The Spirit of Truth

Text: John 3:8
Date: Day of Pentecost + 5/20/18

“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.”

The fiftieth day of Easter, the Day of Pentecost. The day when the promised Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. We heard the beginning of St. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. He preached not about the Holy Spirit, however, but about Jesus of Nazareth, “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him.” Next Sunday we will hear Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, saying, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” As He does this He says some strange words. “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.” What does being born again have to do with Pentecost? What does Pentecost have to do with being born again?

Nicodemus didn’t understand Jesus. He didn’t understand because “that which is born of the flesh is flesh,” that is, he was still under the darkness of the promise. A promise has to do with a future fulfillment. That fulfillment happens only by receiving a new birth, a birth by water and the Spirit. “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

When we hear this text we rightly think of the sacrament of Holy Baptism. But that sacrament was not yet given. So what was Nicodemus supposed to think? He and we all are to think of Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist saw it, that is the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

Water and the Spirit go together. They’ve always been together since even before the beginning, the genesis when “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2) ready for action. As at creation so does a new creation happen by water and the Spirit. When we are baptized we are baptized into Christ. And “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).

“How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus. And indeed we ask with him, “How can these things be?” “All that the mortal eye beholds is water as we pour it. Before the eye of faith unfolds the power of Jesus’ merit” (LSB 406). It’s by faith, Nicodemus, by faith.

It’s like wind. The word for spirit can also be translated wind of breath. You know what wind is. You can feel it with your body. Sometimes you can even hear it, except that wind as moving air has no sound by itself unless it interacts with forces against it. So where does wind come from? And where does it go? Martin Luther said it this way: “Yes, everything in the world feels the wind…and yet you cannot tell me from which hole it emerges, even though this were but a few inches behind you. Nor can you tell me how far it blows and where it stops, even though it blows right in front of your nose.”[1] The point is we understand our new birth by faith, only by faith.

Faith in what? The sound of the wind is heard in this Word of God: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And with this wind is also the baptismal water. Though we cannot understand how a person is renewed by water and the Holy Spirit just like we cannot truly understand how God created us in the first place. But the Holy Spirit Himself creates that gift of faith that, though I don’t understand it, because God says it I believe it.

When we are born anew the Old Adam in us is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, the New man emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Water baptism in the Spirit both kills and makes alive as St. Paul says so clearly, “We were therefore buried with [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:4).

The wind, the Spirit, is all about Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). On that Day of Pentecost Peter did not talk about the wind, that is the Spirit. He preached Christ crucified, saying, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:23, 32).

The Spirit testifies to Jesus, “for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak” (Jn 16:13). Born anew by water and the Spirit we testify to Jesus, witnesses of His blessed death and resurrection and of the eternal life He gives to all who believe. The wind is the Word, the Spirit is the Word, Jesus is the Word, the word of forgiveness, the word of new life who will raise our bodies on the Last Day. The wind blows. We may not understand it, but we believe it.

[1] Luther, Sermons on John 23 (AE 22:292).

Sanctified in Truth

Text: John 17:11b-19
Date: Easter VII + 5/13/18

For forty days we have been amazed celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. The Lord is risen from the dead, alleluia! Ever since His rising the Lord has opened the minds of His disciples to understand the scriptures and His words. We got to expect Him to continue, mysteriously, to appear and speak to us, then to disappear. But now, this past Thursday He announced the end of all that and the new beginning of something new; the end of His visibly appearing to us but the beginning of His remaining in us. In these ten days when He told us to wait in the city, we begin wondering what if anything we should be doing. The hint was in those hands when He lifted them and blessed us before ascending into heaven. Continue reading Sanctified in Truth

Baptism of Love

Text: John 15:9-17
Date: Easter VI + 5/6/18

Once again in the brilliant light of the resurrection of our Lord, our minds are opened and enlightened to the deeper understanding of the scriptures. We’re still thinking about that night before our Lord’s death. Remember how, before that Passover meal, our Lord put a towel around His waist and, taking water, knelt before each of us to wash our feet? Peter didn’t think it was appropriate at all for our Lord to stoop to do such a menial, slavish task. When He was done, however, ‘remember what Jesus said? “You call me teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Then He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:12-14; 34). Continue reading Baptism of Love

The Vine Living and True

Text: John 15:1-8
Date: Easter V + 4/29/18

During Easter with the first disciples and witnesses of the resurrection to this day the risen Lord Jesus opens our minds to understand the scriptures (Lk 24:45). This includes all His words and teaching during His earthly ministry. Today, in the light of the resurrection, we recall the time right after that last Passover supper when He spoke of many things including the parable of the vine and the branches. “I am the true vine,” He said. Using the image of a grape vine He means to speak about our continuing connection with Him especially after His death and resurrection when we cannot see Him any longer as did the first disciples. The purpose or goal of staying connected with Him, He says, is the bearing of fruit. In this picture we are taught, first, how through His Word and Sacraments, we are brought to salvation, that is the justification of the sinner by God’s grace through faith without the works of the Law, and then, secondly, to the life of sanctification, the life of holy living, the life that says, “Lord, I love Your law.” Continue reading The Vine Living and True

I Lay Down My Life

Text: John 10:11-18
Date: Easter IV + 4/22/18

Only now can we hear, really hear and understand what our Lord said when, during His earthly life, He was speaking to the Pharisees before Hanukkah that year saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Because if He really meant what He said, it meant He was going to die to protect and defend us. Which is what He meant. But then, it occurred to us, what good is a dead shepherd after that? So, it’s only now that we know what He meant, saying, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” Now in the afterglow of Easter we finally know what He meant. For He did lay down His life for us. But He has also taken it up again being raised from the dead. Only now in light of the resurrection has He opened our minds to understand. Only now can we believe we have a truly good shepherd, not a dead one! Continue reading I Lay Down My Life