June 4, 2017
What is the power of the Holy Spirit? And how do we obtain this power? These questions fascinate many and are why our lesson from Acts chapter two is so attractive. The Holy Spirit rushed upon the disciples with the sound of a mighty wind and tongues of fires appeared on their heads demonstrating that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And they began to speak in languages they had never learned. This truly was a mighty miracle of God. However, many have missed the point and seek after so-called spiritual gifts to the neglect of the true spiritual gift of faith in Jesus Christ. Many have sought the gift of speaking in different tongues to demonstrate that they have the Holy Spirit, ignoring the fact that God only granted this gift for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus. True the Holy Spirit at times gave the gift of speaking in tongues, but he did not promise this as a perpetual gift to the Church. Rather, St. Paul writes, "as for tongues, they will cease." (1 Corinthians 13:8) But it is the Word of God that will remain and this is the gift of the Holy Spirit we should focus on today.
Pentecost is the fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to his disciples in our Gospel lesson, "But 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." The Holy Spirit teaches. He teaches through Jesus' words. St. Peter, who just seven weeks ago denied Jesus three times to complete nobodies, now with boldness that can only come from the Holy Spirit confesses Christ to the same crowd of murderers that cried, "crucify him!" "Men of Israel," Peter exclaimed, "hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know- 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." And after showing from Scripture that King David prophesied of Jesus' death and resurrection, Peter proclaims, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
Now where did Peter get such courage? Not from new wine! The Holy Spirit brought to him this bravery. But what did the Holy Spirit use? Neither Peter nor his disciples are talking about insignificant trivialities, but of the mighty works of God! The Holy Spirit did for them as Jesus promised, He brought to their remembrance all that Jesus said to them. "'These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,'" Jesus says to his disciples shortly before his Ascension, 'that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.'" (Luke 24:44-47)
The Holy Spirit used the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins won for all people by Christ's death and resurrection to create courage in the hearts of these disciples, who just weeks ago cowered behind locked doors in fear of this same crowd! And these disciples used the Scriptures as Jesus taught them to, because they are breathed out by God and are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)
"No one can call Jesus Lord, except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:3) "Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ." St. Paul says again in Romans 10. The Holy Spirit uses the Gospel of Christ to seal you for the day of your salvation through faith. We call the Holy Spirit the Lord and Giver of life in the Nicene Creed. Not only does the Holy Spirit give life to all the living; people and animals, believers and unbelievers, but he is the one who enlivens us from being dead in our trespasses to being alive to Christ Jesus.
The Holy Spirit does this through the proclamation of the Gospel, that is, the free forgiveness of sins through Jesus' blood and merit to be received by faith. At the first Pentecost, fifty days after Israel's exodus from Egypt, God gave Moses the Law on Mount Sinai. The earth shook and the people were afraid. The Law terrifies troubled consciences and threatens them with punishment. On the Pentecost in our text, the disciples were encouraged by the Gospel. The Gospel offers forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Gospel is the word of Jesus that reveals the Father's love to you. It is through faith in this message of compassion and mercy that God dwells with you and in you. When God dwells in you through faith, you become mightier than death, the devil, and hell, thunder and lightning, all evil, yes even a crowd of murderers.
This trust in God's love through Jesus is what gave Peter and the other disciples this courage. It is what gave those Egyptian Christians, whom I mentioned last week in my sermon, who were ambushed by Muslim extremists and killed, to confess Christ and refuse to convert to Islam even with guns pointed at them.
The Holy Spirit is working, brothers and sisters. He's working right here and right now! And it is important to recognize the Holy Spirit's work. It is important for you to know if the Holy Spirit is working in you and if the Holy Spirit is working in your church. Now, the Holy Spirit is invisible. You can't see him. So you can't look at someone and tell that he has the Holy Spirit by a flame hovering over his head. But you can recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in you and in your church.
Does the Holy Spirit dwell in you? Jesus says, "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." This is how God dwells in you. Through faith in his Word, which reveals God's love for you. This is why despising and neglecting God's word is so dangerous. The Holy Spirit dwells in you and works in you through his word. If you love Jesus, you will keep his word. To say that you love Jesus, but to ignore his word is like saying you love your mother but ignoring everything she says to you, never visiting her, and pretending she is dumb. But Jesus is not dumb. He speaks. He speaks to you. And if you love him you will cherish his words. Cherish the forgiveness of sins and friendship with God that comes from his words.
Listen to how the three thousand converted Christians continued in Jesus' word as the Holy Spirit worked in them, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers." (Acts 2:42) They listened to sermons. They were willingly taught, because the Holy Spirit gave them such willingness. They sought the fellowship of Christ's flock. They partook of Christ's body and blood in the Supper; Gospel that you can see and touch! They lifted up prayers based on the promises of God found in his Word. They went to church and took their faith home with them.
No you can't see the Holy Spirit. But you can see his work. And you can see when you reject his work. If you neglect to hear and learn God's Word and to receive Christ's Sacrament, repent. Love Christ. Love his Word. Receive the Holy Spirit.
It is also prudent that I warn you, brothers and sisters, of behavior that works against the Holy Spirit. Obviously avoiding God's Word is the worst, because it neglects the Holy Spirit all together. But when the Holy Spirit calls you by faith in Jesus, he calls you out of darkness into light. Therefore St. Paul warns, "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit." (Ephesians 5:18) And, "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
You take the Holy Spirit home with you from church! He gives you confidence in your salvation and the strength to turn from sin and to repent when you do fall. Mark and avoid sinful behavior that will work against the Holy Spirit, whom you have received. And pray that the Holy Spirit would strengthen you against all sins, including drunkenness and sexual immorality.
Does the Holy Spirit dwell in your church? The Holy Spirit worksthrough God's Word. So is your church faithful to God's Word? Is what is taught from the pulpit based on Scripture, the words Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would use to create saving faith? The Holy Spirit works where God's word is taught in truth and purity. This is how you know that your salvation is secure, because it is not based on you or your thoughts or your feelings, but on the promise of God. This is why we should mark and avoid churches that teach falsely and find a faithful church that preaches God's Word purely. That is how you know the Holy Spirit is at work.
The Holy Spirit is working where God's Word and Sacraments are given. St. Peter proclaimed, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) You don't need tongues of fire on your head or to speak in unlearned languages or to be able to heal or be healed spontaneously or to hear a mighty rushing of wind or have some other supernatural experience to know that you have the Holy Spirit. Are you baptized? God's Word tells you that you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Do you believe the promise that Jesus died for all sins and gives eternal salvation to all who call upon his name? Then you have the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit gives you power to believe Jesus' word and to trust that you are at peace with God. He gives you courage to confess Christ. And through the word of Christ, which you cherish, you will recognize the power and working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is working here in this congregation. Here he tells you of the love of Jesus, that no matter who you are or where you're from or what you've done, Jesus died for you and freely forgives all your sins and gives you eternal life. Here is where you leave with the peace which surpasses all understanding, peace that the world cannot give. And may the Holy Spirit work in you everyday as you cherish the word's of God's love for you through Jesus Christ our Savior.