Every day we hear news reports about people who have been arrested and charged and are then brought to trial to answer for their crimes. Occasionally you will hear about someone who is so convinced of their innocence and intelligence that they don’t request representation by an attorney – instead they will represent themselves. In legal circles, a proverbial story provides a cautionary tale about one person who tried to do just that. This person arrived at the courtroom and informed the judge that he would be representing himself. To this the judge replied: “May I warn you, sir, that the man who defends himself has a fool for a lawyer.” This proverb has always been true, maybe today – with the complexities of our legal system and the countless ways in which the truth can be bent or distorted or ignored – more than ever. When it comes to the law, you really need an objective, unemotional expert on your side to properly defend you.
In a way, Christians are on trial their entire lives. They are tried and accused and tempted and abused by the unholy trinity of the world, the flesh and the devil. All of their lies and all of their abuse are intended to do one thing: destroy our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Jesus knew that left alone, we would not be able to defend ourselves, we would be lost and condemned just as certainly as that man who presumed to represent himself in court. That’s why when Jesus left, he didn’t leave us alone – he sent the Holy Spirit. There is a lot of confusion today about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We hear various churches teaching and preaching about speaking in tongues, gifts of healing, or warm, fuzzy feelings in one’s heart. But this morning our Lord and Savior himself tells us about the person and work of the Holy Spirit – and he shows us that the third person of the Trinity does something far more important than cure arthritis or make your heart flutter – the Holy Spirit works through the Word to defend the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Jesus spoke these words in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday as he was preparing to be betrayed, arrested, tortured, and crucified. This was at least the fourth time Jesus told his disciples what was about to happen (Luke 9:22; 9:44; 18:32-33) but they still didn’t get it. They were so overwhelmed with the thought that Jesus was leaving them that they never thought to ask where are you going? That’s an important question to ask, isn’t it? Unless they understood why Jesus was leaving them and where he was going they would despair that their friend, teacher and Lord was leaving them alone. The disciples were too distraught to even ask the question. But Jesus wasn’t. And he knew they needed to know the truth more than they needed to wallow in self-pity. Because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you. Jesus was leaving his disciples, but he wasn’t leaving them alone. He would send them the Holy Spirit to take his place as their Advocate, their Representative, their Counselor. How? When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness and judgment. In one sentence Jesus clears up a lot of confusion about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Does he come only to a select few members of the clergy? No. The prophet Joel made that clear. (Joel 2:28-29) Does he come in visions and dreams to tell us the future and heal our bodies and minds? No. He comes to convict. He comes to testify. He comes to defend the truth.
He will convict the world about sin…because they do not believe in me. As Lutherans, we have been trained to look to the 10 Commandments as the mirror which shows us our sins. (Romans 3:20) Why didn’t Jesus go that route? Why didn’t he say “because they do not obey the 10 Commandments”? Two reasons. The first should be fairly obvious. Is the difference between Christians and everyone else that Christians obey the Law and everyone else doesn’t? Really? No. The difference is not obedience vs disobedience; it’s faith vs. unbelief. The second reason is that humans are very skilled at distorting God’s Law. We can suppress the law God printed on our hearts through persistent disobedience, we can attempt to modify God’s law by redefining it according to today’s standards, we can try to justify our sin by blaming it on other people or genetics or mental illness; but the Holy Spirit shows us Jesus so that we see the truth about sin. Whenever we are tempted to think that God isn’t serious about his commands to have no other gods, to keep his name holy and to remember the Sabbath; we need to remember that Roman soldiers dragged a whip across Jesus’ back to punish him for our sins. Whenever we use these hands to greedily grab all we can for ourselves we need to see Jesus’ nail-pierced hands stretched out on the cross as poured out his blood for us. His agonized cry my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46) should ring in our ears whenever we justify our favorite sin with “it’s not hurting anyone” or “no one will find out” – because, the Holy Spirit reminds us that God did find out and he hurt Jesus for it. The world – we – can perform all sorts of moral gymnastics to escape the conviction of God’s law, but when we see Jesus we see that none of it worked. The Holy Spirit works to convict the world with the truth about sin: God is so serious about sin that he crucified his own Son to pay for it. Everyone has disobeyed God’s law; but it is faith in Christ’s cross that separates Christians today and will divide heaven and hell in eternity – as Jesus himself declares: whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16) The truth about sin is that you either believe Jesus paid for it on the cross or you will spend eternity in hell paying for them.
He will convict the world about righteousness. Whenever the world tries to minimize the severity of sin it simultaneously replaces God’s standard for righteousness with its own standard. Instead of simply telling you how the world does this today, I’m going to show you. (State Farm Commercial) The world tries to deny the fact that we are all accountable to God, but it hasn’t completely succeeded – and this is the result. (I’m NOT saying these things are evil…Do not walk out of here saying that pastor hates strays, vets and dropouts.) The problem is not that these things aren’t good. It’s that they aren’t good enough. You could spend every minute of your life doing these things and it still wouldn’t get you into heaven. The Holy Spirit defends the truth that we are to be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and the result: that no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law. (Romans 3:20)
Here’s the good news: I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me. Since we confess this truth every week in the Creed it may no longer have much impact on us to hear that Jesus returned to his Father’s side in heaven. But it should. Remember what God is like. Psalm 5 tells us: you are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. (Psalm 5:4-5) Jesus’ resurrection and ascension prove that he accomplished what no State Farm commercial could ever guilt us into doing: he satisfied God’s justice. As much as people think that it’s the Law that makes Christianity offensive, this Gospel is really what offends people. We want to believe that we can please God if we just try hard enough. And that’s why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit – to convince us from Scripture that the only righteousness that satisfies God and that will be allowed into his presence in heaven is Jesus’ righteousness. How does Jesus’ perfect record become ours? Paul tells us: a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17) The reason the Holy Spirit tells us that saving dogs and vets and dropouts is not going to save us – is not because he hates dogs and vets and dropouts – but so that we stop trusting our own goodness to save us (because it never will) and instead cling to Jesus and receive his righteousness as his free gift through faith. That’s the truth about righteousness.
He will convict the world…about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. Earlier in John Jesus called Satan the prince of this world (John 12:31) meaning that most of this world’s institutions, ideals and philosophies are under his influence. He rebelled against God and he leads the world to do the same. He tempts us to live our way, according to our wants, feelings and desires – instead of according to God’s holy will. And he defends it by lying about judgment. He has convinced many – sadly even many who call themselves Christian – that in the end everyone goes to heaven, or at least, that hell (if it’s real) is reserved only for the Jeffrey Dahmer’s and Adolf Hitler’s of the world. But the Holy Spirit testifies that this is a damnable lie – and the evidence is that Satan has already been judged. He has lost the war. His eternal fate in hell is sealed. What God vowed to Satan in the Garden of Eden: he will crush your head and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15) was accomplished by Christ on the cross. So that we can sing with Luther: this world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done! One little word can fell him. (CW 200:3) Satan has been defeated and damned to hell for all eternity and all who believe his lies will suffer the same fate. That’s a terrifying thought. But you don’t have to be afraid because Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to guard and keep you from Satan’s lies with the Gospel truth that because Jesus was condemned in your place there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1) That’s the truth about judgment.
The Day of Pentecost may not be as big a celebration as Christmas and Easter, but the truth of Pentecost is just as important as our Savior’s birth and resurrection because Pentecost proves that we are not alone to defend ourselves in this world. If we were, we too would have “a fool for a lawyer.” But after Jesus completed our salvation he returned to his Father so he could send us the Holy Spirit – the Defender of Truth. He defends the truth about sin – that God is so serious about it that he crucified his own Son; about righteousness – that only Jesus has satisfied God’s demands and his righteousness is yours through faith; and about judgment – that the devil can lie and distort the truth; but the truth is that he has been judged and holds no power over those who have been covered in the blood of Christ. Thank God for the Holy Spirit and his work of defending the saving truth of Christ. Amen.