May 27, 2012

“The Peace of Pentecost”

St. John 14:23-31


"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me.  These things I have spoken to you while being present with you.  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. You have heard Me say to you, 'I am going away and coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going to the Father,' for My Father is greater than I.  And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe.  I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.  But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here."  St. John 14:23-31



Pentecost is the birthday of the Church.  Actually, the Church existed from the very beginning.  Wherever and whenever God has spoken to his people he has brought them to faith and drawn them to himself.  The Church is the gathering of God’s holy people wherever they might be.  But we consider Pentecost to be the birthday of the Christian Church because it was on this day that the ascended Lord Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his apostles as he promised he would do.  Tongues of fire sat upon each of the apostles, the Holy Spirit filled them, and they began to speak in languages they had never learned.  They were empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the gospel to the world.


Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit and he did what he promised to do.  As Jesus was facing imminent death by crucifixion he taught his apostles about the work of the Holy Spirit.  They would depend on the Holy Spirit.  So would the Church.  The Spirit would remind the apostles of what Jesus had taught them.  The words they had heard from Jesus’ lips would be given to them by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of truth would guide them into all truth.  The Holy Spirit would confirm in them the gospel that Jesus had taught them.  They would teach the Church.


Pentecost is not about the signs and wonders that confirmed the apostolic testimony.  It is impressive, to be sure.  Imagine hearing the apostles, all of whom were Galileans, preaching the gospel in every language of the Roman Empire!  The miracles of Pentecost confirmed the apostolic testimony.  But the importance of Pentecost is not in the signs.  It is in the word of God that makes the Church the Church and keeps her the Church until the end of time.  The Holy Christian Church rests on the word of Jesus.  The word that Jesus taught is the word the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles.  It is a message of peace.  Its truth is guaranteed by the most holy obedience and suffering of Jesus Christ.


Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”  He says, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words.”  Jesus binds himself to what he says.  He says that he and the Father will make their home with the one who clings to his words and guards and keeps his words.


It is impossible to know Jesus, to love Jesus, to follow Jesus, and to trust in Jesus apart from knowing, loving, following, and trusting in what Jesus says.  Jesus will not be fashioned into whatever the religious market is selling.  He is who he is.  Several times in St. John’s Gospel he identifies himself as I AM – the unchanging God of Israel.  Do you love Jesus?  Listen to him.  Do you love Jesus?  Take to heart what he says.  If he tells you to do it, do it.  If he tells you to believe it, believe it.  If he says it, it is precious; it is important; it identifies him.  To cling to Jesus is to cling to what he says.


But how can we know what Jesus says?  None of us was there when he walked this earth and taught the multitudes.  Yes, people heard him preach and teach but then people can misunderstand and make mistakes.  How can we know that we have the very words of Jesus and not the words of fallible men who have their own agenda and biases and mistaken notions?


We can know that we have the very words of Jesus because Jesus himself promised the apostles he chose that he would send them the Holy Spirit who would teach them everything Jesus had taught them and bring to their remembrance everything Jesus had said to them.  This is the wonderful miracle of Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit did not just inspire those men to preach on that particular day.  He inspired them to preach the infallible word of God throughout their lives.  The Holy Spirit reminded them of what Jesus had said and kept them from making mistakes in their preaching.  More than that, he directed them in their writing so that they wrote down in the books of the New Testament the same words that Jesus had spoken to them and that the Holy Spirit had brought to their remembrance. 


This means that we have in the Bible the very words of Jesus.  We do not have to wonder what Jesus would have said about this or that.  We know.  As long as the Church stays with the apostolic teaching she stays with Christ.  When she breaks with the apostolic teaching – that is, the teaching of the New Testament – she breaks with Christ.


This is vital for us to know and to keep in mind.  Some folks try to distance Jesus from the writings of his apostles.  This is a popular deception that works with naïve Christians.  Since Jesus did not personally address certain sins that his apostles clearly condemned they will argue that Jesus took no position on it.  For example, they will claim that Jesus said nothing against homosexuality.  But he did.  He did through the apostles whom the Holy Spirit guided.  They wrote down God’s word for the Church of all ages.  The truth does not change.  To question the truthfulness of any biblical assertion is to question Jesus.  Those who attempt to drive a wedge between Jesus and the New Testament do not love Jesus or serve him or keep his words.  They deny him and twist him into someone he is not.


At the heart of the message of the Holy Spirit, that is, the message of Jesus is peace.  Jesus says,


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.


“Let not your heart be troubled,” Jesus says.  A certain talking head on television who fancies himself the answer to whatever ails the viewing audience has hijacked these words of Jesus in service to his political opinions.  Perhaps he thinks he is being clever.  But make no mistake.  The peace that Jesus promises has nothing to do with politics.  It isn’t the peace of this world.  The peace of this world is never perfect and it’s always just temporary.  The peace the world promises leaves the heart troubled and afraid because it relies on sinful people who cannot guarantee what they promise.  They depend on laws that depend on the obedience of folks who disobey.  That’s why promises of peace are not much more than wishful thinking.


The peace that Jesus gives is sure and it is permanent.  This is because he has gone to the Father.  Jesus said, “If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.” 


There is a wealth of comfort in those words.  He goes to the Father who is greater than he.  As true God he is equal to the Father.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are coeternal and coequal.  But Jesus is not speaking only as true God.  He is speaking as true God and true man.  It is as the God-man that he returns to the Father.  And the route he will follow will take him to the cross.  There it is that peace will be established.


The peace that the Holy Spirit gives us is the peace that Jesus established by his holy obedience and his suffering and death.  He is the representative of the human race.  He offers his life as our life.  He offers his obedience as our obedience.  He offers his most holy precious blood as the sacrifice for our sins.  He offers himself to the Father.  He says, “The ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.”  Look at him!  See what he offers up to God the Father.  He is sinless.  The devil has no claim on him.  He can accuse him of nothing.  For Jesus is the only purely innocent human being who has ever lived.  He says, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do.”


There is no peace in this world because the source of conflict and division and war lies inside the heart of us all.  You can change the system but you can’t change human nature.  We’ll always be drawn back to our base desires and we will end up serving ourselves even as we try to ascend to God.  Our every effort at raising ourselves up will bring us down. 


But look at Jesus.  He goes to the Father.  He goes to the Father through obedience, suffering, and death.  He goes to the Father to give to him the life of all humanity, the love, the obedience, the purity that God had every right to expect from us all.  He offers it.  He gives it.  He suffers our failure to do and to be what God required.  All that he does he does for us and all that he suffers he suffers for us and all that he does and suffers brings about peace between God and us.  There is no conflict between God and us because the source the conflict is gone.  Jesus went to the Father and took away our sins on his way.  There is nothing God demanded of us that Jesus did not do for us as our representative.  And there is no punishment we deserved from God that Jesus did not bear.  Peace has been established, the peace that Jesus gives, not the peace that the world gives.  It is the peace of sin forgiven.


But we sin.  Conflict remains.  We pine after the things of this world and set our hearts on what displeases God.  We cause conflict by our selfish ambitions.  The peace Jesus promises becomes a distant goal, a rising mist, a shadow that disappears in the hard light of our sins.  Where is Pentecost?  Where is the joy?  Where is the power?  Where is the Holy Spirit?


He is here with the Church.  Jesus promised him.  Jesus sent him from the Father.  The Church is his own creation.  The Holy Spirit makes us holy.  He comforts us with the gospel of peace and by means of this gospel he changes us on the inside out.  He takes out of us our stony heart and replaces it with a believing heart that fears, loves, and trusts in God.  He gives us the forgiveness that Jesus obtained for us by going to the Father by way of the cross.


Every once in a while I buy something with instructions that I can’t follow.  Or I think I can but when I do what it looks like I’m supposed to do it just doesn’t work.  The Holy Spirit makes us holy.  He doesn’t do so by giving us instructions that we must put into practice.  The Holy Spirit makes us holy by changing us on the inside.  He takes away the love of sin and replaces it with the love of God.  Oh, there’s a bit of conflict within – that’s true.  The sinful nature doesn’t like being uprooted and he holds on.  In fact, we’ll be living with our sinful flesh until the day we die. 


But the Holy Spirit is more powerful than our sin.  He applies the gospel of the forgiveness of sins to our spiritual wounds.  This is how he makes us holy and changes us on the inside.  He brings us the peace of Jesus that the world cannot give.  He sets our hearts at peace.  Thus the Comforter comforts us and makes us holy.  Pentecost is not just a date on the church calendar.  It is an ongoing event in our lives.  It leads us out of all trouble and the fear of death into the comfort of knowing we have peace with God.  Amen