What do you think today is all about? If you go by the insert's translation it's about a Counselor arriving. That's how the 1984 NIV translates parakletos the 4 of 5 times it appears in the Greek. The last time it translates "one who comes to our defense." The 2011 NIV translates all 5 times with Advocate. I like the consistency as I said in an earlier sermon but lets' not miss the comfort. 2 Cor. 1:3-4 call the Father of our Lord Jesus "the God of all comfort [paraklesis], who comforts [parakaleo]us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort [parakaleo] those in any trouble with the comfort [paraklesis] we ourselves have received from God." You could translate Advocate, but to me that mutes the comfort. Perhaps Luther captures both by translating "one called to the side of the guilty." That's comforting. Today we celebrate the Spirit comforting us by convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Yeah, right!
But that's what our text teaches. We're to be comforted by the fact that the Spirit is at work convicting the world of sin. Note carefully what Jesus says. He doesn't say the Spirit convicts some or part of the world, but the world. You know what that means, don't you? The Spirit's convicting of sin can't refer to outward sins. I mean you don't need the Spirit for that, do you? Don't courts of law convict murderers and rapists? Doesn't society convict drunkards and drug addicts? Doesn't our culture convict laziness and child abusers? The world, without the Spirit, does just fine convicting people of all sorts of outward sins. But the world doesn't convict the whole world of sin as the Spirit is said to. Courts of law don't indict everyone for murder and/or rape. Society doesn't convict everyone of being a drunk or a junkie. Our culture never implies that all are lazy or abuse children. No, the world in fact is not able to convict all people of anything. But Jesus says the Spirit convicts the world, no exceptions.
The Spirit is able to convict the whole world concerning sin, why? Because the world doesn't believe in Jesus. That's what our text says. People imagine that the sins of the world are such as can be dealt with by them. Not doing this, doing that. But that's not what Jesus says. He says the world's problem is unbelief. It's not just that their hands do this or their feet go there or their mouth says this; it's their unbelieving hearts. And no one can do anything about an unbelieving heart. Not even us.
When Jesus says the Spirit convicts the world concerning sin because it doesn't believe in Him, He's talking about us too. World means world. Unbelief is our problem as church members, as life-long Lutherans. It's not that we're doing this wrong or not doing that right. Then our problem would be manageable. Then we would just adjust our behavior, and our hearts would be comforted. No, our problem, along with the rest of the world, is that we don't believe in Jesus. We don't fear Him above all things; we fear punishment for our sins. We don't love Him above all things; we love ourself. We don't trust in Him; we trust in money, in men, in a Covid-19 vaccine. We're anxious because we don't believe Jesus when He says, "Let not your hearts be troubled;" And when He says, "I will not leave you as orphans," we say, "O yes, you have."
Of course, the answer to unbelief is faith, right? Just get out there and start believing and you'll be comforted; you won't be so depressed. That's how the world reasons and a good many churches in the world. But an unbelieving heart can't decide to start believing anymore than a dead person can decide to start living. Besides that's not where Jesus points us. The answer to not believing is not deciding to believe; No, the answer to this unbelief that is in the very fiber of the world, us included, is the Spirit convicting people of righteousness. Again, Jesus can't be speaking of what the world regards as righteousness. He can't be saying the Spirit convinces the world of what righteous living is. Who needs the Spirit for that? AA convicts people of what sobriety looks like. The Boy Scouts convict people that righteousness is doing a good turn daily. The Masonic Lodge displays an undeniable righteousness with their free Shriner hospitals. The Spirit isn't needed to convince the world that helping sick children and putting on free circuses is very righteous indeed.
The Spirit convicts people of a righteousness not seen or felt. A righteousness totally hidden from the world. And, pick up your ears now, one totally hidden from Christians too. A righteousness that we have no feeling of, sense of, one that no matter how hard we look for we can't find. Right about now a tiny sliver of sunshine ought to be breaking through those thick, dismal clouds hovering in your gloomy minds. Those clouds are there because you always fall short of the world's righteousness. You trip over the 12 steps. You don't do a daily good turn or meet even your own goals. You sure don't do as much good as the Lodge. What can there be in the world for you but despair? You don't measure up. You're not the mother, father, employee, citizen, member, or person you ought to be. But wait a minute! The Spirit knows of a righteousness unknown, unseen, unfelt by the world and even by those who actually have it.
The Spirit convicts the world of righteousness because Jesus goes to the Father. Jesus descended from heaven to keep the Law for us and to pay for our not keeping it. The Father put all Laws and all sins on Him; Jesus couldn't enter heaven again till those Laws were all kept and those sins were all paid for. Good Friday was payday. Easter was the Father stamping, Paid in Full on sin's bill. On Ascension Jesus, the God-Man, was received back into heaven taking our human nature with Him. On Pentecost the Spirit came with the news that God regards the world as righteous because Jesus is back in heaven. Note well: I didn't say that in Jesus God regards us, the church, or believers as righteous. I said He regards the world as righteous. There is a righteousness in Jesus that covers the world. There is a holiness, a perfection for sinners that no Law can touch, no sin can taint. There is a righteousness in the ascended Christ that the world can't refute by pointing to this law or that sin. In Christ there is a righteousness, innocence and blessedness that lasts forever and ever.
"Lift up your hearts," the Spirit says. Those of you who have this never-ending sense of what a terrible person you are, what a weak Christian you are, what a poor wife, husband, child, or person you are, the Spirit wants to convict you of a righteousness that is safe and secure for you in heaven. You need not despair because you don't see it. You need not be depressed because you don't feel it. You need not worry that you have no indication of it. You're not suppose to. It's hidden in the Christ who is no longer visible. It can't be felt in your heart because it's not in there but in God's heart. But that's not good enough for the world. The world demands proof, works, evidence. The world looks for these in us and doesn't find them. The world finds more evidence of righteousness in Girls Scouts selling cookies, in the Shriners building hospitals, in the alcoholic sobering up, than it ever finds in Christians. The world judges that our righteousness is lacking. We don't build homes like Habitat for Humanity; we don't provide food like Meals on Wheels; we don't provide shelter in the storm like Red Cross.
Face it: our church is second-rate in regard to helping people. Don't you feel guilty for not doing more? So the world, the devil, and our own conscience preach to us. And in our despair we're ever tempted to give up the righteousness that is found in the ascended Christ and establish our own based on the world's criteria. Thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit rescues us from this by convicting the world concerning its judgment process. Yes, the Spirit is a great Defense Attorney, the other meaning of parakletos. He objects in the court of God saying that the world has gone beyond it's jurisdiction. The world can make judgements in regard to outward righteousness, but it has no right to say what is righteous before God. The world can say this outward act is good or bad. But this is nothing more than judging by appearances.
Jesus in John 7:24, rejects judging by appearances. Only God is able to judge what is truly righteous before Him. What the world judges means nothing to Him. Jesus by ascending to the Father has thrown the world and it's ruler off of the judgment seat. If only we would take this message to heart, we would save ourselves much heartache and have much comfort. The world judges you to be a poor mother because you're not perfect. The prince of this world judges you to be a poor Christian because you don't do more for others. The prince of this world continually tries to haul you into court where he can declare you guilty of not being righteous enough. But the Spirit teaches that you don't have to listen to the world or it's prince.
Yes, the Spirit teaches us that the prince of this world no longer sits on the judgment seat, the Man Jesus does. The Comforter says you can go by His Word not the world's. His Word declares your sins forgiven, removed from you as far as east is from west. His Word declares that God can't find one sin of yours that you need to be punished for. His Word declares that God can't find one Law of His not kept by Jesus that you need to keep before you can be forgiven. His Word declares that though the world and it's prince line up to accuse you, God doesn't listen to them. He listens to the blood of Jesus which unlike Abel's blood pleads for pardon not vengeance.
The world's answer to a person being uncomfortable is for that person to do something. Party, relax, think positive, or even believe. The Spirit's answer is to bring to people what Jesus has done. He has ascended into heaven establishing righteousness. He has condemned the devil forever removing him from the judgement seat. There is doubt in whatever I do. There is comfort in what Jesus has done. That's why the Holy Spirit focuses on the latter and not the former. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Day of Pentecost (20200531); John 16: 5-11