In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. What comfort this sweet sentence of Saint Paul gives. The same for Saint John: Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. The whole world is made partakers of Christ’s acquired salvation through the office of the Holy Spirit, that is, through men sent to proclaim the forgiveness of sin. Their word is the Holy Spirit’s word. That’s what Jesus is driving at in today’s Gospel.
At the core of our Lord’s words is how the Holy Spirit makes known the main point of the preaching of the Holy Spirit in the world. The preaching of sin, righteousness, and judgment is not only for the world, but also for the Christian Church.
Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me. Unbelief is the granddaddy of all sins. All other sins naturally flow from unbelief. Mankind is not condemned to hell because of a lack of redemption. Jesus Christ redeems the entire world in His death and resurrection. Whether or not you believe it, Jesus died and rose again for you. That is an undeniable fact. What condemns mankind is unbelief. Jesus says before His ascension to His Father: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Rejecting Christ’s redemption is like a patient refusing to take healing medicine. The patient doesn’t die because of his illness, but because of his contempt for the drug.
The world is stuck in this sin. What’s worse, the world has no idea about this sin. Saint Paul calls the preaching of sin a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. He says further: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. You see it every day in your various stations in life. What is right is wrong, and what is wrong is right. The world doesn’t care a whit about sin because it knows nothing about sin. This is why the Holy Spirit convicts not only the world, but also the Church concerning sin. This is why your sins are put before you each week not only when you confess your sins and receive absolution, but also when God’s Word is preached. No matter how you try to wriggle out of it, you are still to blame for your unbelief in God in thought, word, and deed.
Jesus says the Holy Spirit proclaims righteousness because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer. When we hear about someone “going home”, especially a Christian, we think of death. Jesus will die. He will go to His Father through Golgotha in a vicarious atoning death through which Christ pays the ransom for the sins of the world. You apprehend His suffering and death through believing His Word of promise. For our sake [God the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. You are able to stand before the Father without guilt or shame because Jesus is your righteousness, your royal robe washed white in the blood of the innocent Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Again, the world doesn’t know or care about this righteousness. When the world looks for righteousness, it looks at itself. The world cannot be bothered with religious matters. Reason find is foolish that we are reckoned righteous for the sake of an alien righteousness, a righteousness outside of us. Nevertheless, you are justified and saved only through this righteousness that is in Christ’s going away to the Father. Because our heavenly Father wills the salvation of the world, the Holy Spirit transfers this righteousness to the world. The Holy Spirit proclaims your righteousness is injustice before God. On the other hand, Christ’s accomplished righteousness establishes confidence and a good conscience before the Father.
The Holy Spirit’s preaches judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. Jesus Himself says earlier in John’s Gospel: Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. The devil exercises tyranny over mankind through sin. If sin is wiped out through Christ’s going away to the Father, then the scepter of the devil’s kingdom is crushed. The judgment of condemnation is pronounced over him instead of you. Satan alone is the author of sin. He is expelled to the place of torment, the burning lake of fire mentioned in the book of Revelation. This will happen on Judgment Day, just as Scripture proclaims. We wait with great anticipation for this day, for all things promised by Christ and His Word will come to pass.
When we hear the word “judgment” in the Church, we think of judgment that condemns. We worry whether or not we will be judged to our condemnation. We wonder whether we are good enough for God. Will I qualify for everlasting life? Yes, in Jesus Christ, you qualify for everlasting life. Yes, in Jesus Christ, you are good enough for God, but not just you, for it is Christ’s death and resurrection for you that makes you good enough for God.
Because of Jesus Christ, because you believe that He is your only hope for missing the burning lake of fire, you will receive judgment. Your judgment, however, is a judgment of righteousness. The prince of this world is written off, for you have been purchased and won from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, as you learned in the Small Catechism, but with the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ, and with His innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
The preaching of the Holy Spirit is a preaching of sin, righteousness, and judgment. These are not static categories, but freely flow through every activity of the Holy Spirit in the Church. He uses them when and where He wills to show you your sin, but also to show you Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of your sins. Among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, as Thomas Cranmer translated the Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Easter, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found. Today you sing again the New Song Who is Jesus Christ, the One Who has done marvelous things, even your salvation.