[Jesus said,] 25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
IN NOMINE JESU
Where would we be today without God the Father? We wouldn’t be here, because He would not have made us. And so we thank our Father in heaven that He did make us, His children, adopting us by grace for the sake of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Where would we be today without God the Son? We wouldn’t be here, because, as the blessed apostle St. Paul writes, “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Cor. 15:12-14). A few weeks ago we sang in one of our Easter hymns: “Had Christ, who once was slain, Not burst His three-day prison, Our faith had been in vain: But now has Christ arisen, arisen, arisen; But now has Christ arisen” (LSB 482:refrain).
Where would we be today without the Holy Spirit? We wouldn’t be here, because He alone can bring us to God’s house, to hear His Word and receive His gifts. As Martin Luther teaches us in his Large Catechism, the Holy Spirit “first leads us into His holy congregation, and places us in the bosom of the Church, whereby He preaches to us and brings us to Christ” (LC III:37). We have learned from his Small Catechism, and we confess, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers” (SC II:6). St. Paul reminds us, “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit alone can bring us to Christ, to confess Christ, and to believe in Christ. St. Paul again writes, “as it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.’ ‘For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words’” (1 Cor. 2:9-13).
Today, on this celebration of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes to you by way of His spoken Word, read and preached today in your hearing. On that day of Pentecost almost 2,000 years ago, the same Holy Spirit came upon the apostles as tongues of fire, teaching them all things and bringing to their remembrance all that Jesus said to them. The Holy Spirit empowered them to preach, beginning with Peter’s sermon that day, Christ crucified to the world and for the world, for the life of the world. Since then the Holy Spirit has called pastors to preach this same Gospel. God speaks and acts through His Word and Sacraments today. He deals with His people mediately, that is, through means. We believe, teach, and confess, on the basis of Scripture So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, where and when it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake. Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word. [AC V]
If you’ve ever watched a televangelist’s program, especially one hosted by those of the so-called charismatic or Pentecostal tradition, you’ve witnessed blatant false teachings in many areas of the Christian faith, especially regarding what Scripture teaches about the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. They do not teach what the Holy Spirit teaches about Himself. They believe that the Holy Spirit comes and speaks to them directly, outside His Word, and so they justify their heresy by saying that the Holy Spirit led them to say that. This will come as a shock to them, and it may come as a shock to you, but that’s not how the Holy Spirit works today. He has not come to His people directly since the first century A. D., the very earliest days of the Christian Church, known then as “The Way,” when He inspired the Apostles and Evangelists to write what we now know as the New Testament. He speaks to us through His Word, given to us in its public reading and teaching through men He has sent to be pastors, following in the footsteps of the Apostles here and now. The writer of Hebrews says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2a)—Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, the Word-become-flesh, to whom the Holy Spirit leads us.
We don’t fully understand this because we don’t fully understand the Holy Spirit, the least understood and most misunderstood Person of the Trinity. We don’t understand what He seeks to teach us because we don’t understand, let alone appreciate, His role in our lives of faith. The Holy Spirit is the Person who works behind the scenes, and His work is to bring us to saving faith in Jesus Christ, to believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord. As St. Peter said in his Pentecost sermon, quoting the prophet Joel, “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21, quoting Joel 2:32). This is the Spirit’s doing alone because we sinners cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel. All we can do apart from the Spirit is hate Jesus. This is our rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit, the one sin which can condemn us. St. Paul says, “However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:16-17). That’s what the Holy Spirit does, not us. We can’t believe in Him on our own; we can only go to hell on our own. For this reason the Spirit is constantly and actively at work in our hearts and the hearts of all people, for God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
That’s why the Holy Spirit continues working in the hearts of sinners like us, to draw us closer to Jesus Christ, that through the faith the Spirit gives us to believe in Jesus, we would be saved. How does He do this? He works in us through His Word. Hear again Luther: For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the Gospel. The work is done and accomplished; for Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, etc. But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew of it, then it would be in vain and lost. That this treasure, therefore, might not lie buried, but be appropriated and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed, in which He gives the Holy Ghost to bring this treasure home and appropriate it to us. [LC III:38]
Through the Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit gives you the treasure, the gifts, Christ won for you when He died on the cross: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. He speaks to you in readings and sermon words of forgiveness, words the Father has given the Spirit to speak. He speaks to you in Holy Baptism, where God the Father calls you His own, as His Son Jesus “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). St. Peter’s hearers at Pentecost were cut to the heart and “said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself….’ So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:37-39, 41). The Holy Spirit strengthens your faith also through the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, the very body Jesus gave and the true blood He shed when He died on the cross for you, for me, and for the life of the world. He invites you to come to the Lord’s altar to receive this gift on your lips, to taste and see that the Lord is good, just as those first Christians did beginning that Pentecost day, already engaged in a form of liturgy that serves us well today, even in this expanded form almost 2,000 years later: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). And what happened? “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47). Yes, the Holy Spirit added members to the Church through His Means of Grace, even as He does so today by His feeding and teaching us, thanks be to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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