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God’s Breath. Pentecost 2018

pentecost.PNGThe Feast of Pentecost

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 2:1-21, John 14:23-31, Genesis 11:1-11

May 20, 2018

God’s Breath

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,

And make our hearts Your place of rest,

Come with Your grace and heavenly aid,

And fill the hearts which You have made.  Amen.

 

“And suddenly, there came from heaven a roar, like a violent wind, and filled the house where they were sitting.”  Acts 2:2

 

The roar of violent winds is not foreign to us who have lived in the Midwest most of our lives.  They come every year, just about this time.  They break limbs off of trees.  Some years they tear roofs off houses, steeples off of churches, and some years they raze churches, schools, and whole towns to the ground, like one did in Plainfield when I was a kid.

 

But there are also calmer sorts of wind.  One kind of wind we need to live.  That is the wind going in and out of your nose right now.  It goes in and out of you without ceasing, this wind, for 70 or 80 or 90 years, with no rest, because when it stops going in, going out, you die.  When your breath departs, when your spirit departs, your body is dead.

 

And you need that wind for something almost as important as breathing.  You need it to commune with others, to love them.  You need it to talk.  When you were a baby you let out that breath to let your mother know you needed something.  When you got older you learned to let out your breath in the form of words, not just cries and yells.  But without this kind of breathing you would be cut off in the world.

 

On the Day of Pentecost, the promise of Jesus, the promise of the Father, was poured out on the believers, on the Church.  And to make people know it, there were signs; the sound of a roaring wind filling the house or room where the one hundred fifty disciples of Jesus sat, then tongues of fire dividing and resting on each one of them as they spoke in different languages.

 

Without the miraculous signs, people would not have paid attention.  But when the noise of a violent wind from heaven poured into that room, people looked up.  And when they heard the Christians speaking in a multitude of languages, they asked, “What does this mean?”

 

What does it mean?  It means that breath from heaven, God’s breath, had blown into the Church.  And the breath that entered the believers—God’s breath—now came out of them in God’s speech.

 

God’s breath had entered the bodies of the believers, and God’s speech poured out of their lips, doing what God’s speech and God’s Word does—creating, accomplishing what it announces, giving life.  Just as at the beginning of the world, God spoke, and it came to be.  Let there be light.  Let the water teem with living creatures.  Let dry ground appear.  Let us create man in Our image.

 

The breath of God still is in the Church, the believers, and it still comes from our lips, even though there is no noise like a mighty wind, and no tongues as of fire.

 

And even with no noise, no tongues of fire, no miraculous gifts of speech, the greater miracle still continues in the Church, among us.

 

The breath of God is in those who believe in Christ.  The Spirit of God is in us, having been poured out upon us in our own individual Pentecosts, when we were baptized into the body of Christ, the community in which the Holy Spirit dwells.

 

Whoever has God’s Spirit has God’s breath within him.  He has God’s life dwelling in him, the same way that a normal human body has normal human breath in it, ceaselessly going in and out until he dies.  But this life never ends; this breathing is meant to continue forever.

 

You have God’s breath in you.  You breathe it in when you hear the Word of God preached purely, taught purely, or read, and you believe it.  You breathe out His Spirit filled Word when you speak it to God in confession, in prayer, when you speak it to one another and to the people in your life.

 

The mighty, rushing wind, the whirlwind of God’s breath, rushes into us through the Word of God, proclaiming Jesus, God in the flesh, crucified for our sins, raised from the dead for our justification.  And like a person who has been resuscitated, we begin to breathe in God, believing this message.  We go on breathing it in, breathing it out.

 

The roar of a tornado is too much for us.  We can’t stand in its presence; it destroys homes and lives.  But God, who is a consuming fire, who speaks out of the whirlwind, comes to dwell in us with His life and Spirit.  Jesus promised: 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.  John 14:23

 

In the time after the flood, the people of the world began to build a great tower out of bricks and asphalt.  They wanted its top to be in the heavens.  Then all kinds of people would be in awe and would rally to that tower in great numbers instead of spreading all over the earth, as God had commanded them to do.

 

Human beings love to do things like that.  To build monuments and towers and business empires; to make a name for themselves that will make themselves and others believe they have accomplished something great, to fight off the awareness of death and emptiness that people have within them.  The gnawing hunger that something is missing, that we need more.

 

But these monuments and towers are futile gestures.  At Babel, God confused their languages.  Other times, wind, weather, and age tear down our monuments.  But even while they stand and people marvel at them, they have no breath in them.  They are dead and lifeless, just like the stone idols that the nations used to worship.  Just like the world itself, which is filled with many evil spirits, but has no place for the Spirit of God or His living breath.

 

God’s works are not like ours.  They are living.  The masterpiece of His first creation was Adam, who was created in God’s image when He breathed His breath into him.  And the master work of His new creation is the Church—all who are baptized and believe in Christ alone as their righteousness and salvation.  In this building God Himself dwells in each brick, in each room, in each human member.

 

He breathes His Spirit into the Church, and makes it a living temple and dwelling place for the Triune God.  Through the preaching of the Gospel He breathes His eternal Spirit into us so that we are alive to God, and then the Spirit breathes out through us as we speak His living words back to Him in prayer, and as we proclaim them to those who are dead—families, friends, neighbors, co-workers.

 

The Holy Spirit also speaks within us.  He tells us that through Jesus alone; through His death for us, and His resurrection from the dead, we have peace with God.  Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid.

 

When you have been scared to do something, what do people tell you to do?  They say, “Take a deep breath.”

 

We are scared about our future.  We are scared about what will happen to us in the future.  We are scared about breathing out God’s Word to our family and friends that appear to have rejected it or forgotten it.  Knowing ourselves, our weakness, our sinfulness, we have a million reasons to be scared.

 

So, take a deep breath.  Breathe in the Holy Spirit.  Listen to the Holy Spirit preach in Church.  Come and listen to His Word be taught.  Read it.  Meditate on it.  Learn it by heart.  Take a deep breath.

 

Because in it, the Holy Spirit teaches you all things and gives you Jesus’ own peace.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

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Exaudi 2018 The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

jesus ascension cavedone.PNGExaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

May 13, 2018

The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Proverbs chapter 30: There are three things that are too wonderful for me, four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.  (18-19)

 

I’m not sure I understand the meaning of this proverb.  But I can think of another thing that is “too wonderful for me” and that I “do not understand”—the way of a mother with her child.

 

When the girl carries the little human being inside of her for months, and no one can see it, but she can feel her son or daughter moving inside of her.  She nurtures and cares for her child before anyone else has seen it.  For her the baby that has not seen the world yet is the center of her world.  Nobody else in the world will ever see that child the way she does.  This is too wonderful for me.

 

And then in pain and danger she labors to bring the baby into the world.  And then for months her baby is no longer within her, but almost as close.  She carries him or her on her own body,  feeds the baby from her own body.  This is too wonderful for me too.

 

But what amazes me even more is the love mothers have for their children not only when they are little but when they are grown.  Mother’s love is so tender toward their children, usually, but so fierce toward other people who appear to be a threat to their children.  Mothers are often blind to the faults of their children because their love is so intense.

 

Most of the time, love doesn’t come naturally to human beings.  Most people have to work at loving and showing love.  You seldom hear mothers say they are working on loving their children more.  For the most part God gives this love to mothers for their children.

 

So as we take today to honor our mothers and to show them our love, let us also consider our spiritual mother and the words of our Lord about her today.

 

We have a spiritual mother, and she loves us and cares for us like a mother loves her child.  She give us birth and nurses us like a mother does her child.

 

Learn, then, to understand this article [of the Creed] most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. 41] But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 42] For, in the first place, He has a [unique gathering of people] in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.

The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, according to Martin Luther in the Large Catechism, is “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.”  The Holy Spirit works through the Holy Christian Church to give birth to Christians and then nurture them in faith, by which they are holy, set apart for God.

 

Human beings do not build up the Church the way a businessman builds a clientele, the way a politician builds a political party, the way a general conquers a city.  The Holy Christian Church is the mother that bears and gives birth to Christians, to sons of God.  The Holy Church of Christ doesn’t win friends and influence sinners to like her and join her cause.  She doesn’t “sell” herself to sinners like a prostitute.  She doesn’t convince sinners to like her.  What happens to girls that are desperate to have people like them?

 

The Holy Christian Church gives birth to new people.  She gives people “birth from above”, rebirth, new birth, as Jesus talks about in John chapter 3: No one can see the Kingdom of God unless He is born again or born from above.

 

She is involved in a work that no human being has the power to do.  Human beings can build followings.  Gifted leaders can do this and so can gifted salesman and talented liars.  No human being is able to make someone go from being dead in their sins to being alive to God.

 

Only God can do this.  And if He does not do it, a person remains in his sins, and an enemy of God, and perishes forever.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5).

 

Jesus has been saying for the last few weeks that He was going to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  Forty days after His resurrection, His disciples saw Him ascend into heaven; we celebrated this on Thursday.  Before He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until He had sent the promised Holy Spirit to them.  This Sunday, if we lived around the year of our Lord 31 and were with the disciples, we would be in a house in Jerusalem, praying and waiting for Jesus to pour out the gift of the Holy Spirit on us.

 

Jesus tells them (and us) in the Gospel today what the Holy Spirit will do when He comes—how He will give people new birth so that they become new creatures and sons of God.  The Holy Spirit will testify of Me or bear witness concerning Me. (John 15:26).  Then He says, “But you also will bear witness or testify, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:27). 

 

How does the Holy Spirit give people new birth, so that they enter the Kingdom of God and are saved from their sins and everlasting damnation?  He bears witness of Jesus.  He testifies to Jesus.  He tells who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

 

If a pastor preaches principles from the Bible that will give you a happy life, that is not the proper work of the Holy Spirit.  It will not make you a new creature.  If he is preaching the actual law of God, it will indeed show you what is righteous and pleasing to God, but it will not give you life.  It will bring death and condemnation, because what God commands, you cannot perform.  The Law of God (but not human principles) must be preached, but that preaching is not the special work of the Holy Spirit to give you new birth, and to nurture you as a mother does her child.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to Jesus.  He tells us what Jesus said and did; He tells us how Jesus suffered and died, descended into hell, and rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God.  And He testifies to the good news of God, that what Jesus did was for sinners and their salvation.  He testifies that Jesus has reconciled you to the Father, if you are a sinner who cannot make yourself righteous, that through Him alone you are forgiven and counted righteous.  That is how the Holy Spirit causes people to be born again as new creatures who love God, hold to His word, who are holy and growing in the image of Christ’s holiness.

 

But the Holy Spirit does not do this testifying alone.  He does it through the mother of Christians, the Church.  He testified with or through the disciples, who received the Holy Spirit.  Then after the apostles died, through the believers who followed them.

 

Now it should be clear to you how much harder this is than building the membership of an organization we call “church.”  It is much harder to give birth to a human being than to get one to join something.  But this is even harder.  To be a member of the Holy Christian Church, you have to be born again of God by the Holy Spirit, and we can’t make this happen for anyone.  We can’t make a person be sorry for their sins and want to be free of them, fear eternal judgment; we can’t make a person who has been brought to that state of contrition believe that their sins are forgiven without their works, solely through Jesus Christ.

 

But we aren’t called to do that.  The Church simply bears witness to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit is called in Greek “the paraclete”, which is translated “Helper,” and sometimes “Comforter.”  But the word implies “someone who speaks for you”.  An “advocate.”  It is hard to testify about Jesus—not because it is complicated, but because it encounters opposition.

 

Our flesh doesn’t want to talk about Jesus.  It wants to talk about ourselves and what we think.

 

But even more, the devil and the world do not want testimony to be given about Jesus.  Jesus warns the apostles: You will be put out of the synagogues.  Even worse, the time is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering God priestly, holy service.  They will do these things because they do not know the Father or Me.

 

To testify to Jesus and His free salvation is also testifying about human sin and helplessness in it.  We are telling the world, “There is nothing you can do to get right with God.  Everything you are by nature is sinful and unclean.  Only through faith in Jesus and His work are you saved.”  The world says, “Who are you to judge me?  Look at all your sins.”  And that is on a good day.  What the devil really wants is to kill us, if he can’t turn us away from Jesus.  Humanly speaking, it makes total sense that we want to find another way to “build our church” besides testifying to Jesus.  The stakes of testifying to Jesus are much higher than we want to believe.  Be sure—it comes with the price of death.  If the world doesn’t kill you outright, you will still have to die daily to remain in Christ and faithfully bear witness to Him.

 

Yet it is sinful for us to be afraid and to try to run away from this.  Jesus has not left us alone.  He sends us the Helper, the Advocate.  The third person of the Trinity lives in us, testifies to Jesus in us and through us.  That is why there is nothing better in the world than to have the Holy Christian Church as your mother.  In this Church that testifies to Jesus and holds to Him and His Word alone, the Spirit gives us new life, comforts and consoles us by pointing us to Jesus, who has made peace with God once and for all for us.

 

Our mother the church no doubt looks ugly and old fashioned to the world.  But in her the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit, is present with power to do what no power in the world can do—to give us new birth by testifying to Jesus who was crucified for you and did away your sins.

 

Now He comes and bears witness that you are members of Christ’s body, begotten of God, by nourishing You with the body and blood He gave for you that you may have life.

 

Come, Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

He Will Convict the World. Cantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

peter preachingCantate, The Fifth Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:5-15

April 28, 2018

He Will Convict the World

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Last week Pastor Chehab preached to us, and many of you were excited by his message.  Which is good.  It should be exciting to us to hear how the power of God rescued a man who did not know Jesus Christ from the worship of an idol, from the everlasting darkness that is the only future for those who do not believe in Jesus Christ.

 

There was another message in Pastor Chehab’s sermon too, though, for those with ears to hear.

 

He told about how in 20 years growing up in Lebanon, which he said was 50 percent Christian then, he had never heard the Gospel.  In his experience the Lebanese Christians had mostly kept Jesus locked up in their families and churches, as though He belonged to them only.

 

What a terrible indictment of the church in Lebanon when he was growing up there, don’t you think?  I think of myself with this: how sorry I would feel in front of my Lord, if someone were to say to Him about me, “I never heard Him talk about you, Jesus.  I never got the sense that Karl wanted to talk to me about You.”  I would grieve if that is the impression people got about Jesus from me: that they never sensed the greatness of His love for them, the joy of His salvation, the freedom He gives through freely giving Himself to pay for our sins.

 

Yet I have no doubt that there are people who would say this about me—that I was content to keep Jesus as though he were only for me and people like me, instead of the one who gave Himself for all people.

 

It would also cause me pain if people were to say about the congregation that I pastor, “They don’t really care about bringing Jesus to others.”  And yet people do say this; I’ve heard them say it.  Many times.
Are they totally wrong?  Aren’t we more scared to tell the gospel to others than we are joyful to do it?  Don’t we expect people to come to us rather than we go to them?  And when they do come, even then don’t we expect them to get on board with what we’re doing rather than going to them and showing them?

 

 

My prayer is that each one of you will take to heart what I am saying, and that I will also take it to heart.  Because Jesus, the Son of God, loves all men.  He loves sinners, even though their hearts are made of stone.  He loved Pastor Chehab and called him out of darkness.  Jesus loves the youth that have disappeared from our church and gone to follow the world and the devil.

 

He loves sinners, and He has the power to save them.

 

He has the power to save them even through the weakness of the people in His Church, even through you and me.

 

And He has sent this power of God that breaks stony hearts, that pierces the darkness of our hearts, to dwell among us.

 

This is what He told the disciples in the Gospel for this Sunday: But now I am going away to Him who sent Me, and none among you ask Me, “Where are You going?”  But because I have spoken these things to you, pain has filled your heart.  But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go away.  For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go away, I will send Him to you.  (John 16:5-7)

 

Jesus was sitting at the table of the last supper, talking to His disciples after the meal, before He went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  When He told them He was going away, they were so full of pain they didn’t even think to ask Him where He was going.  But we know where He was going.  He was going to ascend to the right hand of His Father.

 

But you might not know why He was going to ascend.  Paul tells us: He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things (Ephesians 4:10). 

 

Jesus was not going to the right hand of God to escape from us and the sin and suffering we have here.  It was to fill all things.  Listen to me.  It was to do the work He was doing in Galilee throughout creation.  To preach the gracious, free forgiveness of sins.  But He would do it through His disciples who received the Helper, the Holy Spirit.

 

All the disciples could see as they sat at the table with Jesus was their own pain that they wouldn’t have Jesus with them anymore.  They could not see that Jesus was going to spread His Kingdom of salvation throughout the whole world, to all people.  That He would bring salvation to many people, all over the earth, and that He would do it through them.

 

This is what Jesus is still doing at the right hand of God.  By sending the Holy Spirit on His believers, He spreads the good news of righteousness and a completed salvation.  People believe and are added to His Kingdom of righteousness.  And He will do this whether or not we try to help Him.  He doesn’t tell the disciples, “If you are obedient, the Holy Spirit will convict the world.”  He simply says, “When He comes, He will convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.”

 

This solves one of our problems, one of the reasons why we are afraid to speak about Jesus to others.  Many of us are afraid we will offend people and drive them away.  But Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will do the convicting.  We simply open our mouths and deliver Jesus’ Word.

 

It also answers another problem that we have, which comes from a false idea about how Jesus saves people.  Many of us think that people should just come to church because it’s part of what good people do.  The third commandment and the first commandment tell us that we are supposed to worship God and listen to His Word, so people need to just do it.  If they don’t, maybe we need to make worshipping God more appealing to them.  But Jesus doesn’t say people will be saved that way.

 

He says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world.   The word means “rebuke, convince someone of guilt, show someone or something for what it is.”  For a person to be saved and be a Christian, they must be convicted. 

 

They must be convicted of sin.  They must be convinced that they are not good in the eyes of God, but sinners on their way to everlasting damnation.  That in God’s eyes they are sinners even when they do what the world calls good.  That if they do not believe in Jesus they are sinful in the sight of God because they despise His beloved Son.

 

A person will not accept this because I say it or you say it.  The Holy Spirit must speak it to them with divine power and authority and drive it home into their hearts.  But Jesus tells us clearly that the Holy Spirit will do this—and He will do this not from heaven, but through the word of the apostles, through the apostles.

 

The apostles were not supermen, were they?  Moments after this supper they went with Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane.  They fell asleep while He suffered.  When they woke up they all abandoned Him.  They were not glorious, holy men—not in themselves.  Jesus had to pick them up from their fall.  He had to bear their sins on the cross.  Then He had to convince them they were forgiven, they were righteous, so that they would be able to speak in His name.

 

That is the other thing that the Holy Spirit must do to the world through us.  After He has convinced the world of sin, He must convict the world of righteousness.  Think of how hard it must have been for the disciples to believe that they were righteous in God’s eyes after they denied Jesus.  How hard is it for you and I to believe that God’s verdict on you and me is, “Righteous?”  Today, tomorrow, every day of our lives?  It is very difficult to believe if you are conscious of the sins of your past, and if you look into God’s law and see the sins of your heart today.

 

In fact it’s impossible.  No one believes this by their own free choice.  It is a work of God’s power, a work of the Holy Spirit.

 

Yet it is a fact; Jesus has reconciled the whole world to God.  He has justified the entire world by His death.  The world does not believe in Jesus and so it pushes righteousness away and remains in its sins.

 

But this is what the Holy Spirit says to you and to everyone who hears the Gospel: You are righteous before God because Jesus, the Son of God, made fully payment for your sins on the cross.  Even your lack of zeal to see your neighbor saved, and your own weak faith.  They are not counted to you because they have been counted to Jesus.  The Holy Spirit convicts us that this is true.  That is why the preaching and speaking of God’s Word is the only way people are saved and His Church is built.

 

Pastor Chehab talked about “the dynamite”, the power of God in the Gospel.  It does not always happen that we see explosions.

 

But this power is present with us, no matter how big a bang it seems to make.

 

It convinces us that Satan has been judged and condemned, so that we go forward into the world confident of victory, even when it seems that the world and the darkness will swallow us whole.

 

And it is also what gives us love and zeal to tell the Gospel of Jesus to people around us.  There is no one whose heart is too strong, too hard for the Holy Spirit.  There is no one who has sinned too much, for whom the blood of Jesus will not atone.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to us in the word and sacraments and He convinces us that with all our ongoing weakness we are righteous in God’s eyes.  As often as we fall and as deep as the fall has scarred our hearts, the Holy Spirit proclaims the same Gospel, that we are righteous through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Since He does this for us, we cannot lock him in to stay with us only.  What He does for us, what He says to us, He wants to say to everyone around us.  That is why He ascended on high—to give this gift to men.

 

Not just in foreign mission fields, but also very near, where our neighbors and relatives are worshipping idols and are bound for hell.  That’s why He sends the Holy Spirit to you. He wants to use you—us—to speak this gracious, joyful news, and give the gift of righteousness.

 

And though that can be hard, it is also exciting.  Because the Holy Spirit will not only rescue Pastor Chehab and followers of Islam’s idol, but also those who are in just as deep a darkness in our own families and neighborhoods.

 

It will be so, because the prince of this world has been judged.

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

You Have The Holy Spirit! Pentecost 2017. Acts 2:1-21

Dorffmaister_Istvan-Pentecost.1725-1797Pentecost

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 2:1-21

June 4, 2017

“You Have the Holy Spirit!”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

  1. Introduction: You have the Holy Spirit!

 

A few years back I went to hear a speaker named John Kleinig, a professor from the Lutheran Church in Australia. Some of you have heard of him because he wrote a book on Christian spirituality called Grace upon Grace that I have recommended many times.

In that book, Dr. Kleinig emphasizes the gift of the Holy Spirit in teaching us to pray, etc.; how prayer, meditation are received from God rather than obligations we have to fulfill

I went up and talked to him during a break and told him about the difficulty I had in some part of living the Christian life. Maybe difficulty with being faithful in prayer.  Maybe it was difficulty in knowing how to effectively do the work that needed to be done as pastor at St. Peter.  I don’t remember. What I remember was his response: “That’s why you have been given the Holy Spirit!” he said.

It silenced me.  At first, it seemed like he was dismissing me with too easy an answer.  Of course I have been given the Holy Spirit, I thought.  But that hasn’t solved my problem.

But as I thought about it more, I realized how foolish it was to think so little of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  After all, the Holy Spirit is God.  He lives in me.  He has all wisdom and knows how to solve every problem.  He is the Lord and giver of life; He is able to create, and raise the dead.  Surely He has the power to make me holy and overcome sin.

Our Savior’s name is Jesus Christ.  The second part of His name, ”Christ”is a title that means “anointed one.”  The catechism published by our Synod says that Jesus is called “Christ”, anointed one, because he has been anointed with the Holy Spirit without limit to be our Prophet, Priest, and King. If I have received the same anointing of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did, how can I worry that I don’t have what I need to live like Jesus and participate in His work?

This Pentecost, in the 2017th year of our Lord Jesus, in the 500th year of the Reformation, I know that you at St. Peter have the same kinds of worries I spoke to Dr. Kleinig about. Today, by the power of God the Holy Spirit, I would like to remind you of the same thing Dr. Kleinig reminded me.  Don’t be afraid.  You have been given the Holy Spirit.

  1. History of Pentecost: How Peter Received Power to Speak

The reading from Acts tells us how the Holy Spirit was first given to the disciples of Jesus.  It tells us that when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in a house.  Pentecost was one of the 3 holy days that God commanded the Jews in the Law.  It was fifty days after Passover, when Jesus had been crucified and buried.  In the Old Testament it is referred to as the Feast of Weeks or the Day of Firstfruits, because the Israelites were commanded by God to bring the firstfruits of the wheat harvest to the temple on that day.  It was also the day when they remembered how God had given the Law to Israel on Mount Sinai.  After the first Passover and God delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, Israel was led by God through the desert to Mount Sinai.  That journey took about 50 days, a little over a month and a half.

On that Pentecost after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven forty days later, a sound came from heaven like a mighty, rushing wind and filled the house where the disciples were.  Divided tongues that looked like fire rested on each one of the disciples of Jesus, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, each one speaking the language the Holy Spirit gave them to speak.

The record from Acts tells us that there were people in Jerusalem from all over the world who had come up for Passover.  They had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover at the temple, and they had stayed for Pentecost. A crowd of people heard the sound and came to see what it was.  And when they arrived, they heard the disciples of Jesus declaring the marvelous works of God.  They were amazed because the disciples were by and large uneducated men from Galilee, the north of what had been Israel, and yet every person who gathered heard the disciples speaking in the language in which he had been born and raised.  So they asked, What does this mean?  There were also people there who sneered and said that the disciples were drunk with new, sweet wine, the wine that had just been made at the recent grape harvest.

Then the text says, Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words (2:14). 

There is something for us there.  See how Peter speaks: Let this be known to you; give ear to my words.  Peter speaks like he has authority over this crowd! Where does Peter get this bold speech?  Did Peter speak that way fifty days ago, when some serving girls asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples?  No.  He was afraid.  He swore an oath that he did not know Jesus.  Now he speaks to the crowd like a man who has authority, and is confident that he should be heard.

And notice: Peter was standing with the eleven.  Before he denied that he knew Jesus.  He didn’t stand with the disciples of Jesus.  When he thought his life was in danger, he denied being one of Jesus’ disciples.  He didn’t stand with the other disciples.

But now St. Peter stands with them, and speaks for them.  He tells the crowd that no one is drunk, but that this is what was prophesied long ago by the prophet Joel.  God promised that in the last days He would pour out from His Spirit on all flesh.  In the days of old, only the prophets were given the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit enabled them to proclaim God’s Word: to prophesy.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit gave visions and dreams to the prophets.  But in the last days, God foretold that He would pour out His Spirit on all His servants: male, female, young, middle aged, old.

That is what is happening now, Peter tells them.  And he goes on to tell them why: because Jesus had been crucified for our sins, raised from the dead, and seated at God’s right hand to reign.  You crucified Him, Peter said.  But everyone who believes in Him, calls on Him, will be saved and will receive the Holy Spirit.

  1. The Holy Spirit Gives Knowledge of Christ

What we see learn from this is this: the Holy Spirit makes us new people.  He gives the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. And He makes us, who are naturally weak and selfish, like Peter was, different beings: bold, faithful, courageous.  He gives us the power to speak and proclaim Jesus to others.

You’ve all been in a room that was stuffy, damp, or moldy, and someone said, Let’s let some air in here!  They opened windows, and fresh air came into the room.  You could breathe; the room became more liveable.  That is something like what God did at Pentecost with the disciples; but the air, the mighty rushing wind, was His Holy Spirit.  “Wind” could also be translated “breath”.    God’s breath breathed into the disciples with power, vehemently.

And what does breath do?  Breath gives life.  In the beginning, when God created Adam, He breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Through the Holy Spirit God breathes His life into us. Without His breath we do not have life before God.  We live physically, but spiritually we are dead.  We don’t know God.  Our attempts to serve Him only drive us farther from Him. But He breathes on us in the Gospel, and we believe that Jesus our God, who died for our sins and took them away. The breath of God that makes us alive to Him by faith also renews our minds, hearts, and bodies.  We start to have confidence in God’s Word.  We start to fear God instead of human beings.  We start to have joy in the face of suffering.  We start to rely on God instead of our own strength.  We start to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Breath also does something else.  Breathing in gives us life. Breathing out is how we talk.  God’s breath, His Spirit within us, enables us to speak His Word.  It enables us to do what Peter could not do fifty days ago: confess faith in Jesus, even when we might have to suffer or lose something to do so.  The Holy Spirit also gives us wisdom and skill to speak the truth about Jesus to our neighbors for their salvation.

On Friday, the group that is working on revitalizing our congregation’s outreach with the Gospel met. One of the things we talked about was how we have a small percentage of the congregation that engages in the work of the church.  And someone said, I think what keeps a lot of people from volunteering is the fear that they aren’t really qualified. I think that is true.  People have also said that about other things.  Some people don’t come to bible class because they are afraid that they won’t know enough and will look foolish.  They are intimidated.  And I think nearly all of us worry that if we try to tell our neighbors about Jesus, tell them the Gospel, we might not say it the right way. We might say it in a way that offends people.  Or we might be challenged and will not be able to answer their questions.

Brothers and sisters, I promise you: if you are a Christian, you are qualified to speak and to serve in the Church. You have been given the Holy Spirit.  You had your personal Pentecost when you were baptized.  The Holy Spirit will speak through you and work through you to benefit the church and your neighbors.  And the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, leads us into the truth and reminds us of what He has said; the Holy Spirit teaches us to speak Jesus’ words and not our own.

  1. The Holy Spirit is Received through Keeping Jesus’ Word

One thing remains to be said, about how we receive the Holy Spirit.

You notice what the disciples did to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  They didn’t do anything. God simply poured out His Spirit upon them.

The Holy Spirit, God in us, is not a prize that is earned.  He is given freely as a gift, the greatest gift that can be given.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us more about how the Holy Spirit is given.  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. (Jn. 14:23)

The Holy Spirit is given in and through the Word of Jesus; and He remains where Jesus’ word is received and kept by faith.  When you hear a sermon that proclaims Jesus alone as our Savior, His blood alone as our righteousness, the free gift of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus, the Holy Spirit is both offering the gift of Jesus’ death for your sins, and the gift of Himself.

So whenever we hear preaching that is faithful to all that Jesus said to the apostles, that is the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.  Whenever we receive the Lord’s Supper, when it is celebrated according to His institution, we are receiving the Holy Spirit along with the body and blood of our Lord.  Whenever we are absolved, forgiven, according to Jesus’ command, by His authority, the breath of God is rushing upon us, letting the breath of God into our bodies and souls, rooms that are naturally closed, foul and corrupted.

But we are not given the Holy Spirit all at once. It’s a gift that God gives as He wills. Jesus says that as parents know how to give good gifts to their children, even more the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

But we need to ask for the Holy Spirit, and receive from Him.  Neglecting to do that means we try to get by on our own power as we carry out the work God has called us to.

We need to keep His Word.  That means: learn it, and go on learning it.  Read the Bible.  Learn the teachings of Jesus, not only in a 20 minute sermon once a week, but also making sure we know what we were taught when we were confirmed, that we not only stay where we were when we were fourteen, but that we grow to maturity in God’s teaching, asking God to make it alive in our hearts by His Spirit.

That is why Christians often lack the Spirit’s power and wisdom.  We try to improve our lives or reform the Church or build the church by our own wisdom and strength.  That is so hard, and it doesn’t work.  The Holy Spirit enables the church to live and to confess and to speak and to believe in Jesus, of Jesus.  We wear ourselves out trying to do what the Holy Spirit alone can do.

That’s what Luther supposedly said about the Reformation; he said, we didn’t do anything.  The Holy Spirit did it all.  We just preached, wrote, and drank good Wittenberg beer.  The Spirit worked through His Word and reformed the Church.

Oh, may God grant us to be able to say this!  That God would teach us to be like children at Christmas, eager to receive the gifts given by our Father!  That we would see the chief task of our Church to be to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through hearing, reading, and learning the Word of our Lord!

May the Holy Spirit also teach us to focus on receiving Him through God’s Word and Sacraments; to receive the good news of Christ.  Then our speaking and working will not be in vain, because He will be speaking and working in us.

Amen.

The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Holy Spirit’s Mighty Work–Pentecost 2015

May 24, 2015 3 comments

Pentecost

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 14:23-31

May 24, 2015

“The Holy Spirit’s Mighty Work”

Iesu Iuva

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you. St. John 14:26

 

Christians aren’t followers of a philosophy or special religious principles or morality. Christians are believers in Jesus Christ. We believe that Jesus is God in human flesh, that He came to earth, preached the Gospel, died for our sins, and rose again on the third day. What is unique about Christians is that we believe in Jesus. We believe Jesus is God. We believe His words to be the true words of God.

But what happens when those who are called Christians no longer believe and teach Jesus’ word? That is a tragic situation. Because among such people Jesus is no longer the authority, the Teacher, the Lord, even though they are called by His name. Instead the world’s wisdom reigns among them, and they have deserted their Lord. The only way we have Jesus is through His Word. Jesus teaches us this in the Gospel reading. “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. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”

On this festival day of Pentecost we rejoice and give thanks to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus poured out on His believers after He ascended to the right hand of God. The Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life, the third person of the Holy Trinity, equal in divine majesty and power to the Father and the son. He comes to the church to do a mighty miracle, although it is not one the world or our flesh regard as great. We think the Holy Spirit’s great miracles are like the ones He did on Pentecost, when He came with the sound of a mighty wind and appeared in tongues of fire on the heads of the apostles. We think it is a great miracle that the Holy Spirit made the apostles speak in various languages, or when, later in the book of Acts, He enabled people to prophesy or picked up the deacon Philip in one town and carried him miraculously to another. Those are indeed great miracles, but these are not the main work of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord tells us the Holy Spirit’s great work in the Gospel reading: “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’s great work is to bring the words of Jesus to remembrance. That may seem like a small thing but it is not. The Holy Spirit keeps alive Jesus’ words in this world. He calls and gathers the Christian Church so that we hold fast to Jesus’ word and not the wisdom of the world. And through the word of Jesus the Holy Spirit gives us communion with the Father and the Son.

First of all we need to remember that the devil, the world, and our flesh do not want the words of Jesus to be remembered. The devil, world, and flesh—all the powers of this age—want Jesus’ word and teaching to be buried, just like they wanted Jesus to be buried. Why are they so opposed to Jesus’ word? Because Jesus’ words are powerful. They are not merely human words but the words of Almighty God. They have power to create and power to destroy. They have the power to bring death and the power to give life. When you hear the Scripture read you are not receiving ancient dead letters from a page, but the word of the Lord who created the universe by speaking. The devil, the world, and the flesh want Jesus words to be forgotten and not heard because these words destroy this present age and bring in a new world. The devil, the world, and the flesh do not want this present age to be destroyed so that a new world can come in. So if they could help it they would try to make Jesus’ words be forgotten.

But the Holy Spirit does not allow this to happen. He causes Jesus’ words to be remembered. He brought to the apostles’ minds everything Jesus had said to them, and He inspired them to write the words of Jesus in the New Testament scriptures. Since then He has caused Jesus’ words to be taught and preached and read in all the world. When Jesus’ words had largely been buried in the church under the traditions of men, the Holy Spirit caused the pure Gospel to be proclaimed again from the Scripture alone by Martin Luther. And in our day when the world wants to edit the words of Jesus so that He says nothing politically incorrect, the Holy Spirit causes the words of Jesus to be remembered and proclaimed in churches that are faithful to His Word. But if the Holy Spirit had not been given to the church, Jesus’ words would have been forgotten—not because they are not powerful, but because our human nature is too weak to keep the word of Jesus without the Holy Spirit.

Because the Holy Spirit causes Jesus’ word to be remembered He also gathers Jesus’ church and keeps it in the one true faith. By nature human beings are in darkness. They know there is a God but do not know how they can be at peace with Him. They know there is a God but they do not know how to become free of their sins so that they may have God’s favor. But Jesus came into the world to give knowledge of salvation and eternal life. He says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). And Peter said to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.” Wherever Jesus’ word goes, the Holy Spirit causes a little flock to be gathered that believes Jesus’ word and holds on to it. Through the words of Jesus the Holy Spirit convicts us that we are by nature sinful and unclean, that our hearts are full of evil thoughts, murder, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19). Through the words of Jesus the Holy Spirit convinces us that Jesus died and atoned for those sins on the cross. He gathers a church that believes in Jesus and listens to His Word and confesses it before the world. Without the Holy Spirit the words of Jesus would not be remembered and there would be no church, because the church lives by Jesus’ word, is called into being by Jesus’ word, and is preserved in the faith by Jesus’ word.

“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.” (John 14:23) This brings us to the final point about the work of the Holy Spirit and its greatness. The Holy Spirit causes Jesus’ word to be remembered. He gathers a little community that believes Jesus’ word and keeps it. And where He does that, the Holy Spirit creates a little community of people who are the dwelling-place of the Father and the Son.

Think about what an amazing, awesome thing it is to have God make His home with you. Is that something that happens for everyone? Not at all. God is not dwelling with the person who does not believe in Jesus, no matter how good that person mighty appear in our eyes. But God the Father and God the Son do dwell with the person who holds on to Jesus’ word. They make their home with him. God, whose throne is on high and who is attended by host upon host of angels, dwells with the person who holds Jesus’ words. In these frail bodies, doomed to die, stricken by sin, the all-glorious Father and Son are pleased to make their abode. All this happens because the Holy Spirit causes Jesus’ words to be remembered. He caused the apostle John to remember and write Jesus’ saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) He causes preachers to preach that word, and assure sinners that on Jesus’ authority their sins are forgiven. He causes them to hold on to that word and to continue in that word.

When we receive Jesus’ word and hold on to it, god the Father and the Son come to dwell with us. In the midst of suffering and temptation we have the assurance that God is pleased with us and not angry with us. When our sins accuse us we have the assurance that God has not forsaken us in anger but is dwelling with us and making everything work for our blessing. How do we have this assurance? Not in our feelings, but in the words of Jesus, which the Holy Spirit brings to remembrance. He assures us with the name of the Triune God put on us in our Baptism. He assures us with the words of absolution which are spoken to us in Christ’s name; “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He assures us by bringing to remembrance Jesus’ words in the Holy Supper: “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” With the words of Jesus the Holy Spirit brings us into communion with the Holy Trinity, who dwells with us. He dwells with us because through the Holy Spirit we receive His grace; we believe the good news that our sins are forgiven through Jesus’ blood.

So the mighty work of the Holy Spirit is not that He makes people speak in other tongues or heal, or do other mighty signs. He may distribute those gifts as He wills. But the truly mighty work of the Holy Spirit is that He causes Jesus’ words to be remembered. These are the words of the living God that set us free from sin and death’s power. They are the rock on which is built a certain hope of salvation and everlasting life. Through these words of Jesus the Holy Spirit bears witness to the world of sin’s power and our salvation from it. Through the words of Jesus He gathers the church and keeps it in His word to everlasting life. And through the word of Jesus the Holy Spirit gives us communion with the entire Trinity. The Triune God makes His dwelling place with each one who believes in Christ and comforts us in every tribulation until we come to everlasting life. For this work of the Holy Spirit in bringing Jesus’ words to remembrance we give thanks on this festival of Pentecost, because through the Spirit’s work we have become Christ’s church and each individually the dwelling place of God.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Categories: Pentecost Tags: ,

Better to Struggle With the Fear of God’s Wrath–Luther

MartinLutherIt is exceedingly difficult for the human heart to expect with certainty everything good of God and to appreciate all grace and mercy. Indeed, it is altogether impossible except through Christ the mediator. Coarse and impious hearts may be very strong and haughty at this point, bearing themselves hard in much conceit, and thinking that what they do is all very precious in the sight of God. Yes, they may do this until they come upon the peril and terror of death, brought about through the clear revelation of the Law; then there are upon all the earth no people more dejected and despairing. When their hour has come, they go down suddenly and no one can raise them up again.

36. Much better and safer and more comforting, therefore, is the state of those who are constantly striving and struggling with terror and fear of God’s wrath, and who are so afraid that when they hear the name of God mentioned the world becomes too strait for them. Just for these has this comfort been uttered; yes, for their sakes God has at all times declared the promise of his grace and of the forgivness of sins, and to that end has given his Son and all the good in the whole world, overwhelming it with blessings, in order that they, by all means, may learn to know his grace and goodness which, as Psalms 52 and 36 say, endureth continually, and reacheth unto the skies. The fact that a Christian lives and that he possesses a sound member is due solely to the visible grace and help of God. For the devil, in whose kingdom the Christians are, here upon earth, is such a wicked, malicious spirit that he aims at nothing else, day and night, than to murder and destroy them.

37. But however great, both in word and deed, God’s promise of grace is toward those that fear him, yet they cannot lift up their hearts and joyfully look upon God. They are still constantly harassed with anxiety and fear lest God may be angry with them on account of their unworthiness and the weakness which is theirs. If they hear an angry word from God, or recall or learn of some fearful example of God’s wrath and punishment, then they tremble and fear lest it strike them. The other class, on the contrary, who indeed should tremble before God, stiffly and proudly despise these things in their security, and comfort themselves with the carnal notion that God cannot be angry with them. Very difficult is it for the human heart to so balance itself that it will not become secure in success and prosperity, but remain humble, and again, in times of fear and misfortune, enjoy comfort and confidence toward God.

Martin Luther, Sermon on the Gospel for Pentecost, Church Postil

The Conviction of the Holy Spirit–Cantate 2015

Cantate—The Fifth Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16:5-15

May 3, 2015

“The Conviction of the Holy Spirit”

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

The disciples were afraid when Jesus told them he was going away and they would have to bear witness to Him and the world would hate them.  They aren’t the only ones who are afraid.  We are also often afraid of carrying out the mission Christ has given to us.  Our mission is to bear witness to Christ, to testify to Him in this world.  We are afraid that we will mess up, that we will do it wrong.  We are afraid that no one will listen to us and we will fail.

Today Jesus gives His Church comfort and courage as we go forth into the mission of testifying to Him in the world.  He gives us courage even though He is no longer going to be visibly present with His Church on earth.  He says, “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send Him to you.  And when He comes He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.”  Jesus says we are not going to be alone in witnessing to Him.  He will send us the Helper, that is, an advocate who speaks for us.  And this Helper is so great that it is even to our advantage that Jesus goes away.

It’s hard to imagine anything so great that it could replace Jesus’ visible presence with us, but Jesus tells us that is what will happen.  Who is this Helper?  It is “the Spirit of truth,” the Holy Spirit.  He is the third person of the godhead, equal in majesty and power to the Father and the Son.  He will not only live in the midst of us, as Jesus visibly lived with His disciples.  He will live and dwell in us.  He will rest upon us the way the Spirit of God rested upon the prophets like Moses in the Old Testament.  And He will be in us and with us to convict the world.

This means the Church will have mighty force and authority.  That seemed totally impossible to those disciples who were gathered around Jesus in the upper room.  How could that little band of twelve men convict the world and all that was mighty and great in it of “sin and righteousness and judgment”?  How could they do that without Jesus’ visible presence with them?  And we feel the same way about the Church today.  How can this little band of ordinary people we call “church”—“St. Peter Lutheran Church”—convict the world?  “Convict” means “to prove guilty” or “to awaken a sense of sin.”  How are we going to do that?

We won’t.  Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world.  How will He convict the world?  Jesus says, “Of sin, and righteousness, and judgment—of sin, that they do not believe in Me, of righteousness, that I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

First of all the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin.

 

We live in an age that rejects the idea that there is such a thing as sin—that is, transgression against God.  People today are concerned about whether they are considered to be decent people before others, but the term “sin” is hardly ever used anymore.  People make mistakes, bad choices, but they don’t commit sins. Much less does our society believe that there is such a thing as original sin, that we are born guilty and corrupt before God and are unable to escape from His righteous anger.  Against all of this explaining sin away and excusing it, the Holy Spirit calls the world to account and convicts it that it is all, from top to bottom, corrupted by sin.  It’s not just the obvious vices that are sins against God, such as our society’s rampant sexual immorality or its killing of the unborn.  The Holy Spirit convicts the world that even its best works are corrupted by sin—its humanitarian work, its moral and religious leaders, its upstanding citizens.  All are sinners.  They are not merely people who make bad choices, but transgressors against God, even when they have made “good choices.”

Why does the Holy Spirit convict the whole world of sin?  Jesus says, “Because they do not believe in Me.”  Jesus is “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  He is the One who takes away our offenses against God.  Our offenses against God are our real trouble, not just the moral lapses and failures that make us look bad in front of other people.  And we have offended God not merely with our actions, but also with our words and thoughts that are against His commandments.  But all of these offenses Jesus came to remove.  Thus there is really only one sin in the world.  That is not to believe in Jesus.  If a person believes in Jesus, that He is true God and true man, and that He paid for our offenses on the cross, none of his sins are counted to him.  Your sins are forgiven if you believe that on account of Jesus’ suffering and death God is pleased with you.

But the world does not believe in Jesus.  It believes that Jesus was a good man, a teacher.  Some of the world even believes that Jesus is God.  But the world does not believe that simply on account of Him and His suffering on the cross God receives us as righteous and forgives our sins.  The world trusts in other ways to get right with God besides Jesus and what He has done.  The world believes that everyone goes to heaven not because of what Jesus has done but simply because God overlooks sin and is satisfied with less than perfect obedience to His law.  The world believes that it is basically good and therefore God is already pleased with us.  The world doesn’t believe that God is angry with it because of sin.  Therefore the Holy Spirit corrects this false belief and convicts the world of sin.  Apart from Jesus God is angry with you, says the Holy Spirit, for you have not loved God with all your heart.  You have misused His name, failed to pray, ignored His Word, disobeyed your parents, been hateful and vengeful and lustful, that is, committed murder and adultery.  You have stolen and wasted the property and time God has given you.  You have spoken evil of your neighbor, coveted his property and his wife, family, and workers.  You are guilty and displeasing to God and bound for hell because of your sins, says the Holy Spirit.  Why does He convict the world this way?  Because the world does not believe in Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners.  It must first be convicted that it is sinful before it can believe in Jesus the Savior of sinners.

What is true of the whole world is also true of individuals, even individuals who go to church.  The Holy Spirit must convict us that we are sinners under God’s wrath apart from Jesus.  And He must go on convicting us of this so that we flee from our fleshly false security and our self-righteousness to Jesus who alone takes away and covers our sins.

Second, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of “righteousness, that I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer.”  What does Jesus going to the Father have to do with righteousness?  That’s not the way the world thinks about righteousness.  The word “righteousness” is as seldom used in our society as the word “sin.”  When we think of righteousness, we always think about works—maybe Mother Theresa caring for orphans in India.  Some people probably think of the Dalai Lama with his peaceful, enlightened attitude.  Others think of Martin Luther King or Gandhi, crusading for justice.  The Holy Spirit convicts the world that none of these men and women have one enough for God to regard them as righteous, however impressive their deeds may be to us.  Instead the Holy Spirit convicts the world that righteousness is this—Jesus going to the Father.

How is that righteousness?  It is the righteousness that God accomplished so that sinners could be accounted righteous before God.  For since the world is convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, it follows that no one can become righteous before God by his deeds, no matter how good that person is.  To be righteous before God a person would have to keep the ten commandments in thoughts and emotions as well as deeds.  He would have to have a pure heart.  But the Scripture teaches us that no one has a clean heart. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” says Psalm 51.  God has to create a clean heart in us because by nature our hearts are full of rebellion against God, unbelief, idolatry, anger, lust, and all other kinds of sin.  With hearts like these, how can God regard us as righteous?

That is what the Holy Spirit convicts the world about.  “Of righteousness,” says Jesus, “that I go to the Father.”  How does Jesus go to the Father?  He goes offering Himself up as a sacrifice to atone for our sins.  He goes to the Father offering Himself as the spotless lamb, whose sinless life is given as an offering to turn away God’s displeasure at all our sins.  Jesus goes to the cross as the propitiation for our sins, the sacrifice that atones for all our uncleanness, that turns away the Father’s wrath and turns His face toward us in love.  Jesus’ suffering and death under God’s wrath is the righteousness God provides for sinners that they may take hold of it by faith and wrap themselves up in it.  He goes to the Father on the cross to make satisfaction for our sins.  Then He rises from the dead and ascends to the Father, where He forever stands to make intercession for us.  If the Father ever could forget that we have been justified, counted righteous, and that His anger toward us had been turned away, He would only have to look to His right hand and see Jesus standing there in the same flesh and blood that we have.  And Jesus would remind the Father, “See, You have declared them to be righteous on My account, because I paid for all their sins with my suffering and death.”

See, the Holy Spirit convicts the world not only of sin, but that righteousness has been accomplished for it by Jesus.  He brought our sins before the Father on His own head.  He received the just judgment of God for them in our place.  Then He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father as our forerunner.  He lives at God’s right hand to pray for us, to stand in our defense.  The Holy Spirit convicts us and the world that this is so.  For us it is our great comfort.  We are often convicted in our conscience of our sins and we struggle to believe that God is pleased with us when we still have so much sin.  But through the preaching of the Gospel the Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness—He convicts us that we are righteous in God’s sight because by offering Himself for our sins Jesus brought our sins to an end.  In His resurrection God declared all men righteous.

Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment.  This is an amazing work since the world is so dead-set on asserting that it is righteous by itself.  The Holy Spirit convicts the world that God’s judgment is upon it because tis ruler is already judged.  This is a terrifying conviction.  But you can see that the Holy Spirit has done this work and is still doing it.  It’s hard to understand any earthly reason why the powerful people of the world should have such hostility toward Christians.  The powerful and influential of the world consider Christians to be hillbillies and know-nothings.  And yet they have such hostility against Christians that every last remaining scrap of Christian influence has to be purged from our society.  If a Christian doesn’t want to make a cake for a homosexual legal union, they have to be hounded out of business.  Why is there this level of hostility against a group of know-nothing hillbillies?  Because the world is convinced that judgment is upon it.  Its ruler has already been judged.

Satan was judged when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.  There all his power was torn from him.  Before Jesus died Satan could reign over men as their god and king. He could keep human beings on a treadmill of trying to save themselves by their good works.  Satan could lie and say, “Just keep on trying to keep God’s commandments and maybe one day you will have some assurance that your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life.” He could torment those who believed God’s promise of a Savior with the requirements and threats of God’s law.  But on the cross Satan was judged.  He lost all power to condemn and enslave human beings.  He lost all power to condemn and enslave you.  Because once and for all on the cross all your sin was atoned for.  Once and for all God’s wrath was turned away and the human race was justified, and you with it.  And Satan was cast down. He has no power to threaten us with the wrath of God and death.  He was judged when Jesus died and rose again.

And now in the preaching of the Gospel the Holy Spirit convicts the world of this judgment.  The ruler of this world, Satan, stands condemned.  This overturns the whole order of the world.  All of Satan’s lies are unmasked.  We don’t enter into paradise or escape death by gaining the whole world or by striving to do good works.  Eternal life and paradise is the free gift of God through the death of Jesus Christ His Son alone.  The Holy Spirit convicts the world of this through the preaching of the Gospel.  He convicts us that Satan is judged and has no right to condemn us.  He convicts us that this age and its pleasures and glories are passing away.  For Christians this results in joy and hope, because the day is coming soon when persecution, suffering, sin and death will be finished forever.

For the world, this conviction results in misery and terror, because the world is convicted that it and the present order of things will soon be ending.  Soon the world’s pomp and pride and power and wealth and everything it gloried in will all be gone.  Soon it will have no power to inflict pain on Christ’s Church.  Soon the world will no longer even have power over our bodies, because the old order of things will have passed away.  It is already passing away, because the ruler of this world is judged.  He is not the lord and god of this world as he pretends to be.  He is vanquished by the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And the Holy Spirit convicts the world that this is so, even though the devil and the world rage and do their utmost to silence the Holy Spirit and kill believers in Christ or make them fall away from their Lord.  But the devil and the world will not succeed.  The Holy Spirit will convict the world and lead the Church in all truth.  He will do this by preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection, and even if Satan closes down one church and kills all the members of another, the Holy Spirit will raise up other witnesses in their place, until Jesus returns and pronounces final judgment on the world.

So we do not need to be afraid as we bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.  He has given us the Helper who speaks on our behalf, the Holy Spirit, who convicts the world.  Jesus alone has ended our sins and our alienation from God by His death on the cross, and the Holy Spirit bears witness through us.  He testifies to the world’s helplessness in sin, to the righteousness God has accomplished for sinners by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and to the judgment of this world’s ruler, the devil.  We rely on this conviction of the Holy Spirit to uphold our faith and to bring sinners to repentance and faith in Christ.  And we will not be put to shame in our reliance on the Holy Spirit.  He will keep the Church alive by His testimony to Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

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