Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today is Pentecost, the day the Church celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost means “fifty,” Fifty days after the Passover came the harvest festival, the ingathering of the winter wheat. Fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, he breathes on His Church and gives his Church, breath and life to proclaim the good news of His death and resurrection. However, when people hear “Pentecost” today, they’re likely to think of a somewhat wild form of Christian religious experience and practice outside the mainstream of church life, involving a lot of noise and waving of arms, and (of course) speaking in tongues. People sometimes feel guilty because they haven’t had such wonderful experiences like the apostles did on the first Pentecost. Or they feel jealous of those who seem to have had things like this happen to them. What about you? What does the Holy Spirit do for us? Is the Spirit’s job to ensure we have extravagant, supernatural experiences?
In our gospel reading from John, you heard Jesus tell us what the Holy Spirit will do when he comes. The Holy Spirit will convict the world about three essential truths. And what are those three essential truths? “He will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment,” Jesus told them. That’s what the Holy Spirit is about, and any spirit that is not about those things is not the Holy Spirit. This morning, we will briefly look at this threefold work of the Holy Spirit.
To Convict of Sin
The Spirit’s job is to convict. To convict is to prove that someone is in the wrong. In this case, it is the world, human society, that is in the wrong. First, the Spirit will demonstrate that the world is wrong about sin. In other words, the world is guilty of sin; and the evidence is that ‘the world’ has not believed in Jesus. Instead of believing in Jesus, the world is bent on its own way rather than God’s way.
Sin is the corruption that goes to the very core of our humanity and renders everything we do sinful no matter how good it may appear to us. We sin because we are sinful, and as a result, everything we think, do, and say, no matter how beautiful, wonderful, and nice, is full of sin. We have the symptoms, and diagnosing the disease is what the Spirit does. That’s what the world needs convincing of, and we do too. You see, we generally do not see ourselves as sinners but as basically good people. Ask anyone on the street what makes them good, and they can quickly give you a list of their good characteristics and qualities. We cannot understand or recognise that we are sinners because we are blind to the truth about ourselves. We begin to justify ourselves, we begin to excuse our evil thoughts and actions, and that renders Jesus’ work useless for us, because if you can excuse your thoughts and actions, what point is there in being justified for Jesus’ sake?
And so, this is the reason why the Holy Spirit must come to prove and convict us as the sinners that we are. Christ did not send the Spirit to entertain us and make us feel good about ourselves. The Spirit’s work is to show the world how wrong it is about sin. His job is to convict you, to show you how rotten you are. Where the Spirit is at work, you aren’t going to feel good about yourself.
To Convict of Righteousness
Second, the Spirit will show that the world is wrong about justice. Righteousness and justice are the same. The world thinks it has justice on its side. We think we know what justice is, but we define it our way and bend the world to our own twisted version of justice. And it was twisted human justice that condemned Jesus and put him on the cross as a blasphemer and rebel. Jesus was proved innocent by the divine judge. The Spirit will convict the world of righteousness. The Holy Spirit convinces the world that they have violated righteousness in their denial of Christ. But that is not yet the gospel. Although human justice condemned Jesus, God proved that Jesus was innocent and truly righteous by raising him from the dead and receiving him into heaven. Jesus goes to the Father. But we can’t follow Him. Not the way we are. Sin is what we have; righteousness is what we lack. We need a righteousness that is not our own.
The Holy Spirit does not come to point you to your own righteousness (because he convicts you of sin) but instead points you away from yourself to Jesus. Jesus is the standard of justice, the perfect model of just behaviour, the one who we need to follow. The Spirit does not even point you to Himself, but to the righteousness which Jesus won in his atoning death for you. God regards his death of the cross as the true righteousness for us. His incarnation and death were designed so that you may be counted as righteous for the sake of Christ through faith. This means that when you hear about Jesus and trust in the promise of forgiveness in Christ, the Holy Spirit is at work in you. If it’s justice you want, we already know the verdict: God has decided in favour of Jesus; that he is the righteous one. All those who follow Jesus share that verdict. This is what we mean by justification by faith. The Holy Spirit is not about giving you some new revelation; he does not care about gibberish languages, and He is not about signs and wonders that may entertain you for a moment, but He is about Jesus.
Christ died, and the Holy Spirit was given, for our good, for our salvation and not for our condemnation. It is the work of the Spirit of God to lead us to sorrow and mourn over what we lack, but it is also his job is to see to it that our lack is supplied. Jesus supplies our lack, and the Holy Spirit brings that to us. Jesus becomes righteousness for us who believe. He is “the Lord our Righteousness.”
To Convict of Judgement
Third, the Spirit will demonstrate that the world is wrong about judgment, which means ‘condemnation’. The world thinks that it can and should pass judgment on Jesus’ followers. The devil would love for you not to believe this, to reject this, to attempt to justify yourself with your piety, your good works for others, your prayers, something you do that obligates God to you. You see, this world that we live in lies in the tight grip of Satan. And so, it is easy for us to lose hope in this life under the sun. It is easy to want to throw the towel in and give up, for everywhere we look, we find lies, propaganda, bloodshed, war, backbiting, and conflict.
But the Holy Spirit comes to show the entire world that Jesus conquered the devil. The Cross means that the dark power that has kept humans and the world enslaved—has been condemned. His power has been broken. Satan’s empire has been defeated, and his rights over you have been revoked. The death of Christ did this! Your sin was put away by the sacrifice of Jesus. By faith, God the supreme Judge discharged your guilt and declared you righteous. Your accuser can no longer demand your condemnation. Death itself, the weapon of tyrants and of the devil, is a beaten foe. “The ruler of this world is judged.”
It is the job of the Spirit to convince the world that Christ had dethroned the ancient dragon. Wherever idols and false gods are abolished, the kingdom of Christ grows. When those who worship cruelty and lust begin to worship the holy Saviour, this is a victory for God. And every human soul in which the Spirit has created faith is a new trophy won for Christ.
The psalmist David prayed rightly in Psalm 51: “Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” We must pray the same. He doesn’t. He stays with us. He will not abandon His Church who clings to his Word. God does not go back on his Word. Instead, he calls us back to his Word. Continually. Daily. Through daily baptismal contrition and repentance, he is killing us and making us alive. We don’t hear a mighty wind blowing through our building, nor do we see tongues of fire resting on everyone. We do hear the Law and the Gospel. The ongoing work of Pentecost is not found in the wind, fire, and miraculous languages but in convicting the world of its sin, pointing to the righteousness that is offered to us through the death of Christ and to the proclamation that the old evil foe is judged, the deed is done. So, with the whole church, we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.