April 28, 2013
Pretend for a moment that you’re in an imaginary religion. You love your religion, you think it’s the right one and the one that is best for you. Consequently, you want other people to know about it, so that they can have the benefits of it as you do. What are you going to tell them? How will you persuade them that your religion is not just the way to go for yourself, but also for them? Will you show them all the good things about it? How it has changed your life? Why it is it makes sense?
If they were to ask you what it is like, what would you tell them? If they had no way of understanding what is at the heart of your religion and why it is so great, how could you explain it to them or show them? Imagine if you were to use an analogy; if you were to say to them, “Here is what my religion is like and why I think it’s so great.” You went on to tell them that it’s like being doomed forever. And the God of your religion is like a being that is inaccessible. You are doomed and the God of it is out of reach.
How do you find your way out of this predicament? The God is like a supreme being but it’s as if he has made himself accessible. Since there was no way you could access him, it was as if he came to you. That’s what his love is like. It’s a love that lets you know that he sees you in your doom and doesn’t leave you there, but lets you know he loves you. You can feel as though he is with you rather than being out of reach; inaccessible.
And so you tell your friend, “That’s why I love my religion. Because my God is like that. He loves me as if he were to come to me. If only you knew my God like I do, you would see how great my religion is and why I believe it.”
This analogy, this way of comparing this imaginary religion to something we can relate to, is a great analogy. Most people would resonate with such an analogy. At some level, people of all periods of history and all places have a sense that there is more to life than just what we know in this life. And so they are part of a religion. There are many religions because people want to know that there is meaning to their existence. They realize that things aren’t fully as they should be in this life, and so they look to religion to provide them with meaning and a way to deal with life as it is.
Where this analogy breaks down, though—and all analogies break down at some point—is that it still doesn’t give you concrete hope that this religion is ultimately any different than any other religion or not having any religion at all. If the best you can do is compare the god of the religion to a being who makes himself accessible, then what do you really have? What you have is hope. But it’s not concrete hope. It’s hope that is more of a hoping rather than actual hope in which you have certainty.
Now if you step out of your imaginary religion, and take a look again at Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading, you will see how His religion, Christianity, is far different from religion in which the best you can do is describe what God is like. With His religion, you actually get God. It’s not like He loves you in such a way where He’s accessible. He’s actually accessible. It’s not that you have to come up with a way to show what He’s like. You actually know who He is.
God doesn’t say, “I’m like this…” God actually gives you access to Himself by giving His Son to you. You are doomed, but God comes to you in your doom. Jesus is God but becomes flesh. He becomes a man, just as you are a human being living in this life. The reason your religion—your real religion, Christianity—is true, is because it has this concrete hope. It’s because it doesn’t deal simply in analogies, but rather in the concrete accessibleness of God in His Son Jesus Christ.
And here’s the kicker, just as He makes Himself known to you in His Son; just as His Son comes to you in the flesh; just as you have this concrete hope in Him in Jesus, it is to your advantage that Jesus doesn’t hang around with you. It is better for you if He goes back to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father. How is this so? If God has gone through all the trouble to give you access to Him by coming to you in the flesh, why does He then turn around and go on away from you? Why not stay with you? And how is it true, as long as we’re trying to reason this out, that He is with you always, as He says He is?
The answer is not in analogies. It’s in concrete promises. “If I do not go to the Father, then I cannot send you the Holy Spirit. If you don’t get the Holy Spirit, you don’t get Me.” And in this working of God of making Himself accessible to you in His Son, you see that the way God works is that to get Him, you must go through the Son, and the way to get the Son, you must go through the Holy Spirit. And the way you get the Holy Spirit is that the Father sends Him. And the Son sends Him. And the Holy Spirit in turn delivers to you the Son. And He delivers to you what has been given to Him by the Father.
The reason you believe is because Jesus has left. He didn’t stay around walking from place to place as He did when He was born of Mary and engaged in His ministry for three years. He ascended into heaven and then sent His Holy Spirit to come directly to you in your washing of rebirth and renewal. The reason you believe is because God saved you in Baptism and the Holy Spirit gave you faith. God didn’t leave you with analogies of what He’s like, He left you with His Holy Spirit. He didn’t give His Son to you to hang around with you here on earth, but ultimately to take you back to Himself in heaven. As great as it is that Jesus came to earth here among us, it’s even greater that He ascended back into heaven.
To get a handle on your religion—your real, true, actual religion—see how God actually comes to you to do His work of saving you and sustaining you in faith. Jesus said that it is to your advantage that He doesn’t hang around but rather leaves. This is so that He will send the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes, this is what He will do: He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. This is good news for you. This isn’t some sort of illustration of what He’s like or how much He loves you. This is actually working out in your life His salvation and sustaining you in faith.
When the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, this is the best thing He could do for you. What does it mean that He convicts the world concerning sin? This is what Jesus says, “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” Everyone outside of the religion of Christianity is the world. No one believes in Him outside of the Holy Christian Church. You and I do. Every Christian does. But the world does not. But this doesn’t tell you why the Holy Spirit’s convicting the world concerning sin is good news for you and the best thing He could do for you.
This reason this is to your advantage is because the work of the Spirit of convicting the world concerning sin is how He strips away everything that gets in the way of our having access to God the Father. Look out at the world and you will see a lot of good. There are a lot of decent people out there. Granted, there is a lot of evil and indecency. But the world generally looks favorably upon being kind and decent. And for life in this world, this is a good thing. What’s the problem with it then? Why does it get in the way of access to the Father?
Because, as Jesus says, they do not believe in Me. That’s the problem. Kindness and goodness is really a mask. People think they are good and even want to be good, but deep inside they are existing for themselves. The center of their universe is not something outside of them or higher than them, it is them. The Holy Spirit strips this away. The Holy Spirit says, in plain words, “You do not believe in the eternal Son of God as Lord and Savior.” This is why you have no access to God the Father. If you sit here today and think the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting the world concerning sin applies to all those outside of our true religion, and not to you personally, then you are not hearing what Jesus is saying to you. Apart from His Holy Spirit’s work of convicting you of your sin, you do not believe in Jesus. You come here each week centered in yourself and needing to receive from outside of yourself this work of the Holy Spirit in the same way you received it when you were Baptized.
The second thing the Holy Spirit convicts the world of shows even more so why it’s vital that you hear these words of Jesus as applying to you personally, and not just all those people out there who don’t believe in Him. The second thing the Holy Spirit does is convict the world concerning righteousness; and He tells how and why: “because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” Jesus is showing us how He engages in His work of Law and Gospel. He sends His Holy Spirit to convict you of sin to bring you to repentance so that He can give you the righteousness of Christ. In His suffering for the sin of the world and dying on the cross and rising from the grave, Christ has accomplished all that is necessary to lift you from your doom and give you access to the Father. In ascending to the Father He sends His Holy Spirit to bring you in the Gospel and in the Sacraments His righteousness, and you are forgiven of all of your sins.
With all of this it might seem you have everything you need. But there is one more benefit you get from Jesus going away and sending the Holy Spirit to you. The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment. And why is this? As Jesus says, “because the ruler of this world is judged.” Think about what this means for you. No matter what Satan throws at you, he has been judged. You have the victory, Satan is defeated. Jesus conquered Satan in His suffering, death, and resurrection. You are convicted and brought to repentance. You are forgiven and have concrete hope. You do not stand before God as judged, but Satan does. You have full access to God in Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit and Satan is defeated.
With the true God you don’t get a message of what He is like. You get Him. You get God Himself and you get Him in His Son. When you get God the Son you get God the Father. The Holy Spirit brings to you Jesus Christ in order to bring you to God the Father. It is to your advantage that Jesus has gone away, so that He may come to you in His Gospel and Sacraments and have Him forever. Amen.