Pentecost.18 “The Who and the What of the Spirit” John 15:26-27; 16:4-15
On the Day of Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. But there is much confusion in the modern church as to who the Holy Spirit is, and what exactly it is that He does. This our Gospel clears up for us this morning. We see the Holy Spirit is the “Helper”, and that He is sent to us by Jesus, and proceeds from the Father. So, we confess the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Godhead. There was great controversy between the Western and Eastern catholic churches in the 11th century about whether it is more correct to say the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, or whether the sending of the Spirit by Jesus is the same thing as procession such that it’s more accurate to say the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. I don’t think it’s a hill to die on, but more on the “who” of the Holy Spirit next Sunday, Holy Trinity, when we confess the Athanasian Creed which says “in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another.” You love the Athanasian Creed, I know. Hey; only one more week, and it’s here…(!)
As to the “what” of the Spirit’s work, that’s our main focus today on Pentecost. That’s also neatly summed up for us in this pithy phrase from the Acts reading (OT? Epistle?): He comes so that “we hear, in our own language, the wonderful works of God.” That’s what the Holy Spirit does. “May the peace that…” uh. OK. Maybe we should unpack the “what” just a little more?
Well, Jesus does that for us in our Gospel. “the Spirit of Truth… will testify of Me.” This is all the Spirit’s work: testify of Jesus. Point to Jesus. Speak the wonderful works of Jesus, God’s Son (in a language we can grasp!) so that we, by hearing, may believe; and believing, have life in His Name—eternal life of indescribable joy. I like the sound of this very much. It’s why the coming of the Holy Spirit is a Feast Day and a party. Bring it! Tell us all the wonderful works our God has done in taking on our flesh, suffering for our sins, dying on the cross, rising victorious from the grave, ascending into heaven, gathering all things in Himself and returning to share the fullness of His life and joy with us! I never get tired of that Story because it is the Story that absorbs our dreary and dull world into the much grander and more interesting world of Christ Jesus…
Jesus says more on what exactly the testimony of the Spirit is. “When He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness and judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all Truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you…”
There’s a fine New Yorker cartoon with a cheerful, single woman facing a worn and weary young mom with a grimy toddler by her side; the mom says: “No; 4 is not a wonderful age.” So too, most of us would say it is not wonderful to hear that we have sinned, and to be convicted in the highest court of this offense. The Holy Spirit’s message is very much a bad news/good news deal. But He always gives the bad news first (as should be your preference!). Because the sin that convicts and condemns is entirely overcome for us by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. So all that remains for us, the End of the Story, is His righteousness (which is fully ours by faith alone!) and the judgment, at the Last, which will be: “Not guilty! Righteous, for Christ’s sake!” And then comes the Feast to end all Feasts!
Did you notice how Jesus narrows sin down to unbelief? Interesting, right? We often think of sin as all kinds of violations of the 10 commandments, rolling stop signs, lying about it, disrespecting authority, coveting the 238 bucks that the court demands for our penance. But Jesus dismisses that stuff with a wave of the hand (not that it’s not sinful, just that it’s not the thing itself, but only outward manifestations of the sin thing). Jesus says the sin thing is really just this one thing: “they do not believe in Me.” So, if you believe in Jesus, you have no sin! The Spirit declares you holy and righteous—free to go. Jesus paid your fine. But you can have a perfectly clean driving record, no citations, no offenses, and yet, if you don’t believe in Jesus, the ultimate Judge will declare you guilty and throw the Book at you. And I’ve read that Book—there’s a lake of fire, flesh eating worms that never die for the Faith-refusers. Not a pretty picture! I wouldn’t leave earth without this Faith thing, if I were you… Nice to see too that righteousness is simply seeing Jesus; and that judgment is something Jesus passes on the devil, ruler of this world on whom Adam and Eve (rightly!) put all the blame for that unfortunate business in the Garden…
But, the best news for me in all this is that the Spirit will guide you and me into all Truth! And the Truth, very simply put; is Jesus Christ, come in our flesh, crucified for our sins, raised for our justification, ascended far above the heavens to reign over us with nothing but His grace and mercy and kindness forever. All the Spirit does is point to Him, tell us of Him, of His wonderful works in our own common language.
Since the fanatics on Azusa St. in LA in 1906 started “speaking in tongues”, they have the Spirit pointing to Himself, or to us rather than Jesus—which isn’t the Spirit’s Way! The evangelical-catholic Church knows nothing of charlatans babbling on enthusiastically, forehead slapping, “faith healings”, and other such shenanigans. On Pentecost, the devout Jews from all the nations (speaking dozens of different languages) simply heard the Apostles speak in their own language the wonderful works of God in Jesus. This was clear speech, no babbling, no forehead slapping, and no explanations needed by “interpreters”. In other words, Yes! the charismatic and pentecostal movements are all complete bosh, because they do not point to Jesus and His Cross alone in plain English that we can understand. It’s another spirit—not a holy one either(!)—as Luther rightly judged in his dismissal of “God-withinism” that produces such confusing nonsense. Read the Smalcald Article on “enthusiasm” and you’ll see the clear Word of Scripture showing the difference between nonsense and Truth—the Truth revealed to you, now…
The Spirit always accompanies His Word to work faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. This is what He does, for all the world, for all the church, always and forever. He convicts of the one and only sin—not believing in Jesus!—sets our eyes on Christ and Him Crucified (thus making us righteous!) and passes swift and summary judgment against our Adversary the Devil—who, like a crooked DA, tries to hold us hostage by all kinds of trumped-up, phony charges and fines and penalties which Jesus has, in fact, already paid. By Word and Sacrament, through Faith alone, the Spirit guides you into all Truth, so that Peace, surpassing understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.