The Holy Spirit and the Holy Church
Pentecost Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| May 24, 2015| Joel 2:28-32
And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the remnant whom the LORD calls. Joel 2:28-32
In Luther’s Small Catechism, we confess the meaning of the third article of the Creed with these words:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers, and will at the Last Day raise up me and all the dead, and give unto me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
In Luther’s Large Catechism we confess:
If you are asked, What do you mean by the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”? you can answer, “I believe that the Holy Spirit makes me holy, as his name implies.” How does he do this? By what means? Answer: “Through the Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” In the first place, he has a unique community in the world. It is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.
Pentecost is the birthday of the Christian Church. The Father poured out the Holy Spirit. The Son poured out the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son was poured out on all flesh. The Holy Spirit is the Creator of the Christian Church. As the church sings:
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
And make our hearts Your place of rest;
Come with your grace and heavenly aid,
And fill the hearts which You have made.
The church is the assembly of saints. It is the sum total of all those who are justified by God through faith alone in Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit brings sinners to trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin he is creating the church. Then, the Holy Spirit uses the church he has created to give birth to more Christians. The church receives the Spirit. The church gives the Spirit she has received.
You cannot see the Holy Spirit but he makes himself known. He has done so in the past through prophecies, dreams, visions, and other miraculous gifts. The events of the first Pentecost, ten days after Christ’s ascension into heaven, fulfilled the prophecy of the prophet Joel. He foretold the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He wrote:
I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
The Holy Spirit comes to all Christians. There are not classes of Christians. There are not levels of spirituality. God doesn’t rank his children as the world does. You either have the Holy Spirit or you don’t. The Holy Spirit comes to men and women, boys and girls, young and old, rich and poor. As St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:28,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Pentecost is proof that the Holy Spirit comes, not just to the preachers, but to every individual Christian. As God said through Joel: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh.” That’s what happened. That’s how it remains throughout the history of the church. It is true that Christ has established in his church an office of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments and that nobody may assume the duties of this office unless he is rightly called by God through the church. God sets down the qualifications for this office in the New Testament. But pastors don’t have more of the Holy Spirit than laypeople do. The Holy Spirit is not a thing. He is not a power. He is not a force. He is a person. He is God. When the Holy Spirit is poured out on you, you are filled with God himself. He lives within you.
This is what the signs of Pentecost signified. The dreams, visions, prophecies, speaking in tongues, and so forth were visible proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence. God confirmed the truth of Elijah’s preaching by sending fire from heaven. Christ confirmed the truth of his preaching by signs, from changing water into wine to raising the dead. God confirmed the truth of the apostolic word in a variety of ways. When the New Testament was completed and the original apostles passed away, the signs signifying the Spirit’s presence also passed away. St. Paul predicted this would happen. He writes in 1 Corinthians 13:8,
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
This happened a long time ago, already in the first century. But the Holy Spirit did not leave. He remained and he will remain until the end of time. Joel’s prophecy continues:
And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
The prophet joins two events and makes them one. He brings together the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, which happened some two thousand years ago, and the end of the world, which hasn’t happened yet. These two events belong together. The church has always been living in the end times. We live on the edge of eternity. This world has nothing we need. All we need we are given by the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
And we need him. We need the Holy Spirit because without him we are spiritually blind. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14,
These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
We need the Holy Spirit because without him we are spiritually dead. St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-5,
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
We need the Holy Spirit because without him we are enemies of God. St. Paul writes in Romans 8:7-8,
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Pentecost is not about special effects. Don’t be distracted by the various gifts that signified the Spirit’s power in the early church and then quickly passed away into history. The Holy Spirit remains almighty God. But his power lies hidden underneath great weakness. Consider this. The single most powerful act of God since the beginning of time was when he destroyed the power of the devil to claim us, to accuse us, or to deceive us. When was that? It was when Jesus suffered and died on the cross, bearing the sin of the world. Underneath his apparent weakness was almighty power. The power of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts of stone into believing hearts, to bring us out of spiritual death into spiritual life, to create in us clean hearts and to renew our spirit – this power flows from the blood of Jesus shed on the cross to cleanse us from all our sins.
We find the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the cross, where Jesus suffered and died for our sins, to wash them away by his blood. Jesus joins the Holy Spirit to the words he speaks. He calls his words spirit. He says the Spirit will remind the apostles of what he, Jesus, said to them. Don’t look for the Holy Spirit in your imagination. The devil is very imaginative. Don’t look for the Holy Spirit in your feelings. It can feel so right and be so wrong. Don’t look for the Holy Spirit in your deep and holy thoughts as you skip church, ignore the preaching of the gospel, and neglect the Holy Scriptures. Look for the Holy Spirit to be where the word of God is rightly preached and where the sacraments of Christ are rightly administered. The Holy Spirit, the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life are given to us where Christ’s saving word sounds forth. As St. Paul wrote:
I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16)
It is by this gospel that the Holy Spirit enables us to call upon the name of the LORD and be saved.
The Holy Spirit tells you that you belong to the church. He persuades you, through the gospel of Christ, that the church is never they; it is always we. It isn’t a clique of religious folks who need to admit you into their club. It is the holy body of Christ, made holy by the Holy Spirit who was poured out on all flesh – young and old, male and female, rich and poor. When the Holy Spirit makes you a member of the holy Christian Church you have more status than anyone in the world can give you.
The church is our mother who gave us birth through the word of God. She is also the ark of salvation. When God destroyed the world by a flood, only those inside of Noah’s Ark were saved. When God destroys the world at Christ’s return, only those inside the church will be saved. Outside of the church there is no salvation because outside of the church there is no Holy Spirit. When the world is destroyed, a remnant will be saved, as the prophet foretold. The Holy Spirit will keep them safe in the church. In Mt. Zion there will be deliverance. He who called his church to faith by the gospel, will, by the same gospel, preserve her in the truth faith and bring her everlasting peace on the last day. Amen.