“The World’s Best Counselor”
The Day of Pentecost, June 9, 2019
The World’s Best Counselor
Text: John 14:23–31
You probably noticed this is Pentecost Sunday. We get the red out, here, on this day. On this Sunday, we remember the work of the Holy Spirit.
We believe in the Holy Spirit. We know that He lives in us and brings us 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 third person of the Holy Trinity we used to refer to as “the Holy Ghost.” How are we supposed to picture a “ghost,” much less a “Holy Ghost”? 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 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 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 (the one I like) “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. I am leaving behind for you and for Christians of all times 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 importantly, 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 convicts us of our sins (Jn 16:8). Now, this is not an easy job that the Holy Spirit has to do. You might think the hard thing is that he has to keep track of all our sins. That’s actually 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. 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, but our laughter probably has a rather “nervous” edge to it, because we know full well that it’s not just children who are anxious to point a finger at somebody else. I read another story recently about a woman who came to her counselor and said that she just didn’t feel she was growing in her spiritual life. When asked what she thought the problem was, she immediately proceeded to say a bunch of things 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 like it; people at church are so unfriendly; my husband doesn’t support me; my children don’t behave the way they should,” and so on. This counselor then 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 sad truth is we are all this woman. We are.
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 Jesus Christ.
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, and rising again, our sins are gone. The Holy Spirit also speaks through the words of the pastor, who has been called by God to say to those who stand here with 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 Spirit, 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.
So much more could be said about the counseling ministry of the Holy Spirit: we could talk about how He prays for us, and how He teaches us to pray to our Father in heaven. We could talk about how He counsels us to know right from wrong and to figure out God’s will for our lives. We can talk about how He gives us gifts to use in service to others and how He empowers us to be Jesus Christ’s witnesses. We can talk about 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.
What I’d like to emphasize this morning, however, is that all of these other things the Holy Spirit does for us 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 loved, holy, forgiven children through the life, and death, and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And as He convicts and comforts us day by day, He promises to work powerfully in our lives as we become the people that the Holy Spirit calls us and empowers us to be.
We have a lot to cover between now and the end of November. We’ll start next Sunday.
In Jesus’ Name,
Adapted from Material Found in Concordia Pulpit Helps, Vol. 29, Part 2.