Sunday, June 12, 2011

Taking and Giving

Texts: John 16:5-15; Acts 2:1-41

    I MADE A MISTAKE THE other day at work.  I ran my nose into the sidelight of a door.

    I substitute teach, and last Wednesday I was in for a Special Ed. teacher.  I was told to report to the cafeteria to supervise a particular child at lunch.  Only, this past Wednesday the school had a patio cookout for the students.  I approached the doors to the patio and looked out, seeing if I could see the child I was in charge of.  It was sunny out there, the outer doors were open, and I looked and looked but couldn't see the student or her homeroom teacher.  But I saw another teacher for the same grade.  All right, I'll go on out and ask her where my kid was.  Very purposefully, I headed out the door.

    Only it wasn't a door.  It was a sidelight, which the custodial staff had cleaned all the marks off.  Remember the old Windex slogan, "Glass so clean, it seems to disappear"?  It was like that.  I flattened my nose against that window, left a giant oil smudge on the glass, cut and bruised my nose, stunned myself, and blew the rest of the period sitting with a compress in the nurse's office.

    That was a mistake.  But we can make a bigger mistake in our thinking about God's Holy Spirit, Whose coming we celebrate on this day of Pentecost.  We can focus on Him and His gifts too much, as I should have with that sidelight, so we never see Jesus through Him.  Or we can see Jesus through Him, but forget that unlike that sidelight at school, He is an open door and He calls us to go through.

    What is the Holy Spirit's job?  Jesus says it simply in John 16:14: "He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you."  The Spirit takes everything about Jesus, from the first prophecies in the Garden of Eden to His ascension into heaven, and says to us, "All this your Saviour did for you."  He helps us understand why Jesus did what He did and said what He said.  He shows us who Jesus Christ really is and stops us from believing in false Christs of our own imagining.  His whole purpose on this earth is to lead us through Himself into the salvation and fellowship of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As Jesus says, the Spirit does not speak on His own.  His purpose is not to attract attention and glory to Himself, but to give glory to the crucified and risen Son of God, and to God the Father through Him.

    This is why it's important that we don't stop our Pentecost reading at Acts 2:13.  We need Peter's sermon to shows us the Spirit in all His taking and giving power.  Stop at verse 13, and we treat the Holy Spirit as the goal in Himself.  We bruise our noses on Him and never get through to what He wants us to experience and know.

    In Acts 2 we read that on the day of Pentecost, in the year that Jesus was crucified and rose again, the disciples, men and women, were all together in one place.  Suddenly, with rushing wind and flaming fire they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spilled out into the street, speaking in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.  They were all Galileans, but Jews and converts to Judaism from all over the Roman world heard them speaking to them in their own native languages, from east and west and north and south.  Speaking to them about the excitement they, too, could feel once the Holy Spirit fell upon them?  No.  In the power of the Spirit, these formerly-frightened souls were proclaiming the wonders of God.

    The Spirit is always about proclaiming the wonders of God.  He does not speak on His own, He does not draw attention to Himself; He speaks of what He hears from the Father.  He brings glory to Christ by taking what is Christ's and making it known to the world, that lost humanity might believe and be saved.

    We see the work of the Spirit in the sermon Peter preaches there in the street in Jerusalem. Immediately he quotes from the book of the prophet Joel, how the days would come when God would pour out His Spirit on all people.  God has spoken in Old Testament prophecy by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit keeps on showing us the truth of those words today. The last days spoken of by Joel had begun that Pentecost morning in Jerusalem, and we are still living in those last days. The Spirit is God's life-giving communication with His people, in prophecy and holy visions and divine dreams.  He entrusts the saving message to all kinds of people, regardless of sex or age or economic class.  The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost showed that a new age was dawning, and it will not end until the great and glorious day of the Lord will come.  God is speaking to us by His Spirit in these last days, and His message is this: That everyone who calls on the name of the Lord might be saved.

    But who is this Lord we must call upon?  Speaking in the Spirit, Peter declares that this is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus proved He was the Messiah by His public miracles, wonders, and signs.  The people standing there either had seen Him do all this themselves, or they had it from reliable witnesses.  Jesus was accredited by God to be the Holy One promised by the prophets, the Lord and King who would deliver Israel and reconcile them to God.  The Spirit says, Call on Jesus' name and be saved!

    Yes, but what about the crucifixion? Wasn't Jesus condemned for blasphemy?  Didn't He die like a common criminal?

    In the strength of the Spirit, Peter is able to announce clearly and boldly: "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge."  The crucifixion of Jesus Christ wasn't a sad accident, or just desserts, or yet another example of the absurd indifference of the universe.  It was part of God's plan for the exaltation of His Son and the redemption of our souls.  And so God raised Jesus from the dead, "because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him."

    We see here how the Spirit is taking what is Christ's-- His life, His death, and His resurrection-- and bringing glory to Him through it.  Especially, the Spirit animates Peter to demonstrate the truth of Jesus' resurrection.  If there's going to be Holy Spirit preaching, it has to glorify Christ risen from the dead. Look at Psalm 16! Peter urges the crowd.  King David was a prophet, and he foresaw that God's Holy One would not decay in the grave.  David speaks in the first person, but he cannot be speaking about himself, for as everyone knew, David's tomb was right outside Jerusalem.  Rather, he was speaking of the resurrection of the Christ Who was to come.  Peter and the other disciples could confidently testify that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and He indeed had been raised from the dead.  They were all witnesses of this fact.

    Not just in Peter's sermon but in all faithful preaching, the Spirit witnesses to the fact of Christ's ascension into heaven.  Jesus now is exalted to the right hand of the Father in majesty.  There in glory the Jesus receives the Holy Spirit as a gift to Him from the Father, and from His throne in heaven the Son sends the Spirit to us.  This is the same Spirit that enabled David to testify about Jesus, saying,

    The Lord said to my Lord:
           "Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
           a footstool for your feet."

    The crowds in Jerusalem didn't witness Jesus' ascension into heaven.  Neither did we.  For that matter, the disciples themselves could not see what happened to Jesus after the cloud hid Him from their sight.  But the power and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's people prove that Jesus indeed is exalted on high.  Only One who was God Himself could promise to send the Spirit upon us and keep it.  Our ascended and glorified Lord has sent the promised Holy Spirit, and by His revelation we can be assured that God has made this Jesus, Whom our sins crucified, both Lord and Christ.  The Spirit brings our rebellious souls into submission to Him.  The Spirit opens our eyes to worship Christ as our God and heavenly King.  And the Spirit changes our hearts to accept Jesus as the one Saviour and Redeemer of our souls.

    The Holy Spirit spoke on that day nearly two thousand years ago.  He spoke in the words of Scripture written and by the word faithfully preaching.  This is still how He speaks today.  Churches think they have make things exciting and new if people are to believe in Christ.  No.  It is still through the Word that the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and gives it to us, that men and women might repent and be saved.

    The people that day were cut to the heart by what Peter had said.  The Spirit convicted them of their sin, and they cried out, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

    The Holy Spirit's answer to them is the same for as for us:  "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."  Baptism is God's holy sign given to us in the Spirit that shows that we now belong to Him.  The Holy Spirit Himself is the seal of our baptism into Christ, come to live in us, to guide us into all truth, to bind us to God in Christ forever.  He is God's gift to us, for all who receive Jesus Christ by faith.

    Peter says, "The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call."  The gift of the Holy Spirit transcends Israel.  He is not just for the old, the wise, and the learned.  He descends and dwells in everyone in all times and in all places, all whom God has elected to be joined to His people.

    On that day of Pentecost, the Spirit took what was Christ's and He gave it to the citizens and visitors of Jerusalem.  Luke records that about three thousand accepted Peter's message about Jesus that day and were added to "their number"-- that is, the number of God's Church.  Brothers and sisters, one of the Spirit's greatest roles is to incorporate us into the body of the Church through Christian baptism.  Paul's Letter to the Ephesians returns again and again to the truth that in the Spirit we are built up together to be God's dwelling place.  It is the Spirit who gives gifts to the members of the Church for the good of the Church.  We are to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all. On that Pentecost morning the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church of Jesus Christ, and to this day He is her life, her unity, and her power.

    Brothers and sisters, this same Holy Spirit is at work in the Church today. He is still taking what is Christ's and giving it to us, that Jesus might be glorified in heaven above and on the earth below.  He is still opening minds to the meaning and power of the Scriptures.  He is still entrusting men and women with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Even when we go astray, the Spirit is still convicting the Church and the world of our sins and calling us out of darkness into the light of the grace of God.

    The Holy Spirit is our open door into this grace.  I invite you now, accept His ministry in you.  Go through the door into the joy found only in Jesus, the Son of God.  The Spirit declares:  Jesus died for you, He rose for you, He ascended into heaven for you, He sent the Holy Spirit for you.  Accept the truth the Spirit brings, for He does not speak on His own, He speaks only what He hears, and His message is forgiveness, salvation, and joy in Jesus Christ, now and forever more.  Amen.

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