The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Based on what we see throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit’s “job” is to create and nourish saving faith. What does this mean? Our Small Catechism confesses this in a short and sweet kind of way: “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies me in the one true faith.” Short, sweet, and to the point. When the Holy Spirit works faith, that work consists of calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying.
But…if you’re paying attention to our Lord’s words in the Gospel lesson, He doesn’t speak of the Holy Spirit calling, gathering, enlightening or sanctifying. Jesus adds to the job description, saying that He’s going to send the Holy Spirit to “convict” people in the Truth. Convict: That’s a harsh word. It’s short, but there’s nothing sweet about it…at least not in how we typically use the word. What is Jesus saying here? The word that Jesus uses here (in the original Greek) is elegko, which we translate as “convict,” although a better translation would be “convince.” Okay…so the Holy Spirit’s job (as sent by Jesus) is to “convince”? Convince of what? Well…Jesus answers that question. He says that the Holy Spirit will elegko (convince/convict) in the Truth. His job is to convince/convict in the truth of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Now, before we go any further, it is important to understand that all of this convincing/convicting finds its source in the cross of Christ. The crucified Christ is the origination and destination of this holy conviction. John makes this clear in his Gospel. Christ is anointed with/receives the Holy Spirit in baptism. Three years later, Jesus is telling His apostles here (Maundy Thursday evening, at the Last Supper) that He will send His Spirit of Truth so they [the disciples] can understand. They can’t understand what’s about to go down. They won’t (and they don’t). But…Jesus will send His Holy Spirit of Truth later on, and then they will understand. Three chapters later (John 19), and Jesus is hanging on the bloody cross, mere moments away from breathing His last. John tells us that Jesus, knowing that all of the Father’s plan for salvation was now complete, each and every sin atoned for; the full wrath of the Father against sin for all time paid for in full, declares victoriously, “It is finished!” He then drinks the sour wine, and gives up the Spirit. So often this is simply translated/understood as Jesus “gave up the ghost.” He breathed out His last breath. End of story. But…the way the Greek reads is that Jesus gives up and sends out/breathes out “the Spirit.”
I want you to think about that, because this is BIG. The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth—proceeds forth from Christ at the moment of His death on the cross; at that singular moment of our eternal, vicarious satisfaction. Divine Truth—the Spirit of God’s condemning, life-giving Truth—flows forth from and finds its source at the cross of Jesus Christ. Three days later the resurrected Jesus—the One who has completely conquered sin, death, and the devil for all time—stands among these same apostles and breathes on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness, it is withheld.” Here is Christ giving His Holy Spirit to the apostles, the very men who would be the first pastors of His New Testament Church. Again, notice that this giving of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ’s Truth—is all about forgiveness of sin. It’s all about the forgiveness that flows forth from and flows back to the crucified/resurrected Christ. There is forgiveness of sin NOWHERE else! This is the Truth!
Now…did these guys fully understand all this? No. They wouldn’t (and didn’t) understand the necessity of the brutal death of Jesus. They didn’t understand the necessity of the cross. Easter Sunday? They still didn’t get it. They were hiding behind locked doors. When they encountered the resurrected Christ, they were in disbelief. They were joyous—yes—but St. Luke tells us that they “disbelieved for joy.” They still understand what the death and resurrection of Jesus meant for them and for all mankind. Even forty days later, atop that ascension mount, they still didn’t get it. Jesus is getting ready to ascend, and these yahoos are still thinking in terms of “worldly kingdom” and “earthly rule and power.” “Lord, are you now going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” They didn’t get it. They didn’t understand what Jesus—His death, His resurrection, His victory, and His reign and rule—was all about. Only the Holy Spirit could bring about that sort of faithful understanding… which He would do ten days later at Pentecost. Pentecost is when they FINALLY understood (which was through the working of the Holy Spirit).
Let’s come at this from a different perspective. Why did God send His only-begotten Son? Answer: To take our place and die for our sins; to do what we cannot do; to save us from our justly-deserved wage for sin. This is where the work of “convincing/convicting” is focused: On the cross of Christ. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and our sin is so great that God Himself had to die for it. We cannot save ourselves, no matter how hard we try. Saving faith (wrought by the Holy Spirit) is convinced of this. Faith believes this truth, in spite of what the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh tell us. Faith also looks to this same cross and rejoices because faith (wrought by the Holy Spirit) believes Christ when He victoriously declares, “It is finished!” Faith is convinced of this all-redeeming righteousness.
Look at this [the crucifix]. This doesn’t look like victory, does it? It certainly doesn’t have the appearance of “good.” But saving faith (wrought by the Holy Spirit) is convinced of this singular all-redeeming Truth. Saving faith is a firm conviction of Christ’s cruciform Truth. It is finished. Because of this [the crucifix] we are redeemed, once and for all time. The faithful one has a firm conviction of their judgment. They do not fear or doubt or worry whether they’re good enough to make the cut. Baptized into Christ’s all-redeeming death and resurrection; holding fast in faith to this all-atoning death and resurrection, the faithful one stands firm in the sure and certain conviction that God has already judged them “innocent,” not because of who they are or what they’ve done, but solely because of who Jesus is and what He has done for them in their place.
And we see the fruits of this Holy Spirit-wrought conviction in our midst, from baptism to funeral and everything in between. Consider what you’ve witnessed today in the baptism of little Grady. The faithful parents, convinced of what our Lord says regarding “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and “the wage of sin is death,” faithfully bring their little corpse of sin to the life-giving Good Physician so that He can breathe His Holy Spirit into that precious little one and give him the gift of eternal life. We see this in the funeral, as the baptized child of God who has fallen asleep in the faith is brought before the altar covered over in the white pall of Christ’s all-availing righteousness. That is a confession of faith; a public proclamation of the firm conviction that the deceased now rests peacefully and confidently in the blood-bought cruciform righteousness of Christ. Even as we grieve the death of our departed loved one, we grieve differently. We don’t grieve like those who have no hope. We grieve in the joyous hope and firm conviction of blessed reunion before the heavenly throne of God; reunion with them, and more importantly, reunion with Christ in all glory and peace.
And the “everything in between”? Folks: You ARE baptized. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection? This is present-tense assuredness and peace; a peace that surpasses all understanding; a peace that can only be known and understood in the conviction of Spirit-wrought faith. No matter what befalls you on this side of eternity; no matter what crosses you bear as you make your way through this shadowy valley we refer to as “life,” you are completely covered over in Christ’s perfect righteousness.
May you, by God’s good grace through the working of the Holy Spirit, ever hold fast to this peace of Christ. May you ever and always be humbly convicted in the reality of your sin and rejoice in the greater reality of God’s judgment that declares you holy and righteous in His sight for Christ’s sake.
In His name and to His glory…AMEN.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people.
Send Pastor Jason Zirbel an email.