Text: John 14:23-31
Date: The Day of Pentecost + 5/19/13
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Having come into the world, “all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12). Having ascended back into heaven he lives and reigns over the entire universe. He said He was going away but promised in the same breath, “I will come to you.” Today we celebrate the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. Yet the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is not anyone new or different but is the Spirit of Jesus.
The spectacular event of that Pentecost Day following our Lord’s resurrection and ascension was a one-time event for a specific purpose. It was no accident that God required all true worshipers to celebrate this feast every year in Jerusalem. It was in this way and for this particular year that so many from different language groups and nations were gathered to witness this outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The purpose, of course, was not just a demonstration of power or an entertaining miracle but, as they said, hearing the disciples “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11), preaching, that is, the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus, of salvation by faith in the risen and ascended Lord through the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus called the Holy Spirit the paraclete, the Helper, “whom the Father will send in my name,” who “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). This was an especially important promise for the apostles not only in their witness and preaching but also for those who would pen the inspired, inerrant text of the New Testament scriptures.
But what about us? How do these words apply to us today?
The Holy Spirit always points you to Jesus in His words that have been recorded for us in the New Testament. So where Jesus isn’t the main subject, the Holy Spirit is not to be found. This is why, for instance, those that look for or try to replicate the miracle of the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem are being deceived by another spirit. I’ve witnessed the supposed miracles performed at charismatic meetings and heard both speaking and singing in tongues, meaning another unknown, supposedly spiritual language called glossolalia. It is defined in one dictionary as “incomprehensible speech in an imaginary language, sometimes occurring in a trance state, an episode of religious ecstasy, or schizophrenia.” Of course, charismatics would object that this is an unspiritual, worldly definition of something that can only be understood “spiritually.” Anyway, even if such otherwise embarrassing things were really of God, to the extent that they do not proclaim Jesus they are worthless, meaningless. As Martin Luther criticized his nemesis Andreas Karlstadt, “Dr. Karlstadt and his spirits replace the highest with the lowest, the best with the least, the first with the last. Yet he would be considered the greatest spirit of all, he who has devoured the Holy Spirit feathers and all.”8
So if the event of the Day of Pentecost was only a one-time event, and none since the apostles have been authorized and inspired to write more scripture, how does Jesus come to us today and how does the Holy Spirit teach us? To quote again Martin Luther’s sharp words of his final work, “therefore, we must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit—without the Word and Sacraments—is the devil himself. God wanted to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word. No prophet, neither Elijah nor Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments or the spoken Word” (Smalcald Articles III VIII 10-11).
The Holy Spirit comes to us and teaches us through the means of grace. The burning bush of Moses and the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night of the Exodus are the Word and the Sacraments. As Jonathan Fisk writes in his book, “Broken: 7 ‘Christian’ rules that every Christian ought to break as often as possible,” rule number two is, simply, “Never follow a rule that wasn’t written in stone a very, very long time ago.” The Holy Spirit comes to you and teaches you in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Sacraments, in other words, the catechism! How unspectacular and novel is that idea!
Listen to the Holy Spirit. Listen to your catechism. “You shall have no other gods.” “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him,” (which is what anyone needs to do in order to be saved), “but the Holy Spirit,” “the Holy Spirit has called me…by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith,” faith in Jesus! “Thy kingdom come.” “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father give us…His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”
If you do not listen to the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament you become an unbeliever or a heretic (which is actually the same thing!). A recent example:
I was, at first, a little surprised to read in this month’s The Lutheran Witness magazine (paradoxically themed “Shaped by the Word”!) an editorial comment by a man named Charles who wrote:
I just read the article, “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” in the March 2013 issue of The Lutheran Witness. I was more than a little surprised about what we Lutherans are supposed to believe regarding the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper, as beneficial as it is, does not forgive sins…. To say that it is a source of forgiveness is not Scriptural; it adds a “works” requirement for the free gift of God to all who believe.”
I don’t know what “other” benefits Charles may have in mind, but it’s an example of the confusion that can be entertained by the church member sitting right next to you, or, better, by yourself.
It is God the Holy Spirit who opens our minds to understand the scriptures. We ought to be proud, proud of God’s Word and Holy Sacraments and treat them with the greatest of care and honor as the very means or channels through which God gives the Holy Spirit to create saving faith and deliver the forgiveness Jesus provided on the cross and create the new heart of the new creation in us. It has nothing to do with emotions or feeling or rationalism or any other “ism” of human construction. It is that simple. It is that obvious.
Rejoice in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.