should put it on the shelf and talk about something us. Rather, He taught the Law and then the Gospel. The Gospel is different from the Law in another way, too. The Law doesn’t actually give us the ability to keep it, but the Gospel does. The Gospel doesn’t just tell us we are forgiven, but through being preached it actually does it. The Gospel is the instrument through which the Spirit creates and sustains faith, and through which we are equipped and led to do God’s will, the Commandments.

We won’t keep them perfectly, since we are in the flesh. Now that Christ has atoned for our sins, God our Father no longer looks down at our failures as an angry judge, but, to use Luther again, God looks at us through His fingers. He sees only the righteousness of His own dear Son. For our part, as God’s dear children, we seek to do the will of our Father. The Lutheran Confessions say that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a brilliant light and the way to rightly understand Scripture. In our text, Jesus teaches both the Law and the Gospel. In the Law, He shows that God’s holy will is that we love both Him and our neighbor. In the Gospel, Jesus showed that He is both David’s Son and Lord, who has redeemed us all by His perfect life and death.


 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 552.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 22:40.

[3] Matt. 22:34-36.

[4] Matt. 22:37.

[5] Matt. 22:39.

[6] Ps. 110:1.

Thrice-Holy Forgiver of Sins

Text: Isaiah 6:1-7

 

“Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.” This Sunday is one of the few, if not the only, Sundays, where we focus not on an event in our Lord’s ministry or life, but a doctrine. In Scripture, the God of all creation reveals Himself to us as a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three are co-eternal and co-equal, none existing apart from or without another. We worship one God in three Persons. This is how God has revealed Himself to us.

Unfortunately, over time different and competing understandings of God began to spread. The Jews, for example, believed in the Trinity in the Old Testament, but rejected it when the Son of God became flesh. The Gnostics also rejected the divinity of Jesus. Both of these are addressed in Scripture, in St. Paul’s letters and St. John’s. But, then, in the fourth century, a pastor named Arius began teaching that there was a time when the Son of God didn’t exist. He was a very popular pastor, and his teaching in part led to the Nicene Creed being written, and also the Athanasian Creed.

Today, the Church sets aside time to both praise our eternal, Triune God and to firm up and make clear our confession of faith in the Trinity. We asked in the Collect of the Day that God would keep us steadfast in this faith and preserve us against all adversity. In Sacred Scripture, the one true God reveals Himself to us as a Trinity, who alone takes away our guilt and pardons our iniquity.

I.

I said that today we want to firm up and make clear our confession of faith in the Triune God. The first step in that, though, is acknowledging that we aren’t going to understand everything. There will never be a time in this sinful flesh, when we will perfectly understand the Trinity. I am confident that we will in the new creation; But, for now, we see as in a mirror dimly, St. Paul said. St. Paul also said in our Epistle text, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!”[1] This passage comes at the end of St. Paul’s discussion of another difficult doctrine, predestination. I’ve always pictured him, at this point, as just throwing up his hands, confessing his faith in the Trinity, and being done for the day. And, that’s actually how it ends. He says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”[2]

That text is good, because St. Paul’s brings out this idea: that we aren’t called to understand everything, but believe. Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. We aren’t called to understand every little bit and piece of it, but we are called to believe it and confess it as truth. Why? Because the Triune God is the true God, who takes away the guilt of our sins and pardons our iniquity. That is plain what the Scripture says. We like to tell ourselves we live an age of science and reason, and we must therefore have a logical backing, first, before we can believe anything. You aren’t going to prove the Trinity from human reasoning nor from science. Don’t even try. Instead, believe; because that’s what Scripture says. It is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”[3] Our Lord also said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”[4] The Triune God has hidden Himself from human reason, but reveals Himself even to little children through Scripture.

II.

Okay, so we aren’t going to understand the Trinity this side of Eden. That’s alright. We aren’t called to totally understand what has been revealed to us, but to believe it. St. Peter says it this way,

Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him…there are some things…that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist…as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore…take care that you are not carried away…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.[5]

We aren’t called to understand, but believe. And, in order for us to believe in the Trinity, it must first be revealed to us. In Scripture. Where, in Scripture, is the Trinity – one God in three persons – revealed to us?

We’ll start with the words straight from our Lord’s mouth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (notice, singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[6] We remember also the revelation of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism. Remember how the Father spoke from heaven, the Spirit descended as a dove, the Son in the water? Just last week, in the Gospel lesson, Jesus said this: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name…will teach you all things.”[7] Jesus even proved the Trinity, along with His own being God, from the Old Testament. One time the Pharisees came to Him, and Jesus asked them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls [the Christ] Lord, saying ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’”[8] Jesus linked the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son together from the Old Testament and pointed out that David believed in the Trinity.

Time doesn’t permit us to list all the other proofs of the Trinity in the New Testament, how Sts. Paul, John, and Peter, James, and Jude all make mention, as do the Gospels and the letter to the Hebrews. But, what about the Old Testament? Is the Trinity just a New Testament thing? Nope. Where can we go to prove the Trinity from the Old Testament, and show that Old Testament believers knew this doctrine?

The simplest place to go, and the one you already know, is Creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Later it says, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Then it says, “God created man in His own image.” Even in English, you can hear the one God saying, “Let us.” In Hebrew, the word for God here is Elohim, which is plural. And yet, all the actions are singular. And, of course, it also says in Genesis 1, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The easiest place to go to prove the Trinity from the Old Testament is Genesis 1. But, how can we prove Old Testament Christians believed this, and that we aren’t just making it up after the fact? Fast forward to Moses. In his final days, he spoke to the people of Israel, “Is not [God] your Father, who created you?[9] Moses mentioned the Father specifically. Move forward to King David. In Psalm 33, he linked all three persons together when he said, in addition to the Father, “By the Word of the Lord (Jesus) the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth (the Holy Spirit) all their host.”[10] You could go backwards to Job, which some believe is the oldest book, and hear, “By His Spirit the heavens were made.”[11] You could jump to Isaiah, two hundred years after David, or to Ezra – some three hundred years after that – both of whom speak of the Father, the Spirit, and the promised Messiah. Suffice it to say, not only is the Triune God revealed to us also in the Old Testament, but the Old Testament Church believed in and confessed its faith in the Trinity.

III.

So now, why talk about all this? Why take a Sunday and cram this all in? Or, why even talk about the Trinity? After all, a large chunk of the world believes in “God,” whatever that means. Couldn’t we just, for the sake of unity, jettison the talk of the Trinity and hope that it’ll all sort out in the end? That doesn’t really jive with the Creed we just confessed, which all Christian church bodies believe, “Whoever desires to be saved, must above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And that catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity.”

Why talk about the Trinity? Because this is how the true God has revealed Himself to us. He alone, is the true God who has acted in and throughout history. And, not only has He acted, but He’s acted for us. See, when Isaiah saw God in our text, he feared for his very life. The seraphim were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” and Isaiah knew God’s holiness and our unholiness cannot coexist. Then, one of the angels flew to him and touched his lips with a hot coal from the altar of sacrifice. He said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sins atoned for.”[12]

We talk about the Trinity because it’s how God has revealed Himself, and it’s how He has revealed Himself for us. God the Father created us, He takes care of us and provides for us. He guards and defends against all evil. For us men and for our salvation, the Son of God took on flesh. He shed His blood for us so that we might live. When His blood touches our lips in the Sacrament, our guilt is taken away and our sins atoned for. God the Holy Spirit, reveals this truth to us through the Scripture. He calls us to faith, and preserves us in the same until we die. We confess our faith in the triune God, not fully understanding, but believing that He is true and has taken away our sin. “Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.”


[1] Rom. 11:33.

[2] Rom. 11:36.

[3] 1 Cor. 1:19.

[4] Matt. 11:25.

[5] 2 Pet. 3:15-18.

[6] Matt. 28:19.

[7] Jn. 14:26.

[8] Matt. 22:43-44.

[9] Duet. 32:6.

[10] Ps. 33:6.

[11] Job. 26:13.

[12] Is. 6:7.

Outpouring of Spirit and Word – Pentecost

Text: Acts 2:1-21

Let us pray:

Almighty and ever-living God, You fulfilled Your promise by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit to unite disciples of all nations in the cross and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ. By the preaching of the Gospel spread this gift to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.[1]

Today we gather to sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving to our God on high. We ascribe all glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, who has ascended the right hand of the Father but has not left us without consolation. On this day, Pentecost, we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s Apostles and the spread of His Gospel – the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins by grace through faith – to all the world. When the Holy Spirit caused the Apostles to speak in those many different languages, He showed that the salvation that is in Christ is for the whole world. As St. Peter said, “It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”[2]

Our text today is the reading from Acts. From it, we confess that the day of Pentecost is the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to pour out His Holy Spirit on His faithful people and marks the spread of the Gospel to all nations.

I.

The events of the day took place in the Holy City, Jerusalem. Ten days ago, the Church celebrated the ascension of our Lord to the right hand of the Father. Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus resumed the glory which was His before the foundation of the universe, which He will continue to hold even when He returns in glory. You may remember these words from His mouth just before He returned to the Father, “Behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”[3] St. Luke also wrote in Acts 1, that Jesus, “ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father.”[4] Jesus’ last words before departing to the Father included the command to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes.

We’ve heard about the Holy Spirit a few times this Easter season. Of the seven Sundays of Easter, at least four speak about the Holy Spirit. Four of our Gospel lessons fall during Jesus’ final teaching in the Upper Room. He taught about how the Holy Spirit would convict the world through the Law and comfort believers with the Gospel. Jesus called the Holy Spirit, “the Helper.” In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came, He would, “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said.”[5] As He taught them in the Upper Room, Jesus promised the Disciples the Holy Spirit. He promised Him again before His Ascension. Even John the Baptist spoke about the Holy Spirit when He said Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but He didn’t say when.

Heeding our Lord’s instructions, the Disciples remained in Jerusalem after His Ascension. They were continually in the Temple, worshipping Jesus and praying. On Pentecost, they were all together in one place. Then, St. Luke wrote,

Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.[6]

As the Disciples were all together, trusting in our Lord’s promise, the promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled as a sound like a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire came from heaven. These tongues rested upon the Apostles, and they were caused to speak out clearly the Gospel of Christ in languages they had not previously known. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, and more, all heard the Gospel of Christ in their own languages. Pentecost, which means fifty days, originally was a harvest festival that fell fifty days after Passover. Here, fifty days after our Lord’s Passover, it became a festival of the Lord’s harvest as the Spirit was poured out and the Gospel spread to the nations.

II.

These are the events of Pentecost. The Apostles remained in Jerusalem, trusting our Lord’s promise and awaiting the Holy Spirit. As they were gathered together, there was a great sound from heaven and tongues as of fire rested on them. As it was a loud sound, many who were in Jerusalem also came together, perplexed at what it meant. They found the Apostles declaring the Good News of Jesus Christ, and each heard it in his own first language. St. Luke writes, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.‘”[7] That’s when St. Peter, standing with the other eleven Apostles, addressed the crowd and explained what this all meant. St. Peter gives the meaning of the day we celebrate today.

First, he said, “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days…God declares…I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh.”[8] St. Peter said that this outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not only promised by Jesus and John the Baptist, but it had also been prophesied through the prophet Joel, some eight-hundred years earlier. God never goes back on His Word nor fails to keep His promises, even when the timeline doesn’t make sense to us. All these things were happening, St. Peter said, as fulfillment of God’s promises. The outpouring of the Spirit also demonstrated the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. His atonement for the sins of the world has been what it’s all been about all along.

Second, St. Peter quoted from Joel, “In the last days…I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh…and I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below…before the day of the Lord comes.”[9] By this, St. Peter showed, not only is God fulfilling His promise of the Spirit on Pentecost, but these things show that we are in the Last Days. It seems that every year there are more and more predictions of the End Times. But, the most Biblical way to speak on this topic, is to hold with the inspired words of Peter that the Last Days began with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. Now, all the work of our salvation has been completed by Christ on the cross. All that remains is the spread of the Gospel of Jesus to the world – which is the third thing St. Peter taught in His Pentecost sermon.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise and it marks the spread of the Gospel to the whole world so that, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” God spoke through Joel that in the Last Days, His Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. On the Day of Pentecost, that happened visibly upon the Apostles. The Holy Spirit was poured out on believers throughout the book of Acts as the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached to them. The Holy Spirit is poured out on us through Baptism and through the preaching of the Word. Through these things the Holy Spirit dwells in us and causes us to confess with heart and mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, who has redeemed us not with gold or silver, but with His precious suffering and death in our place.

As the Holy Spirit caused the Apostles to tell out the greatness of the Lord, leading them to speak boldly about the Gospel of Christ to all the world, so also the Holy Spirit causes us to speak forth the Good News in our lives. Today we give thanks to God Almighty for the fulfillment of His promises and for the Holy Spirit which we received in our Baptism. And, we pray that God would continue what He started on Pentecost – the spread of the Gospel to all nations, that all might be led to repentance and faith, so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.


[1] Collect for the Eve of Pentecost

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Acts 2:21.

[3] Lk. 24:49.

[4] Acts 1:4.

[5] Jn. 14:26.

[6] Acts 2:2-4.

[7] Acts 2:12-13.

[8] Acts 2:16-17.

[9] Acts 2:17, 19-20.

NT Handout 06

New Testament Catechesis VI – Peter’s Vision and the Gospel for the Gentiles

Text: Acts 10:1-48

Discussion Questions (See if you can come up with some of your own.)

  • Who was Cornelius? What was he like?
  • What was Cornelius told to do in the vision?
  • What did Peter see in a vision?
  • What was Peter told to do? How did he respond?
  • What did the Lord say to him?
  • What does the vision mean?
  • What did Peter say about the visit in verse 28?
  • What did Peter figure out in verse 34?
  • When did the Holy Spirit fall on the people?
  • What does this teach us about where faith comes from?

Terms to Know

  • Jew: The most common name for someone who was descended from the bloodline of Abraham.
  • Gentile: Anyone who was uncircumcised and not from the bloodline of Abraham.
  • Children of Abraham: 1) Only the descendents of Abraham in the Old Testament. 2) Now, all true believers in Christ – Jew or Gentile – who believe in salvation by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ.
  • Caesarea: A port city on the Mediterranean Sea. It was first evangelized by Philip, was the home of Cornelius, and a prominent city in Paul’s missionary travels. Paul spent over two years there when he was under arrest before going to Rome.
  • Cornelius: The Roman centurion who became the first Gentile convert to Christianity through the ministry of the apostle Peter.

Memory Work

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

Where is this written?

The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

 

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Next Week: The Lord’s Supper, Pt. I

Cantate

https://www.spreaker.com/embed/player/standard?episode_id=8343360&autoplay=false

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.

  1.                  

      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.

  1.                  

      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 Holy Spirit, the Comforter

Therefore God has been gracious to us and has given us a Comforter to counteract this spirit of terror—a Comforter, who, as God Himself, is much stronger with His comfort than the devil is with his terror. And now when the devil also comes along with God’s Law, advances against your works and your life, and shatters these so thoroughly that even your good works appear to be evil and condemned—an art in which he is a master and an excellent theologian—the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, will come and whisper consolingly to your heart: “Be of good cheer and unafraid. Go, preach, do what you have been commanded to do; and do not fear the terrors of sin, death, or the devil, even if these terrors present themselves in the name of God.

God does not want to be angry with you, nor does He want to reject you; for Christ, God’s Son, died for you. He paid for your sins; and if you believe in Him, these will not be imputed to you, no matter how great they are. Because of your faith your works are pleasing to God; they are adjudged good and well done even though weakness does creep in. Why do you let your sins be falsely magnified? Christ, your Righteousness, is greater than your sins and those of the whole world; His life and His consolation are stronger and mightier than your death and hell.”

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 24 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 291–292.