The Great Witness

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we recall the incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples as they were gathered in Jerusalem. It is a powerful moment that captures our imaginations and desires as we hear again how there was a sound like a mighty rushing wind that filled the room. Then flames of fire appeared and rested on the heads of each of our Lord’s disciples. It is like a scene straight out of the Old Testament, a powerful manifestation of the presence of God. Luke tells us they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, which was a great and awesome thing to have happen, for Jerusalem was quite the cosmopolitan place. There were people in the city from all over. We are given a whole list of them: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and so on. All these people began to hear the Word of God being proclaimed in their own language. We rightly marvel and celebrate this incredible moment which launches the Church far beyond its relatively small and confined setting. The Spirit of God drives the Word further than anyone would have thought possible.

The events of Pentecost are the sort of things many of us long for. Here is a powerful working of God with a visible and miraculous aspect to it. It seems all Christians long to be filled with the Spirit, to have visons or speak in tongues or perform miracles. We desire to have something others will see and say, “Surely this one is a child of the most high God!” There are whole churches that focus almost completely on such things. Where the true measure of faith, the proof you have the Spirit at work in your life is by speaking in tongues or some other demonstrable gift of the Spirit. There are the miracle workers that heal the sick and those who drive out unclean spirits. There are books and whole systems developed and taught by gurus to try and recreate the moments of Pentecost, to try and capture, if you will, some incredible outpouring of the Spirit that is personal to you.

But these events did not just come out of the blue. They were not a shocking and bizarre turn of events. No, our Lord had promised the Spirit would, in fact, come to His believers. His followers, all of them would benefit from the coming of the Holy Spirit which will, as He says in John’s Gospel, “Bear witness about Me.” The Spirit of God, the Helper as Jesus calls Him, is going to direct people toward Jesus. This is what is happening on Pentecost. The Word concerning Jesus Christ and His great sacrifice is being made known in all these other languages. It is not a moment of glory for the disciples, it is not about drawing attention to themselves, and it is not so they might know that God is really at work in them. No, it is all about making known the Good News of Jesus Christ to others. The great witness is sent for the benefit of all those who hear and receive the Word.

It is fascinating how when Jesus promised the sending of the Helper, He said it is good He is going away. It is good He is ascending to the right hand of the Father. See, Christ had done the great work of salvation. All who come to Him can now receive the blessings of His life, death, and resurrection. But now He is leaving, now that He goes to the Father, why then, the focus is not so much on coming to Jesus but on the Word and witness of Jesus going out into the world. He says to His disciples, “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” (John 16:7). So, the Spirit of Pentecost Day continues to go out. The Helper continues to bear witness to the truth of the Word of God, and it drives the work of the Church as we continue proclaiming the Good News to the far ends of the world.

Jesus says the ramification of this, the impact of the outpouring of the Spirit of God, is that 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” (John 16:8-11). Now, this is certainly worth our time to dig into a little further. Jesus is telling us what the Holy Spirit will do but what He says probably is not what most of us think the Spirit is about. It is not how we normally discuss the work of the Spirit. As the Spirit goes forth, He will bring conviction. That is He will publicly expose the failures of the worlds understanding of sin and righteousness and judgment.

The world has its own understanding of sin. Those sins, of course, change over time. They are sort of defined and redefined by those who are in power or those who control the narrative of the day. We can easily see and perhaps even agree on the most popular sins of today. There is the sin of racism. Whether it is overt and blatant or systemic and inherited, we decry the judging of a person by the color of their skin. Another easily viewed sin of our age is pollution or perhaps a failure to care and protect this magnificent creation. From neighborhood litterbugs to corporate environmental disasters, we all know there is something wrong, something sinful about such negligent action. But the sins change and shift over time. It could also be the sort of music you deem unworthy or the career paths we ought to despise or our engagement in international conflict or medical testing or animal cruelty. On and on the list goes. We can gather around the sin we all collectively despise. But the Spirit of God convicts us all. For sin, real sin is all which is outside of Christ and His work. Sin is your pride and arrogance. Sin is your anger and your lust. Sin is the rejection of the Word of God and the promises that rest in Christ alone.

And just as we manage to find our own definition and agreement about sin, so too, we define for ourselves what is righteous. The world defines sin in its own way and then ascribes righteousness to those who heed the call to avoid such sins. Or even better, those who fight to bring awareness to the cause and work to bring about change. Righteousness is defined in human terms in the language of our works and accomplishment. But Jesus says the Spirit will convict the world concerning righteousness because He is going to the Father. That is the Spirit will proclaim to the world the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Righteousness is found in His work, in His deeds. He can go to the Father because there is the dwelling place of righteousness. So, whatever pathway the world offers to achieve such a thing if it happens outside of our Lord and Savior it is a foolish path and stands convicted.

Finally, the Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment. For this world thinks its law and judgments can remove the sin and offer righteousness. We herald our judgment as the final say on the matter. But the real enemy that must be judged, the real tyrant who must be done away with is far more treacherous than anything we can root out by our works. The ruler of this age, the ancient evil foe, the great opposition to our Lord must be condemned and judged if there is to be a path to righteousness and everlasting life. It is precisely this judgment which was dealt out by our Lord.

What we find then in this text, what we see in the promise of the coming Helper is the convicting and life-giving Word of God. The promise of the Spirit is the promise that God’s Word will not be silenced. Just as it went out so boldly on Pentecost Day all those years ago, so the Word of God still goes forth today. The Helper has been sent for you. He is sent to echo in your ears with the truth about sin and righteousness and judgment. For He holds before your eyes the cross of Christ and declares, “This is for you!” You are forgiven all of your sins. Righteousness is yours in His great work, a lasting righteousness which stands before the Father in Heaven. Your great foe is already judged, his accusations are of no account. Salvation is yours, my friends, and the Spirit of God Himself bear witness to it all.