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).