The Song of Zion (Cantate, Easter 5, 2012)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel just read, as well as from Psalm 98, sing to the Lord a new song.

How can we sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land? This was the question that the Israelites asked while they were in exile. How can we sing the songs of redemption and the gracious presence of God in our midst, when we are stuck in such gunk down here?

We can sympathize with the Israelites. They had been in exile for decades. Their homes had been destroyed, their possessions taken from them. Their very identity as the people of God was in jeopardy. How could they sing of God’s miraculous works in saving His people, when what they saw before their very eyes said that God is not read, that they were still in their sins, and that things were not going to get better any time soon.

Yes, we can relate to the Israelites. It is hard to sing of Easter joy in the midst of death. It is hard to accept the great salvation of God when there are so many in pain, so much suffering, so much sorrow.

Yet here is Isaiah, talking about singing and praising God, even though the exile was right around the corner. Or there were the Israelites, giving thanks to God for all his marvelous works in Psalm 98, when who knows what hardship or trial they would undergo next.

Have you been there? Have you been in that place of sorrow, where it seems that words alone could not express your grief, and yet that the songs of Zion just did not seem right? We have all been there. We walk by faith and not by sight, and yet the things which we see and experience every day, well, they are pretty hard to ignore and put on a happy face about, aren’t they?

This is what our Lord is speaking about in John chapter sixteen, when He talks about the coming of the Helper, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth in our text. Truth here could actually be translated as reality. This is the Spirit of reality who comes into our midst.

So what will this Spirit do? He will convict or convince the world of three things: of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Now before we get to those three things, it’s important to know what the Holy Spirit is doing here. He is convicting, convincing, or maybe even persuading the world of these three things, sin, righteousness, and judgment. We don’t just get these things. They aren’t obvious without the Holy Spirit. What’s more, they are impossible to see and understand without Him. Apart from the Spirit of Truth, the Bible, and indeed, life itself, is a closed book. This is why the Spirit preaches to you and convinces you of these three things.

So what does He teach us or persuade us? First of all, He teaches us about sin. The world does not by nature believe in Jesus. They cannot believe in Jesus without first believing that they are sinners in need of the Gospel. You would be surprised, though, how many of us basically think that people are good. Sin, if there is such a thing, sin in the world is an occasional blemish. Sin is something to be covered over with a little makeup. It’s not a sickness that leads to death. So first off, the Holy Spirit teaches us that we are broken beyond repair, that we have caused our own destruction, and that we cannot get ourselves out of this mess.

The Holy Spirit convinces us of sin and then of righteousness. This word, righteousness, is really a work that means God is just and right in everything He does. AND, now this is important, AND that what God does is declares you righteous because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If it is hard to believe that you are a sinner, it is impossible to believe that you are holy and righteous, perfect in every way, washed in the holy waters of baptism. Yet this is what God does. This is the new song, the song of salvation in the blood of the lamb.

The Holy Spirit convinces us of sin, of righteousness, and finally, the Holy Spirit convinces us of judgment. This isn’t talking about your judgment, no, this is talking about Satan’s judgment. The ruler of this world is judged. What this means is that no matter what may come, no matter what kind of gunk the devil and the world may throw at you, this means that Satan is judged, and that you are safe in God’s merciful arms. Satan cannot harm us, as Luther wrote in the hymn.

The Holy Spirit, the spirit of reality, He is the one who teaches you, who convinces you and persuades you of these things: sin, righteousness, and judgment. You are a sinner but God has declared you righteous in His Son. You are righteous and Satan is judged. You are safe in the arms of your heavenly Father.

So now let’s get back to this new song that started this sermon. The church sings the songs of Zion because this is what the Holy Spirit gives us. This truth, this great reality which was won at Jesus’ death and resurrection, this truth is as real as the suffering you undergo every day. Oh sure,maybe you don’t see it. But this reality is here, right now. My body, my blood, given for you. This water, poured out for you. Those words, I forgive you, echo in your ears even now.

That, beloved, that is worth singing about. So sing and shout for joy! Sing the new song of salvation, the song which never ends. Sing this song with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. You were lost but are found. You were dead and yet you live. You suffer and yet rejoice in the great Shepherd of the Sheep, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Believe it for Jesus sake. Amen.

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