Sunday, May 23, 2010
Sermon for the Day of Pentecost (May 23, 2010)
“Don’t Grieve! Help Is On the Way!” (John 16:5-11)
What do you say to a person who is grieving? Think back to times in your life where you were grieving over someone or something. What did people say to you?
Grief is a very deep-seated emotion. We have a hard time knowing what to say when others are grieving. We try to offer comfort, but we find ourselves stumbling over our words. When we are the ones grieving, we certainly appreciate the efforts of those who offer their sympathy. And yet, somehow, their words seem empty. It’s usually not the words that give comfort in times like that, but rather it is simply the presence of people who care about you.
Grief is intense, emotional suffering, caused by some type of loss. Many of you here today have suffered some type of loss in your lives, whether recently or in the past. For some of you, it was the loss of a loved one through death. For others, it was the loss of a spouse and the breaking up of a family through divorce. Maybe you lost a friend who has moved away, or worse, has rejected your friendship. Or perhaps it was the loss of a job, and the loss of security that comes with a regular paycheck to provide for your family. Whatever the situation, you all have known some type of grief.
In today’s text, the disciples were grieving. Sorrow had filled their hearts because they were just told that they would be losing their beloved Teacher. Jesus had just told them that he was leaving. For three years they had lived in close contact with him. They had eaten with him. They had been taught by him. They had laughed with him. They had cried with him.
Not yet realizing the full implications of what Jesus was about to do – that he was going to die for the sins of the world – the disciples were filled with grief. Sorrow had pervaded their hearts and taken hold of them. They were so completely full of sorrow that joy found no place in their hearts.
Jesus knew this, and so he spoke to them. He said, “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.” (John 16:7) The Helper of which Jesus refers is the Holy Spirit. He is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity who filled the disciples on that first Pentecost after Jesus had ascended into heaven. Other Bible versions translate the word “Helper” as “Comforter” or “Counselor.” All of these words convey a similar idea: that the Holy Spirit is the one who comes alongside us and within us to help us in our moments of need. In other words, Jesus is saying here to his disciples, “Don’t grieve! Help is on the way!”
In his words to the disciples, Jesus specifies what the Holy Spirit will do when he comes. The Spirit comes to comfort us when sorrow pervades our hearts so much so that we say, “There is no hope.” He comes to comfort us when we grieve over the sin that we recognize in our lives. When the Holy Spirit comes, Jesus said, “he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:8-11)
First, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, because people do not believe in him. It is the sin of unbelief that is the ultimate source of hopeless sorrow (even if people mistakenly think their lives are just fine without Jesus). Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36)
Think back to the time when Moses led the Israelites out of the Egypt. Joshua was chosen to take his place and lead the people into the Promised Land of Canaan. But there were some who still refused to believe in the promises of God and acted disobediently. And so, they were not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says of this, “So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” (Heb 3:19)
Likewise, you and I cannot enter the Promised Land of heaven if we remain in a state of unbelief. And before the Holy Spirit comes to us, we are powerless to believe with our sinful hearts and sinful minds, as 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”
Yet Jesus says, “Don’t grieve! Help is on the way!” The Holy Spirit will also convict the world in regard to righteousness. He does this by pointing us to Christ and teaching us about Christ’s righteousness.
When we compare ourselves to the holiness of Christ, we know that we can never measure up. With our guilt and sin we can never “go to the Father” like Jesus did. The Holy Spirit works in our hearts and convinces us that we are truly unrighteous.
So what is the result of unbelief and unrighteousness? What fate awaits those who reject the promises of God in Christ and continue in their sin?
The Holy Spirit, Jesus says, will also convict the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:11) Although Almighty God is the ruler of the universe, Satan is still called “the ruler of this world” because of his power to spiritually enslave people. Yet Jesus makes it clear that this “ruler” is already condemned. Satan has already been judged. Hell has been prepared for him. The Holy Spirit convinces us that those who reject Christ as their Savior will face the same judgment that has been laid upon the devil, the ruler of this world, who is doing all he can to take as many souls with him into eternal condemnation.
Still, we hear the voice of Jesus say, “Don’t grieve! Help is on the way!”
For the Christian, help is no longer “on the way.” Help is here! The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in a very special, powerful way ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven. In his speech to the crowd, Peter said, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38) In the waters of Baptism, your sins were washed away. The Holy Spirit came upon you. Unbelief was cast aside. Faith was created in your heart. The Spirit now sustains that faith in you which trusts in the promises of God in Christ Jesus.
Help is here because the Holy Spirit turns us to rely on Christ’s righteousness, not our own. When we are convinced of our own unrighteousness, we cannot seek consolation in ourselves, so the Holy Spirit turns us to place our faith and trust in Christ. It is Christ who died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead. Help is here because through faith in Christ and his work on the cross, we are free from judgment and the power of the devil. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes in Romans 8:1. And in 1 John, the apostle assures us, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Then why do we still grieve, if we, as the children of God, have overcome…or rather, if we have overcome in Christ? We still have troubles in this life. We still have pain. We still suffer. And God never promised that we wouldn’t. If anything, there are many instances in the Bible where trials and tribulations are guaranteed, whether their purpose is to build up our faith or discipline us.
Our faith in Christ and the hope of eternal life is the foundation for joy that we have in the midst of our grief and sorrow. Though our hearts may be pervaded with grief, our hearts are more powerfully pervaded by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who roots us and grounds us and connects us to Christ.
St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” The idea is not that our troubles earn us glory. Rather, the thought here is that the worse our troubles are in this earthly life, how much greater in comparison will be the glory that we all will experience in heaven.
And God promises that he will be with us throughout our trials. He says, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isa. 41:10)
The Holy Spirit, the Counselor, points out to us the main source of our grief…our sin, our unbelief, our rebellion from God. Then, through Baptism and the hearing of the Good News of Jesus, he creates faith in our hearts and turns us to place our faith and trust in Jesus.
Then, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, points out to us our source of joy…God’s faithful promises of life, forgiveness, salvation, and his everlasting presence. Therefore, in the midst of momentary sorrow, we can do as St. Paul encourages, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
On Pentecost, God poured out his Spirit like water to germinate a fresh life in his chosen disciples, and the Church grew by leaps and bounds … about 3,000 new members. What a day that was for God’s Church! And notice how the Church didn’t simply rest on its laurels that day. Instead, the Church’s activity is described in this way: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) They kept on studying God’s Word and truths of the teachings of the apostles. They kept on joining together in the fellowship of worship and the breaking of bread, that is, Holy Communion. These are the means that God has chosen to grow us in our faith. These are the means whereby the Holy Spirit works in us.
When we remain in God’s Word, spiritual growth is guaranteed, just as we can count on Spring returning each year after what appears to be a dead winter. We each may have seasons of cold and bitter wintertime in our hearts because of some grief that has come upon us. But behind the clouds the sun is always there, the sunshine of God’s love for us in Jesus.
So don’t grieve…help is on the way!
Don’t grieve…help is here!