Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter - Cantate: Jn 16:5-15

                                                                                          Easter 5
                                                                                          Jn 16:5-15

The actor Jack Nicholson has had a long and illustrious career. Nicholson has been nominated for the Academy Award twelve times – the most for any male actor. He has won the Academy Award for Best Actor twice, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor once – one of only three actors to win three Academy Awards. Nicholson and Michael Caine are the only actors to be nominated for the Academy Award for acting in every decade from the 1960’s through the 2000’s.

Obviously Nicholson has provided many memorable performances. One scene that certainly is included on that list comes at the end of the movie “A Few Good Men.” Nicholson plays the role of Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup. Jessup had ordered a “code red” – a disciplinary action that violated official Marine Corps policy. The action had resulted in the death a Marine, and now the two Marines who carried out the code red are facing court martial proceedings.

Defending them is Navy JAG lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise. At the end of the movie in a risky move, Kaffee questions Nicholson’s character, Colonel Jessup. He tries to bait Jessup into admitting that he ordered the code red in an increasingly antagonist line of questioning.

Finally Jessup snarls “You want answers?!” and Kaffee yells back, “I want the truth!” Then Nicholson delivers the now famous line as he roars, “You can’t handle the truth!!!” In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus tells the apostles that they can’t handle the truth – not yet. And in fact it is going to be necessary for Jesus to depart and for the Father to send the Holy Spirit in order to make it possible for them to understand.

Our text today is part of the discussion that Jesus had with his disciples as on the night of his betrayal. After the Last Supper, Jesus and the disciples are making their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus begins talking about what is going to happen and how now is going to depart. For this reason, these chapters are often called the Farewell Discourse. In our text Jesus says, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” Our Lord says that he will be leaving the disciples, and naturally this is not what they want to hear. It brings them sorrow. They want to be with Jesus. In the same way, how many times have you thought that believing would be so much easier if you just could have been there with the Lord?

But Jesus declares that this gets it all wrong. He says in our text, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” Our Lord says that he must return to the Father in order for the Holy Spirit to be sent. This going to the Father is an upward movement that will include Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. It involves Jesus’ accomplishment of the Father’s will – the saving mission that the incarnate Son of God had been sent to carry out.

Now it is not as if the Son and the Spirit cannot be present here in our world at the same time. Instead the Son must carry out his saving role so that the Spirit can then lead the disciples to understand what Jesus means for them. Our Lord goes on to say, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for 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.”

The disciples had been with Jesus since the beginning. After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension it is the Spirit who would help the disciples to understand and bear witness to what Jesus had done. In chapter fourteen Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” 

The Spirit would cause the disciples to remember and understand what Jesus had said and done. He would help them bear witness to Jesus. In the previous chapter Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

The Spirit will bear witness to Jesus and give understanding about what his death and resurrection means. And for this reason Jesus says in our text that the Spirit will convict the world. Our Lord announces, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

The Spirit convicts the world of sin because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By rejecting Jesus – by refusing to believe in him – the world is remaining in sin that brings God’s judgment. 

The Spirit convicts of righteousness because in ascending to the Father, Jesus has demonstrated the truth of his saving work. The saving action of God to put all things right has occurred. To refuse to believe in the One who has accomplished this is to miss out on the salvation that God has given.

And the Spirit convicts the world of judgment because the ruler of this world has been judged. At the beginning of Holy Week Jesus announced, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” By his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has won the victory over the devil. He has defeated the one who wanted to rule God’s people. The devil has been judged. But to reject Jesus is to remain with the evil one and share in that judgment.

As we listen to Jesus’ words it becomes very clear that Jesus and the Spirit stand in opposition to the world – to all of the ways that the devil and sin separate people from God. The question this raises is whether we share in this same stance.

Immediately before our text Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

So how is it with you? Are you living in ways that demonstrate Jesus has called you out of the world through the Gospel? Are you living in ways that show you are not on the side of the world? Or are you going along with the ways of the world in what you think and do and say? Are you going along with the world in what you look at and listen to? 

The ruler of this world has been judged. The victory over sin and death has been won. That is true now. But as we look for our Lord’s return when he will carry out the final judgment, the world is still very much at work in the ways of the devil and sin. Jesus said in the previous chapter: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” 

The only way that we can remain faithful to our Lord is by listening to the truth about Jesus. It is the Spirit who continues to speak this truth to us. He does it now through the inspired Word of God. It is through the words of the apostles – the witnesses who were with Jesus – that the Spirit continues to take what belongs to Jesus and declares it to us. He gives us the full truth – that understanding that was not possible until our Lord Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended to the Father.

In our Gospel lesson Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for 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.” 

We rejoice that our Lord had done just this thing. By his death and resurrection he has given us forgiveness of sins and rescued us from the devil. In his ascension to the Father he has demonstrated to all that his saving work has won salvation for us. The Father has sent forth the Spirit and in the word of Holy Scripture we now receive the witness of the Spirit about Jesus.

The Spirit continues to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment. Yet he has caused us to be born again through water and the Word, and now through that Word of God he seeks to sustain us in faith toward the ascended Lord as we look for his return. To receive this benefit we need do only one thing: listen to God’s Word.

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