The Work of the Holy Spirit

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter based on John 16:12-22

Dear Church of God called to faith by the Holy Spirit: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Without the Holy Spirit, the Word of God is a closed book to us. If the Holy Spirit does not teach us the Word, we cannot understand the Word. If the Holy Spirit does not open our eyes and reveal God’s truth to us, the Word will seem like empty riddles and stories to us.

The disciples did not understand Jesus’ figure of speech when He told them, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” To them it just sounded like some sort of riddle.

Jesus had told them the same thing in clearer words as well. He taught His disciples saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22) He had told them, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” (Luke 9:44) Jesus had further told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:31-33) Surely Jesus was so clear with His words that the disciples understood Him, right? No, they didn’t.

Scripture records that the disciples “did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it.” (Luke 9:45) And “they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (Luke 18:34) They did not understand that it was God’s plan that Jesus would die for their sins and the sins of the whole world. They didn’t understand even though Jesus told them that He would die and rise again.

This brings us back to our text where Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” It is the Holy Spirit who teaches us the truth of God’s Word. Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to the truth.

This is what we confess when we say, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” (SC II.3)

I cannot by my own reason believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. My reason responds to all of God’s promises by saying, “That cannot be.” God says, “Baptism saves” and my reason says, “That cannot be.” God says, “Absolution forgives your sins” and my reason says, “That cannot be.” God says, “The Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood given for the forgiveness of your sins” and once again my reason says, “That cannot be.” That’s why I cannot by my own reason believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.

I cannot by my own strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. My strength responds to all of God’s promises by saying, “I don’t need it.” God says, “You are evil from conception (Ps. 51:5), receive my forgiveness” and my strength says, “No, I’m pretty good. I don’t need it.” God says, “You are by nature a child of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:3), receive my Absolution” and my strength says, “I’m not so bad, I don’t need it.” God says, “By your sinful nature you are dead in your trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), receive life in Jesus’ body and blood” and my strength says, “I feel pretty alive. I don’t need it.” That’s why I cannot by my own strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.

We only come to Jesus when the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, and sanctifies us in the true faith. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel is foolishness to us (I Cor. 1:18). Without the Holy Spirit, the Gospel seems ridiculous to us.

This is why Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit. Jesus didn’t just ascend into heaven to make room for the Holy Spirit. Jesus ascended into heaven to go to the Father. He ascended in order to show the glory of the risen Christ.

If Jesus had not ascended into heaven, the disciples might have thought that life would returned to normal; back to what it was before Jesus died; back to suffering and humiliation. But after the sacrifice was complete; after His suffering and death were accomplished and His state of humiliation ended, Jesus ascended into glory.

Jesus ascended to prepare a place for us, so that we can also take comfort in His promises of new life after death. Not the same old life, but new and eternal life in glory. Just as Jesus didn’t rise to the same life He lived before His death, so we will not rise to the same life we live now.

Jesus ascended into heaven but He didn’t abandon us or leave us as orphans. He sent the Holy Spirit to call us by the Gospel, enlighten us with His gifts, and sanctify and keep us in the true faith. He sent the Holy Spirit to daily and richly forgive our sins and the sins of all believers. He does this through His Word and through the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus promised to be with us until the end of the age, and so He is. He is present in His Word. He is even physically present in His body and blood so that we can cling to Him in faith and each one of us can say with certainty, “My sins are forgiven by Jesus’ body and blood.”

The promises of God are sure and certain even if we cannot fully comprehend them with our reason and strength. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes through His Word to trust His promises because those promises depend on God’s reason and strength, not ours.

The Holy Spirit calls us to faith, and also keeps us in the faith. Since the Holy Spirit keeps us in the faith, our faith will not falter even in the face of death. Thus we can all say with firm faith: On the last day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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