May 24, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Then your sons and your daughters will speak God’s Word, your young men will have visions, and your old men will have dreams. The day of Pentecost begins the last days. The Spirit comes with power and with signs and wonders—a strong, rushing wind; tongues of fire dancing on the disciples’ heads; men speaking in new languages telling the Good News of Jesus. These are the last days, the days of the Spirit, the days of the Church, the days when God’s Word goes out to all people.
It was necessary for the Holy Spirit to come, not to produce supernatural parlor tricks—the signs and wonders associated with the Spirit’s coming are only secondary things. The coming of the Holy Spirit is so that we might obtain faith—faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, which is credited to us as righteousness. The Holy Spirit comes through instruments—Preaching, Absolution, Baptism, Supper—and works faith when and where it pleases Him. And though these instruments,
The Holy Spirit Calls, Gathers, Enlightens, and Sanctifies You and the Whole Christian Church on Earth
The Small Catechism’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed is beautiful in its simplicity. 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. Faith is not a creation of the intellect or a strong will, but it is a creation of the Word. The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, which is to say that the Holy Spirit is your preacher.
But popular spirituality has no use for such workings of the Spirit. Human nature is drawn inward to look for the workings of the Spirit, and so popular spirituality is ever on a quest to identify and produce these unidentifiable, unexplainable, inner impulses that can’t be attributed to the senses. One popular example from history comes from John Wesley, who was the founder of Methodism. One evening he took part in a devotional study, and just happened to be reading the preface to Martin Luther’s Romans commentary, when, he later reported, he felt his heart strangely warmed within him. This, he thought, had to be the working of the Spirit, whom he had never experienced before. It wasn’t the external Word that came to him—he’d heard Scripture before and had never felt that way—no, this was different.
But the problem with strange, warm inner feelings is that they’re notoriously hard to pin down or to reproduce. And so Methodism arose as a systematized quest to recreate those inner, spiritual feelings. But the work of the Spirit isn’t a function of unidentifiable feelings; feelings can betray you (it’s not just Jedi wisdom, it’s just plain common sense). This doesn’t mean that feelings and emotion have no place in the life of a Christian—it just means that your feelings are not evidence of the Spirit’s presence and work.
Instead of looking inward to find the Spirit working, look outside yourself. The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel. His work isn’t a function of feelings, but a function of words. He calls. The call of the Holy Spirit isn’t some inward movement or flood of emotions. The call is outside of yourself. And here’s the Good News: the call of the Holy Spirit is independent of how you feel at any given time. It’s the same whether you’re on the highest of highs or sunk in the lowest of lows. The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel.
The past several weeks have been stuffed full of promises of the Holy Spirit. And in today’s Gospel, those promises are summed up in one sentence: But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in My name, that One will give you all things and will call to your minds all that I said to you (Jn 14:26). This promise is twofold. First, the extraordinary gift of the Spirit that was given to the Apostles on Pentecost ensures that the words they have preserved for us in Holy Scriptures are truly God’s words. And second, when you hear that same Gospel, spoken again today, the Spirit is also at work in you, recalling the words of Jesus, reminding you again of His Word of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of healing and restoration.
The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel. He is the one who delivers the Word of God to you, and all things that Jesus has promised you.
But He doesn’t stop with words. Talk is cheap. He also backs up His talk with signs, because our God is superabundantly generous with His grace and He doesn’t give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. There are more gifts along with the Word—signs and pledges that He is true to His Word. The Holy Spirit has enlightened you with His gifts.
The sacraments are like an engagement ring. We have the Word and promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, His pledge of forgiveness, and the future promise that He will return again to raise our bodies from the dead and to gather His people together as a bride for Himself. Baptism and the Supper are visibile, tangible reminders of this promise, and are things for faith to hold on to, as well as a means of proclaiming this promise. When a young woman gets engaged, people always want to see the ring. True the ring is no good if the man’s word is no good. But the Word behind our sacraments is the Word of God, so we ought not downplay these precious signs of God’s promise.
The signs begin with Baptism. The enlightening is not Baptism itself, but what Baptism brings. You are baptized, and thus you are enlightened not with ordinary light, but the light of Christ. You are baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and this name that is above every name changes the way you see your life, the universe and everything. Like when a light turns on in a dark room. Baptism reveals your salvation, and according to St. Peter, actually accomplishes it. Your salvation is Christ, who washes you with regeneration and renewal. He buries you with Him in His death so that He would also raise you with Him in His resurrection.
The signs continue with the Supper. Body and blood, given and shed, under bread and wine. It’s a holy meal, but obviously it’s not because of the elements. It’s holy because of what our Lord says it is: a communion with the body and blood of Christ. And just as many grains come together to make one loaf and many grapes are crushed into one cup of wine, so the Sacrament joins many together into one body. And the two will become one flesh.
Like a diamond that sparkles differently in different light, Sacraments join the Word to make the same story and promise new every time you hear it, every time you return to your baptism in confession, every time you eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
The Word and the signs are not just arbitrary religious rites that are empty of any power. They are the means by which the Holy Spirit accomplishes His Word. The Holy Spirit sanctifies you and keeps you with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith.
The Holy Spirit alone is called holy. Scripture speaks of many spirits—the spirit of man; the ministering spirits, or angels; evil spirits that corrupt and invade God’s good creation. But the Spirit of God alone is called the Holy Spirit. Because it is His unique function to make holy. And that’s what sanctification means—to make holy.
How does the Holy Spirit make holy? The Large Catechism teaches: We further believe that in this Christian Church we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments and Absolution [Matthew 26:28; Mark 1:4; John 20:23] and through all kinds of comforting promises from the entire Gospel. Therefore, whatever ought to be preached about the Sacraments belongs here. In short, the whole Gospel and all the offices of Christianity belong here, which also must be preached and taught without ceasing. God’s grace is secured through Christ [John 1:17], and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in the unity of the Christian Church. Yet because of our flesh, which we bear about with us, we are never without sin [Romans 7:23–24].
Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered toward this goal: we shall daily receive in the Church nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. So even though we have sins, the ‹grace of the› Holy Spirit does not allow them to harm us. For we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but ‹continuous, uninterrupted› forgiveness of sin. This is because God forgives us and because we forgive, bear with, and help one another [Galatians 6:1–2].
You become holy, that is, you are sanctified when your sins are forgiven. Even though you have sins, they cannot harm you. You are holy despite the sin that still adheres to you. Because God has said it.
And so the Spirit also keeps you with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith. 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. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard