Day of Pentecost

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: There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 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.

Day of Pentecost (John 14:23-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Day of Pentecost + June 9, 2019

Text: John 14:23-31

“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. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” When Jesus says this, sometimes it makes us feel pretty good about ourselves. After all, when we look at what we’ve done, we might find that we make a pretty convincing case that we’ve kept Jesus’ Word. After all, we’re here at Church. We do good for our families and in our communities. We are good people. And we like to hear that Word of God proclaimed. Therefore, it means that we love Jesus.

Sometimes we feel good about that. Sometimes we don’t. Because we all have, at times, found that we failed to keep Jesus’ Word. We ignored it. We got angry with it. At the time, it didn’t give us what we wanted. It told us not to fall into that sin that we like so much. It told us that we had rebelled against a good God by being evil. And since we did, we do deserve death and hell. When it suited us, we did not love Jesus. We did not love the Father. We did not love the Holy Spirit. All because His Word was not our word, which is much more enjoyable to keep.

Our own word—the word that I came up with. The word that makes sense to me. The word that we think everyone else foolish for not listening to. We turn to that instead of Christ. My word looks out for me. My word lifts me up.  My word tears down those against me. My word speaks my reality, what I want. And my word can take me where I want to go, by any means necessary. My word doesn’t have time to be patient when the Lord says wait on Him. My word doesn’t rely on the Lord to provide for what I need. My word looks out first for myself, and others I’m not too busy. And that’s why my word is sinful. My word is evil. My word must end.

In our Old Testament lesson from Genesis 11, there were a whole group of people gathering around their own word in the land of Shinar. Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly…Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”  You notice how much that sounds like a twisted version of the Creation?  By their own word, they were going to build a tower, and by that tower they were going to reach heaven. They were going to make a name for themselves. A name that was over every name. The Lord took their words, and confused the languages. And He did it for their sake. For if their word remained united, there would be no sin impossible for them to inflict on themselves, each other, and the world

The same is still true today. Have you ever found the people you disagree with the most seem to be talking a different language than you do? They say one thing, but you know those words mean something else than what you mean? The Lord is still at work, protecting both us and our neighbor from our sin becoming even worse than it is. We may dream of what it would be like if congress could get along, or the world didn’t have so much division.  But the trouble isn’t in the disagreement; it’s in our sinful hearts.  The Lord has set a limit on the sin of Man. And anything that exceeds it never lasts long.  History shows us that again and again. The Lord is patient, but He is also merciful. Our own word never goes as far as we think it should. And that’s good news.

But there is better news than that. Because there is a Word that breaks through the barrier of language and confusion. A Word that breaks through our sinful desires, and the plans of our neighbors. A Word that breaks through sin and death to deliver life, and light, and forgiveness, and salvation. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, the Word of God was spoken in Jerusalem. Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians heard them telling in their own tongues the mighty works of God. Telling of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus told His disciples, “…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.” What Jesus said, His Word: That He was crucified, died, and was buried, and that he rose from the dead on the third day. In this, He brought peace. Peace for the rebellious, evil sinner. Peace with God. Not peace as the world gives. Not peace according to my own word, which is a peace that only lasts until I can get something better for myself. Jesus gives an eternal peace. The peace of sins forgiven. The peace that comes from a sacrifice that pays for everything. The sacrifice of the Son of God. Jesus, the Lamb, who died for your peace. So now, you can stand before Holy and Almighty God. No longer as an enemy awaiting their sentence. But now a beloved child with a home, and a place forever.

The Word of peace from your Lord, of your Creator, settles your heart in a way that human words could never do.  In the face of overwhelming loss and deep suffering, human words evaporate like mist.  When the “earth gives way…and the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea” human words are empty.  But the Word our Lord speaks, and plants home in our heart, that Word alone can support us.

Yet Jesus still said to His disciples, “You heard me say to you, I am going away.” Although He ascended into heaven, it is better for us that He went away. Jesus is here differently, but absolutely still here. He’s here by means of His Word. Wherever that Word is proclaimed, there is Jesus. He even gives us His body and His blood. So His presence is not just in spirit only, but physically as well. 

And still, Jesus is bold to says to them, and to us, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The world’s word, our own word will still lead us into sin and evil. Even when we think that it’s for our good. The sinful nature is that strong. And fighting against it feels overwhelming. It always sounds so much easier to let that other word sweep us away, into where we believe it will take us, good or bad. Yet, Jesus dares give us hope. Jesus dares give us assurance. Just like He did to the disciples. Just like He did for those on the Pentecost after His resurrection: The sin and evil of this world, the sin and evil festering inside our own hearts has been overcome. That His cross and His sacrifice are sufficiently powerful to overcome it all. That His Word is stronger than our deepest-felt pain. That His Word is stronger than our loneliness. That His Word is stronger than our loss. That His Word is stronger than our sadness. That His Word is stronger than our sin. That His Word is stronger than death. That the Word of Jesus Christ is more powerful than all the other words in the world, because He has already overcome the worst that sin, death, and the devil can dish out. And He died, rose, and ascended for you, and He will come again in glory. 

This is the Word that we treasure. This is the Word we keep close to our hearts. This is the Word we love. The Word-Become-Flesh, who made His dwelling among us. The Word through whom we are loved by the Father. The Word that forgives us, raises us from the dead, gives us eternal life. Thanks be to God. Amen.