June 12, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
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, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
The Festival of Pentecost has a special place in the Church’s calendar. It is one of the three high festival days of the Church Year, the festival dedicated to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. This year, its significance is heightened in our parish, as five of our members will receive the Rite of Confirmation. That rite also concerns the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, who has brought these youths to belief in Jesus, calling them by the Gospel, enlightening them with His gifts, sanctifying them, and keeping them in the one true faith.
Pentecost marks the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ apostles. You heard the narrative of the events that took place fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they 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.” Jesus’ promise to His apostles was fulfilled: “I will ask the Father, and He will send you another Helper, even the Spirit of truth.” Now they had the Holy Spirit, the Helper needed to keep them in the true faith and to perform the duties that Jesus had assigned to them.
You heard what these apostles were empowered to do: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” They could speak in other languages. But what did they speak? What were they given to say? That is answered by the reaction of the people who were present in Jerusalem that day: “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying: ‘Are not these who are speaking Galileans? . . . We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” The people heard the apostles declare in their own language the mighty works of God. That is what the Holy Spirit gave them utterance.
This is what Holy Spirit accomplishes in you. Knowledge of God, belief in His mighty works, trust in His care: these are not innate. You aren’t born with such faith. It is given to you, as you are brought into the fellowship of God’s people. Much like a person is ignorant of history, literature, science, and mathematics until those subjects are taught, so it is with God. Fear, love, and trust in God are not possible until He is made known to a person. But that is what the Holy Spirit brings to people, including you. That faith has been created in you, as the Spirit gave the apostles utterance to speak the mighty works of God in language for you to hear.
The Holy Spirit has made intelligible to you who God is and what He does. That is His role. He fulfills the promise that Jesus made: “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.’” As you have heard the mighty works of God, you desire what He is able to provide. You have your guilt and sinfulness revealed to you, but you also hear of what has been done to forgive and absolve them. You hear of Jesus’ death and resurrection done for you, and so you desire what those actions of Jesus provide. So you come to Him, you come as you are drawn by the Holy Spirit’s work through the telling of these mighty works of God. The Spirit pours into you forgiveness, life, and salvation. Then out of your hearts flow the rivers of living water: faith, love, hope, and all virtues. You are given to utter the mighty works that God has done for you. And you are able to perform what the prophecy declared: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
This is work of the Holy Spirit done in you, so that you may share in the salvation that Jesus has earned for mankind. It is the same work that He has done in our five confirmands. It began in their baptisms, as they first received the Gospel of Jesus, the promise based on what He accomplished: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” The Spirit brought them the invitation that Jesus extends to the world: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them, for of such is the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ death atoned for their sins. His resurrection established a place for them in His kingdom. The Spirit intoned the call to faith, leading them to be believers in Jesus’ work for their salvation. So it has been from the days of the apostles to now for all who have become disciples of Jesus. Hearing the mighty works of God, individuals are led to call upon His name and be saved. That is the gift that the Spirit gave in your baptisms.
That work of the Holy Spirit only began at baptism, but it is not finished there. Certainly, the inheritance of everlasting life was fully given. But the Holy Spirit does more. The rivers of living water continually flow out of the believer’s heart. The Spirit’s work encompasses the entirety of the believer’s life. He teaches the way of righteousness and leads the believer to follow it. This is the answer to the believer’s desire, as the psalmist expressed: “Make me to know Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long.” The Lord acts for you as He described: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way.”
The Holy Spirit’s work also includes the deliverance of forgiveness, life, and salvation throughout the believer’s life. The rivers of living water wash away the sins that are committed and cleanse those who are soiled and stained by the guilt they bring upon themselves. This was first done in baptism, but it is repeated again and again as you confess your sins and receive absolution. In that act, you again call on the name of the Lord to be saved: “For Your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” And the Lord answers your plea, remembering His mercy and steadfast love for you.
In the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit works again, recalling to you the mighty works of God. In that meal, you eat and drink, but that eating and drinking is not done mindlessly. No, it is done in the remembrance of what has been done for you for the forgiveness of sins: that Jesus sacrificially gave His body into death and shed His blood to atone for your guilt. Proclaiming Jesus’ death until He comes, you receive the salvation that He achieved for you by His sacrifice. Again, the Lord acts as described: “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant.” That covenant is established in the mighty works that He has done for your salvation. The Holy Spirit has made you believers in those mighty works.
And the Holy Spirit’s work includes what you profess and affirm about the Lord. Out of your hearts and through your mouths comes the confession of faith. For you are given to speak in your own language the mighty works of God. You speak in other tongues as the Spirit gives you utterance. That language is the dialect of heaven, the ability to speak divine words, to know and confess the truth of the Lord’s identity and what He has done. Moses declared: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” So He has, fulfilling the promise made through the Prophet Joel and confirmed by Jesus Himself. That Spirit has been put in you. The rivers of living water do flow out of your hearts.
So on this Pentecost Day, you particularly remember what the Holy Spirit has done for you. You remember as past disciples have done. The confirmands will remember in a matter of moments. But even more than remembering, you and all believers live with the present actions of the Holy Spirit taking place in the Church, the gathering of the Lord’s people. You pray for those actions of the Holy Spirit to continue: “Teach us to know the Father, Son, / and You, from both, as Three in One / That we Your name may ever bless / And in our lives the truth confess.” The Spirit’s actions bring forgiveness, life, and salvation to you now. And they establish in you the final promise of what the Spirit will do: on the Last Day, He will raise up you and all the dead and give to you and all believers in Jesus everlasting life. That is the end result of the mighty works that God has done for you.
The Holy Spirit has made known those mighty works to you. As the Spirit has called you with the Gospel of Jesus, you hear what your Savior has done for you. As the Spirit has enlightened you with His gifts, you believe in those mighty works. As the Spirit’s rivers of living water flow out of your hearts, sanctifying and keeping you in the faith, you may speak of those mighty works in your own language and the language that others know. And calling on the name of the Lord whom the Spirit has revealed, you will be saved.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.