Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Today we celebrate the birth of the Holy Christian Church. We remember God’s pouring out of the Spirit upon His people. We celebrate for without the Spirit we would truly be lost. Take the disciples for example. When Jesus was arrested, they scattered. When Jesus was crucified, they hid or denied any association with Him. When Jesus lay in the ground, they locked themselves behind closed doors. When Jesus was raised, they doubted and had to see for themselves. Even after He appeared to them, they questioned what it all meant. It is apparent from the testimony of Scripture that the disciples just didn’t get it, even as they stared off into the sky after Jesus ascended. Confused and not knowing quite what else to do, they did as Jesus instructed and returned to the house in Jerusalem.
Ten days later something amazing happened. It took place during the Feast of Weeks, when Jews and proselytes were gathered in Jerusalem to remember God’s giving of the Law to Moses. It was in Jerusalem, amongst the mixture of Jews from far and wide, that a sound like a rushing wind came from heaven and filled the house where the disciples were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
What a sight it must have been. It became quite a spectacle as men and women of different tongues and nations gathered around them and heard them speaking of the mighty works of God in their own language. And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Now THAT is a very good question. What does it mean that Christ has given His Holy Christian Church His Spirit?
John gives us an answer in his Gospel. It is a brief but very powerful answer to that question. John writes that Jesus went to a different feast, the Feast of Booths, in Jerusalem to remember Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. During the middle of the feast He began teaching in the temple with such wisdom and authority that people marveled and wondered if He could be the Christ. On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit. John continues on to say that the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus was to die, raise, and be glorified first. John’s clarification was said in reference to Pentecost when the Spirit was first given to all believers in Christ.
The Holy Spirit is still is active with Christ’s Church today, but there is much confusion over the person and work of the Spirit. Typically, Christians go to one extreme or the other when speaking about the Holy Spirit. Some of us tend to ignore the Spirit and His activity while others place too much emphasis on Him. A proper understanding recognizes and trusts the work of the Holy Spirit but understands that we cannot comprehend how or when He works, other than what has been revealed to us through Scripture. It is through truly recognizing the person and work of the Holy Spirit that we are able to come to Christ and drink, for it is the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ and together They turn our dry and barren hearts into flowing rivers of living water. For without Christ we could not be saved and without the Spirit we could not know Christ.
On our own we are spiritually dead. Without the Spirit we are unresponsive to God’s call on our lives and are truly helpless and miserable. We are no more able to help ourselves than dry bones are able to get up and walk. When we ignore the Spirit’s work and claim we come to Jesus on our own, we take credit for the work that is God’s alone. We replace the work and life of Christ with our own work and life. When we ignore the Holy Spirit we become blind to the sin in our lives and are not convinced that we need saving. We start believing we can save ourselves and make the ascent to God on our own works and deeds. But if we place too much of an emphasis on the Spirit, we get caught up in the mysteries of God that we simply cannot understand. We replace the revelation of Christ with our own revelations from the Spirit. When we emphasize the Spirit we begin believing that it is the Spirit who saves us, not Christ, but the Spirit did not die for you. We start using the Spirit as a tool to make the ascent to God through our own emotions and experiences. By ignoring or emphasizing, either way we make it all about us and our ascent to God.
But we cannot make the ascent. When we rely on ourselves, we stand on shaky ground. When we put our hope and our trust on our works or our experiences, we can never be confident of where we stand with God. We are sinners, and will always be sinners in this life. When we try to find the assurance of our salvation by our own efforts we are left lost, hopeless, and miserable. For if a man is never directed away from himself and toward God, he will never be sure of his forgiveness. We can only understand our right relation to God when we hear the word spoken to us, “Your sin is forgiven!” When we doubt this word we are no better than the Pharisees and the Sadducees who doubted Christ. We don’t even see Christ standing right before us, offering us His mercy and grace and peace and rest through the Holy Spirit. Psalm 46:10 declares, “Be still and know that I am God.” It is only when we quiet ourselves and listen to the voice of God that we can be confident of our salvation.
At the feast, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Luther once remarked, “This is not a physical thirst, but a thirst of the soul, a spiritual thirst, a heartfelt desire, yes, a distressed, wrenched, terrified, and aroused conscience, a despondent and frightened heart which longs to know on what terms it is with God. Such is the timid, fainthearted conscience: it feels its sin; it is conscious of a weakness of spirit, soul, and flesh; it is aware of a menacing God; it fears God and sees His Law, wrath, judgment, death, and other penalties. Such anxiety marks the proper thirst. It is natural that people who live in fear, amid temptation and distress, are athirst by reason of their anxiety. For such a time the tongue becomes parched, we grow feverish, our distress consumes the humors of our body, and this creates thirst. How much more will our soul grow thirsty from spiritual temptation, when sin and God’s wrath stare us in the face!”
When we are confronted with our sin, we are faced with a harsh reality. When we meditate upon God’s Law, and compare it to our own thoughts, words, and deeds, we are confronted with how wrenched and desperate of a state we are in. There was nothing, is nothing, and will never be anything that we could possibly do to save ourselves from sin and death. We could never do enough good works in a thousand life times to save anyone much less ourselves, for our good works are nothing but trash to a righteous God. We are a lost and hopeless people, full of sin, barren, and worthless. Yet for some reason, Jesus comes to us in this desolate state. He finds us in our anxiety and cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
This is what the disciples discovered on Pentecost. They themselves were filled with the Holy Spirit, and everything they had been through with Jesus came together. Christ’s words and deeds all came into focus. His sufferings and death, His resurrection and ascension; they realized that it was all for the forgiveness of sins, and it was the Holy Spirit that gave them this understanding, and it was with this understanding that they went out to preach. Peter’s sermon on Pentecost did not tell the Jews how they could get to God, but instead how God has come to them, first through the person of Jesus Christ and second through the Spirit. The Spirit worked on all those who heard and convicted them in their sin. Peter’s words pierced their hearts and left them asking, “What shall we do?” To which Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit.
When you were baptized, you were forgiven your sins, and you did receive the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit united you with Christ, in a way that we cannot comprehend, and took your sin and exchanged it with His righteousness, making Christ a sinner on the cross and you a righteous child of God. So when the weight of your sin presses you and crushes you so that you are starting to feel hopeless and don’t think that you can take much more, just remember that this is the Spirit working within you, preparing you for repentance so that you will be ready to receive the living water flowing from the crucified Christ, through the Holy Spirit and into you heart.
The Spirit came for this one thing: to convict the world of its sin and to show it to the only source of its salvation in Christ Jesus. The Spirit gives us our blessed assurance as we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified us and kept us in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
It is only through the Church, the communion of saints, that we can know the works of the Holy Spirit. Most of the Holy Spirit’s work is done in secret where no man can ever see. We do not know when and where the Spirit will work. Yet so that we can be sure of our salvation and grace, God has promised us that the Spirit will work through the preaching of His word and the administering of His Sacraments. God has given us these means of grace so we can be confident of His presence. Without them we would be no better off than we were before, but with them we can be certain that in our baptism and each time we hear the Word or come to the altar, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit unleash a flood living water to cure our parched throat and ease our troubled minds.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.