His Job Description, Acts 2:1–21, The Day of Pentecost, June 9, 2019
Well, it’s finally here, the biggest festival day in the church year, after Christmas and Easter of course, and maybe after Ascension and Jesus’ Baptism, maybe after Reformation Sunday, we are Lutherans after all. And yes next Sunday is Trinity Sunday, that’s pretty big too. Don’t forget about Good Friday and Maundy Thursday, those are pretty important days as well. But you have to admit Pentecost has to rate near the top of our church celebrations.
Many churches celebrate today as the birthday of the church. They have cake and balloons. Several years ago when I visited Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Bronx’s, they had red streamers hanging from the ceiling and everyone wore red, celebrating the Festival of Pentecost. It was, it is, a big deal.
Today our readings remind us about the one hundred and twenty people that were gathered together in a large upper room. These first Christians were waiting, waiting, waiting for something very special to happen to them, and they weren’t quite sure what to expect. They were waiting for the Holy Spirit to come on them, and in them, but they didn’t know what that would mean.
And suddenly, the Spirit of the Risen Christ came upon these people. It seemed as if there were tongues of fire dancing about the room, and on the heads of people. It seemed as if there was a large wind blowing, howling and whooshing through the room. It felt like a powerful, magnetic experience when the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen Christ, came onto them and into them.
And they rushed out of that building into the streets. They went from street to street and home to home and neighbor to neighbor and family to family and nation to nation.
It was like a prairie fire blowing across the Midwest. Just picture a prairie fire in your mind. Can you picture it? It was like a prairie fire flaming across the Midwest on hundreds of acres of parched dry fields of grass.
It was like a forest fire rushing up the mountain range. Just picture a forest fire in your mind. Can you picture it? It was like a forest fire, being driven by the wind, in a very dry forest with tinder wood and vegetation.
It was like a fire on an oil slick on the ocean, flames leaping across the water. Can you picture it? That’s the way it was in that first century of Christian expansion. It was like the flame of Jesus Christ was spreading across the whole world.
While we often tend to think of Pentecost as the beginning of something new, it is also a climactic consummation. It is in a real sense the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit, to fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them a fire of love by sending a Helper.
So, what does the Holy Spirit, this Helper, do for us today, and how does He do it? One of the most important things the Holy Spirit does is a rather unpleasant thing. He convicts us of our sin (Jn 16:8). He uses God’s Word to confront us with those secret, or not-so-secret areas of our lives; those areas of our lives that are not pleasing to our heavenly Father, that tear down rather than build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, that damage our witness for Christ, and that prevent us from enjoying the blessings that come through willing and joyful obedience to God’s commandments.
A longtime pastor tells the story of one of his first children’s sermons. With the children gathered around him, he held up pieces of paper with various words written on them and asked the children to raise their hands if they thought the words applied to them. He held up words like short, tall, smart, strong, popular, handsome, pretty, and so on, and each time at least some of the children raised their hands. Then he held up the word “sinner” and waited, and waited, and waited, until finally one youngster in the front row took hold of his little brother’s hand and lifted it high into the air.
We can’t help but laugh, but our laughter probably has, or at least ought to have, a rather nervous edge to it, because we know full well that it’s not just children who are anxious to point a finger at somebody else.
I read another story recently about a woman who came to her counselor complaining that she just didn’t feel she was growing in her spiritual life. When he asked her what she thought the problem might be, she immediately proceeded to tick off about a dozen reasons, all of which put the blame squarely on the shoulders of somebody else.
“The pastor’s sermons don’t speak to me; the style of worship isn’t the way I’d like it to be; people at church are so unfriendly; my husband doesn’t support me; my children don’t behave the way they should,” and on and on and on.
This counselor took a deep breath, prayed a silent prayer, looked the woman in the eye and said: “Have you ever considered the possibility that the main problem in your spiritual life might have something to do with you?”
That’s the kind of Counselor the Holy Spirit is. Always loving, always compassionate, always looking out for our best interests, but excruciatingly honest, never afraid to tell us the truth, too concerned about our welfare to hide from us the sin that’s harming us.
Fortunately for us, convicting us of our sins is not the only job of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it’s not even His most important job. The Spirit’s proper work is not to convict us but to comfort us with the Gospel, with the Good News of our forgiveness in Christ.
According to Scripture, the Spirit convicts us not just to make us feel guilty but to lead us to true repentance, to prepare our hearts to hear and believe the comforting assurance of our forgiveness because of what our Savior, Jesus, has done for us. The Holy Spirit’s ultimate mission and goal is to convince us and to keep on reminding us that although we are poor, miserable sinners, God still loves us more than we can possibly imagine and delights to claim us as His dear children in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Spirit carries out His role in some very simple yet powerful ways. He speaks to us through the Scriptures and tells us that, because of what Jesus has done for us, by dying on the cross, our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west, that though our sins are like scarlet, we have been made as white as snow through the precious blood of Jesus.
And believe it or not, the Holy Spirit also speaks through the words of the pastor, who has been called by God to say, to those who stand before God with humble and repentant hearts: “I forgive you all your sins,” not by my power, not by my authority, not by any special holiness in me, but in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, whom I serve on your behalf.
And there is still another way the Holy Spirit comforts us, and this way should not be overlooked or underestimated. The Spirit also comforts us through one another, as we speak to each other the words of forgiveness that Christ has spoken to us. Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3–4).
And there is so much more that the Holy Spirit does. He prays for us, with groans and sighs too deep for words, and He teaches us to pray to our dear Father in Heaven. He counsels us to know right from wrong, and to discern God’s will for our lives. He helps us to grow up in our faith, so that we can move from the milk, to the meat of God’s Word. He gives us gifts to use in service to others. He guards and protects us against the evil one. And oh how He empowers us to be Christ’s witnesses.
It is the role of the Holy Spirit to work faith in the heart. This faith is not just a feeling of peace, but it is trust in Jesus Christ. Faith is the means by which we hold onto the gifts that Jesus earned for us, the gift of righteousness that He earned with His holy, sinless life; the gift of forgiveness that He earned for us with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death; the gift of certainty in the promises of God that Jesus demonstrated with His resurrection from the dead; the gift of eternal life with Him that Jesus promised when He said He would return to take us to Himself. All these gifts, and more, belong to us only because the Holy Spirit has worked the miracle of faith in us.
Yet all of these works of the Holy Spirit are based on, and grow out of, the Spirit’s work of both Convicting and Comforting. If we ever forget that we are sinners, we might as well forget everything else we’ve learned about God, and about the Christian faith, because, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8).
And yet, if we poor, miserable sinners ever stop believing that we are forgiven, we might as well stop believing everything else, because if God’s message of forgiveness is a lie, then how can we believe anything else He tells us in His Word? If we can’t be sure that we’re forgiven, what does it matter what we do? Why should we pray? Why should we serve? Why should we witness? What would there be to witness about?
The first part of the message is terrifying, for from it we learn of our helpless sinful status before God and the eternal punishment that we deserve because of that sin. The second part of the message is the ultimate comfort, for it tells us that God did not leave us to suffer but sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die in our place so that whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but will have life eternal.
The forgiveness with which He has empowered you, gives you peace, a peace which the world cannot give, but which God gives in Jesus, through His Spirit.
As He convicts and comforts you day by day, He promises to work powerfully in your life. He creates, empowers, energizes, and enlightens you. He comforts the grieving, suffering Christians, and He guides the church through difficult days. Sins are forgiven, life is restored, and tears are dried. He enables your prayers, and you become the holy people that the Holy Spirit calls and empowers you to be. Amen.