Sermon June 3, 2007, John 16:12-15, Trinity Sunday
First of all, I want to point out to you two words that are not found in the Holy Gospel as printed on the bulletin insert: "Jesus said." These words do not appear in the original text of John 16. But since Jesus really is the Speaker, it would be appropriate to add the words, "Jesus said," to make clear who is talking.
We need that reminder from time to time. Who is speaking? When the Holy Gospel is being read, at first glance it may seem like I, the pastor, am speaking. But that is actually not true. It may be my vocal chords making the sounds, but the real speaker is Jesus Christ; "Jesus said," not "Pastor said."
We need to remember that all of God's Word is from God, not from men. It is not merely some ancient words written by some guy named John or Paul or Luke or whoever. The Father and the Son caused the Holy Scriptures to be written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Word is truly the inspired and inerrant Word of the Triune God.
Even after the original writing of the Scriptures, the Triune God does not abandon His words. When the Holy Bible is read among us, the voice of God is speaking to you. Any reading of God's Word is actually the voice of the Lord Jesus, whether it contains a quotation from His earthly life or not. It is not merely a piece of information. It is not merely a time for learning. This is the voice of your Savior, and He is speaking to you.
But it is also not merely the voice of Jesus. After Pentecost, at least, we ought to remember that the Word is also the voice of the Holy Spirit. We could also add, before every Reading of Scripture, the words, "The Spirit said," to indicate who is speaking. Every Reading of Scripture is the Voice of the Spirit.
The Spirit, however, does not testify about Himself. He speaks only about Jesus, as our Savior said this morning, "He (the Spirit) will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears." And again Jesus says, "He (the Spirit) will bring glory to Me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to you."
If the Spirit were not here, then the Holy Scriptures would be only dead, lifeless words on a page. But since He has promised to come wherever the Word is found, then we know that the Spirit is hard at work in this Word, strengthening faith, forgiving sins, and bestowing salvation. Here the Spirit is giving you what belongs to Christ.
In this way, the Church of Pentecost is forever spreading the Good News of salvation to all the world, through the power of the Spirit. You have received salvation through the ministry of this Church, as called pastors preach, teach, Absolve sins, Baptize, and distribute the Sacrament of the Altar. For the Sacraments also are the Word of God, added to physical elements. Through them, also, the Spirit speaks of Christ and gives life.
So the ministry of the Church is the same as the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is no accident that the Apostles' Creed mentions the Spirit in the same breath as the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, and the forgiveness of sins. This is where the Spirit is busy, relaying the Word of Christ to His people.
But now what does the sinful flesh try to do? It is always opposed to the things of God, yet it still tries to look spiritual. So the flesh tries to divert you to different words and different gospels, to maintain the illusion that it is good and religious.
The flesh is bored with the spoken Word of God. It seems so dull and monotonous. The flesh is quick to remind you that you've heard this Word before. Why not move on to something new? The Word seems so weak. Why not find something dynamic and exciting?
Perhaps there are so-called "gifts of the Spirit" that may attract our attention: gifts of healing, tongues, and prophecy. They are so interesting, so powerful, or at least they seem that way to the flesh. Indeed, these gifts have been given by the Spirit in the past. But they were never meant to be an end in themselves. The gifts were meant to point and lead people to the Word. Meanwhile, physical healing, even if genuine, is nothing if a person does not remain in the Word. Tongues, even if genuine, can never save a person unless they speak the Word. And any prophecy that distracts from the Word is no prophecy at all. It is false because it is apart from and opposed to the Spirit, since it does not speak the Word of Christ.
Perhaps we may think that God's Spirit speaks to us in dreams and visions. It is true that in the past God gave such things to men to reveal His Truth. It is true that if He so chooses, He may give such things again. But whenever there is a vision, we cannot know for certain whether it is from God or not. An angel of light may be genuine, or it may be satan. God does not want us wondering or scratching our heads to discover whether the word we have received is true or false. He wants us to be absolutely sure that the voice we have heard is the true voice of the Spirit. He wants us to be built on the solid Rock of Christ and His Word, not the shifting sand of visions and dreams.
Perhaps we may seek truth about God in our emotions. We may consult our feelings, as ancient peoples consulted oracles, to find out about God. Why treat preaching and the Word as sacred when we have a heart full of opinions that seem a whole lot more convincing to us? But the emotions inside us do not lead to the truth of God, nor does God speak through emotions. He speaks only through the Word.
Perhaps we may look at the wonders of nature, and think how much we learn about God by gazing at the heavens, or at the trees, or at the mountains and rivers. It feels so much more satisfying to stare at nature, than to listen to boring words in a boring building. But in nature, there is no Holy Spirit speaking of grace. There is no forgiveness of sins in a tree, except in the Tree of Calvary, which is found only in the Word.
But we all have an insatiable curiosity in us to see something new. We all have itching ears that want to hear other, exciting words. Surely, says our flesh, God would not speak to us the same old, boring Word, time after time! We easily forget that the Word is always living and active and powerful, no matter how boring it may seem to our fleshly ears.
Our flesh yearns to look around new corners and down secret pathways. Our sinful nature wants the thrill of discovering hidden knowledge. But such a quest for secrets leads away from the Word, and away from the Holy Spirit.
The same kind of itch leads us to seek new forms of worship. The flesh wants to reject the historic Divine Service because it seems so boring. But in reality, this liturgy is full of the Word of God. It is full of the life-giving work of the Spirit, so there cannot be anything more powerful in all the earth. Yet the flesh does not see it that way. It would rather find something that feels good or new or fun. It wants to hear the musings of the human soul, as if God is found in cliché-driven poetry. The flesh does not want to be told that it is a poor, miserable sinner. Instead, it wants to be told how loving and good it is. The flesh wants to be told how it can be pleasing to God, as long as it follows five principles to spiritual living, or forty days to a purpose-driven life, or some other such ROT.
Doctor Luther warns us against such attitudes: "Here [in John 16] Christ makes the Holy Spirit a preacher, so that we do not gape up to heaven for Him - as the unstable spirits and visionary enthusiasts do - and separate Him from the spoken Word or the ministry. But [instead we should] learn and know that He will be by and with the Word and lead us into all truth through it. … [Many people have] divorced the Word and the Spirit. … They fancied that the Holy Spirit is given and works without the Word, that the Word merely gives agreement to the Spirit, whom it already finds in the heart." [What Luther Says, p.664]
Likewise, our Lutheran Confessions bear witness to the truth by saying, "We must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit - without the Word and Sacraments - is from the devil himself."
But if you do not want to listen to the testimony of Luther or the Confessions, then listen to the example of Scripture: "God wanted to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word. No prophet, neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments or the spoken Word. John the Baptist was not conceived without the word of Gabriel coming first, nor did he leap in his mother's womb without Mary's voice."
And finally, there is the testimony of today's Holy Gospel: "He (the Spirit) will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears." The Spirit speaks only the Word of the Son, not His own, separate word. For there is no other, separate word than the Word of Christ. The Spirit craves no glory for Himself, but instead He brings glory to the Son. The Spirit takes from what is Christ's, that is, His Word, His Blood, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection, and His Ascension, and He gives the benefits of these things to you.
So your curious flesh and itching ears are overwhelmed and drowned in God's grace. How can your sinfulness stand up against the power of the Third Person of the Trinity Himself? Your flesh is no match for God. Therefore God Himself conquers you in your sin, and redeems you. He slays your flesh, and raises you to new life. He gives you eternity. For these are the gifts of Christ, which the Spirit gives.
The Spirit brings the flood of Christ's precious Blood, shed in the midst of horrible suffering and death. The wonderful Blood covers you and washes you. By the Spirit's power, the Blood speaks and declares you holy. For the voice of Christ and the voice of the Spirit and the voice of the Word and the voice of the Blood are all one voice: It says, "I forgive you all your sins." Because it is the voice of God, that pronouncement cannot be altered or nullified. For thus declares the LORD God, the Almighty.
Meanwhile, your flesh tries to cling to life, always clawing its way out of the Baptismal pool into which it was drowned. It is mortally wounded, yet always trying to drag you down with it.
So you must continually beat down that Old Adam. You must unceasingly crush him with the powerful Word of the Spirit. As that Word drives you to repentance for your sins, and as the Word proclaims your redemption, the flesh has the snot kicked out of him. Do you want to strike a blow against evil in the world? Start in yourself, by letting the Word strike against your sinful flesh.
But if you avoid this House and this Word, the flesh will get stronger. If you stop up your ears to the Spirit's voice heard here in this holy sanctuary and in Bible study, then you are making yourself deaf to the very grace of God that gives life. The more you stay away from Christ, the more death has a chance to grow inside you, until finally you will not know where Christ is to be found, as you seek him in every delusion of your heart. Then the flesh will have won the victory, and claimed your soul.
May this not happen among you. Cling always and only to this precious Word of God. Listen adoringly to the voice of the Spirit, which is the voice of the Son of God, which is the voice of the All-powerful Father.
In the Name of this One True God, who alone gives salvation to men by His mighty Word. Amen.
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