When The Holy Spirit Comes
May 21, 2018
Verse: Acts 1:8
This is a sermon preached for Pentecost 2018, source unknown. But I urge all Lutherans to read it, and take it to heart, because it names our church's chief sin; and offers the pure gospel to pardon, console, strengthen and enlighten us. Pr. K.
WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." [Acts 1:8]
In case you haven't noticed it, we Christians have been taking it on the chin for some time now. Despite billions of dollars being invested by churches all over our land in marketing the faith to consumers that seem more interested in spiritual matters than ever before, we've been losing ground. Mega churches - shopping mall look-alikes - spring up all across our land, attracting huge crowds to their enormous facilities, yet still our culture continues its steady slide toward moral chaos and spiritual suicide. In other words, more people than ever before are investing more time, energy, and money into selling the gospel to the public, and yet to all appearances we're losing ground.
It's enough to make you ask a good Lutheran question: What does this mean? Well, I'll tell you what this means. If we are to believe Jesus in our text - and I think we'd better, the spiritual backsliding and cultural disintegration we see on every side means that we've turned our back on God's way of growing the church and invented our own way. We've bought the devil's lie and turned God's work into man's work. We've turned the mission of the church into a sales campaign and the gospel into a product to be sold by our own ingenuity and effort. Human ingenuity and human effort are always extremely satisfying to the old Adam, but there's just one problem: Jesus doesn't build His church that way.
Rather, in our text Jesus makes it perfectly clear that there's only one way He builds His church: In the power and presence of the Holy Spirit: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, He tells His disciples, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. That's the plan of Jesus, you see, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with humanly devised mission statements and mission strategies or sales campaigns. Rather, it has everything to do with the Holy Spirit.
Now when you mention the Holy Spirit, immediately you get a reaction. Some people flinch and other shrug their shoulders. Those who flinch have heard a lot of craziness chalked up to the power of the Holy Spirit- everything from speaking in strange languages to rolling on the floor - and they don't want much to do with the Holy Spirit. Those who shrug their shoulders just don't know much about the Holy Spirit, and so they're not much interested.
Well, as we stand here this Day of Pentecost, we'd better be interested in getting to know the Holy Spirit and His work, because it's for us and for our salvation that He does His work. It was unthinkable to Jesus that the disciples would make even one move in His Name without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit - He told them they must stay in Jerusalem to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit whom the Father had promised. And then in the words of our text He reminds them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes, power to be witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but also in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
You see, the Holy Spirit is no afterthought; He is simply indispensable in the life of the church. All that God the Father has planned for us from eternity, all that God the Son has earned for us upon His cross, that we might be freed from our bondage to sin and death, and given to share in the never-ending life of God the blessed and Holy Trinity - all of these precious gifts the Holy Spirit delivers to us by means of the gospel preached and the sacraments administered.
To try and live without the Holy Spirit is mission impossible. For the Holy Spirit is not only Lord, but also Giver of Life. The Bible says No one can say that Jesus Christ is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. No wonder, then that in the catechism we are so blunt: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."
Now in a world filled with bomb threats and refugees, this seems to be small potatoes. When so many things seem to be screaming for our attention, it's hard to focus on the Holy Spirit and His work. When we're so frazzled and worn by the pace of life and the weight of the demands of daily living, we can easily lose our grip on the Kingdom of God. We get so wrapped up in earthly things, the things which are seen, that we lose sight of the unseen things. The tragedy is that unseen things are eternal, while things we can see are only temporary.
How about you? What grabs most of your attention? Where do you put most of your energy? How do you spend most of your money? How do you invest most of your time? In the things you can see or the things you can't see? In the things of the kingdom of this world or the things of the kingdom of God? How goes it with your prayers, your devotion to the Word of God - especially the public preaching of that Word and the administration of the Sacraments? Are you regularly to be found where God the Holy Spirit has promised to be- chiefly in God's house on the Lord's day? Or are there other priorities in your life? Is it possible that the reason you and I are so weak in our commitment, so anemic in our witness and so half-hearted in our devotion is because we have substituted our own power for the Spirit's power? Is it possible that we have invented other gods besides the true God of heaven and earth? Is it possible that we have turned up our nose at the simple hearing of the Word of God with faith, simple eating and drinking at the table of our Lord, forgetting that by these means and by these means alone God the Holy Spirit has promised to work in our lives? Can this be our problem, that we have quenched the Holy Spirit by such neglect? Is it possible that we stand convicted before the judgment seat of God because by our words and actions we have despised preaching and His Word?
I dare say this is not merely possible, but this is highly probable. Therefore this day by the mercies of God I implore you - each of you - to turn again from your sin and the empty pursuit of pleasure and the endless search for happiness and find instead the solid realities that are found in Christ Jesus our Lord. For He was made to be sin for us all when on His cross and in His suffering and death He assumed the consequences of our rebellion. By His death He destroyed death - by His mighty resurrection from the dead and in His glorious ascension to the Father's right hand He now stands before the judgment seat to plead your cause. To present His righteousness instead of your sin, His holiness instead of the vile corruption of your polluted heart. To present before that judgment seat of God His most holy and precious blood with which He cleansed you from all your sin, broke the chains of darkness and death, and transferred you into the Kingdom of light by the work of His Holy Spirit, whom He first poured out on you in the waters of Holy Baptism, whom He now gives to you over and over again in the proclamation of His Word and in the eating of His holy Supper…that you might be holy as He is holy.
When the Holy Spirit comes… That's what we need; now more than ever, we need the Holy Spirit's power. We must remember, after all, that in ourselves we count for nothing - not all our best devices, not all our fondest dreams, not even our most fervent plans or our well-intentioned schemes - none of these things will ever build Christ's church.
Rather Jesus points us to the things that count in this world and the next. He lays out both our mission and its strategy: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Let’s get this straight, my friends, - the Holy Spirit comes among us not by our schemes and dreams, not by flashy human gimmicks, but by His Word purely preached and in His precious Sacrament faithfully administered. Let us therefore heed that Word of God, lay claim once more upon the Spirit and His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus' name. Then we shall know the power He has promised. Then our fears will be silenced and our anxious hearts will be calm and at peace once more. Then we will find joy and unity as the body of Christ in this place, then we can go forward confidently into the 21st Century in Jesus' holy name. Then we too shall be His witnesses to one another, in this community, and to the ends of the earth.
+ in the name of the FATHER and of the SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT +