Our text is today’s Gospel (John 16:5–15): 5 [Jesus said:] “Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 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. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (ESV)
Years ago, I met a Christian man who had emigrated from Germany to Canada in his youth after the war. He told me how his uncle had been taken by the Russians and shipped off to Siberia. The uncle never returned, and to this day this man does not know how or when his uncle died. Oh, by faith, this man knows that God still rules the world, but to his human way of thinking, what happened to his uncle just does not make sense.
Time and again, life does not make sense. Time and again, we want to cry out to God in our anguish and say: “Why, God? Why this suffering? Why this death?”
In today’s Gospel, the disciples have sorrow in their hearts because they know Jesus is going away, returning to His Father. Jesus gives the disciples a very startling response: 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. And this is our Lord’s response to us as well. His answer to our cry of anguish, to all the times we ask “Why?”, is not some dry philosophical discourse. Jesus gives us not a theory but a person—the Third Person of the Holy Trinity: the Holy Spirit.
Concerning the Holy Spirit, Jesus speaks four words which give meaning and purpose to every Christian life. Keep and treasure these four words in your heart and no matter what afflictions you may encounter, life will make sense, at least from a divine perspective. Oh, that is not to say you will never feel deep anguish in your heart. But remember, it is not in this life but in heaven where God will finally wipe away every tear from your eyes. Our Lord calls this fallen world the valley of the shadow of death. So do not be surprised by the presence of anguish and sorrow in your life nor allow them to rob you of your joy in Christ.
As you struggle with your afflictions, Jesus speaks four words concerning the Holy Spirit, four words which give meaning and purpose to your life even when you think it makes no sense whatsoever. Listen to our Lord’s four powerful words about the Holy Spirit: He will glorify me.
The Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus! It is the Holy Spirit’s work of glorifying Jesus that gives ultimate meaning to life. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus by proclaiming the Gospel—the Good News that Jesus died and rose again to save sinners. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus by bestowing upon us poor, miserable sinners the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus’ Name. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus by giving us the grace to remain in the faith even as we struggle greatly against sin and sorrow, pain and affliction.
The Holy Spirit draws no attention to Himself but promotes the glory of Christ, exalting Jesus as the Saviour of the world. Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). That is why Jesus, God’s Son, became Man and suffered and died on the Good Friday cross—to save sinners. What, then, would bring Jesus greater glory than for sinners to be called by the Gospel, enlightened with the gift of salvation, and sanctified and kept in the true faith? All this the Holy Spirit does. Without drawing attention to Himself, the Holy Spirit works through Word and Sacrament to bring us lost and condemned sinners to faith and to keep us steadfast in the faith—all to the glory of Jesus.
In your struggles, remember that the Holy Spirit is ever working in you to glorify Jesus. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus by renewing you and keeping you steadfast in the faith. To keep you faithful unto death, the Holy Spirit works in you a strong conviction concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. When, by God’s grace, you have the right belief concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment, then in and through you the Holy Spirit is glorifying Jesus.
First, let’s look at your Spirit-given conviction concerning sin. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves, sinners who are at the mercy of a just and holy God. In unbelief, the world rejects the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting sinners of their sins. But by grace, through faith in Christ, you and I confess that we are poor, miserable sinners who have sinned most grievously against a holy God and who deserve God’s just condemnation.
And then, let’s look at your Spirit-given conviction concerning righteousness. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we learn not to trust in our own righteousness, which in the eyes of God is nothing that filthy rags, good only for the trash heap. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the righteousness of Christ; we believe that God graciously welcomes us into His holy presence only because we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. In unbelief, the world rejects the righteousness of Christ and boasts only in human abilities and achievements. But by grace, through faith in Christ, you and I confess that though we are indeed sinners, we are also holy children of God whose only boast is that Christ’s righteousness is greater than our sins and that Christ’s righteousness alone saves us.
And now, let’s look at your Spirit-given conviction concerning judgment. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe that Satan, the ruler of this world, has already been judged, defeated, conquered. In unbelief, the world still is in bondage to the devil. But by grace, through faith in Christ, you and I confess that though we still sin, we have been set free by Christ. We confess that Satan has been judged and defeated by Christ’s death, and we also confess that in Christ God judges us holy in His sight and heirs of heaven.
The Holy Spirit has come to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Unfortunately, the world goes on in its usual way. The world lives as if it has no sins to confess and no need for Holy Absolution. The world lives as if human righteousness is sufficient for salvation and as if Christ’s righteousness has no value. The world lives to serve the devil in unbelief and sinful vice. And so the truth about sin and righteousness and judgment is hidden from the world. But this truth is not hidden from you, for the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel and has enlightened you in the waters of Holy Baptism.
In Holy Baptism, God has opened your eyes and ears to see and to hear the truth. Now you see and hear the truth concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment proclaimed week after week in the Divine Service through Word and Sacrament. Here we come to confess our sins and to be renewed in Christ’s righteousness and to celebrate our Lord’s victory over the devil. Here we see the Holy Spirit working to glorify Jesus. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus by calling sinners to repentance and by keeping them in the faith. That is why the Holy Spirit ever calls you to gather faithfully as Christ’s holy flock, that you may be renewed in the truth that glorifies Jesus.
You are baptized into Christ, you are filled with the Holy Spirit. That means that no matter how great your sins and afflictions may be, your life makes sense, at least from a divine perspective. Because you are baptized into Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, every moment of your life becomes an occasion for glorifying Jesus. Your times of sorrow and hardship, your times of joy and pleasure—they all become times for glorifying Jesus.
That is why the Holy Spirit has brought you here this morning, so that He may renew you in the faith and in your life of glorifying Jesus. Your gracious Lord knows how easily you can be overcome by your sins and afflictions. He sees you so heavy laden and His heart goes out to you with His great love. Just as in love He died for you on the Good Friday cross, bearing the burden of your sins, so now in love He calls you to the abundant feast of His forgiveness. He gives you the gift to confess your sins, to trust in His righteousness, to count the devil a defeated foe, and to believe that God has judged you holy in Christ. Do not despise the gift of this confession and do not make excuses for staying away from the Lord’s holy feast. Rather, come, come as a sinner in need of a Saviour, and come as a baptized child of God in need of renewal. And here your gracious Jesus meets both needs: He forgives you your sins and He renews you in the faith so that you may glorify Jesus your whole life long.
It is sometimes hard to make sense of life. But our Lord Jesus has spoken four words concerning the Holy Spirit, four words which give us meaning and purpose even when our lives seem to make no sense whatsoever. He will glorify me—The Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus!
By God’s grace, remember that your calling as a baptized child of God is to glorify Jesus your whole life long, even unto death. During a time of persecution in the Roman empire, an elderly Christian man by the name of Polycarp was arrested by the authorities and told that he would be burnt at the stake unless he renounced Christ. Polycarp’s answer has been recorded for all time. Listen to how Polycarp answered his tormentors: Eighty and six years have I served [Christ], and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour? And with that steadfast confession of Christ, Polycarp was taken out to the stake to be killed for the glory of Jesus.
In a sense, that is how every Christian life ends. Having glorified Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit while living, we then confront death as just one more opportunity to glorify Jesus. Now we understand how our lives have meaning and purpose even when they do not make sense. For baptized into Christ, our whole lives become a canvas upon which the Holy Spirit paints a picture too beautiful for words, a painting whose one theme is “To Jesus be all the Glory!”. Amen.