23 May 2021
Greetings to you from heaven. Not surprising, but it’s a beautiful day in the presence of God. The countenance of the Father is beaming, and the Son illuminates the holy City. The praises and songs of the whole Church reverberate with the musical glory of the Holy Spirit. I’m passing these greetings on to you not because I’ve literally been there, but because I have been sent to preach and teach you God’s Word. You need to know something of what has been prepared for you. For the time before us now is not so bright.
Now, there is only one Church. She is called the bride of Christ, and her connection to Him is the eternal truth that lies behind marriage. All who put their trust in Jesus, repenting of sin and turning their lives to Him: we are all part of this one holy and apostolic Church. You who hear my voice belong to the Church as she exists on Earth. This is the Church Militant, under siege, seemingly in retreat. But the same Church also exists in heaven in the glorious presence of God. You may well know some of her members there. The line between us is ever so thin, and many of us are being taken across it every day.
In this one, holy, apostolic Church, we live by the grace of God. If it were not for the loving gift of the Father, we would not be here. If not for the atoning blood of the Son and His resurrection, we would not be here. If not for the supernatural blessing of faith from the Holy Spirit, we would not be here.
So fifty days after Easter (that’s after seven sevens of days or seven weeks, marking the fulfillment of God’s holy plan to usher in the Last Age of this world): Pentecost has come. It was already a special feast for believers before Christ. It was the expectation of a bounteous harvest in God’s care. In Deuteronomy 16 it is written, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.” Pentecost is another name for the Feast of Weeks. So now also, in the last age, the Church has three great feasts in the real presence of our Lord, offering the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. As we observe it on Earth, we join in worship with our brethren in heaven. So let us rise now and sing our Exordium hymn, number 399, “O Light of God’s Most Wondrous Love.”
23 Jesus answered him, “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. 24 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.
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 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. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.
This is God’s Word. Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Last week we began a 2-part series about the Holy Spirit by considering who the Holy Spirit is. Next week we’ll contemplate the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Today our focus is on what the Holy Spirit does for us. It runs through today’s Gospel like a thread.
Jesus was answering a question from His faithful disciple Judas the son of James. He wondered how Jesus would manage to show himself in the midst of His Church, without showing Himself also to the world. Knowing his question helps us understand Jesus’ answer in this Gospel. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, … Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
The way Jesus would appear to His Church and not to the whole world depends on His Word. When He speaks of those who “love” Him, they are the ones in His Church. They are the ones who may be found gathering around His Word. There may be many who consider themselves to be in His Church, but if they forsake the Word of God and the gathering around it — to that extent, they are not really His Church. Christians don’t stay Christians without the Word of Christ.
That brings us to the Holy Spirit. You may recall how the Catechism quotes from John 20 to explain the office of the keys. “Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” See the connection between Jesus giving them the Spirit and their task in dealing with sin.
The disciples He sent were to serve God’s people by dealing with sin. They might forgive a sin or they might retain it. What they do depends on what the person needs to hear. What the person needs to hear depends on whether the person recognizes sin.
In His Church Jesus set up a way for His Word to be applied to sinners. That’s because His Word is the conduit for the power of the Holy Spirit. Without Him, none of us can recognize our own sin. Without Him, none of us can trust in God’s forgiveness.
You may be skeptical. After all, non-Christian people usually have some idea about right and wrong. They don’t usually consider themselves to be perfect. They might even admit they have something like sin.
But there’s a line that nobody can cross without the work of the Holy Spirit. On one side, anyone can say, “Nobody’s perfect.” But on the other side, only by the power of the Holy Spirit can anyone honestly confess sins, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess to You all my sins and iniquities.” Words like those are offensive to natural man in our fallen state.
So the Holy Spirit works through God’s righteous and holy law. In its light and by His power, we can see our true condition before God. He leads us to a kind of despair. Like the prodigal son, we realize there’s nothing we can do to regain our Father’s trust and favor.
The unbelieving world struggles under the burden of sin. Many people don’t realize it, or know what it means. Consciences are troubled and people weighed down by the sense that they owe some great debt that can’t be paid. If they meet God or some reference to Him, their assumption is that He wants something from them that they can’t give.
Maybe you know people in that struggle, but not everyone seems that way. The devil has created a deception of the same type as his temptation in the Garden. “You are like gods, knowing good and evil,” it says. Many unbelievers have this veneer of confidence over their consciences. With enough wilful sin, a conscience may even be squashed into nothing or trained to believe this lie.
Either way, the Holy Spirit must train the conscience and the soul to know that we owe our obedience to God, but our righteousness will never do. Our only hope is God’s mercy. This He does through His Words, which He puts on the lips of Christians and their ministers. It meets resistance. Sinners don’t like coming face-to-face with their sin.
You can see this in yourself. When you look into the perfect mirror of God’s commandments, do you enjoy seeing how bad priorities have led you to neglect and despise God’s Word? Or how you lack the proper respect for earthly authorities: teachers, parents, law enforcement? Or how your thoughtless words and actions have hurt others and deprived them of God’s gifts? We don’t like it either, but we need the correct and honest diagnosis, and so do our neighbors.
The word of forgiveness also needs the Holy Spirit to be effective. Jesus truly died for your sins, every one. He said, “I do as the Father has commanded me.” He offered Himself under God’s wrath for the times when you despised His Word, disrespected authority, hurt or deprived others of God’s gifts. Jesus was bruised and made to bleed in your place, so that by the infinite merit in the sacrifice of God’s Son, your sins may be completely forgiven. Jesus won it for you. The Holy Spirit delivers it through Word and Sacrament. You receive it by hearing me tell you.
Now as members of our Lord’s Church possessing the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith in the Gospel, you may also do what the disciples were doing on Pentecost: repeat to others the wonderful works of God. Through these words, the world receives from the richness of God’s mercy that can never be exhausted.
Jesus won forgiveness not only for you, but for all of us. Your whole family is redeemed by Jesus. Your neighborhood. Your town, county, state, nation, and world. With this gift, the Spirit brings peace to your existence and your relationships. It defines your life under the cross as an honorable and worthy service to our merciful and gracious God.
The Holy Spirit by the ministry of Word and Sacrament has given you a new life, even now. That is, by the preaching and teaching of the Word, by the Word in the water of Baptism where He called you into His Church by name, and by the body and blood given and shed for you.
In this new life, Jesus has given you true peace. Not as the world gives, but in Spirit and in truth: peace with God and a membership in His Church, which will bring you by Word and Sacrament through this temporary life to our eternal home where it’s always a beautiful day in the glorious presence of God.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria