The Heavenly Courtroom

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter based on John 14:15-21

Dear defendants in the heavenly courtroom: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you are charged with a crime, the best thing you can do to escape punishment is to hire a team of lawyers to represent you. They know the ins and outs of the law. They know when to speak and when to be quiet. They know the best way to get you off the hook for what you’ve done.

On your own, without a team of legal counsellors, you would probably have the tendency to respond to the accusations of the law by saying, “It’s not my fault,” and trying to shift blame, thus perjuring yourself. You might also try to excuse what you’ve done wrong, seeking to justify it, thus incriminating yourself.

It’s best to have the counsellors do the talking for you. It’s best to have the counsellors deal with the prosecution’s discovery evidence and witness testimony that incriminates you.

Jesus promised that God the Father will send us another Helper or Counsellor. One way of looking at it when picturing the heavenly courtroom, is to think of the Holy Spirit as our legal counsellor representing us. And He’s not the only one. Jesus says “another” counsellor, indicating that there is more than one. And indeed, Jesus Himself is also in the heavenly courtroom representing us as our mediator and advocate. We have a team of lawyers defending us in the heavenly courtroom.

Without our counsellors, we would have the tendency to respond to the accusations of the law by saying, “It’s not my fault,” and trying to shift blame, thus perjuring ourselves. We would also try to excuse what we’ve done wrong, seeking to justify it, thus incriminating ourselves. On our own we would only make matters worse and dig ourselves into a bigger hole.

God’s Law accuses us. Jesus Himself says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” If you love God, you will keep His Commandments. Every single one. The Law thus tells us that we do not love God. We do not love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. Responding with “It’s not my fault” won’t cut it. Making excuses won’t get us off the hook.

It’s not just some prosecution investigators trying to find dirt on us or human eyewitness testimony that is presented for evidence. It is God Himself who accuses us and presents His evidence. He who sees the actions of all, hears the words of all, and knows the thoughts and hearts of all gives testimony against us. Every sin of thought, word, and deed is known to Him, including those sins of which even we are not aware.

This too, is where our counsellors come in. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin (John 16:8). This means He convicts you of sin. He opens your eyes to how you have not kept God’s Commandments. He convicts you of the fact that you have not loved God with all your heart, soul, and mind, or your neighbour as yourself. Even though He is your counsellor and representing you, He’s telling you to fess up. Confess what you’ve done. Confess your sins.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t tell you to do this so that you will be found guilty in the heavenly courtroom. In fact, that is how you get off in the heavenly courtroom. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-9)

The way to be found guilty in the heavenly courtroom is to deny your sin; to make excuses for your sin. Saying that you love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself is deceiving yourself. It’s being blind to the times you have had your priorities skewed, your own selfish interests at heart, and ignored the needs of your neighbour.

But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s how the heavenly courtroom works. It’s not about having your counsellors argue what a good member of society you are or listing the good that you have done. It’s not making excuses or pointing fingers at others. It’s about confessing your sins. Confessing what you have done wrong, without excuse. It’s about admitting guilt.

Then you are pronounced innocent, as Jesus, your mediator and advocate stands up for you because His blood has covered your sins and transgressions. He has already paid the price of your sins. He has already been found guilty of your sins and been punished for them. There’s no more punishment to come from the Judge. The legal demands of the Law have been met on your behalf by Jesus, and your punishment has been taken and paid by Jesus. You will be declared innocent.

You know that on Judgment Day you will be declared innocent, because you have a preview of Judgment Day every Sunday. Every Sunday in Divine Service you hear God’s Word, through which the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin. Every Sunday in Divine Service you confess your sin and admit your guilt. Every Sunday in Divine Service you are declared innocent and free from sin, as you are absolved in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This absolution is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with you Himself, because it is He who has commanded your pastor to absolve you in His name. The Judge Himself has declared you forgiven and pardoned through His representative, thus you have already been judged.

Legally, you cannot be charged for an offence a second time. In American and Canadian law, this is called double jeopardy. No person shall be subject for the same offence to be twice put into jeopardy of life or limb. You cannot be again tried for something of which you have been acquitted. Since you have been declared forgiven and pardoned, you cannot be tried for them again. You cannot be charged with them again.

Jesus was charged with all your sins and found guilty. You walk away scot free because you have confessed your sins, and your counsellors have spoken on your behalf. You’ve been declared forgiven. Amen.

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

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