Monday, May 24, 2021

The Day of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost (B)

May 23, 2021

Text: Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

            “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.”[1]

            The Holy Spirit was poured out upon you in Holy Baptism, and He abides with you as He blows through on the wind of His Word, the Holy Scriptures, the Preaching, the Absolution.  And He dwells within you as you receive the true Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper, for wherever Jesus is, there is His Spirit.  These are the Means of Grace.  They are the Means to which the Holy Spirit has attached Himself, His vehicle, the place where He has promised to be for you so that you can know it is the Holy Spirit you are receiving, and not some other spirit.  By these means, the Spirit does His work.  That is, He does His calling by the Gospel.  He calls you, calls me, calls all who hear the preaching.  You know that the word for Spirit in both biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, can also mean wind or breath.  So the Spirit comes on the breath of preaching.  He blows into your ears on the wind of the Word.  And He enlightens with His gifts.  That is, by this same Word, and by the Sacraments (Baptism, Absolution, the Supper), the Holy Spirit brings about the results of His call.  He turns on the lights for you, so that you see and believe that Jesus Christ is your Savior from sin and death, that He restores you to the Father, and makes you God’s own child.  And by these same gifts He sanctifies you, sets you apart as holy for God, marks you as belonging to Him.  And He keeps you in the true faith.  He alone is responsible for your perseverance as a Christian unto eternal life.  He does it.  By His Word. 

            And what this is, this pouring out of the Spirit upon you in Baptism, and His work in you through the Means of Grace, is the direct result of Jesus’ death for your sins, His resurrection, and His ascension.  For since He has been exalted to the right hand of God the Father, He sends the Helper, the Holy Spirit.  The Greek word for “Helper,” as you may know, is “Paraclete,” and that word can mean Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Intercessor, Mediator, and yes, Helper (Schmitt).  The imagery of a defense attorney comes to mind.  Or even better, Paraclete literally means the one called to your side, as when a child falls off of his bicycle and calls upon his mother for comfort and for aid.  Because our Lord Jesus was crucified for us, and is risen, and lives, and reigns, the Helper comes, sent by Jesus, the Spirit of our Father.

            And this is simply the ongoing reality of Pentecost.  Pentecost is actually the Greek name for the Old Testament Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot in Hebrew.  Pentecost means fifty.  It is the fiftieth day after Passover, or seven weeks.  That is why we celebrate Pentecost on the fiftieth day after Easter.  And it was a first fruits festival.  But the Jews also commemorate it as the day God gave the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.  And think about what happened on that day.  God came down upon the mountain.  A great fiery cloud appeared… where(?), but on the top of the mountain, on Sinai’s head.  And there was a great sound, “thunders and lightenings… and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled” (Ex. 19:16; ESV).  And God spoke.  He gave His Word.  He preached.  And the first fruit God was looking for in the people with whom He was making Covenant, was a life lived according to His order set forth in the Commandments.

            So this is what the multitudes have come together to celebrate in Jerusalem in our second reading (Acts 2:1-21), and now all at once, there is the sound of the mighty, rushing wind from heaven, and it is God coming down, the Holy Spirit blowing through.  And there appear on the heads of the Apostles “divided tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3), because now God will speak, not from the fearsome conflagration of Mt. Sinai, but in the preaching of His Apostles.  Immediately, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak,” to preach, “in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v. 4). 

            Now, this Pentecost pouring out of the Spirit is miraculous, but notice all the plays on words and images that set up what is now the regular pattern.  The Spirit/wind/breath rushes in from heaven into the gathering of the Church.  And the Spirit/wind/breath fills the lungs of the Apostles, who open their mouths to exhale, to breathe the Spirit/wind/breath out in preaching.  And not just any preaching, but the Apostolic Word.  We’ve seen this image before, and all over the place in Holy Scripture.  Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’  And having said this he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).  God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, so that he became a living being (Gen. 2:7).  Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the LORD GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live” (Ez. 37:9).  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).  Thus we confess in our Augsburg Confession that the Spirit works faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel (AC V:2-3).  He breathes Himself into us by the preaching.  That is the pattern now.  And so God sends His preachers to breathe that Apostolic Word into you.  The Spirit blows in on the wind of the Word preached.  So we don’t get a mighty, rushing wind, but we get a sermon.  And believe it or not, it is a miracle every time.  We get the Scriptures.  We get Words… and water, bread, and wine attached to the Words, the Words we have received from the Apostles, who received them from our Lord, Words upon which the Spirit comes. 

            So Pentecost may be a fixed point in history, but its reality continues in the Church among you to this very moment.  Here the Word is preached, and here the Spirit blows through to do His calling, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping. 

            And so the Spirit blows through the world.  Jesus says that as the Spirit comes, He convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.  This can be a little confusing, so it is worth speaking about each one.  The Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, Jesus says, “because they do not believe in me” (John 16:9).  In the final analysis, sin is unbelief.  But in the Word, the Spirit shows Jesus to be the Son of God, the very truth the world denies. 

            The Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness, Jesus says, “because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (v. 10).  The world, believing itself to be righteous, crucified Jesus as an unrighteous criminal, the accursed death of the cross.  But God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, exalting Him to heaven, to be seated at the Father's own right hand, to rule, thus vindicating Jesus and declaring Him to be THE Righteous One, and the One in whom is all our righteousness.  As the Word is preached, the Spirit convicts the world of this truth. 

            And the Spirit convicts the world of judgment, Jesus says, “because the ruler of this world is judged” (v. 11).  Satan is defeated.  The serpent’s head is crushed.  Jesus wins, for He was crucified for our sins, and raised for our justification, and He claims for Himself a Kingdom.  He rules over all things.  As the Word is proclaimed, the Spirit blows through to announce the good news that Jesus has conquered as the true and rightful King.  In this way, the Spirit glorifies Jesus.  He takes what belongs to Jesus, all that Jesus has received from the Father, and declares it to you.

            Now, as we said, this same Holy Spirit was poured out on you in Baptism.  Just as the Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus at His Baptism, and remained on Him, so it is with you.  He possesses you.  You do not possess Him.  Nor are you any longer possessed by Satan and the demons.  The Spirit possesses you.  And He remains on you.  He abides.  And again, He does this through His Word.  And this means every time you sin or go astray, there is the Spirit calling you to repentance and to faith in Christ, preaching to you redemption and forgiveness in the Gospel.  When you need wisdom and patience, there is the Spirit enlightening your mind by His Word, counseling you and helping you.  When you need comfort, when you’ve been bloodied and hurt, when you’ve been soiled by the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh, when you need help loving your neighbor, there is the Spirit sanctifying you for God, cleansing you and setting you apart as holy, God’s own possession, and nourishing you with the Word and Body and Blood of Jesus.  And He prays for you and in you, and brings your prayers, sanctified, cleansed, before God with groanings too deep for words (Rom. 8:26).  And when you are in danger of falling, He keeps you.  Even as He does for the whole Christian Church on earth.  He keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, daily and richly forgiving all your sins, and giving you eternal life.  And so He will do until the Last Day, when He raises you and all the dead, and gives eternal life to you and all believers in Christ.  This is most certainly true. 

            I cannot believe by my own reason or strength.  But God has poured out His Spirit through Christ, and this Spirit blows through as God’s Word is proclaimed, giving me a living and abiding faith in Jesus Christ unto eternal life.  And so He does for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986). 

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