The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
I can’t think of a single Christian who doesn’t want to know what heaven will be like. Scripture gives us plenty of insights, using language like “reclining at the feast table” and “green pastures” and “streets paved with gold” and “pearly gates” and such. Still… what will it be like? It’s no wonder that books/stories about people suffering a tragic accident and dying and getting to spend a few minutes in “heaven,” only to be brought back to life in the ER and recount their time “on the other side,” fly off the shelves. People LOVE to read these books. Inquiring minds want to know. What will heaven be like? This is what makes the words of Jesus so very strange to our ears. “But now I am going to the Father/Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’” Nobody asked Jesus what heaven was going to be like, even though He just got done telling them that He’s going back home to heaven?! That’s crazy! What a bunch of fools! We have to buy books with questionable/poor theology at book stores in an attempt to get some sort of answer. These guys had Jesus sitting right there! And it seems like He really wanted to answer those types of questions, but these fools didn’t bother to ask. The old adage says that the only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked. Well… they were too busy feeling sorry for themselves to ask.
But is all this true? It all makes sense to our ears, but that doesn’t make it true. Yes, they were too busy feeling sorry for themselves to ask Jesus about His going home to heaven and His heavenly Father. But… Jesus is gently admonishing these guys, not because of their failure to ask about what heaven is like, but because of their failure to ask WHY He must return to the One who sent Him from heaven to earth and what that returning means for them and for all under the yoke of sin. Remember: Jesus has been telling them—repeatedly—of the necessity of His suffering, death, and resurrection. Here at the Last Supper, Jesus has spoken extensively about how that time has now arrived. Nobody bothered to ask “what does this mean?” Nobody bothered to ask WHY it’s a necessity that He must leave them and go home to heaven. All they heard is that He’s going to be parted from them, and they didn’t like what they heard. They tuned out and shut down. They were all grief-stricken and full of sorrow at the news that Jesus was leaving them. “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
Now, at this point we do need to make clear that having contrition/sorrow over the suffering and death of Jesus isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, if you truly understand how bad sin really is, repentant sorrow and grief is the absolute right response. Your sin put Jesus on that cross. That should grieve you! Your sin is so great—even the little ones that you think aren’t a big deal and everyone else is doing it too—that the holy and innocent God had to die for it! And there’s a reason for that. As sinful children of Adam, we simply don’t have the currency to make payment for the wage of even one single sin, let alone an eternity’s worth of them. Only the blood of the Lamb of God can make this atonement. Only God’s holy blood can redeem/buy back from death to life.
But this is precisely why Jesus is so particular in His wording. He never says that He’s simply going home to heaven. He says that He’s returning to His Father, “to Him who sent Me.” “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son….” This [the crucifix] was the Father’s plan for our redemption/salvation, first announced in the Garden of Eden when our first parents fell headlong into sin, death, and damnation. Jesus was sent to bring that cruciform Gospel plan to completion. “It is finished!” Jesus returning to “Him who sent Me” is Jesus returning to report “mission complete.” This is GOOD NEWS of the highest order! His death means our forgiveness; our redemption; our salvation. This is what NOBODY was asking about. They were too busy wallowing in their own selfish sorrow because Jesus was going to leave them. And if we’re honest, the same can be said of us. We grieve when our loved ones die. We know they’re in heaven, but we’d rather they be here with us in this vale of tears. Do you realize how foolish/selfish that is?! Still… we all do it.
If you pay attention to the conversation our Lord has with His disciples, all that talk about the Holy Spirit and His work of convicting/convincing in sin, righteousness, and judgment is meant as Gospel to their pitiful ears. It’s a response to their self-centered sorrow. “Nevertheless; that is, in spite of your sorrow, I tell you the Truth.” Folks: Look at this cross! Here is God in the flesh! Here is the wage of sin, lifted up and on full display for all the world to see! This is why the Holy Spirit is sent: to convince us just how deadly and damning our sins really are in the sight of God. If they weren’t such a big deal, then Jesus wouldn’t have to die for them! The conviction/convincing of righteousness? Again, look no further than this cross. Here is where “It is finished!” was spoken in victory. Here is where your all your sins were forgiven. Here is where the full wage of your sin was paid in full; paid in full with the lifeblood of Jesus. How often, though, we don’t believe it. There’s gotta be a catch, right? God says “it is finished,” we still say, “Yeah, but what do I need to do?” And we all have our moments! Many a good Christian struggles in doubt simply because their feelings trump God’s justifying Word. “I don’t feel saved.” As if our fleeting emotions are more trustworthy than the unchanging Word of our unchanging God!
And what about the convincing/convicting regarding judgment? The important thing to remember here is that Jesus is talking about God’s judgment against the devil. “The ruler of this world is/has already been judged.” That’s not what the devil wants us to believe though. He wants us to think that he’s still got a fighting chance. In fact, the devil is working very hard to make it seem like he’s actually winning the fight. I’ll admit: I look around at the world today, and it’s hard to not believe him. And yet…the Holy Spirit convinces me, working in and through the words of Christ, that it is finished. The victory has already been won. The devil is judged. He’s already lost. The serpent’s head has already been crushed by the pierced, yet victorious foot of the crucified Gospel promise in the flesh.
This is all very important when you consider the fact that Jesus was speaking these words to His apostles mere hours before He would be nailed to that cross. They would need convincing that Jesus wasn’t being defeated, but instead overcoming and winning. And—yes—that convincing would take place in all its fullness at Pentecost. That’s when the apostles were finally able to understand the necessity of Christ’s crucifixion and rejoice. That’s when they were, by God’s grace, empowered by the Holy Spirit to boldly proclaim Christ crucified to the nations. That’s when they were finally convinced, and that blessed conviction and assurance gave them a joy and a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Dearly beloved: Nothing has changed. Your God and Lord continue to send the Holy Spirit for us, for our faith, for our conviction and peace. This [Word and Sacrament] is all part of God’s plan for our salvation. God the Father continues to send His Son to us in/through His Word and Sacrament for our peace, our assurance, our salvation. “As often as you do this, remember what I have said….” The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, still comes to us to work and nourish this saving faith in us; to convince us of these life-giving cruciform realities. He still comes to us in order to take us back to Christ and His cross; to convince us of our sin and our need of a Savior; to convince us of the fact that it is finished in Christ and because of Christ; to convince us of the fact that Christ lives, the victory’s won, and sin, death, and the devil have already been judged. They lost. It’s a done-deal. Nothing has changed.
May Almighty God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—grant you the conviction of sure and certain saving faith; faith that hears and believes and rejoices in and boldly proclaims all that Christ has done and continues to do for you. May this Good News of Christ crucified guard and keep your hearts and minds in faith unto life everlasting.
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