The Exalted Christ and the Spirit's Convicting Work
Passage: John 16:1–16:11
Sermon from John 16:1-11 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on December 7, 2014
We’re in the midst of celebrating the Advent season. The Gastons just led us in our Advent reading this morning—“advent” is another word for “coming.” As we approach Christmas, we’re celebrating the first coming, when God’s Son became a man in Jesus. But we know from our Bibles that Jesus’ first coming wasn’t the end of his mission. His first coming was actually part of a larger mission that would bring all of God’s saving purposes for the world to their completion. That mission included his death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, and his return to the Father in glory, where he reigns for an extended period of time before coming again to judge the world.
The words we look at this morning are some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he dies on the cross and returns to glory. And he’s preparing the disciples to live during this window of time between his return to glory and his coming at the Judgment. This is where you and I live, too. We live between Jesus’ return to glory and his coming at the Judgment. So, it would do us well to listen to how Jesus prepares these disciples, as we, like them, wait for Jesus to return. Verse 1.
1I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7Nevertheless, 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. 8And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
What I’d like to do is walk us through three big ideas in our text and then spend some time drawing out some implications for our lives.
1. Jesus Speaks for the Disciples’ Perseverance
The first big idea is this: Jesus speaks for the disciples’ perseverance. If we glance back to chapter 15, we see that it’s going to be pretty rough for the disciples when Jesus returns to glory. The same world that hated Jesus would start hating the disciples (15:18). The world would even persecute the disciples just like they persecuted Jesus (15:20).
Now verses 2 and 3 give us the specifics on what they will face—isolation and martyrdom. Isolation—they’re going to be kicked out of the synagogues (16:2). Their family members and best buds won’t want anything to do with them. They’ll shame them publicly by isolating them from their religious community. And they will also face martyrdom. People will even kill them with what they believe are pure motives—“as if offering service to God” (16:3).
And this is a huge deal for these disciples. Think of how they’ve grown up in Judaism. Think of how they’ve committed themselves to learning the Scriptures with their Jewish family members. Think of what it would mean for these eleven to keep clinging to Jesus when their own kindred crucify him for blasphemy, when their religious authorities say he opposes the God they’ve grown up knowing. It’s one thing for the Gentile atheists or pluralists of their day to oppose Jesus; but it’s a whole other thing when you’ve got religious men committed to the Scriptures opposing Jesus.
What Jesus makes clear for them, here, is that the religious establishment’s rejection of Jesus is no reason for the disciples to reject Jesus. An earnest pursuit of God is no proof that someone knows God (cf. Rom 10:2). A man knows God to the degree that he embraces the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. “They do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me” (John 16:3).
And you can imagine how this would also serve the original readers of John’s Gospel who have these very questions swimming in their mind: “Should I listen to the Pharisees? Or should I follow Jesus?” And how much more would these questions press upon the disciples when they start suffering because of Jesus. “Do I really want to keep hanging on to this Jesus, if this is what it costs?”
Jesus says, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away” (16:1). That is, “These things will keep your grip on me when it seems like all the world is against you.” How so? Well, the way Jesus’ words generate faith in that moment is by giving the disciples a true perspective on their persecution—or even better, a true perspective of who Jesus is in the midst of their persecution.
His words remind them that Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father. These people want Jesus dead not because they have a right view of God, but because they don’t even know God. The proof is in their animosity toward Jesus, who perfectly reveals God (16:3; cf. 1:18; 14:7; 15:21-24).
His words also remind them that Jesus is sovereign over persecution. He knows all things even before they happen—“they will put you out of the synagogues;” “the hour is coming” he says; “I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember.” He knows. He’s in control. He’s sovereign (cf. 13:19; 14:29).
His words remind them that Jesus is also powerful to stop persecution one day. Notice he says, “when their hour comes.” In other words, that’s all they’ve got—an hour. Now, he doesn’t mean a literal sixty minutes, of course. We see throughout John’s Gospel that Jesus often uses the “hour” figuratively to speak of appointed times set by his Father—in particular, the hour of Jesus’ death and exaltation (2:4; 7:30; 8:30; 12:23), or the hour when true worshipers are gathered into God’s family (4:23-24), or the hour of the final resurrection (5:25-27). Each of these are events that God ordains, plans, controls—and they’re all associated with the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on a world that hates him.
We’re getting something similar here. As God’s kingdom breaks into a world opposed to God, there will be enemies that threaten the lives of those who follow the King. There’s an hour our persecutors will get—it’s even labeled their hour. As if to say it’s only theirs by permission. But it’s an hour that will end when Jesus returns at the Judgment to bring the kingdom in its fullness. For a time, persecutors of Christians will think they’re winning. And they will tempt the world—even Christians—to believe that they’re winning.
How many of you have ever had fears creep up when you read of IS or Al-Qaeda or the prison camps in North Korea? Or maybe you learn of a friend in near danger of his or her life because of persecution? Jesus’ words ensure that the persecutors are not winning and that they cannot win ultimately. It’s only their hour. And during their hour, the disciple is to look patiently to Jesus, with confidence that he is sovereign over persecution and will end it at his appointed time (cf. Matt 26:45; Luke 22:53).
2. Jesus Sends the Spirit for Our Advantage
Second big idea is this: Jesus sends the Spirit for our advantage. You can imagine that Jesus’ teaching in verses 4-7 baffles the disciples. He’s going away.
He says in verse 5, “I am going to him who sent me.” And these words hit the disciples like a ton of bricks. They asked the same question a bit earlier but didn’t quite understand what Jesus was saying (13:36; cf. 14:5). But now—now that he’s explained things a bit more—they’re starting to catch his drift. He’s not going to be present much longer. Their dreams of how they’ve always perceived the final kingdom coming are getting dashed to pieces—“their Messiah can’t just leave!” It hits them so hard that sorrow fills their hearts, verse 6 says; and they become so preoccupied with grief that they don’t even think to ask why Jesus must go away.
But Jesus tells them anyway as a way of encouragement. He must go away, so that the Helper—the Holy Spirit—will come to them. There’s this connection between Jesus going away and the Spirit coming. This connection has its roots in the Old Testament, actually, where the final outpouring of God’s Spirit was associated with the establishment of the Messiah’s kingdom. God made promises through the Prophets—like in Isa 11:2; 32:12-17; 44:1-5; Ezek 36:24-27; Zech 12:10-13:1—that linked the Spirit’s coming with the saving work of his Christ, his Anointed One, his Son.
It was a time when God would cleanse his people from their sins and renew his people’s hearts, a day when all nations would be gathered into one body, the church, and enjoy intimate communion with God through the Spirit. The people would all be taught by God himself (Isa 54:13; John 6:45) as the Spirit brought forth inward transformation and wrote God’s law on the people’s hearts (cf. Jer 31:31-34).
Jesus is pointing out that for him to go away means God’s saving work will have been completed. Jesus’ life would fulfill the Law; his death would provide sufficient atonement for sin; his resurrection would seal our justification; his ascension would give him all authority. The Spirit would then come to fulfill his promised role of calling attention to that salvation. He would announce to the world that God’s salvation is now fully revealed and fully accomplished through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and glorification. The long-awaited day for Messiah’s reign—and the outpouring of the Spirit in light of his reign—had come! And it’s in this sense that it’s good for Jesus go away.
When he goes away, it will mean that God’s work of redemption is accomplished—nothing more needs to be done for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. And the Spirit was coming to declare that accomplishment to the world, to illumine our minds to that truth, to give light to people like us who were sitting in darkness without hope, to show us the hope Jesus is for the world, to meditate Christ’s exalted presence to us, to pour out God’s love in our hearts daily, to gift the church in the spread of the gospel—and on and on we could go. It was better for Jesus to go away, so that the Spirit would come in this way.
It’s as if Jesus is asking, “What would you prefer? To be with me still in Galilee, where my work remains incomplete? Or to be with me in my exalted status at God’s right hand, where my work remains complete for you?” The answer is obvious. And besides, aren’t the disciples learning one of the most basic truths of the Christian life? The truth that God always knows what is better for us.
3. The Spirit Comes to Convict the World
Third big idea: the Spirit comes to convict the world. In particular the Spirit convicts the world of three things—sin, righteousness, and judgment. What does he mean? Well, he tells us in verses 9-11.
The Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, verse 9 says, “because they do not believe in me.” Sin is linked with refusal to believe in Christ (cf. 15:21-24). Not to believe in Jesus is to reject God altogether, and remain under sin’s power—meaning you can do nothing but keep on sinning; sin rules you (8:34-35). And, not to believe in Jesus also means you remain under sin’s penalty—you stand guilty beneath God’s wrath without escape for rejecting his perfect revelation in Jesus (3:36; 8:21, 24).
This is the natural state of everybody in the world. Nobody comes into this world as a lover of Jesus. Everybody comes into the world guilty of sin, without any comprehension of our desperate need for Jesus. And unless we believe in Jesus, we perish.
Well part of the Spirit’s work is to come and convince the world of its guilty state, help people recognize their need for Christ, and then bring them to Jesus as their only Savior. We pick this same sort of ministry up in the life of Jesus—who John tells us has the Spirit without measure (3:34). You likely remember when Jesus comes to the woman at the well. He offers her eternal life. But the woman doesn’t even recognize her need for him. She changes the subject and only asks for what she thinks she needs, until Jesus just straight up says, “Go, call your husband.” And she says, “I have no husband.” And then Jesus says, “You’re right, for you’ve had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband” (4:18). Pretty direct; pretty convicting.
Jesus does this of course to win her soul, to get her to see that he is her deliverer. He’s come to rescue her from searching for false saviors in serial adultery and give her a true Husband that will satisfy her soul with eternal life in the Spirit. This is how the Spirit comes to work when Jesus sends him. He continues to convict the world of its sin as Jesus did in his earthly ministry, so that the world might believe in Jesus.
The Spirit also convicts the world concerning righteousness, verse 10 says, “because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” Now, he’s not saying the Spirit proves the world guilty of Christ’s righteousness—that wouldn’t make any sense, because the world, on its own, doesn’t have any of Christ’s righteousness. Rather, the Spirit is proving the world guilty of its own false righteousness.
When the world rejects Jesus, it believes it’s righteous in doing so. This is why the Jews crucify Jesus—they seriously think they are the righteous ones in killing the man they believe is blaspheming God. This is also why people will kill the disciples—in verse 2—all the while thinking they are offering service to God, a righteous act before God. We see this with the Pharisees too in Matt 23:28, who outwardly appear righteous to others but within are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
The world really believes itself to be righteous. The world tries to justify its rejection of Jesus. It tries to justify why it doesn’t need Jesus. People try to justify why they’re not all that sinful. They try to justify why Jesus’ evaluation of its evil is so wrong or so out of date. This is the world we live in—a world of false righteousness.
What Jesus is saying here is that the Spirit comes to convict the world of its false righteousness by pointing the world to Jesus’ true righteousness. And here’s what I mean. Had Jesus stayed in the tomb, the grip of death would have proven he was not a righteous man. The Scriptures teach us, “Cursed is every man who hangs on a tree” (Deut 27:23; Gal 3:10). But what Jesus is saying here is that his going to the Father proves him to be righteous. Death couldn’t hold him in the grave, because he had no sin of his own. Nothing about his character kept him from taking his seat at God’s right hand in glory.
For Jesus to go to the Father is for Jesus to be vindicated over all the opinions of the self-righteous world that in reality has no righteousness at all. The Spirit comes to cast the spotlight on the risen and ascended Jesus, so that all peoples see, “He didn’t die for sins that he committed; he died for the sins that I committed. I’m not the righteous one; he’s the Righteous One; and if I’m to stand before God in judgment, I need his righteousness covering me. And I can have it by simply trusting him.”
Lastly, the Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment, verse 11 says, “because the ruler of this world is judged.” Meaning, the immediate reference isn’t to the final judgment, but to the judgment that happens to Satan—he’s the ruler of this world—in the event of Christ’s death. We saw this in 12:31—when Christ dies on the cross, the ruler of this world would be cast out (cf. 14:30). Jesus smashes the tyranny of Satan’s reign and overthrows his place of authority in people’s lives.
What the Spirit does when he shines the spotlight on Jesus’ victory over Satan is prove to the world how futile their pursuits are. Satan is the one that we’ve seen blinds the minds of the unbelieving. First John 5:19 says, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Paul says in Eph 2:1-2, that before any of us knew Jesus, we followed “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience [that’s the devil].” The world is portrayed in Scripture as following the devil. John 8 says that people make false judgments about Jesus because their father is the devil.
What the Spirit does when he comes is show the world that it’s evil leader and his kingdom have been toppled once and for all through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We read it earlier: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:18). If his works are destroyed; if his kingdom has been toppled, never to succeed ultimately (Rev 20); if the powers of darkness have been disarmed (Col 2:13-15); if the stories he deceives the world with have been proven untrue (John 8); if Satan himself has been cast out (John 12:31); if we know his final end is in the Lake of fire, then why would anybody keep following him? The Spirit’s job is to convince the world through the proclamation of the gospel, that to follow the evil world system is to give yourself to a defeated and perishing kingdom.
Some Implications for Our Lives
Those are our three big ideas: Jesus speaks for our perseverance; Jesus sends the Spirit for our advantage; the Spirit comes to convict the world. What I’d like to do now is draw out some implications these three big ideas have for our lives.
Jesus always speaks for our perseverance
First of all, we need to remember that Jesus always speaks for our perseverance in the faith. Just like he speaks for these disciples’ perseverance, Jesus still speaks for our perseverance in a hostile world. He speaks to keep us clinging to him for everything. When the world is against us, when Satan tempts us, when life itself seems impossible to bear, Jesus’ words always fortify our faith. Courage comes to the believer through the words of Jesus, because Jesus always gives us the right perspective on the world and a right understanding of his kingdom and a right assessment of our circumstances in light of eternity and a right vision of all that God is for us in him.
So, the question for us becomes, Are we turning to his words? Is it our habit to listen to him speak on the pages of Scripture? To borrow the words of J. C. Ryle, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” The way Jesus has warned the disciples of their persecution, the way he has taught them of his sovereignty, the way he has equipped them with his work, has all armed the disciples to face the opposition with confidence.
Even here in our passage, whether it’s the nature of the persecution, or the promise to send the Holy Spirit, or the work of the Spirit to convict the world, all these teachings help the disciples see that Jesus’ cross—which is now only hours away—isn’t to be viewed as defeat, but victory.
Would you say you are turning to Jesus’ words first to get a right handle on your difficult circumstances? Would you say you turn to Jesus’ words to continue persevering in the faith? He speaks for you and your perseverance. Listen to him. Don’t try to persevere through man-made religion or self-help philosophies or indulging your flesh. Persevere through heaven-sent truth and grace, found in the person of Jesus.
Saving faith is enduring faith
Something else I think we take away from this passage is the nature of saving faith. Saving faith is enduring faith; it is a faith that perseveres. D. A. Carson puts it well: “The greatest danger the disciple will confront from the opposition of the world is not death, but apostasy” (John, 530). Church, our greatest danger isn’t death—death has been defeated by Christ when he died for our sins. Jesus says in John 11:25 that he is the resurrection and the life; “whoever believe in [him], though he die, yet shall he live; and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die.”
Our greatest danger is not death. Our greatest danger is apostasy—forsaking the One who saves us from death altogether, wanting no more to do with him. Jesus brings this up elsewhere, does he not? In Matt 13:21, the seed sown on the rocky ground; it has no root, and when persecution rises, the person falls away. Or in Matt 24:9-10, the day is coming when we’ll be delivered up to tribulation, hated by all nations, and many will fall away. Their love for Jesus will grow cold.
True, saving faith perseveres, it keeps clinging to Christ in the midst of opposition from the world. That means we should guard ourselves from any notion of the “easy-believism” that’s promoted in our day, or the idea that a one-time prayer sealed us for eternity while we keep living however we want. The Bible constantly characterizes faith as persevering faith—it’s a response that continues looking away from self to Christ.
Like Jesus does here with the disciples, we must teach our children that following Jesus will not make our lives easier. If anything, it will make them harder in a world opposed to Jesus. Our exhortation to them must be, “Keep holding on to Jesus, son!” “Do you believe, daughter? Never let him go!”
The same should be true when we invite people to follow Jesus in our evangelism efforts. We’re not calling them to an easier life; we’re calling them to lay down their lives to have Christ. We would do well to forewarn them of the cost of discipleship, so that we might also forearm them for discipleship. But let’s be sure we do this not merely by describing faith, but by declaring Jesus. Faith gains its strength to endure not when it scrutinizes itself, but when it beholds the beauty and majesty of Jesus.
Trust the Spirit to convict the world
Something else, we must trust the Spirit to convict the world. Yes, the Spirit empowers us to preach to the world. Yes, the Spirit uses our preaching to persuade sinners and to win the world. Yes, the Spirit uses human means to accomplish his work—a.k.a., the church. Yes, the world will perish if it doesn’t hear our testimony about Jesus. But, we don’t convict the world; conviction is the Spirit’s work. The Spirit sinks people in their guilt before God and then drives them to Christ.
Which means that we should be faithful to preach our guts out, and trust the Spirit to do his work. If we preach to people and they do not believe, Yes, we walk away sorrowful in prayer for their souls. We might even evaluate how well we set Christ before them, in case another opportunity rises. But, we do not need to heap guilt on ourselves unnecessarily if we don’t witness immediate conversions.
We also don’t need to grow impatient and frustrated when people reject the Bible’s claims. Trusting the Spirit’s work of conviction frees us to love them and serve them and not try to control them.
We also don’t need to grow envious of that other guy’s ministry, who has numerous people coming to faith under his preaching. But only give thanks wherever the Spirit is working.
We also don’t need to resort to worldly means either to try to win people over—popularity, new electronics, good looks, stellar media, even a particular method. This is a real problem, even in our Baptist circles. We hear of God doing an amazing work somewhere—thousands of people coming to Christ through somebody’s ministry—and what do we do? We take notes on their method, publish a book or two, titled, “Awesome Method,” and then try to replicate it in our own context as if the mere method is just going to start churning out the conversions. And any dependence on the Spirit in prayer gradually moves to the peripheral, while we keep selling our method.
This passage encourages us to be faithful where we are with the gospel, taking all the sacrificial measures necessary to get it into the lives of others, and then trust for the Spirit to bring conviction. You know, one way to evaluate whether you are trusting the Spirit to bring conviction is to see how much you pray for him to convert sinners. If you’re not praying for him to convict anybody of sin, what might that reveal of who or what you’re trusting in to save people?
Listen to the Spirit’s testimony
One more implication, and I mention this one especially for those of you who don’t believe in Jesus. Listen to the Spirit’s testimony. The Spirit’s testimony is that you are guilty of sin, that you have a warped understanding of righteousness, that your pursuits apart from Christ are empty. This is the Spirit’s stance toward you. Just check yourself for a minute.
Would you say you believe in Jesus? I don’t mean, would you say you believe Jesus was a real person? I mean, would you embrace as true all the claims he makes about himself? Would you embrace that he is God and the world’s only Savior? And if so, would you reorient your entire life around him and what he commands you to do? If you answer, No, then the Spirit’s testimony is that you stand guilty of sin and have no hope of eternal life. To reject Jesus is to reject life with God.
Would you also be one to say, I don’t need Jesus; I’m not that bad of a person. Are there ways you try to justify going about your life without him? Perhaps you think there are things you can do to earn God’s favor. The Spirit’s testimony is that you are trusting a false righteousness. Regardless of what you think, heaven’s testimony is clear. We are bad people to the core, and there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. There is no righteousness we can merit that would please God. The only righteousness that pleases God is that of Christ; and that’s proven by his exalted status.
Would you be one to say, You couldn’t care less about any of this? The Spirit of God says you’ve bought into the lies of an evil ruler, whose kingdom is now overthrown. Whatever you try to pursue under his leadership will be vain and only lead to further death—regardless of how many thrills it may bring you in this life. The only kingdom worth living for is that of Jesus.
And so the Spirit also calls you out of your lost-ness, out of your warped righteousness, out of your satanic judgment, to come to Christ. Do not resist him any longer. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’…Let the one who is thirsty come to Jesus. Let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17). His salvation is free. All that you need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God is free, when you come to Jesus. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, Jesus’ work is sufficient to cleanse you and satisfy your soul with God. Listen to his testimony.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus