Witnessing Jesus Part 2

Pentecost Sunday-HL, May 15th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Acts 2:21]

That dear friends was the whole purpose of the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost of the New Testament church… so that all would be moved to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  But everyone does not call upon the name of the Lord, and here is why…

Because we are fallen, sinful creatures separated from the Creator with no true desire if left on our own, to ever get back to Him on His terms and be right with Him.

In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 11:1-9) we see just how true that statement is.  These people who are building a name for themselves are just a few centuries old after the flood.  We are told that the whole world had a single language. Since all people came from the family of Noah, it makes sense that their vocabulary would be the same. While it was true that their language hadn’t changed, their attitudes towards God certainly had—and not for the better.

Noah’s descendants started out well. From Armenia, where many believe the ark had come to rest, they journeyed down into the Tigris-Euphrates valley, often referred to as Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). The direction of their migration was to the southeast; in the Bible it’s described as “eastward,” because the Hebrew language only had expressions for the four points of the compass.

“They found a plain in Shinar and settled there.” A well-watered plain would naturally look good to farmers, and in disobedience to God, they decided to stop their migration and settle down. It didn’t matter to them that God had said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth!” They answered: “Why should we? It doesn’t get any better than this spot!”  They had forgotten that even that spot belonged to God.

The settlement they planned to establish was not a temporary one either. Remember they said, “Let us build ourselves a city,” that sounds pretty permanent. And the materials they chose also make it pretty clear that this settlement was meant to last for a long time. Instead of sun-dried clay, they chose fire-hardened brick for their building project, with tar for mortar instead of the customary mud. And look at the stated purpose of their building project: “so that we may make a name for ourselves.”

“Glory to man in the highest!” They turning God’s plan for us upside-down. They rejected his goal for their lives (to glorify God), and substituted it with a goal of ther own. Sustenance (food and shelter), security, status—these were the life goals the descendants of Noah had adopted to replace God’s call to glorify Him alone as provider and sustainer of all these things and indeed, their very lives.

It shouldn’t surprise us that God through the Holy Spirit intervened in judgment to stop their building project.  “I am the Lord”, He has told us.  “I will not give my glory to another.” [Isaiah 42:8]  And to prove it, the Holy Spirit worked to confuse their languages and through that work cause division and strife, making the completion of their building project impossible.  But on the first Pentecost for the new church, God the Holy Spirit would physically, for a moment in time, undo that work and bring clarity in His message of repentance to His fallen people.

So Who is the Holy Spirit? The immediate answer is that, “He is God!”  He always has been God and He always shall be.

First perhaps it ought to be said that the Holy Spirit is not and invention of the church and it’s theologians.  Among the many lies that unbelievers love to spread is the assertion that Jesus Himself never taught anything about the Holy Spirit.  Oh, is that right?  No it isn’t!

Jesus has a great deal to say about the Holy Spirit.  As we discussed last week, when Jesus was about to leave the disciples and ascend into heaven, He promised them that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would come to them.  That’s why they were to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high.  The Spirit would make it possible for them to continue the work of Christ.  He would give them wisdom to be able to speak before governors and kings.  He would teach them all things and lead them into the whole truth.  He would witness to them about Christ.

But then how are we to think about the Holy Spirit?  Well, we should actually not “think” of the Holy Spirit at all.  He is not a product of our intellectual abilities and He can’t be comprehended by our minds alone.  We can learn to know Him only through the work that He has done and is doing among us.  And His work is not to reveal Himself, but to glorify Christ.  He doesn’t seek to describe a likeness of Himself to us, but instead He causes the picture of Christ to come alive before our eyes of faith when the Spirit is at work.

And how does He do this?

The means, which He uses, is the Word of God.  He teaches all that Jesus taught and reminds us of what Jesus said.  It is the work of the Spirit that moves us to perceive the presence of Christ in Holy Scripture.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Scripture  becomes the living Word so that we can be confident that Jesus speaks and deals with us still today in the Word and by the power of the Spirit.

As I said earlier, one of the most important things the Holy Spirit does for us is to convince us that we are sinners.  The Holy Spirit is ever working to move our hearts and minds to understand just how twisted and out of balance with God our lives are.

But we also learn through the Word what Christ has done and given to us, which makes all the difference’ it makes us right with God.

In our gospel lesson Jesus tells us that “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 14:23-31]

If you do not read this with the understanding that Jesus is giving the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, then you might receive this Word as just another Law of God.  Love me or else!  But that is far from what Jesus is saying.  Just a little further on in His dialogue, Jesus promises that this ability to love Him, to love God will find its origin outside of our selves; He says that it will be a gift from God.  Listen: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who 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.”

Do you understand now?  Can you see that this is all a work of God the Holy Spirit who is your Helper, your comforter, and friend.  Once you hear these Words of Jesus as good news, the Holy Spirit brings peace.  “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.”

The work of the Spirit then is to lead us to the assurance of faith that now rests in our hearts through Christ alone.  So we can agree that “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  Christ has given us “His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  It is through the Spirit that we learn to say “Aba Father” or dear Father in Heaven.

You know the truth is, we won’t always feel the great power and assurance of the Spirit’s presence.  But even when we are overwhelmed with worry and fear, and even at the lowest and weakest times of our lives, the Spirit is at work in our hearts. The sign that He has not forsaken us is the fact that we have not forsaken His Word and that Word is constantly awakening repentance and faith within us.

The Holy Spirit cannot be known or possessed unless we have been brought to faith in Christ by the Word.  This is the precise reason why some people cannot possibly understand the meaning of the Holy Spirit.  He is “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him, nor knows Him.”  But you know Him dear saints, and that makes all the difference!

On the day of Pentecost the disciples were moved by the Holy Spirit to remember all of Jesus Words of Comfort.  And on that day, we could say the agape love of God, as demonstrated through the Passion of Christ the Son of God became the most powerful gift they would ever receive.

Christ did what He said He would do; He made all things right between God and men.  He empowered His church with the love of God and the Holy Spirit to go out into a world of confusion, division, and sin, and speak the need for all men to repent and be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Why?  So that through Christ’s Word and Sacraments empowered by the Holy Spirit we could once again be united in the love of God unto eternal life.  May this be our truth now and forever more… AMEN!

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