We celebrated God coming into our flesh at Christmas. We followed Him to the cross bearing our sin and guilt during Lent. On Good Friday, we gathered to remember His death. On Easter, we celebrated His resurrection, and just 10 days ago, on Ascension, we rejoiced as Jesus ascended bodily into heaven. Now what? Now what is our situation? Now what are we to expect?
We are to expect to be hated. 6 times in the verses right before our text, Jesus uses the word "hate." Hate isn't a nice word; it's a strong word. When you're hated by someone, the person doesn't want anything good to happen to you. In fact, the person wants to see bad happen to you, and even help it happen. And whom does the hating and whom is the subject of all this hating in the verses before our text? The world is the one doing the hating, and Jesus says the world hates Him, God the Father, and Christians. Jesus plainly tells us, "The world hates you." The world isn't just annoyed at you. The world isn't just unhappy with you. The world isn't just mean to you. It hates you.
That's why in the 4 verses that the insert skipped over Jesus warns us He is going away, ascending into heaven. Without Him being visibly present to help us, Jesus doesn't want us to fall away because of the hatred of those outside and inside the Church. Jesus prophesies of the coming time "when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God."
This is our situation now that our Lord has ascended into heaven. We are hated by the world. Think of how life would be if you lived in the city of your enemy? Would you expect life to be fun or easy there surrounded by those who hated you? Wouldn't you expect there to be many depressing, difficult days in that city? Would you be surprised when you were mistreated by the citizens of that city? How could you be? They hate you.
Think of how much worse it would be if you were left as a witness of Jesus to the city that hated you and Jesus. This is what Jesus tell us He does. He says I'm going away, and "you testify about Me." Your bulletin translates, "You also MUST testify," but Jesus isn't commanding here He is merely stating how things will be. We testify to this world that hates us about the Jesus they hate. Imagine being an Arab in Jerusalem or a Jew in Jordan. That's what it means to live surrounded by hatred. Don't you think those people get tired of being hated? Don't you think they get frightened because they're hatred? Don't you think they grieve over the situation? That's what Jesus said the apostles were doing in our text. He says, "Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief."
Grow up people of Christ. We should not think it strange that we find ourselves grieving in this world. We should expect that in this world which hates us, we are not going to find many friends. We should expect that our days would be difficult because indeed the "whole world" is really against us. We should expect the sun to be hotter on our house, the rain to be drier, and the wind to be stronger. I mean if the world really hates us, it follows that every thing in the world would be against us. Our only consolation in this hostile world is that our Jesus doesn't leave us alone here. He sends us the Holy Spirit as a Helper here in this hateful world. The insert translates "Counselor," but the word means literally "One called alongside to help."
How does the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus help us? He helps us, says Jesus, by convicting the world that hates us. First Jesus says the Holy Spirit convicts the world in regard to sin. The world that hates us says we are the real sinners. Can't the world find sin in you? Don't you yourself feel guilty sometimes because you don't help the homeless as much as those outside of the Church do? You don't build houses. You don't help at shelters. You don't even give the guy on the street corner a dollar like the cars in front of you. You don't show love like the world does which loves the homosexual community so much it gives them parade. Admit it. The world makes you feel guilty and sinful because you aren't tolerant like they are; you aren't generous like they are; you aren't loving like they are.
Yes, you feel bad because you don't have as many good works as the world around you does, yet what does the Holy Spirit do? He comes on the scene and convicts the world, NOT you, of sin. What's the big sin the Holy Spirit convicts the world of? Not feeding enough hungry people? Not housing enough homeless people? Not loving enough sinners? No, not believing on Jesus is the big sin the Holy Spirit convicts the world of. Stop feeling bad because you don't have all the grand and impressive works the world does. You do have Jesus in your Baptism, in this Word, on this altar. The Holy Spirit doesn't convict you.
The Holy Spirit helps us over against the world that hates us because He convicts the world, not you, in regard to righteousness. The world thinks righteousness is doing something for a good cause. The world thinks they are righteous if they raise money for Children's Hospital, run in the race against breast cancer, or sacrifice their time to walk against hunger. "And what's wrong with those things," I can hear you bellowing. Nothing. Children's Hospital, the fight against breast cancer, and world hunger are fine causes. The problem is the world thinks that they are righteous before God because they do these things, and that we are not righteous unless we do these things.
"Wrong!" The Holy Spirit says. The only One righteous before God is Jesus. The only thing righteous before God is what Jesus does. His flesh and blood, human though it is, was good enough to go to heaven because it was perfectly righteous in God's sight. Jesus is righteous and righteousness before God. Any work done apart from faith in Jesus, no matter how good in the eyes of men, is not righteous before God. Likewise, any work done by a person trusting in Jesus no matter how ordinary, no matter how unnoticed or unvalued by the world is righteous in God's eyes. Christians, going about their everyday, mundane tasks, have more righteousness in their little finger than the whole world has in all their noble works.
The final way Jesus says the Holy Spirit helps us is by convicting the world in regard to judgment. The world believes that we in Christ are the ones judged by God. That's why it hates us. That's why it thinks it is doing God a service if it kills us. And we do often look judged. Often we have the hardship, the sickness, the suffering, the death, while those in the world go about their merry ways living their full lives. But the Holy Spirit comes and convicts the world that they are the ones judged because there prince, Satan, has been condemned once and for all. O he roars and struts about now looking very frightening and victorious, but the Holy Spirit testifies to the world that Jesus has defeated Satan by keeping the Law in the place of sinners and by paying for their sins.
Satan is disarmed. He can't accuse us of sins; how can he? They've all been paid for. He can't demand we keep the Law; how can he? Jesus kept it for us. Without our sins to accuse us and without the Law to demand we keep it, Satan is powerless. He stands condemned and the world of which He is prince is under that same judgement. So while we indeed look judged, it is the world that is in fact judged.
So, our Lord has left us in a world that vehemently hates us, but He has not left us alone. He has sent us a Helper, the Holy Spirit. Now, the Holy Spirit is not a some second-string replacement for Jesus. No, through the Holy Spirit, we have the fullness of Christ's ministry. Jesus tells us that His going away, His ascension, is the only way for the Spirit to come. Think of a fireworks display. It begins with a muffled pop and then you see a light trail going up into the sky. That is like the ascension of Jesus. The muffled pop and the light trail are not what set people to oohing and ahhing though. No, they wait as the light trail disappears, then all of a sudden there is an explosion that scatters light and sparks everywhere. That explosion is the impressive part of fireworks. This is like the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The ascension of Jesus 10 days before was a neat light trail to the disciples there, but Pentecost is the explosion that occurs when the ascended Jesus sends the Spirit over all the world.
Jesus plainly tells us that it is good for us that He left us in this world that hates us. That hardly seems possible. How much more comforting, how much more of a help to have Jesus here with us! Yes, it would be, but while Jesus was here with us He could not be with you in the hospital, on vacation, or at home. When Jesus walked this earth, His ministry was limited by time and space. He could only be in one place at one time. He could not be both in Galilee healing the lepers and in Jerusalem healing the man born blind. He could not be on the Sea of Galilee stilling the storm and at Nain raising the widow's only son.
Now things are different; we have the fulness of the ministry of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Jesus says the Holy Spirit testifies of Him. Jesus says He takes what is mine and gives it to you. Wherever the Word and the Sacraments are, there you have the Holy Spirit speaking of Jesus and bringing the gifts of Jesus. This is happening right now here, and it is happening in the hospital right now as some chaplain shares God's word. The good grace of Christ is here now through the Holy Communion and it is all over the world wherever the Sacrament is being celebrated. What Jesus did one by one when He walked the earth, He does for many through the work of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament.
So here we are without the visible presence of Jesus, but with the fullness of His presence through the Holy Spirit. Did you notice in the text how Jesus emphasized that we won't see Him again? Jesus wishes to wean us away from living by sight. You can see why. We live in a world that hates us with a Jesus who is only with us visibly through Water, Words, Bread and Wine that are empowered by an invisible Holy Spirit.
This ministry of the Holy Spirit frees us from judging by what we see. It means that we are not bound to judge Samson by his physical size. We are not bound to judge Solomon by his IQ. And we are not bound to judge the Church by what the world thinks of it or by its size in the world. Having the Holy Spirit among us through the weak, visible things of Waters, Words, Bread and Wine means that we are not bound by what visible things are capable of or by what visible men say can happen. As the Holy Spirit did superhuman things through ordinary humans like Samson and Solomon, so the Holy Spirit does extraordinary things through ordinary looking Water, Words, Bread and Wine. Through these, the Holy Spirit gives to His Church all the superhuman power, all the faith, all the righteousness, all the victories it needs to overcome this world.
Now what? Now that Jesus has ascended and sent to His Church His life giving, life changing, life empowering Spirit what will happen? Far more than any one of us ever has thought, thinks, or will think. The Spirit is not bound by our thoughts, or our strength, or even our sins. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost (6-3-01), John 15:26-27; 16:1-11