Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. In our Gospel Reading for today, our Lord is once against speaking with his disciples on Holy Thursday. He is preparing them for his impending departure from this world via his death on the cross. But he is also preparing them for his impending departure from this world via his ascension to the right hand of the Father after he is raised from the dead. While in one sense much of what our Lord has to say in this text deals with his death and resurrection, the primary content of this part of his discussion with his disciples is the coming of the Holy Spirit. And so, in a very real sense, these words of our Lord are intended to prepare both his disciples and us for his ascension, and more specifically for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
2. As we think about the coming of the Holy Spirit, it’s important to consider carefully who the Holy Spirit is and what he does because there are more than a few misconceptions on this topic. Notice how in verse 13, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth.” He does not call him “the Spirit of feelings.” There’s a reason for this. The Holy Spirit works primarily through truth not feelings. Many strains of Christianity would claim the opposite. They would claim that the Holy Spirit works to inspire and direct you so that you know and feel in your heart what is right. There are people who claim that the Holy Spirit directs their every move so that they even know what to buy in the grocery store. There are people who claim that the Holy Spirit inspires them to “be filled with the Spirit” and to prophesy or speak in tongues. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the Holy Spirit can’t work in these ways. He can work in whatever way he decides to work. I’m saying that he doesn’t ordinarily work in these ways. And frankly, we should be cautiously suspicious of people who make these kinds of claims. The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth”, yet their claims are that the Spirit works through subjective feelings. Truth is not subjective. Truth is objective. To “be filled with the Spirit” is to be filled with the objective reality of the truth of God’s word. To say it simply, when Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”, he is connecting the work of the Holy Spirit to the truth of his word, not to any particular person’s whims or feelings.
3. There is more in our text that points us in this direction of understanding the Holy Spirit as well. Immediately after calling the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”, our Lord turns to explain how the Spirit is his Spirit who works on his behalf. In the second half of verse 13, our Lord says of the Spirit: “…he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13b-14). There are two things to note here. First, take note of the verbs in the section I just read: “speak,” “hear,” “speak,” “declare,” “glorify,” “take,” “declare.” Do you notice a pattern? All of those verbs have to do with communication—communication involving words, to be precise. He does not speak on his own. Rather, he hears and then speaks. He declares. And he glorifies by taking and declaring. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the word. He works in and through the word. Period. It is through the word of God that the Holy Spirit interacts with God’s people. But secondly, notice that the Holy Spirit doesn’t do whatever he well pleases. He acts on behalf of our Lord. He doesn’t act on his own authority. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of our Lord Jesus. That is to say, the Spirit’s purpose and work is always to point people to the Lord Jesus. The Spirit doesn’t talk about himself. But he’s not silent either, as some might incorrectly claim. The Spirit is the repetition of the Gospel ringing out around the world. He is the voice of the Good News spreading to the ends of the earth. He points the world to its Savior and Redeemer. He doesn’t primarily have to do with feelings and experiences, though the truth that he proclaims can and does evoke emotion. But the core of the Spirit’s message rides on the very words of God. He is the Spirit of truth. He takes what is our Lord’s and declares it to you. From the time of his ascension until his return on the last day, the exchange between our Lord and his disciples goes through the mediation of the Spirit. The Spirit is the link. He is the Spirit of our Lord Jesus.
4. So, how does the Holy Spirit do this for you and me? Or, to ask it differently, how does the Holy Spirit link us to our Lord? On the one hand, the answer is fairly obvious based on what we have established. He links us to our Lord through the word. But then the question must be asked, okay, well how does he do that? Or, maybe more to the point, what does he do through the word to link us to our Lord? This is where verses 8 and 9 of our text come in. The Spirit uses the word to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Let’s briefly look at these three things and how the Spirit accomplishes them.
5. First, the Spirit convicts the world concerning sin. That is to say, he uses the word of the law to show us our sin. Each sin that we commit is at its core a failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The sins that we commit are essentially a failure to believe fully and rightly. When we commit a sin, we make ourself into our own god. But the word of the law that the Spirit uses to convict the world of sin does more than accuse us of sins that we commit. It shows us our natural sinful bent towards committing sins. We are by nature poor, miserable sinners in our hearts, which leads us to commit horrible acts of sin on a daily basis. And so, the Holy Spirit uses the word of the law to convict us that we commit sinful acts because we are by nature poor, miserable sinners.
6. But this is not the only thing of which the Holy Spirit convicts the world. The Holy Spirit also convicts the world of righteousness. More specifically, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of the righteousness of Christ. Christ suffered and died on the cross so that the penalty for your sins and sinfulness might be paid and that you might be put into right standing before God. Then on the third day he rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father so that he could send to you his Spirit to convict you of this righteousness and impute the benefits of this righteousness to you. In fact, the Spirit is active in doing this right now. As you hear the words of the preacher and as they descend onto your ears and sink into your hearts, the Spirit is working. This is the way in which the Spirit works. Whether you have heard this message thousands of times or whether this is the first time you’re hearing it, the Spirit is at work right now through the word to grow faith in your heart.
7. All of this leads to the final point. The Spirit convicts the world of judgment. Specifically, the Spirit convicts the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:11). When the Holy Spirit convicts us of judgment, it’s a good thing. Usually, when we hear the word “judgment”, we think of bad things. We think of punishment. We know we’re guilty of something, and so the punishment must be coming our way. But when you have been put into right standing before the judge, there is nothing bad left to judge. The judgement, by necessity, must be a good thing for us. But not so much for our enemy. He wreaks havoc in this world contrary to God’s will and design, and in the end, he will be judged for it. He will get what’s coming to him. He will receive eternal punishment for his sins against our Lord. And so, the fact that the Holy Spirit convicts us of judgement is a good thing because it means that all things shall be rectified and made right in the end. The wrongs and brokenness of this world shall be made right and the Spirit will give us all things because our sins have been covered in righteousness. The ruler of this world is judged. All that’s left to do is to endure for a little while until this reality is made fully ours and we experience the joys life with our Lord Jesus for all eternity. Until that day, we trust in and cling to God’s word because in and through it, the Holy Spirit is at work for our eternal good.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.