“THE ULTIMATE COUNSELOR”
Text: John 14:23-31
Sunday June 5, 2022 – The Day of Pentecost
Trinity – Creston/Mt. Ayr
Grace, mercy, and peace is yours from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
Our text for this Day of Pentecost is the Gospel Lesson from John Chapter 14.
Let Us Pray: Dearest Jesus, send your Holy Spirit to remind us that you are are the ultimate counselor rightly convicting us of our sin and more importantly comforting us with the Gospel, what Jesus has done for us. Amen.
Dear Fellow Redeemed in Christ:
In a book called God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), New Testament scholar Gordon Fee shares a remark that one of his students once made to him about the Holy Spirit: “God the Father makes perfectly good sense to me, and God the Son I can quite understand; but the Holy Spirit is a gray, oblong blur.”
Why “gray,” I don’t know. Why “oblong,” I don’t know. But that’s what the student said—and to some extent, I think most of us can probably relate to that remark. We believe in the Holy Spirit. We know that he lives in us through faith in Jesus Christ. We confess that he is with us right here, right now, and every time we gather together around Word and Sacrament. But it’s pretty hard to picture or even describe this divine being whom we also sometimes call “the Holy Ghost.” How are we supposed to picture a “ghost,” much less a “Holy Ghost”?
I’ve always found it somewhat ironic that the longest season in the Church Year by far is the Pentecost season; for almost thirty straight weeks we focus on various aspects of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. And yet most of us would probably admit that of the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit remains the fuzziest when it comes to our understanding of who he is and what he does and exactly how he does it.
To be honest, the Bible doesn’t give us much help in picturing the Holy Spirit. Or perhaps, in a sense, it gives us too much help: there are so many different and contrasting pictures of the Spirit in the Scriptures. The Spirit appears as a dove; then as tongues of fire; then again, as a loud, rushing wind; in other places as a quiet whisper. It’s enough to make you say: Will the real Holy Spirit please stand up?
On the other hand, the Bible does provide some very clear and helpful information—divine teaching—about who the Spirit is and what he does for us as Christians. Over and over again in the Gospel of John, and here in our text from John 14, Jesus uses a very unique word to describe the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word is paraklētos, which literally means “one who is called to and stands by one’s side.” This word is translated in a number of different ways in various versions of the Bible: “Helper,” “Advocate,” “Comforter,” or (my personal favorite) “Counselor.”
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you,” says Jesus. “But the Helper [the Comforter, the Counselor], 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” (vv 25–26).
I am going away, says Jesus, but don’t worry, don’t be afraid; let not your hearts be troubled. I am leaving behind for you and for Christians of all times and in all places a Helper, a Comforter, a full-time, free-of-charge Counselor, the Holy Spirit, and
The Holy Spirit Is “The World’s Best Counselor.”
So, what does a good “counselor” do? More important, what does this Counselor, the Holy Spirit, do for us—and how does he do it?
According to Jesus in John 16, one of the most important things the Holy Spirit does as our Counselor is a rather unpleasant thing. He counsels us by convicting us of our sin (Jn 16:8). He uses God’s Word to confront us with those secret or not-so-secret areas of our lives that are not pleasing to our heavenly Father, that are tearing down rather than building up our brothers and sisters in Christ, that are damaging our witness for Christ, and that are also hurting us, preventing us from enjoying the blessings that come through willing and joyful obedience to God’s commandments.
Now, this is not an easy job that the Holy Spirit has to do. The hard thing about it is not that he has to keep track of all our sins; that’s relatively simple for the Spirit as the all-seeing, all-knowing God. What’s hard about it is that the Spirit has to deal constantly with hardheaded people like us, who have a very hard time acknowledging our guilt and our sin.
Eldon Weisheit was a longtime LCMS pastor and author who wrote some great books for and about kids, including several volumes of children’s sermons used by many pastors. In one of those books, Pastor Weisheit tells the story of one of the first children’s sermons he ever attempted as a pastor.
With the children gathered around him, he held up pieces of paper with various words written on them and asked the children to raise their hands if they thought the words applied to them. He held up words like “short,” “tall,” “smart,” “strong,” “popular,” “handsome,” “pretty,” and so on, and each time at least some of the children raised their hands. Then he held up the word “sinner” and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited, until finally one youngster in the front row took hold of his little brother’s hand and lifted it high into the air.
We can’t help but laugh at that cute little story, but our laughter probably has—or at least ought to have—a rather “nervous” edge to it, because we know full well that it’s not just children who are anxious to point a finger (or all five fingers!) at somebody else.
I read another story recently about a woman who came to her counselor confessing or complaining that she just didn’t feel she was growing in her spiritual life. When he asked her what she thought the problem might be, she immediately proceeded to tick off about a dozen reasons, all of which put the blame squarely on the shoulders of somebody else.
“The pastor’s sermons don’t speak to me; the style of worship isn’t the way I’d like it to be; people at church are so unfriendly; my husband doesn’t support me; my children don’t behave the way they should,” and on and on and on. This counselor said he took a deep breath, prayed a silent prayer, looked the woman in the eye and said: “Have you ever considered the possibility that the main problem in your spiritual life might not be the pastor, the people at church, your husband, or your children? Have you ever considered the possibility that the problem might have something to do with you?”
The best counselors in my life have been people who’ve cared so much about me that they have dared to speak the truth in love, even when they knew the truth would probably hurt, even when they knew that they might suffer and be hurt as a result of speaking the truth. That’s the kind of Counselor the Holy Spirit is. Always loving, always compassionate, always looking out for our best interests—but excruciatingly honest, never afraid to tell us the truth, too concerned about our welfare to hide from us the sin that’s harming us.
According to the Bible, we can actually help the Holy Spirit with his job as Convicter. Now, let me be clear: we cannot and did not in any way help the Holy Spirit bring us to faith in Christ. Dead people can’t help anyone with anything, and the Bible clearly says that “we were dead in our trespasses” before the Holy Spirit alone “made us alive” through Word and Sacrament (Eph 2:5).
But now that the Spirit has brought us to life and has come to live in us, we can strive to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16), to keep in step with the Spirit. How? Let me suggest several ways: (1) By seeking to remain open at all times to the Spirit’s loving admonition and exhortation; (2) By opening up the Scriptures regularly (daily!) so that he can speak to us through the Word and show where and how we need to repent and amend our sinful ways; (3) By coming faithfully to God’s house to hear the preaching of God’s holy Word; (4) By refusing to argue with him when he clearly shows us where we need to confess and amend our sinful lives; (5) By remembering that before we can help get the splinter out of somebody else’s eye, we must (as Jesus said) get that log out of our own eye. (Most of us are pretty good at spotting other people’s sins; it’s our own sins we have trouble seeing and confronting.)
Fortunately for us, convicting us of our sins is not the Holy Spirit’s only job as our Counselor. In fact, it’s not even his most important job. After all, even the devil knows how to accuse people of being sinners—the name Satan actually means “The Accuser.” The Spirit’s true or proper work is not to convict us but to comfort us with the Gospel, with the Good News of our forgiveness in Christ—which is something the devil would never do, even if he could.
According to Scripture, the Spirit convicts us not just to make us feel guilty but to lead us to true repentance, to prepare our hearts to hear and believe the comforting assurance of our forgiveness because of what our Savior, Jesus, has done for us.
As I mentioned earlier, some versions of the Bible translate this word “Counselor” as “Comforter.” That’s a good and scripturally meaningful translation as well, because that’s the Holy Spirit’s ultimate mission and goal: to convince us and to keep on reminding us that although we are poor, miserable sinners, God still loves us more than we can possibly imagine and delights to claim us as his dear children in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Spirit carries out his role as Comforter in some very simple yet powerful ways. He speaks to us through the Scriptures and tells us that, because of what Jesus has done for us by dying on the cross, our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west, that though our sins are like scarlet, we have been made as white as snow through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit also speaks through the words of the pastor, who has been called by God to say to those who stand before God with humble and repentant hearts: “I forgive you all your sins,” not by my power, not by my authority, not by any special holiness in me, but in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ whom I serve on your behalf.
The Holy Spirit also comforts us daily as we claim the promises God made to us at our Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and he comforts us by feeding us with the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins.
And there is still another way the Holy Spirit comforts us, and this way should not be overlooked or underestimated. The Spirit also comforts us through one another, as we speak to each other the words of forgiveness that Christ has spoken to us. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3–4).
Even with all these other ways of receiving God’s forgiveness, there’s something special (at least to me) about receiving assurance of that forgiveness through the lips of another human being, especially someone close to us: through the lips of a wife or husband, father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister or Christian friend.
An older pastor, now retired, grew up on a vegetable farm in Ohio. It was a family farm in the broadest sense of the term: grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles and cousins all worked on the farm, and they all lived together in a huge farmhouse. As you might imagine, that kind of life and living situation had its share of tensions.
But this very pious Slovak Lutheran family had a beautiful tradition that helped keep tensions from growing into divisions. On each Communion Sunday, before they left for church, the family would gather together in a circle around the big kitchen table and hold hands. Then each member of the family, starting with the oldest and going all the way down to the youngest, would ask for forgiveness for any hurtful words or sinful actions during the week, and then each would also say, from the youngest to the oldest, “I forgive you in Jesus’ name.” Then they would leave for church to receive with joy the body and blood of their Savior and to sit at the feet of their divine Counselor, the Holy Spirit.
So much more could be said about the counseling ministry of the Holy Spirit: we could talk about how he prays for us with groans and sighs too deep for words, and how he teaches us to pray to our dear Father in heaven.
We could talk about how he counsels us to know right from wrong and to discern God’s will for our lives; how he helps us to grow up in our faith, so that we can move from the milk to the meat of God’s Word; how he gives us gifts to use in service to others and how he empowers us to be Christ’s witnesses; how he guards and protects us against the evil one and keeps us strong in the faith until the Last Day. One of the reasons that the season after Pentecost is so long is because there’s so much to talk about when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
What I’d like to emphasize this morning, however, is that all of these other works of the Holy Spirit are based on and grow out of the Spirit’s dual work as Convicter and as Comforter. If we ever forget that we are sinners, we might as well forget everything else we’ve learned about God and about the Christian faith, because, as John says in his first letter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8).
On the other hand, if we poor, miserable sinners ever stop believing that we are forgiven, we might as well stop believing everything else, because if God’s message of forgiveness is a lie, then how can we believe anything else he tells us in his Word? If we can’t be sure that we’re forgiven, what does it matter what we do? Why should we pray? Why should we serve? Why should we witness? What would there be to witness about?
The Holy Spirit’s job is to make sure, first of all, that we never forget that we are sinners, and secondly, to make sure that we never stop believing that we are God’s precious, holy, forgiven children through the life and death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Everything else that he does for us and in us and through us depends on his work as Convicter and as Comforter. And as he convicts and comforts us day by day, he promises to work powerfully in our lives in many other ways as well, as we allow him to, as we invite him to, as we work with our divine Counselor to be and become the holy people that the Holy Spirit calls and empowers us to be. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, guard and keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.