Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost

Sermon on John 14:23-31
For Our Savior Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
May 31, 2009 (The Day of Pentecost)

Right before Jesus spoke the words in our Gospel lesson for this morning, one of His disciples had asked Him a question. And it’s an important question for understanding what this particular day in the Church Year is all about. Judas (or Jude as he is sometimes known to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot) had asked Jesus, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” It’s a good question, especially for those of us who are confronted daily with the unbelief of the world around us. It would be so much easier if God could give us some physical, observable sign that He is with us, protecting and watching over us, forgiving our sins and giving us life and salvation. It would be so much less stressful to be a Christian if the existence of God and His lordship over the world and over the Church were something that were easily observable to all men rather than being something that is an article of faith. Now, to be sure, the existence of the world itself is powerful evidence for the existence of some sort of intelligent Designer, and one must perform some pretty amazing leaps of logic and philosophy to believe that it came about by any sort of random process. But believing in the existence of some sort of an intelligent designer is a far cry from believing in the Triune God who not only made us but sustains and upholds us, even to the point of sending His own Son to die on the cross and rise again so that we can be saved and live forever with Him. You can’t get the specifics of the Christian faith as we Lutherans confess it from natural observation. And so Jude’s question, about Christ revealing Himself only to believers and not to everybody, is very pertinent.

Jesus’ response is that only those who love Him are ready to receive Him. We can see this, of course, from what happened to Jesus during His earthly life, and especially what would happen only a few hours after the conversation recorded here took place, as Jesus was arrested, falsely tried, and executed for claiming to be what He really was, the Son of God. It is only by the Holy Spirit’s power that sinful, self-centered hearts, which is what all of us are by nature, are transformed into those who love God and their neighbor. The natural man rejects the things of God even when God makes it perfectly plain and obvious what the real situation is. And so there’s no point for Him to make it blatant and obvious to the world. Even if the world is forced to admit that, yes, God exists, and, yes, He made everything, and, yes, He has the authority to set up certain laws for His creatures for their own good, the natural heart of man will still not accept the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the source of our salvation and the center of our relationship with Him. Only the Holy Spirit can bring that into a person’s heart. The natural man will constantly look to his own works to find some sort of evidence that God is pleased with him.


Now, of course it’s true that in various times and places God has done things that make it perfectly plain and obvious that there’s something unusual going on. The events which took place on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 are a primary example of this. But notice that it was not the sound of the mighty wind or the tongues of flame, or even the fact that the disciples spoke in various languages they had not previously learned, that caused those who witnessed these events to become Christians. It was the Word of God, of Law and Gospel, both spoken and in watery form through Holy Baptism, which caused 3,000 people to become Christians that day. That’s the Holy Spirit’s true activity. Preaching the Word of God, both in spoken form, and in the forms in which it is attached to the visible elements of Baptism and Holy Communion. Jesus Himself says it. “The Helper will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” The Holy Spirit is to be found in the Word. That is how Christ will be revealed to believers but not to unbelievers. He is present, by the Holy Spirit’s power, in the Word of God, and so He comes to those who receive it in faith.


But that still puts us in what seems like it should be a rather uncomfortable position. After all, we preach as being absolutely true a message for which we have no visible, physical evidence other than the Scriptures themselves. That all men are, not just prone to mistakes, but sinful, self-centered and corrupt from their very conception, and in need of salvation solely by a gift of God is offensive to human pride. That our salvation does come solely by a free gift of God and not from anything that we can do for Him, is even more offensive to human pride. The message that we hear from the Word, the message we are to confess to our friends and neighbors, is offensive to those around us. Worse, it is offensive to our own hearts according to the old sinful nature. That we are to preach and confess this message without any visible or tangible evidence of its truthfulness seems like an intolerable burden. It’s no wonder that the disciples were upset that Jesus would no longer be with them visibly as He was before. The task they were being given was simply too great for them.


That’s the other side of today’s message about the Holy Spirit. He works through His Word and Sacraments, even though we cannot see or feel evidence of His work. He converts us, and those who hear us, despite the fact that we cannot do it on our own. And so we don’t need to worry about it. God’s Word will not return to Him void. It will accomplish the purpose for which He sends it. Certainly we do need to be intentional about confessing our faith to our friends and neighbors; we are, after all, in the midst of a war against the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, all of which would rather we just kept our mouths firmly shut about this message of salvation and eternal life. But we aren’t the ones who are doing the real work when we confess our faith. God the Holy Spirit is. And so we need not worry about the seemingly insurmountable obstacles which face us. To God those obstacles in our hearts, and the hearts of those around us, are as nothing. He made us. He can remake us. And He has done so in water, absolution, preaching, and in His Son’s own body and blood. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s how Christ reveals Himself to us and not to the world. He does reveal Himself to the world, but he does so one at a time, by making them part of us through the Spirit’s activity in His Word. The world does not know Him, but those whom the Spirit comes through the Word to are no longer of the world. We love Him, and so He will take us to be with Him forever. Not as the world gives does Christ give peace to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Amen.


✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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