Jesus describes the Holy Spirit’s work in the Kingdom of the Church by comparing it to other kingdoms of this world. He says, “When the Holy Spirit comes he will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.” This is what the governments of the world do, or should do.
God commands three things from worldly governments.
The first is to convict of sin, to punish evil. A good government puts bad guys in jail. It punishes stealing and murder and public indecency. It can’t read the heart and isn’t concerned about the heart. But it can judge actions. And it can punish the body. God set it up to punish outwardly bad people, people who do bad things. If you don’t have that, no one will be safe.
Second, the government is to convince of righteousness. That means the government is supposed to uphold good things, reward and encourage things that God says are good. And again it can only do this outwardly, with bodies and actions. So the government can’t make a man love his wife or a wife submit from the heart to her husband, but it can and should uphold marriage between one man and one woman, it should assert that marriage is a lifelong union and is not to be broken up for just any reason or no reason at all. The government should uphold the sanctity and preciousness of life, especially of the poor and innocent and vulnerable – little unborn babies and old suffering dementia-ridden seemingly useless old people. It should encourage hard work by its laws, should uphold the virtues of respect for elders and respect for private property and respect for reputation and respect for chastity and saving yourself till marriage. The government should uphold righteousness, the outward keeping of the ten commandments (or at last the last seven). When it doesn’t societies crumble and governments fall. When it upholds righteousness though, people lead decent lives and grow in earthly blessings.
Third, the government judges. It judges the enemies of its people. This includes enemies within our own borders and enemies outside. So the government needs to keep drunk drivers from speeding in front of your house or keep criminals from breaking in and stealing – this is why we have police officers. But then there are enemies from outside – so the government needs to protect its people from foreign invaders, it needs to keep its borders safe and secure and to stop illegal entry, it needs to have an army suitable for the defense of its people.
No government comes close to doing these three things perfectly. Ours certainly doesn’t. Ours in fact is reaching that point where it will punish good as much as it rewards evil. Instead of convicting of sin, it will pretend bad is good, and tell people to be proud of their sins, of their sodomy or their abortion or their divorce or their loving money more than children, and it will set up its laws to praise these evils.
This is all against God’s Word and we see its disastrous consequences, and we should love our country and work to improve our government by our voice and by our vote, but we should never think that we will get a perfect government on this earth. It’s been tried and it’s always failed. You will save yourself a lot of stress and pain if you don’t put your hope in princes. They will always let you down. America is not God’s kingdom. It is a worldly kingdom that will fall like all the others. And as bad a job as it is currently doing, realize that even a government doing a bad job is better than no government at all. We get what we can of justice and good government in this life. But we don’t put all our hope in it or make it our obsession. Jesus is our obsession. He is perfect. The governments of this world are not perfect and never will be.
Jesus is talking about a perfect Kingdom, though, in our Gospel. God promised the perfect kingdom; He promised the perfect government. This is the messianic promise, what was to come in the last days and now is. This is Jesus’ great claim – He lived, He died, He rose, He ascended to heaven in order to establish the perfect government here on earth. Listen to just a few of the prophecies the Old Testament gives and Jesus fulfills: “In those days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely.” “In His days righteousness will arise and abundance of peace.” “He will free the poor from his oppressor.” “The government will be upon His shoulders.” And we could go on. It’s everywhere – an everlasting government, that’s the promise.
That’s the promise and Jesus asserts here that He is establishing a Kingdom, a government. It is what reads above His thorn encircled brow on the cross: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
“You are a king, then?” Pilate asks. “You say rightly that I AM a king,” Jesus answers. And His kingdom will not deal only with the body or only with bodily safety or only with external sins. His government will deal with body and soul, with the salvation of the whole man, and not for a time but forever, and it will not penetrate only skin deep, but will touch the very heart of man.
So we speak of two kingdoms, the kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right. The kingdom of the left is the governments of this world. God puts them in place – “There is no authority but of God and the authorities that exist are put in place by God” – Romans 13. This is why the governments of this world are dutybound to punish evil, reward good, and defend their people from dangers from inside and out. God commands it, and so we His people should demand it from our earthly government. And God commands this, because He cares for our bodies and because He wants His Church to have a decent place to live, where we can serve Him in peace, here in church, at home, and everywhere we go.
So these two kingdoms don’t contradict each other or fight with one another. In fact, the Church is wonderful for the government, and the government is supposed to do good to the Church. We should all thank God for the safety we have here to meet and have church together – that safety is not everywhere, not in Ukraine or in Russia or in Sudan or in Ethiopia right now. This temporal peace is a gift of God and a gift He gives through our government.
And the government also needs the church, because without us there will be no moral people – that’s becoming more and more obvious – and without a moral people no government or nation has ever survived.
The Kingdom of the Right is the Christian Church on earth. God rules it by His Spirit. And His Spirit works through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is different from the Kingdom of the Left because it has no power of compulsion over the body – the church can’t force you to pay taxes, can’t force you to educate your children in its school, can’t force you to do anything at all. God doesn’t force anyone into this Kingdom, into faith, into heaven. He only works through His Word. It is the Sword of the Spirit. This Word is far more powerful than any mortal weapon, anything that can force your body but not touch your soul. It pierces through to the division of soul and spirit, joint and marrow, discerns even the thoughts and intents of the heart. And this is the power and the Kingdom our Lord speaks of today.
The Holy Spirit will convince the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me, says Jesus. The worldly kingdoms punish outward sin, what we can see, but what is hidden in your heart, they can’t touch. The Kingdom of Christ doesn’t ignore outward sin – the Spirit will point that out too, but He goes deeper. Why is sin so offensive? Because it harms others, yes, because it brings pain on your own soul, yes. But at root, it is because it is the putrid fruit of unbelief, rebellion against Christ, disbelief in Him. This is what the Holy Spirit shows us. Why do you still hold on to a grudge, why do you obsess because your pride has been hurt, why do you get so angry when you are offended, why do you indulge your flesh with fantasies of lust or power or money? Because your unbelieving flesh is anti-Jesus, it refuses to allow Him to cover up and forgive the sin of others, refuses to take its pride in Him and what He has done, refuses to find in Him perfect joy and peace and all aspirations and ambitions fulfilled.
Look how focused the Spirit is on Jesus. Even the sin the Spirit condemns is at root a sin against Jesus. David captures this in his beautiful psalm, after he repents of his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, he says to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done this evil in your sight.” Because the impulse to commit adultery, to murder, to do any external sin, is the impulse of unbelief, of rejection of God and His Christ. You sin because you don’t believe. You do believe, you do trust in Jesus, that’s what being a Christian is, but there is still this struggle between faith and unbelief, the flesh and the spirit, your unconverted old man and your converted new man, and your old man will always disbelieve, always war against Jesus, until finally he dies never to rise when you die in order to rise forever. So the answer to your flesh is always to hear the Holy Spirit convince your spirit anew that Jesus is your Lord, Jesus is your joy, Jesus the Son of God, is your Brother, who lived and died and rose for you and saved you from the eternal hell that your stinking flesh earned for itself.
And while the governments of this world reveal sin only to punish it. The Spirit’s government reveals sin to bring people to repentance, to make them despair of their own righteousness and throw all their hope in Jesus.
So the Holy Spirit keeps locked on Jesus and convinces us of righteousness, of Jesus’ righteousness, because, Jesus says, I go to the Father. Again, this is not simply an outward righteousness. The government wants, or should want, people living decent, moral lives, because without it society simply won’t survive. But the righteousness the Spirit gives is a complete, perfect righteousness, that penetrates to the depth of the heart, that forgives not only outer actions, but the hidden things of the heart, that not only pardons for a time, but brings with it the decree of everlasting life and inheritance as God’s own children.
Jesus wins it, because He goes to the Father. Jesus said this on the night He was betrayed. His going to the Father is His suffering, is His death, is His resurrection, is His ascension to Heaven where He pleads for us before our Father in heaven. The Holy Spirit convinces you of righteousness because, precisely because, Jesus goes to the Father. His is the righteousness that avails before God, the righteousness God sees and is impressed at, and the Holy Spirit gives it to you in this His Kingdom. The Holy Spirit puts it so beautifully in Romans 8, so I’ll just repeat it: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect. It is Christ who died, and furthermore is raised, and is even seated at the right hand of God and making intercession for us.” The Holy Spirit includes it all here. No one can condemn you, because Jesus died for you, because Jesus is risen, because Jesus ascended to all power, and the Father now sees in His Son your righteousness. That’s the reality in heaven, and you taste it on earth whenever the Spirit speaks the words of your forgiveness, whenever the Lord Jesus gives you His body and His blood. The Spirit takes of what is Jesus’ and gives to you. Amazing. It’s the perfect government, where there is perfect righteousness, everlasting and pure, belonging to the God-Man and so belonging to you.
And this means that your Father is jealous of you. That means you’re His and He intends to keep it that way. He adores you. He sees you as His child. And He will protect and defend you. He judges your enemy, anyone or anything that would tear you away from Him. The governments of this world will judge their enemies, they’ll defend their citizens against them with missiles, with threats of war, with walls and troops. And they should. But they cannot protect against the devil or despair or the throes of bitter temptation. They don’t have that power. Can’t protect against the gates of hell. That is for Jesus’ government, for the Church, which is the gate of heaven. And this Kingdom has as its protection the Word of Jesus. The Word that has never failed, that has sustained a kingdom that lasts forever, while all other kingdoms fell, a kingdom that is perfect, where all other kingdoms failed, the kingdom to which you belong. You have this Word of Jesus, it dispels every lie of the devil, sets Christ Himself before you and says – here is your righteousness, you cling to this Word and run to it in times of trouble and temptation, or when you have sinned and the devil accuses you, and you will see that this Word is the sword of the Spirit, and it will cut down your enemy every single time.
The devil only has power where the Word of God is silent. So don’t let it be silent. Not here, not in your heart, not in your home, not in your thoughts, not on Sunday morning, not on any morning. Christ’s Kingdom is here. Jesus reigns in heaven so that He can reign in His Church on earth. In His Word, in His body and blood. And He makes you completely secure. No one will snatch you from your Father’s hand. Not life nor death or principalities or powers, not height nor depth, not anything in all creation will be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. That’s your present, that’s your future, that’s life in Jesus’ perfect Kingdom. Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things. Alleluia. Christ is risen!