Text: John 14:23-31
Date: The Day of Pentecost + 5/27/07
This is the great and joyful Feast of Pentecost. It is not, however, the old Pentecost of Moses and the Law with its horrific condemnation of sin but the new Pentecost of Jesus Christ and the Gospel, the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, freedom, life and salvation. On this day the once fearful and timid apostles suddenly turned fearless and bold as they publicly proclaimed Jesus Christ to be the one, true God, the only way to the Father, the only name given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). The apostles finally were convinced and believed for themselves as the Holy Spirit was poured out upon and among them with the sound like a mighty rushing wind and the sign of tongues as of fire appeared resting on each one of them. Then they were moved immediately to unlock and fling wide open the doors where they were, to go out boldly approaching whoever had gathered there being attracted by the sound and speaking to each of them. These simple (some would say backward) Galilean fishermen spoke to the people who had gathered from every nation under heaven in their own languages! One of them approached a person from Greece and began, miraculously, speaking to him in Greek; they ran into one from Egypt and began miraculously speaking to him in Arabic, and one from Rome and began miraculously speaking to him in Latin, and all of this miraculously without ever having learned much more than their own stuttering Hebrew or Aramaic from childhood. And what were they telling all these people? The audience themselves report they were hearing “the mighty works of God.” What works? Well, the most important works. Not Creation or Moses or the Exodus or the giving of the Law, but T.H.E. Mighty Work to which everything in the Old Testament pointed forward, how God himself took on our flesh, being born of the Virgin Mary and given the name Jesus, how He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, how on the third day he rose again from the dead and has ascended into heaven and now has poured out and sent the Holy Spirit from the Father as He had promised. And all this so that everyone in the world might have their sins forgiven and receive eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. What did they talk about? Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen again. They talked about Jesus.
For those of us who have traced the entire Gospel story here in our gatherings in church, as we have marked our calendars and our lives with the Gospel of Advent and Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter, we know one thing: there is still so much more for us to learn! The incarnation, birth, life, ministry, teaching, passion and death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus has all been accomplished. Now we face the days before us of living by faith in Him in the face of all the forces of sin, death and the devil, and even of our own, lazy sinful flesh that are against this confession and faith. Our Lord warned us how we Christians will needs endure suffering for His sake. There is still so much more for us to learn. Today we celebrate the fountain and Source of the strength to endure and to fight the good fight of the faith: God Himself, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of our Lord and of his resurrection. There is still so much more for us to learn. And our Lord says to us today, the Spirit will teach you all things.
When Jesus says that the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things,” that, of course, implies that we need to be taught! I’ve been told by those who study how best to do the work of evangelism, especially in the face of today’s so-called post-modern generation, that “they” are not interested in being taught or told anything! This is the generation that has learned well the popular opinion of relativism, the current wisdom of the world that there is no such thing as objective truth. There is just subjective truth. Actually, they don’t even use the word truth at all but prefer only “opinions.” I have my opinions and you have yours. You better not try to force your opinions on me and I have every right to my own opinions regardless of what you say. So the evangelism experts suggest that we not approach people these days with black and white questions of eternity, judgment or outlines of doctrine and creeds that by nature imply that there is right and wrong teaching, truth and error. We are not to “Go and tell,” they say, but suggest we ought to, rather, “Go and ask.” The idea is that by first asking people their opinions you are “honoring” them and their own subjective thoughts and thus getting a hearing, getting a foot in the door and at least beginning a religious or spiritual conversation. And I suppose getting the discussion started is important. But you cannot get anywhere really helpful unless and until a person discovers that there is such a thing as Truth—the truth of God and man that is applicable to every single person in the whole world.
Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” He will teach you because you need to be taught. The “all things” are the truths, the doctrine of scripture, Law and Gospel, sin and grace, the catechism, the creeds and all of it pointing to Jesus Christ. It’s all about Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ isn’t the center of attention, you’re on the wrong track. And yes there is a wrong track, as the Proverb of old says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” [Proverbs 14:12 (ESV)].
Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him.” Believe it or not, this is the word “post-moderns” and we ourselves really need to hear: love. As Martin Luther said (and this applies so pointedly to our post-moderns today), “if we don’t begin by loving Christ, it’s a lost cause troubling oneself on how to come to know and apprehend God.” In other words, he is saying: It is futile to speculate much about God’s existence and how to read him; you must look to Christ, receive, and love Jesus Christ. People are forever vainly ruffling their feathers without Christ in their efforts to reach God, but they will not succeed, no matter how profound their thoughts and discussions about God may be. The bottom line is in the words of Christ, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him.”
But why this emphasis on love? Isn’t the emphasis to be on faith? Well the two go together, it is to be both faith and love. No one can love Christ if they don’t believe and trust in him. To love him is to rivet our eyes and our attention on Him. Love for Christ is the Spirit’s “glue” that holds faith solid especially in times when things go bad, when we’re tempted to give up and throw up our hands and wonder what advantage there is for us to stick out our necks openly to proclaim and confess the Word. Where the love of Christ is not present, there his Word will not be retained over the long haul. If love is there, however, you will cling to Christ’s Word without flinching, whatever the cost. As the Apostle Paul said, “The love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14).
The love Jesus speaks of is the power behind whether we will persevere in the faith. The first fruit of the Spirit as listed by the Apostle Paul is “love” (Gal. 5:22-23), and as he famously said, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” [1 Cor. 13:13 (ESV)]. To love Christ is to know him, to believe in Him and to pin all your hope on Him. To love Christ is to know who he is, and to believe that he died for you, was buried, and raised again, all of which proves that he loves you, that he is for you and not against you. Love for Christ must flow forth out of faith or the faith is not true.
“If a man love me, he will keep my words,” that is, his words about his death and resurrection, his salvation, not just Moses’ words or the Ten Commandments. We need Moses’ words and the Ten Commandments, but only as they impel us to rush for safety from the condemnation of God to Christ and to be clothed with his righteousness, and to know the true heart of God.
Faith powered by love for Christ is what it means to be justified. It is the assurance that everything we do, speak or think is now all pleasing to God not because our works are so good in themselves but because of the person doing them, because we belong to Christ and possess his righteousness. This is the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of heaven: not only that we wait for its perfect fulfillment to dwell in heaven with God, but that God deigns to dwell in us now by his perfect love and will in Christ.
This truth, of course, knocks out the opinion that any faith in anyone’s conception of God will get a person to heaven. For to expect people to keep Jesus’ Word who do not love him is to expect the impossible. Again, Luther’s observation: “The Mohammedan, Turk, pope, and the Jews boast much about God, pray often, and want to be his most loyal servants; but the truth is that the Mohammedan, Turk, pope, and Jews err concerning God and know nothing of him because they don’t have and believe Christ’s Word, which is really the Father’s and in which he teaches us that through Christ we come to forgiveness of sins and eternal life.”
The Holy Spirit will teach you all things. And the most important thing is that, if you want to know God then you must look to no one else than Jesus Christ. When you hear him you hear God. This truth is hard and fast: either hear and see God through Christ or hear and see God not at all. The Apostle Peter didn’t seem to be interested in anything or anyone but Jesus Christ when he so boldly preached and proclaimed the crucified and risen Jesus as the only true God. For the love of Christ, that’s all we have to proclaim and to believe and to learn, and to love, too!