Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sermon -- Pentecost (May 31, 2020)

JOHN 16:5-11


In the name + of Jesus.

      When the day of Pentecost arrived, (the disciples) were all together in one place. (Acts 2:1)  But it was not just Jesus' disciples who were gathered together in Jerusalem.  Jerusalem had been flooded by Jewish pilgrims who had come together for the Feast of Weeks.  This was a harvest festival at which the Lord had commanded his people to gather in his presence.  And that presence, God had declared, would be at the temple.  That is where the sacrifices were made to atone for the sins of the people, and it was there that God was with them to bless them.  
     But the day of Pentecost brought on an amazing change.  On that day, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples.  By their preaching, the Holy Spirit gathered in a much greater harvest—a harvest of souls into the kingdom of God.  By holy baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to about 3,000 people.  Now the Lord no longer dwelt in one place—at the temple.  Rather, all of these individual Christians were made temples of the Holy Spirit.  God came to them through the word and sacrament.  That is where God still tells us to find him.  God's presence is not limited to one place, but to wherever two or three gather together in Jesus' name, to every place where God's word is rightly preached and his sacraments are rightly administered.  
     Prior to this, Jesus' disciples had come to recognize that God's presence was found personally in Jesus.  He is God who came to dwell with his people in the flesh.  Jesus' disciples learned about the kingdom of God through Jesus' preaching and through his acts of mercy in miraculous healing.  There was great advantage in witnessing all of those things.  But Jesus was not to remain on earth forever.  Once he had completed his work for our salvation, he ascended into heaven to live and reign over all things.  But that does not mean he abandoned his people.  On the contrary, Jesus told his disciples: “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.” (John 16:7)   
     The Holy Spirit is sent for your advantage.  Jesus ascended into heaven to fill all things, and so he is truly with you always.  Likewise, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to you so that God dwells within you always.  It is that Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who has created faith in an unbelieving heart, bestowed life into a heart dead in sin, and testifies that you are blameless in God's sight despite your sins.  Unlike the temple which was set in one location only, the Holy Spirit dwells in individual Christians throughout the world and binds us all to Christ.  The Holy Spirit is sent for your advantage.  He fills your heart with a longing for God's word and sacrament where he continues to feed you, strengthen you, and preserve you in the one true faith unto life everlasting.  See how great an advantage is given by the Holy Spirit!
     When we hear about the account of Pentecost, we usually give attention to the wrong part of the story.  On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit caused the sound of a mighty wind.  The Holy Spirit made his presence evident by tongues of fire which rests on the apostles' heads.  Then the apostles all spoke languages unknown to them but known to the pilgrims from around the world.  Throughout the book of Acts, we hear how the apostles and other believers did miraculous signs.  And we envy them.  Oh, how we wish the Spirit could bless us so!
     But be honest: Why do you want to see such miracles?  So that you can be healed or enriched or entertained.  The sinful heart always wants everything to be about itself—my interests, my glory, my freedoms, my agenda.  Repent.  Jesus does not send his Holy Spirit so that you can better your life now or so that you can impress your friends.  Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to rescue sinners from the devil and damnation.  Miracles don't do that.  Of the signs recorded on Pentecost, how many of those signs saved anyone?  None.  
     So, what was the glory of Pentecost?  Through God's word and Holy Baptism, “there were added that day about three thousand.” (Acts 2:41)  The Holy Spirit gave new life to three thousand on one day!  Even if their ailments had been healed, they would still die.  But if the Holy Spirit was sent to them, they would be given eternal life.  And this is what is accomplished through word and sacrament.  This is how the Holy Spirit is sent for your advantage.
     Jesus told the apostles why he was sending the Holy Spirit, and it was not for miracles.  He said, “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:9-11)  
     As God's word is proclaimed, it reveals that all people are sinners.  No one has kept himself pure.  No heart has rendered willing obedience to all of God's Commandments at all times.  In fact, God's Commandments often stir up anger in us.  Just listen to these instructions: “Be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1)  “Love your enemies.” (Matthew 6:44)  “Deny yourself.” (Matthew 16:24)  This is what Christian living is supposed to be—putting others before yourself for their good.  But we are driven by pride and despise yielding to anyone.  
     But the surprise is this: You are not condemned for these things.  The Holy Spirit is sent for your advantage to teach you that these sins are paid for by the precious blood of Jesus.  Even though we prove ourselves sinners, Jesus proves himself more gracious than our sins.  He denied his good for yours.  He loves those who sin against him.  He submitted himself to crooked rulers.  All this Jesus did to pay for your sins.  He is the only source of forgiveness there is.  If people reject Jesus, it does not erase his atoning sacrifice or resurrection.  It means that they are convicted in their unbelief and remain in their sin.  The only rescue from this judgment is by faith in Jesus, which the Holy Spirit has worked in you.
     The Holy Spirit comes for your advantage.  He convicts the world concerning righteousness, because the only righteousness that anyone can truly have is by faith in Jesus.  We can all find people who are decent and generous.  They aid their fellow man with hard work, honest promises, and compassion.  But then people assume that is sufficient to make God happy.  This is actually more dangerous than your sins.  After all, you are not proud of your sins.  On the other hand, you are proud of your good works and hope that God sees them so he will reward you accordingly.  But being nice and honest and compassionate is not being righteous.  We are not nice to everyone.  We are not honest; we warp the truth to present ourselves better than we are.  And our concerns are more self-centered than we care to admit.  Our compassion runs out when it starts to cost us something.  There is no one righteous on earth.  So, where do we get the righteousness we need to have eternal life?  Through Jesus who has gone to the Father.  Righteousness is not found on earth, but in heaven.  Therefore Jesus sends Holy Spirit through the word and sacraments to supply righteousness to us.  We are not judged for works which are flawed or works which were refused.  We are credited with work we did not do.  Jesus' righteousness is given to us so that we can be confident of our standing before God.
     The Holy Spirit is sent for your advantage.  He testifies that the ruler of the world is judged.  If Satan torments you about your sins, do not fret.  His word is meaningless.  He has been judged.  If the world demands that you abandon God's word when it exposes their sins, do not shrink back.  The worst they can do to you is destroy your body.  But they have to answer to Jesus for their hatred and opposition to his word.  You, on the other hand, know that your verdict is life everlasting and a resurrection to glory.  Even if someone destroys your body, Jesus will raise it up anew.  No authority can strip you of that.  For Jesus lives and reigns, and the Holy Spirit makes you his.
     The Holy Spirit is sent for your advantage.  No matter where you go, the Holy Spirit dwells in you to mark you as a child of God.  He created faith in you by the Gospel.  He sustains you by the Gospel.  Wherever the word and the sacraments are, there the Holy Spirit is at work to save and to strengthen you.  Even if the Spirit were to grant you the ability to do miracles, they may dazzle people, but they would not save.  The Holy Spirit gives you a greater advantage that that.  He enlightens you to know Jesus, bestows his forgiveness, and grants you peace.  These save you, and there is nothing better our Lord could do for you than that.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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