"Behold, the Holy Spirit Cometh"
The Feast of Pentecost
St. John 14:23-31
May 27, 2007
IN NOMINE JESU
Behold, we have come to the fiftieth day of the Easter season. We have arrived at the final week of the Time of Easter and of the so-called "festive" half of the liturgical year. Behold, today we celebrate the third of the three major festivals in the church year: the Feast of Pentecost. This festival has been observed for thousands of years, first by the Jews and then throughout the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, as we do today. In the church of the Old Testament, Pentecost was celebrated on the fiftieth day following the day after the Passover Sabbath. This feast, also called the Feast of Weeks, was largely considered a harvest festival, something we have reserved for our nation's Day of Thanksgiving. Since the days of the first Christian celebration of Pentecost, we have celebrated this day on the fiftieth day of Easter, following the Scriptures as our guide. The culmination of the Old Testament celebration was the people's offering up loaves of bread to God. In the New Testament era, the main event is the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, enabling them to preach the Gospel in different lands and languages.
This event we celebrate today is the fulfillment of the promise our Lord made to His disciples prior to His Passion, the promise He made in our text: "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…And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe" (vv. 26, 29). The disciples could only believe once the Holy Spirit came upon them, after the risen Lord had opened their minds to the Scriptures; for at this point in our text the disciples' hearts were heavy with the Lord's impending death, and their minds were closed to the Scriptures, as they had been from the beginning of their time with the Lord. They could not believe, as their hearts were closed to the Scriptures. These common men, these Galileans, were incapable to understanding or believing. They surely would not have understood Martin Luther's writings. Luther was blessed, for he had received the and understood the Scriptures, which the Lord handed down to His Apostles, who, once moved and empowered by the Holy Spirit, preached this revealed Word of God to the ends of the earth, preaching repentance and remission of sins in Jesus' Name, just as the Lord charged them just ten days before the coming of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, these Apostles would not be able to preach the Gospel because they did not believe.
These twelve men, whom the Lord chose (including Matthias, Judas' successor) to carry out His ministry, were mere mortals, just as you and I are. They too were sinners, just as you and I are. As sinners, they were, and we are, incapable of believing the Gospel (who is Christ) under our own power. Luther writes in his Small Catechism:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
Prior to our conversion—rather, the Holy Spirit's converting us—we were like the crowds in our Second Reading prior to Peter's sermon that Pentecost day. They could not come to faith without the Holy Spirit's acting through His Means of Grace. First, He moved Peter to preach. Second, He moved the people to repentance. Third, He led them to become baptized; and "those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:41). Fourth, "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42); in other words, they attended Divine Service, just as we are attending Divine Service today. Fifth, moved by faith worked in them by the Holy Spirit, they performed good works willingly as evidence of their new faith. The Holy Spirit comes to His people through Word and Sacraments, just as He has come since the day of Peter's sermon. Our Lutheran Confessions affirm this truth as we believe, teach, and confess:
That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.
They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works. [AC V]
Yet we are surrounded by people "who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works." And we may even think this ourselves to one extent or another. This is because we do not understand the Holy Spirit as we ought. We are no better than the charismatics, the self-proclaimed faith healers, the televangelists, and the Pentecostals. But these people fall off the other side of the horse when they tout the Holy Spirit, often over against the One to whom the Spirit points: Jesus Christ. While they have little use for the Sacraments, they also seem to have little use for the Savior—just the Spirit. They believe the Holy Spirit speaks to them directly—outside His written Word.
We fall off the same horse as do they, but on the opposite side as they, for we have become infected with the disease of Generic American Protestantism, which seeks to turn Christianity into a religion of works instead of grace, of law instead of love, of our own preparations and works instead of God's Word and Sacraments. There are some who claim we must be "ablaze" with the Gospel, as the Apostles allegedly were. The truth is, first, that they Apostles were not ablaze; they were anointed with the Holy Spirit who descended on them with tongues of fire—they were not incinerated. Second, in the Scriptures, to be "ablaze" is more often than not to be on the receiving end of God's wrath and displeasure. Third, those who advocate the misuse of the term ablaze among us seem to be more concerned about numbers than souls, that if we even mention the Name of Jesus to millions of people, they will automatically become converted. They forget what happened after these same Apostles preached the Word that Pentecost day: the people repented, became baptized, and were gathered together around Word and Sacrament. That, dear friends in Christ, is true church growth, not the mere addition of more bodies in the pews, but the additional and continual care and nurture of the souls that come with those bodies. The Mother Church nurtures her children in this manner, through ongoing preaching and teaching, and she feeds her children on the Word and the Sacraments. For those among us, including ourselves, who have succumbed to these sinful, worldly influences, we need to repent for our actions without the Holy Spirit.
Behold, we may take heart. We need not despair! The Lord has not left us as orphans, for He has sent us His Holy Spirit. The promise He made to His disciples in our text He makes to us again today: "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. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (vv. 26-27). We need not be afraid, for, behold, the Holy Spirit has come…and is here now. The Holy Spirit is with you and is in you now, seeking to sustain and strengthen your faith in Jesus Christ. This is the Spirit's primary work, to bring you to and keep you in faith in Christ. He began working in you the first time you heard the Word of God, whether you were inside or outside your mother's womb. He sealed His promise to generate, sustain, and strengthen your faith in Christ when you became baptized in and into the Name of the Triune God. He led you to make the good confession when you made public confirmation of your faith. Those of you who are still receiving formal instruction need not fear, for the Lord will one day lead you to your confirmation as well, after which time you too will get to taste and see that the Lord is good, serving you at His Table. The Spirit strengthens you as He gives you food for your pilgrimage, giving you the Word of God and the body and blood of the Lord.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to direct you to Christ for your salvation. We survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, for it was on that cross that Jesus suffered, bled, and died a gory yet glorious death, winning our forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation there. The Holy Spirit moves our focus to the font, lectern, pulpit, and altar, for our Lord gives us the gifts He won on the cross through Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Scripture, and Holy Communion, doing so through the Office of the Holy Ministry. Here the pastor speaks and acts in the stead and by the command of Christ. The pastor is the best man, standing in for Christ and tending to Christ's bride, the Church, giving her His gifts until he comes again to claim His bride for Himself, "for Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). It is by the Holy Spirit that this shall be done. God grant it in Jesus' Name and for His sake. Amen.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14). Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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