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Worship Theme: Through the Risen Christ, the Spirit gives life to the Church
Sermon Theme: The Holy Spirit Sets Me Straight
The biggest news story over the past three weeks here in Wisconsin has not been the loosening of COVID orders, even though that has been pretty big news. It hasn’t been a political story, although there are plenty of those all the time. Surprisingly it wasn’t a story about the concerns over the future of loons in Wisconsin. The biggest story over the past three weeks has been the Aaron Rodgers saga… Will Rodgers be back with the Green Bay Packers? Would the Packers trade their franchise quarterback after an MVP season? Would Rodgers sit out the season or retire? Just how bad is the relationship between the front office and Rodgers?? Will someone just tell us what’s going on??!!
Sometimes you just need someone to set things straight, to dispel the rumors or misconceptions and lay out the truth. You get this. A parent sometimes has to step in and set a misbehaving or confused child straight. Perhaps your friend heard something about you that wasn’t true or accurate so you had to have a conversation with them to set them straight. The project you worked on and passed off to others to implement is running amok so you step in to clean things up and get them back on track.
Nowhere is it more needed and more important to be set straight than when it comes to your eternal life and relationship with God. Jesus knew that. He knew that every person would struggle to grasp the reality of their relationship with the Lord. Just think about this…how many different religions and religious ideas and philosophies can you think of? How many different ways are there of explaining the world that we live in, and how we ought to live and interact with it and with each other, and what it all means? There are questions like…does God exist? Does God love me, or does he hate me? Is there an afterlife? How do I get there? Can I make God happy? Does God even care? The list goes on and on with all of the different interpretations, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and questions of faith. Whether you are just starting your journey of faith with the Lord or you are a long-time Christian…you wrestle with these thoughts. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could just set you straight?!
They were in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem on the night before Jesus was crucified. After finishing the special Passover meal, Jesus took time to prepare his disciples for their lives after his coming death. He encouraged them to remain connected to him in faith, and warned them of hostile treatment from the world, and in the section of Jesus’ conversation that is in front of us today, Jesus told the disciples that they must be his witnesses. But they wouldn’t be alone in all of that. Jesus promised to send them his spirit, the Holy Spirit of God. That promise is still true for you and me today!
Jesus said, “When the Advocate (another name for the Holy Spirit that is sometimes translated as Counselor) comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” There are two things that I want to draw your attention to in these words of Jesus. The first, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth.” In a world that needs to be set straight, who better to do so than the very one who is and knows the real hard cold truth about everything. The work of the Holy Spirit is to open up hearts to see Jesus as Lord and to believe that he is our salvation. God says in 1 Corinthians 12, “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit accomplishes that working of faith by testifying about Jesus. That’s the second thing to note. The Holy Spirit is a witness of Jesus giving testimony through the Bible as to who Jesus is as true God, what he has done in rescuing you from sin, and what it means for you to be a forgiven child of God. The point is that the only way that you can really know God and trust in him and accept his Word and promises as truth, is through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit who thankfully, as we celebrate today, is still sent by Jesus into our midst to set us straight.
On the first Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who were gathered and waiting in Jerusalem. The presence of the Holy Spirit was accompanied by the sound of a violent wind – maybe like the rushing sound of a tornado or hurricane – and what looked like tongues of flame that rested above the heads of each disciple. They began to speak in other languages and they were emboldened to testify about Jesus to the crowds. Peter stood up and preached a sermon in which he pointed out that the crowd of Jewish people had put to death Jesus, the Promised Savior. But, he continued, God used that to accomplish his plan to rescue the world from their sins. Jesus rose and is exalted as the one who conquered sin and death and gives life to those who believe. The crowd was cut to the heart by this message and Peter shared the comfort of forgiveness with them. The Holy Spirit set them straight. Three thousand people that day were brought to faith by the Spirit.
Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit would do that very thing. Listen again, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of being proved wrong. I’m stubborn and usually right. So, when someone proves me wrong, I can get pretty grumpy. How about you? But here’s the reality, if we don’t get called out for our wrong and misplaced thoughts and actions, we keep ourselves away from the joy of eternal life. We need the Holy Spirit to set us straight.
Jesus listed three basic things that every person needs to be set straight on if they are going to have a life with God – sin, righteousness, and judgment. Let’s start with sin. You need to understand what sin really is. Sin is anytime that you disobey God’s commands or his will. Seems simple enough to understand, right? Be good. Live the right way. But the hard part comes with the “God’s commands” piece because so often we don’t necessarily jump on board with God’s commands instead wanting to write our own code to follow. Add to that the fact that we often like to minimize sin or sweep it under the rug. Sin doesn’t just disobey God; it separates you from his love. We need the Holy Spirit to set us straight.
The Holy Spirit opens your eyes to the humbling truth that you are a sinner who falls short of the perfection that God demands. The Holy Spirit convicts you of unbelief. But the Holy Spirit also draws you to the cross where you see Jesus paying the price for every one of your sins so that you are set free from them and the consequences that they deserve.
Next understand righteousness. So often the world thinks that if we were all more kind to each other and just did more good things, everything would be better. But there’s a problem there. That solution is based upon the efforts of flawed people, who as much as they strive to do good, can never perfect it. We can think that way about our righteousness before God too – I can stand because I’m pretty good, or I try hard. But good luck trying to stand before the holy God with your own best efforts. That would be like being invited to dinner with Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace and showing up in your good jeans and your favorite Bucks jersey. That might work for a nice night out in Milwaukee, but not for standing in the presence of the Queen of England. Neither are your best efforts going to allow you before the presence of God. The Holy Spirit sets us straight about that.
We need the righteousness that was won by Jesus. Through faith, the Holy Spirit covers us and credits us with the righteousness that Jesus won by his life, death and resurrection. And we know that his righteousness is what we need, because as the ascended Savior, he is accepted into the presence of our heavenly Father. That same righteousness is yours through the faith that the Holy Spirit creates in you. “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last” (Romans 1:17). Wear the robe of righteousness that Jesus tailored for you.
Finally, we need to be corrected about judgment. Judgment can be a scary thing to think about and often is for the person who is overwhelmed by guilt. That kind of guilt can you want to stay as far from the reaches of God as you can be, as if that’s possible. But that means avoiding things like church, or praying, or reading the word. Or you can become overwhelmed by the constant temptations that you face or look at the evil in the world and think that there is no hope.
But the Holy Spirit sets you straight about judgment. “The prince of this world now stands condemned.” Jesus overcame Satan. Jesus not just won the victory, but he condemned Satan and sin along with him. That means that your sins, every one of them, big, little, no matter how many or how grievous have been paid for by Jesus. Do not let Satan rob you of the joy of forgiveness. Instead, may the Holy Spirit open your ears to hear the Lord call out to you, “You are not guilty.”
If there is anything that we have learned recently about the news, it’s that you sometimes have to sift through the reporting to get to the truth. But thankfully we have news, the best news that you will hear ever, that is full of truth. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins, but shows us the life that is ours in Jesus. My prayer for you is that God continue to pour out his gift of the Holy Spirit into your life to keep you on the straight path today and always. Amen.
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