Pentecost| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| May 27, 2007
“But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” St. John 14:26-27
Those who care about their relationship with God will care about what they are taught. A solid relationship with God is not based on having an emotional experience. It doesn’t come from going through certain religious discipline. A good relationship with God comes from the Holy Spirit teaching us those things that Christ teaches. The comfort of the Comforter comes from being instructed in the truth.
Pentecost is the celebration of the birthday of the Holy Christian Church. Actually, the church was born immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin. God gave them the promise of a Savior. They trusted in that promise. By faith in the promise they became Christians and received the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that only Christians have. So we can speak of the church existing in Old Testament times thousands of years before Jesus was born.
But we recognize Pentecost as the birthday of the Christian Church because it was on that day that Jesus fulfilled the promise he had given to send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been present with God’s people, but on Pentecost his almighty power was displayed as never before. He gave to the apostles the ability to speak in languages they had never learned. All the Jews present on Pentecost likely spoke Greek – as did the apostles – and were also familiar with the Hebrew of the Old Testament. They didn’t need to hear the gospel spoken in their native languages. But God had a purpose in giving to the apostles this miraculous ability. He wanted to make a point.
You may recall how God, at the Towel of Babel, confused the languages the people spoke so that they had to give up their dream of building a tall tower that would reach to the heavens. They were proud people who thought that they could find true spirituality by raising themselves up to God. They wanted spiritual greatness. They wanted to be great in the eyes of God of themselves. But they didn’t want to humble themselves before their Creator. They thought that they had within themselves all that was needed to find God. They thought that they didn’t need his mercy or grace. They didn’t need to rely on him for his gifts. They trusted in themselves, not in God. They thought that if they set their minds to it they could do it. They were very much like people today who seek the answer to life’s most difficult troubles within themselves. People gather together with people to pool their spiritual resources and overcome whatever troubles beset them. Humanism parades as genuine Christianity.
God showed the people who were building the Tower of Babel that the seed of greatness wasn’t within them at all. At that time they all spoke the same language. God gave them many different languages so that they could no longer understand each other. They quickly abandoned their project. They weren’t as great as they had thought. God confused the languages at the Tower of Babel in order to show to them – and the whole world – that we cannot reach up to the spiritual heights by joining forces with one another and relying on human ingenuity. We must rather humble ourselves before God. He will raise up the humble, but those who exalt themselves will be abased.
The miracle of Pentecost reverses the confusion of Babel. At Babel God showed that all human efforts to find God can only result in division. When people try to establish their own spiritual unity, they bring about the very opposite. On Pentecost God showed that he alone can unite people of all languages into one. The religion that is grounded on human works brings nothing but division. The religion that is based on divine grace brings perfect unity. The same gospel was proclaimed in many different languages. Despite human differences, the Holy Spirit brings unity. The Holy Spirit unites us by teaching us the truth that joins us together as one. He destroys our false faith in ourselves and guides us into the truth that Jesus teaches so that we will learn to trust in him.
The truth that Jesus teaches goes against the grain. St. Paul says that the natural man, that is, the person who is not enlightened by the Holy Spirit, thinks that the gospel of Christ is foolishness. In his first Epistle to the Corinthians Paul speaks of the preaching of the cross as foolishness to those who are perishing. For us who are being saved it is God’s own wisdom. The message of the cross is considered to be foolish because it rejects all human efforts to find God. People naturally think that if we are going to find peace with God we had better get busy in building our way back to him.
So you ask the Lodge member what the white lambskin represents. He is taught to reply that it symbolizes that purity of heart and rectitude of conduct that will bring him to heaven. You ask anyone who looks within himself for true spirituality and you will find a similar answer. People believe that the way to peace with God is a road that we must pave ourselves.
And then there is Jesus on the cross. Why did he die? It makes no sense. Was it no more than a good man willing to die for a cause he believed in? But if that were so, why would he have to be the Son of God? Why would God himself have to become a man and as a man to suffer and die? The Holy Spirit teaches us what this means.
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Comforter. He is our Advocate. He takes our cause and makes it his own. He knows we have not within us what we need for true peace. So he gives us what belongs to Christ, the Prince of Peace. He teaches us the pure doctrine of Christ. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit taught the apostles everything that Jesus had said to them. When Jesus taught them they didn’t quite get it. How many times Jesus told them of his impending death! But they didn’t understand. Then Jesus died. They were destroyed. They ran away. They hid. They cowered in fear.
The power that turned the world upside down and won thousands to the true faith on that first Pentecost did not reside within the apostles. It came to them from the outside. It was the power of the Holy Spirit. And we need him. We cannot live without him. We confess him as the Lord and giver of life. Our lives come from being taught the heavenly teaching of the Holy Spirit. Our hearts will deny it. The Holy Spirit overcomes the objections of our sinful flesh and persuades us of the truth. He teaches us what we will never find within ourselves. The heavenly teaching of the Holy Spirit is always about Jesus and it always brings us peace.
There is a popular myth promoted by many religious people that we should be more concerned about an authentic religious experience than we should be with the pure teaching of God’s word. Concern for pure doctrine is denigrated. The answer lies within you. That’s a lie. The problems of life lie within us. Not out there in an unfair system. Not over there in what he or she said or did to hurt me. The problems of life lie within our own hearts. We love ourselves so very much that it pushes out the love for God and neighbor. If we loved God as we should and if we loved our neighbors as we should we would certainly find peace. Hatred, selfishness, self-centeredness, and every other manifestation of sinful pride can only bring conflict and division. If we are to experience true peace, the peace of Jesus, we need the Holy Spirit to bring us God’s peace. He will set our hearts at peace by teaching us the pure gospel.
The world gives peace but it depends on the threat of force. The policeman carries a gun because violent men aren’t going to be persuaded to be peaceful by sweet reason. Governments raise armies because other governments require the threat of violent force to keep them from invading their neighbors. Even the schoolchildren will finally settle down, sit still, and listen only when they are persuaded that they had better do so, or else. In short, the threat of force is how the world brings peace.
Jesus brings us peace by bearing in his sacred body all of our sins. He suffers violence. He suffers from the violence of men. He faces the anger of sinners against sinners. He faces the anger of sinners against God. And he suffers the anger of God against sinners. Indeed, he faces on the cross all of the conflict, the violence, the anger, the war, and division of mankind into warring factions, tribes, and nations. God’s anger against sinners is taken away as Jesus bears it. Now he sends the Holy Spirit that he may persuade us of the truth of the gospel teaching. Our hearts deny it. Our consciences think it is foolishness. But the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost, persuades us that it is true. For Christ’s sake we are at peace with God. Our sins are forgiven by his blood. God holds nothing against us. Jesus has given us this peace. All of God’s anger is gone. There are no recriminations. As we confess our sin, God graciously and fully forgives us. He does not withhold his grace because of the depth of our guilt. He takes the guilt off of us. The Holy Spirit persuades us to leave it on the cross where Jesus took it away. In this way Jesus gives us the peace that the world cannot give and unites us in love for one another. Christ’s pure doctrine brings us pure peace. Our heart is neither troubled nor afraid.