Pentecost – The Festival of the Holy Spirit May 20, 2018
Text: John 16:5-11 3-year series A 18:2069
Theme: It’s Good that Jesus Is Gone!
Four hundred and eighty years before Jesus was born, a great battle was fought off the coast of Greece which changed world history. The Persians had amassed a great fleet of ships carrying thousands of soldiers poised to invade Athens and extend their eastern empire into Europe. Greece teetered on the brink of destruction. The city trembled as it waited for dawn to break and the battle to begin.
The soldiers wanted to attack the Persian fleet under cover of darkness, hoping against hope to somehow overwhelm the enemy’s superior numbers. But Themistocles held back the attack. He waited and waited till mid-morning. The delay caused great alarm among his soldiers. They began to accuse him of cowardice, even treason. Neither was true. Rather, there was tactical wisdom behind Themistocles delay.
The experienced commander knew that after 9 am a breeze would begin to blow off the heated land out to sea. The wind would fill the sails of his Greek ships and send them winging on their way to the Persian fleet. At the same time the wind would blow against the Persians and cause them difficulty in maneuvering their ships. By waiting, Themistocles not only provided his ships with clear sailing, but it released his rowers to be soldiers, enabling the Greeks to apply all their available hands to the fight. Guess who won the battle that day? A far inferior Greek army defeated an overwhelmingly superior Persian force. And so began the downfall of the Persian Empire.
In our work for Christ and His Kingdom, we Christians are like those Greeks – far outmatched by the strength of the world that is against us. But we go on our way with a stronger wind at our back, One whom the world cannot overcome – the Holy Spirit. Like the wind, He cannot be seen visibly but He works in powerful ways and in the end gives Christ’s Church the victory. Jesus made it possible for the Holy Spirit to be that power behind us by getting out of the way. Yes, Jesus withdrew so that the Holy Spirit could come. It’s a good thing that Jesus is gone – that He left the earth at His ascension…
I. …for the Spirit now comes to help us. What? It’s a good thing that Jesus is gone! That almost sounds blasphemous for Christians are tempted to think that Jesus should have stayed here rather than ascending back to heaven. If He had stayed here, think of how much easier it would be to convince people to believe in Him. Surely, if they could see Him, the nail prints in His hands and feet, and if they could hear His sermons and watch Him perform miracles like no one else can, more people would believe. Surely it would be better if He had remained on earth. That’s what we might think. But if people didn’t believe Him when He was here then, why would they believe in Him now? No, He had to give way to the One more powerful than He who affects the hearts and minds of people to believe in Him. And that One is the Holy Spirit. He is the One who overwhelms superior forces.
Jesus knew that. It is the reason He said in our text, “I am going away to Him who sent me….I am telling you the truth! It is good for you that I go away.” Good to be without the Lord Jesus! Now that is an odd thought. In fact, it almost sounds like heresy. Yet, Jesus said that; and it is true. How? Think of it this way.
Jesus’ work is that of redemption. No one else could do it; not even the Holy Spirit. Taking on human form, Jesus came to die on the cross so that by paying the price for sin we were brought back to God. He did what was necessary to reconcile us to God. Without Him standing in our place and redeeming us, we would be lost forever because no sinful man could do it. As the God-man He did that which we couldn’t do. Think of His work of redemption as an “outer” work.
But that “outer” work would do us no good if we couldn’t receive its benefits “inwardly.” The imparting of the blessings of salvation into our hearts and lives is not accomplished by Jesus. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job, to bring us to faith in the blessings of Jesus’ work of redemption. The faith that receives God’s gift and enjoys it is the working of the Holy Spirit. That’s His job, to make the gift ours.
It is the way salvation works. God the Father loved the world when we were unlovable in sin. He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus, to pay the price for sin and to declare us justified when we couldn’t do it. When the Lord Jesus finished His work, God sent the Holy Spirit to work the life of faith within us. If you don’t trust in it and live in that trust, what good would Jesus’ work do you? With Jesus gone the Holy Spirit’s work could go forward. He could come to help us. And what a great help He is!
Think of it as a new phase in God’s plan. On the one hand it was difficult because the disciples loved the Lord Jesus very much and would hate to see Him go. Furthermore, they knew the great odds that were against them in Jesus’ enemies. On the other hand, it would be a life changing event, a necessary phase that would propel them forward.
Yes, they would miss being around Him. But a greater force would be at work within people, the Holy Spirit. He would be there to comfort, guide, and help God’s people take the Gospel fight into the world.
A new age had dawned for the Church on earth. We heard about it in the lesson this morning as we read the account of Pentecost in the Church. What a great help and advantage the Holy Spirit was to them and is to us! He has come to reveal these saving truths, to create faith in our hearts, and to help us receive greater blessings. So, do you see why it’s a good thing that Jesus is gone? For now the Holy Spirit has come to help us with that inner work in people’s hearts.
II. He was sent to convict the world. Jesus said: “When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”
Convincing, and going further, convicting people of sin and its need for righteousness with God before His judgment falls, that’s hard to do. We need help. The question is how to convince people of something about which they don’t seem to care? Furthermore, if the world raised such resistance to the Son of God so that it even crucified Him, how could we ever hope to have any influence upon the world in our own endeavors to reach them with the Gospel? We’re just human beings! That’s where the Holy Spirit’s help enters in a big way, like the wind.
Our text says, “He will convict the world.” Like a prosecuting attorney in a courtroom, He hammers at the heart whenever God’s Word is spoken, to accuse people of the guilt for sin and its eternal consequences. He knows the truth of what will happen to those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus, and He does not let up. He convinces and convicts the world of sin. It is the same thing He did for you when He helped you to faith. He convinced and convicted you.
There are two parts to such convicting. The one is that He cuts a person to the heart with the truth of God’s Word. Like a sharp sword it penetrates deep within as it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hb.4:12) that are opposed to God. Maybe it seems to you at times that you can’t convince a person of their need before God because the person doesn’t respond outwardly to what you say. To your eyes it doesn’t appear that any good is coming out of your witness. But what you can’t see is that the Holy Spirit keeps working at the heart within. He works to make a person realize and lament their sin. That’s the reason you just witness to the Gospel even when it seems to you that you are getting nowhere with people. You don’t convince a person; the Holy Spirit does.
And His convincing is more than just convicting, or cutting a person to the heart. What good would that do if there wasn’t a cure for the problem? That’s part of the Holy Spirit’s work, too, as He shows a person the gift of righteousness that Jesus fulfilled for us which gives us life before God.
Think of the Holy Spirit’s help in this like that of a surgeon in a hospital. A surgeon takes the scalpel in hand and approaches the sick patient. The first thing he does is “hurt” the person by cutting into the flesh and exposing the bad tissue that is harming him. But that’s not the end of his work. He doesn’t just cut into the person and leave him that way. No. After exposing the bad, the surgeon goes to work to get rid of it. He applies whatever is needed and then closes up the wound so that healing takes place.
In matters of salvation, Jesus doesn’t do that within our hearts, nor does the Father, but the Holy Spirit does. He is a skilled surgeon whose work convicts the world. And as we go in Jesus’ name, He’s like the wind at our backs, carrying us forward in our witness to the Savior.
Jesus – Redeemer, Justifier, Reconciler, Savior, Friend of Sinners – does the “outer” work. The Holy Spirit – Convicter, Convincer, Converter, Changer of hearts, Comforter – does the “inner” work. What a great help He is! It’s good that Jesus is gone and that the Holy Spirit is here for with Jesus gone the Spirit is sent to help us and the world in the way that works to our advantage. Who of us would ever think that we are better off without the Savior’s presence? But in this way, with the Holy Spirit as our Help, we are. God grant us the comfort and assurance He gives; for Jesus’ sake. Amen.