May 27, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
[Jesus said:] “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me…. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.”
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest,
And make our hearts Your place of rest;
Come with Your grace and heavenly aid,
And fill the hearts which You have made.
For centuries, the Church has prayed this petition on the Day of Pentecost. The prayer requests the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Church offers it, trusting a promise that Jesus has made to His followers. That promise is what you heard this morning: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”
Jesus’ made His promise to send a Helper, the Spirit of truth, as He completed His work of salvation for the world. The Father had sent His Son with a task: redeem the world that languishes in sin. That is what Jesus had spent His life doing, living in full accordance with the Father’s will. His atoning work culminated in sacrificial death, so that those who were cursed to death because of sin could live. Jesus’ rising from death and ascending to His Father brings His task to completion. That is what Jesus discloses to His disciples in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal, the night when His salvific acts reach their fulfillment.
To You, the Counselor, we cry,
To You, the gift of God Most High;
The fount of life, the fire of love,
The soul’s anointing from above.
Jesus says: “But now I am going to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, 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.” Jesus leaves His disciples. That fact troubles their hearts. It saddens them. But Jesus’ promise restores their joy. It tells them that they will be assisted from heaven above. A Helper will be given to them.
But no ordinary Helper will be given! No, they will receive “the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father”. The Spirit of truth comes with a particular purpose, just as Jesus had come with a particular task to fulfill. Jesus speaks of that task: “He will bear witness about Me.” The Helper will give assistance to the disciples, so that they can fulfill the charge that Jesus had given them: “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” The disciples’ purpose does not come to an end with Jesus’ departure. Their reason for existence does not crumble down and disappear. Just the opposite: with Jesus’ departure, the disciples go out to fulfill the office that He has entrusted to them; the Helper from above who is at their side will lead them to do so.
In You, with graces sevenfold,
We God’s almighty hand behold
While you with tongues of fire proclaim
To all the world His holy name.
The Helper’s arrival and the beginning of the disciples’ executing their charge is what you heard of this morning in the narrative from the Acts of the Apostles: “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.” The Helper arrived with a divine flourish! He brought the assistance needed for the disciples to do what their Lord had commanded. The testimony of the crowds that experienced this event reveals that: “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” The disciples bore witness of what Jesus had done to bring salvation to the world, so that the prophecy is fulfilled: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The carrying of that witness into the world brings knowledge of what Jesus has done. It brings wisdom and knowledge, something that the world does not have in itself. This is what Jesus declares: “And 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.” The Spirit’s witness about Jesus brings this knowledge to light. The world hears about sin, righteousness, and judgment. It is the witness that the disciples bear: the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name; the teaching of the way of life that Jesus has established; the proclamation of Jesus’ victory over Satan. Those who receive that Spirit-led witness about Jesus are led from death to life.
Your light to every thought impart,
And shed Your love in every heart;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.
Taking people from death to life: that is the Spirit’s task. He is “the Lord and Giver of life” as the Church confesses in the Nicene Creed. Ezekiel’s vision of dry dead bones depicts the Spirit’s work. The world is like those dry dead bones that Ezekiel saw. There are sinews, flesh, and skin on them. But what the prophet says is also true: “But there was no breath in them.” The world is dead in sin. People’s acts of transgression bring down the curse of death upon them. But Jesus has brought life into the world, the life that God bestows. He has died and has risen. It has happened, so that people can live. Life is given when the Spirit brings the witness of Jesus’ work for salvation to the world. Life is given when the Breath of God fills people.
The divine command is issued: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” And what happens? Invigoration. Resuscitation. New birth. You are no longer like the dead bones that Ezekiel saw. No, you are like the newly-revived bones: “the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” Through the Spirit’s witness about Jesus, life comes to you. The Spirit bears that witness through the Gospel, the statements which testify of the mighty works of God that Jesus performed for you. You have heard and received them. The Spirit has borne that witness through the Gospel words preached by disciples, through the Gospel words accompanying the waters of Holy Baptism, through the Gospel words spoken in the Lord’s Supper. He has fulfilled Jesus’ promise: “He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” He takes the life that Jesus has earned and gives it to you.
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 change from death to life that the Holy Spirit has worked in you is a matter of the soul. Now your soul is revived. Now you know the identity of Jesus. Now your hearts and minds know what He has done to bring salvation to you. But it is a matter of the body, too. You are led to confess the truth about Jesus in everyday living. It happens as your actions reveal that Jesus establishes a way of life for His disciples. What you do in obedience to Jesus’ commands shows that He is your Lord. They demonstrate your identity as His followers.
This is why our confirmand will be asked the same question that countless others have been asked before: “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” The truth confessed about God is not just found in the heart or soul, but is shown in word and deed. Word and deed are areas where the Spirit has influence and guidance among the Lord’s faithful. So the Psalmist says: “O Lord, You have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me.”
Drive far away our wily foe,
And Your abiding peace bestow;
With You as our protecting guide,
No evil can with us abide.
Because the Spirit has given you life, such statements about the divine presence are not constricting or unwanted. No, they are what Jesus’ disciples pray for. It is what you ask for. Your desire is to walk the way of life that Jesus has given you. You want to be faithful. You want to be Jesus’ followers. You seek to live righteously as your Lord has done. You do so in anticipation of what awaits, what has been achieved and won for you by Jesus’ actions. Your hope is in the salvation that Jesus has earned. It is the hope that the Spirit has created in you. Living in that hope, you act as His disciples, holding on to the witness of what Jesus has done and keeping His instructions and commands.
Without the Spirit’s work, none of this would be so. You would be dead and helpless. But you have been revived. You have the Breath of God in you. The witness of Jesus has been borne by the Spirit and brought to you. The Spirit has disclosed the mighty works of God to you. He has given eternal life to you. He has made you members of the great company of believers. You have been set apart, made holy. Now you can utter the truth about Jesus with your mouths and in your living. So you confess and ask for on this Day of Pentecost, as the Lord’s faithful have done before you.
Praise we the Father and the Son
And Holy Spirit, with them One,
And may the Son on us bestow
The gifts that from the Spirit flow!
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.