Readings: Genesis 11:1-9 | Acts 2:1-13 | John 14:23-31
Text: John 14:23-31
Have you ever pondered how the message of the cross reaches you and me today? Every generation has to go through a period of learning. It’s not that we have to completely start from scratch. However, how could this message of Jesus’ death and resurrection be carried down through the generations? It’s the belief of many that the Christian faith is just a matter of traditional belief being handed down.
In the time of Hitler, he believed that he could eradicate the Jewish faith both by separating families and making it dangerous to be a professing Jew. In the time of the Roman government, they believed by persecution that they could convince people to not be so foolish to follow this Jewish sect called The Way. Perhaps if Hitler and the militant Caesars had been right about faith merely being a matter of personal determination, then they could have succeeded in exterminating it.
Now, the Jewish religion may be the leftover of God’s work before the Messiah, but it was once God’s work which formed them. How much more is Christianity God’s work for the people of every nation!
But how did those events of the first century reach us? After all, if it were lost to antiquity like so many figures, or distorted by word-of-mouth recollection, then the Gospel would be a pale shadow of the events. In fact, we could be so bold as to say that if we did not know of Jesus’ sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection, all would be lost. Jesus could have died a thousand times, but if it did not reach us in 2023, it would be to no avail. The Apostle to the Hebrews writes along this vein of thought,
“Then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26)
Jesus only had to die once to take away the sins of the world. Everything which follows draws us back to that one, single event. (This is also the simplest way to view the Old Testament and New Testament: Everything before Christ comes anticipates His coming, while everything after points people back to the death and resurrection of God’s Son.)
Pentecost, the day when the first fruits were gathered in for Israel, was the day which the God of Israel chose to gather this first fruits of the Church. And that gathering continues generation after generation. Oh, how the faithful wish that such large changes could be worked by the Word of God in our own day! What would it look like if there were three-thousand baptisms in Lebanon, or even in larger cities? The Church on earth would go wild for this miracle.
But any farmer knows that not every year is a bumper crop. Despite all the best techniques, the most meticulous attention, it all depends on what comes down from heaven. The success of the preaching of Christ crucified does not hinge on our methods, because the success comes down from heaven, as the rain which waters the earth, making it bring forth and sprout (Isa. 55:10-11).
So, consider what we asked God in the collect of the day:
O God, on this day You once taught the hearts of Your faithful people by sending them the light of Your Holy Spirit. Grant us in our day by the same Spirit to have a right understanding in all things and evermore to rejoice in His holy consolation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
We believe what happened on the first Pentecost is true, just as true as the tomb is empty and Jesus is not there. We also believe that God has not stopped loving the world for which He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
So, our prayer to God is that, just as He once created and kindled faith in those who heard the Gospel, that He would do the same in our own day. Will it mean 3,000 baptized in one day and at one place? We haven’t seen such a watershed moment since. However, God’s saving will is unchanged. God’s Spirit is no less powerful. And His Word is no less potent in our day as it was in the accounts we have in Scripture—from the day He spoke, “Let there be…” (Gen. 1:3, et al) to the day that same “Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14)
Since Christianity is not simply a study of what God once did, but how our Lord God continues to act today as He did in the past: What does the Holy Spirit do and how is He at work today?
I pray that you not be deceived by those who claim human achievements as the work of the Holy Spirit. The modern idea of “speaking in tongues” or performing miracles really is not the Holy Spirit’s work. Tongues were truly displayed on Pentecost when the Gospel was spoken by Aramaic-speakers but heard by people of so many disparate nations. That’s what the Holy Spirit did, not the meaningless babble that is said to be “tongues” today. Those signs were given that day as echoes of what God had done in the past—the rushing wind recalling Elijah and the encouragement to preach even in a time of popular apostasy (1 Kings 19), the burning bush to Moses where God promised that He would fulfill His promises (Exod. 3), the languages once confused now reunited by the Gospel for people of every nation (Gen. 11), the Spirit being poured out so that the darkened sky of Golgotha (Matt. 27:45) so that sons and daughters, young and old, call upon the Name of the Lord and are saved.
The Holy Spirit is not interested in drawing attention to Himself; it’s all for and about the Incarnate Son of God.
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 that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.
The Spirit is sent to teach us to know Jesus, to bring to remembrance all that He has said and done. His work is clear wherever the Word of Jesus is believed and lived by—”If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” But where do we find that? Is it just a world-wide scavenger hunt to locate those who love Jesus and keep His word? Not at all!
The Apostles’ Creed gives us a simple guide to where to look for the Holy Spirit’s work: “I believe in the Holy Spirit: the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
In the simplest terms, the holy Christian (or catholic) Church is this: “This is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel.” (Augsburg Confession, VII). The Holy Spirit gathers believers together. He’s not a divine lightning bolt which zaps individuals. He works in the hearts of people to seek out other believers and bring them together around the Word of Jesus.
The communion of saints is both the unity we have with all Christians—despite differences due to weakness of faith or heterodox teachings—and which is tangible in the Sacrament of the Altar. Even while not all Christians may not commune together because of false teaching, we do all rejoice in the Lord’s work.Because of the Holy Spirit, we are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That’s because He has taught us this: “4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)
We sinners all together bask in the forgiveness of sins. It’s not that we are people with an overactive conscience. We are people who recognize the hot wrath of God, which we have deserved! But the Holy Spirit has taught us even more to receive a peace which the world can never give—a peace which cannot be wrought by our best efforts.
The resurrection of the body…this is our hope! What we see now is only death, decay.
The life everlasting—What we look forward to. It’s not fantasy, but reality. What changes is how willing we are to accept this truth. Is the death and burial of your husband, your friend, more powerful that Jesus resurrection? Is your own declining death and march toward death more than the Holy Spirit can handle? I think not.
Rejoice today and always in what God’s Holy Spirit has done and does do, for the salvation of you and people of every nation and language. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.