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)
Introduction: The Advantage of Jesus Going Away!
If Jesus were physically present in your life, walking, talking, eating, and drinking with you as He did with the apostles, would that make you a stronger Christian? Would you find it easier to trust God and to love your neighbour if Jesus had an office in town, like a member of parliament? It’s tempting to think so. But our Lord knows better. He knows that after He dies on Good Friday and rises from the dead, He will go to His Father. And in His Ascension, He will remove His visible body from us.
And it is all for our good. That is what Jesus tells the apostles: 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.
It is to your gain that Christ ascends to the Father and is no longer visibly present here on earth. Yes, you are better off because Jesus —even according to His exalted humanity—is now seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling over all things for the sake of His church. He is interceding for you before the Father’s throne and preparing a glorious place for you in heaven. Jesus no longer being visibly present is also to your advantage because had He not ascended, the Holy Spirit would not have been sent to you.
Why Jesus’ Going Away is Better for Us.
The risen and ascended Jesus is no longer present in only one place, as He was according to His humanity before His resurrection. Now, in His exalted humanity, Jesus fills all things in heaven and on earth and is present for His people wherever they are gathered in His name. And He is even bodily present in His Holy Supper, so that we feast on the very same body and blood given and shed on the cross. The risen, ascended, seated-at-the-right-hand-of-the-Father, glorified Jesus has also given us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, in place of His visible presence among us. Through the Word and through Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit brings to you and to the Church in every land the special, saving presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, by the working of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is here for you fully as true God and true Man in the Word and the Sacraments and He is also present in countless churches throughout the world as they proclaim the Good News of salvation in Christ and feast on His true body and blood. In short, then, the Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Jesus on earth. And here in our text, we see the great ministry which Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to do among us.
The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Sin.
The Holy Spirit works to convict us of sin, to convict us in such a way as to bring us to true repentance. This is indeed a great blessing from God, for a true conviction of sin always leads us to confess our sins and thus to be forgiven in Christ. Sadly, so many reject the Holy Spirit’s ministry and refuse to be convicted of their sins. But that is the way of the world, and it is a way that leads to death.
The day is coming when all the world will look on him whom they have pierced (John 19:37) and then it will be too late for the world to repent. Then, finally, the world will be convicted of its filthiness and wickedness, convicted especially of its unbelief, for unbelief is at the heart of every sin. And on that day the world will bear the cursed fruit of having rejected the Holy Spirit’s ministry.
But thanks be to God, you have not rejected the Holy Spirit’s ministry, for you have been baptized into Christ and you know [the Holy Spirit], for he dwells with you and [is] in you (John 14:17). The Holy Spirit is ever working through the Word of God spoken and implanted into your heart. This Word says to you, “repent,” and the Holy Spirit works in you a godly sorrow over your sins and a firm faith in God’s promise. And then this Word says, Take heart, …your sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2) and you are forgiven all your sins for the sake of Christ. Such is the great love of your Lord, that He moves you to receive with meekness the Holy Spirit’s ministry of convicting you of your sins so that you may be forgiven, so that you may be saved unto eternal life.
The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Righteousness.
The Holy Spirit also convicts you of righteousness—not yours, but the Lord’s. Left to yourself, you naturally think—as the world does—that your good deeds are sufficient to save you. The devil, the world, and your own sinful nature are ever tempting you to trust in your own self-righteousness, but it is not your righteousness that saves you, but Christ’s righteousness. The Holy Spirit is always calling you to trust alone in the righteousness of Christ.
Christ’s righteousness is rooted in who He is as the eternal Son of God and in what He has done to save you. There is no other righteousness by which you are able to dwell in the presence of God for all eternity. Here is how Luther explains this saving righteousness: Christians should know of no other righteousness with which to stand before God and be justified and to receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, than this going of Christ to His Father, which means that He took upon Himself our sin and for our sakes suffered death upon the cross and was buried and descended into hell. But He did not remain under sin and death and in hell, but passed through them in His Resurrection and Ascension, and now He is seated at the right hand of the Father, a mighty Lord over all creatures. (Luther, Day by Day; WA 46.43 f., Vol. 2, pg. 197).
A great miracle has taken place in your life: apart from your good deeds, you have received the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). It is not your righteousness that opens up heaven to you. Rather, it is Christ’s righteousness that opens heaven to undeserving sinners, and this righteousness is Christ Himself. The righteousness of Christ becomes yours when by grace, through faith, you believe that Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, who died and rose to save you.
The world is so opposed to the rule of Christ that it seeks to destroy your faith in Christ’s righteousness. And your own sins are so great that you yourself may sometimes doubt that you are righteous in Christ. But believe it, for the Holy Spirit is ever working to convict you that God declares  righteous [all] who believe[ that Christ] gave Himself for our sins and was raised for our justification and is our Lord and Saviour (Luther, House Postils, Vol. 2, pg. 101).
The Holy Spirit Convicts the World of Judgement.
The Holy Spirit’s ministry is focused on sin, righteousness, and finally on judgement. However, it is not your judgment that He makes known but the judgment of the devil. The Holy Spirit convinces us that Satan, the ruler of this world, has been judged, defeated, conquered. As our Lord Jesus approached His impending death on the cross for the sins of the world, He announced the devil’s imminent defeat: Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out (John 12:31).
Through our Lord’s suffering and death, the ruler of this world has been cast out and thrown down. What a comfort this is for us, to know that the devil who roars against us like a roaring lion is already a judged and defeated foe. And so, as baptized children of God, we live by faith in Christ, knowing that He who is in [us] is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).
The Holy Spirit Brings Glory to Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is all about bringing glory to Jesus. He brings glory to Jesus by leading you into the truth concerning your sin and the righteousness of Christ and the judgment of Satan. The Holy Spirit takes the eternal gifts of Christ and declares and delivers them to you, in order that they may become your own. The Helper preaches into you Christ’s forgiveness, life, and salvation, that you may never be separated from your Lord and His love.
Oh, there are times when we feel that we are losing the war against sin, when we feel that we are not righteous in God’s sight, when we feel that the devil is not a defeated foe after all. But the devil’s head is indeed crushed—believe it! And Christ has indeed covered you in the pure robe of His righteousness—believe it! And in spite of your great and grievous sins, you are bearing the blessed fruit of forgiveness—believe it! Believe it all for Christ’s sake, for He has given you the Holy Spirit—the One who comes alongside you and who dwells with you and who is in you to help you in the way of salvation. Praise be to God! Amen.