First Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Second Lesson: Acts 2:1-21
Gospel Lesson: John 14:25-27
Sermon Text: All three lessons
This is not an uncommon occurrence. I’ll be at church at 6:30 on a Monday evening during the school year. A member comes in for choir or to clean church. When they ask why I’m there, I say, “It’s catechism night.” I follow that up by asking, “Want to join us?” More often than not this is the response: “Probably should – would do me good to bone up on some of that stuff. It’s been years.” I don’t think most people are kidding when they say that. In fact, whenever we have a Bible class on Wednesday or Sunday that deals with stuff/teachings from the catechism, I get a lot of feedback on that. For the future, if we have enough room, I would love to have a catechism class every Sunday along with our normal Bible class. That way when people wanted a refresher on baptism or the 7th Commandment, they could hop in for a class or two.
Why mention that? Well, it is Pentecost. And certain days of the church year we focus on certain things. Christmas, of course, is always about Jesus’ birth. On Maundy Thursday we always focus on Holy Communion. If there is one thing we always talk about on Pentecost, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. And about him… To do a Bible study or sermon on Jesus is easy. So much is written it’s simple to put it all together to get a complete picture of him, his work, etc. But the Holy Spirit is different. Usually, instead of whole sections that talk about him, there are small sections or verses. Each might mention one of two aspects of him and his work. Today we’re going to take those pieces and put the puzzle together. The best way I could think of doing that was to take you back to catechism class. There are a few minor changes, but what we are going to go through is essentially what I take the confirmands through every year when the topic is the Holy Spirit. And while this will be heavy on doctrine, in finding out who he is and what he does, hopefully we’ll see the daily, practical aspect of all that.
First things first. Who is the Holy Spirit? What is he? Matthew 28:19 – “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Trinity. He’s not 1/3 God, with Jesus and the Father filling up the other 2/3. He is 100% God, individual and distinct. How do we know that? Acts 5:3-4 – “Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?... You have not lied to men but to God.’" What does Peter call God when talking to Ananias? He calls him God. What does the Holy Spirit know?
1 Corinthians 2:10-11 – “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Paul says he knows all things. Who alone knows all things? God. Therefore… the Spirit is God. Titus 3:5 – “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” And Paul says the Spirit saves us. Who alone saves? God. Therefore… the Spirit is God. If something is called God, has the same characteristics as God, and does the same stuff as God, what must that thing/person be? You got it – true God.
Next, on to what the Holy Spirit does.His main work is called sanctification.Justification is what Jesus did for us on the cross.He died to pay for all our sins, and because he did, our debt has been paid and we are declared not guilty.Sanctification is how that work is applied to us.And it means that we are set apart.1 Corinthians 6:11 – “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 1:2 – “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy…” We as believers are called away from the mess and the foolish ideas that populate this world. Instead, we are called to faith as members of God’s family.
Think of it this way. The game up here took place on the other side of the country. But you saw it. How? Because a TV crew beamed it up to a satellite which sent it to your home. The camera crew brings what happens 1000s of miles away to you. Essentially, the Spirit does the same thing. 2000 years ago Jesus died on the other side of the world. How, why does that mean anything to you? Because the Spirit took what happened and worked faith in your heart to believe it did happen.
But that leads to another simple question. Why did we need the Holy Spirit to do this for us? Well, let’s focus on some bad news. None of us come into this world as a Christian. Actually, it is much worse than that. Ephesians 2:1 – “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
Physically, we were alive. But there was nothing going on in our hearts. Acts 26:17-18 – “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins. ”We were also spiritually blind. We don’t know God’s truths, and on our own, even if we heard them, they wouldn’t make any sense at all. It’d just be a bunch of jibberish. Romans 8:7 – “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.” Finally, we were born as enemies of God. Not friends, not causal acquaintances, but enemies. If that seems harsh, think about it this way. Who does the sinner in us love best? Ourselves. God demands that he be first in our lives and, for example, show love even to those who hate us. We don’t want to do that on our own, and we resent someone telling us what to do. We buck against and fight him at every turn because we want to do our own thing.
Doesn’t make for a pretty picture, does it? In catechism class, I tell the kids we come into this world as spiritual roadkill. I started using that term 10 years ago. On my way to church, I saw a raccoon had met its end in front of our church. We took a field trip. Boys loved it. Girls were repulsed. I asked them if there was anything that raccoon could do. Of course not, they said. I told them that that is us spiritually speaking. Read these passages and realize the results of being spiritual roadkill. Matthew 13:14 – “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 – “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” John 15:16 – “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” We are lost and dead, and we have absolutely no hope on our own.
But guess who stepped in?The Holy Spirit.1 Corinthians 12:3 – “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit.” On our own, as this passage points out, we couldn’t make heads or tails of God’s Word – it didn’t make any sense. And on our own, we can’t/won’t reach out to Jesus as our Savior. All this needed to change, and the Spirit is the one who did the changing in us and for us. He sanctified us. He called us out of this unbelieving world. He called us to faith. Instead of darkness, we walk in the light. Instead of being confused, we understand. Instead of being God’s enemies, we are part of the family.
And how did the Spirit do this? He came into our hearts. Because of him, we call Jesus “Lord” and believe that to be the truth. Romans 5:5 – “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Because of him, we know the love of God. The Spirit poured it into our hearts. And what means did he use to do this? What tools? Romans 10:17 – “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” John 17:17 – “Your Word is truth.” He used the Word of God. That powerful Word caused faith to bloom in our cold, dead hearts. That Word which is truth filled our hearts with the fire of God’s love. And for a great majority of us, that Word took hold of us at our baptisms. Acts 2:38 – “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit, working through water and the Word, called us to life in Christ and gave us a shiny, new, gift from God - faith. And baptism is such a beautiful picture of this because – be honest – what can an infant do for himself? Nothing. He is totally reliant on others. We were the infant spiritually. We needed someone else to do all the work. That someone is the Spirit. He called you, he washed you, he planted faith in you, and he declared you to be a child of God. Who says there is no such thing as a free lunch?
So there you go. That is the catechetical (love that word)/doctrinal part of the message. But we have to ask the question… What does this mean to me on a daily basis? I have a feeling that as we went through this, some cobwebs were knocked off and you started recalling some of this from when you say in confirmation class years ago. But how does all this help us in our daily lives? Why is all this important stuff we should review on a pretty regular basis? And what does any of this have to do with my day to day struggles, my fears for the future, my concerns about family and friends, etc.?
I know I say this a lot, but it means everything. In almost any area of life, one of the best things we can have is confidence. Confidence helps with the game, gets you the date, and helps you land the job. It also comforts you as you make big decisions. Everything we have said about what the Spirit has done for us in the past and continues to do today is rock solid truth. And what does that work in us? Confidence, a confidence in things so much more important than sports or dating.
Answer these questions in your head. After a day filled with spiritual battles, many of which you happened to lose, do you feel good about yourself? Ever see other people doing a great job of applying their faith and you feel like a piece of trash? Esp. after a “big” sin or a sin that will have long lasting ramifications, do you ever doubt or wonder if God could forgive you? Do you ever get nervous when you think about dying – not only the when or how part but also the “what comes after/where will I be” part? We have these struggles/doubts/fears because deep down inside each of us is a sinner. That sinner is arrogant and cocky and at the same time scared and worried. There is zero confidence in that sinful part of you.
Now answer these questions out loud – they’re all yes or no questions. Did Jesus go to the cross for you? Did he pay for everyone of your sins on that cross? Are you a part of God’s family? Did he call you to faith? Do you believe what the Bible says about God never leaving or forsaking us? Do you believe that to be true? And do you know that when you die, you will enjoy eternity at the feet of the Savior who lived and died and rose to make that a reality?
That is the saint, the Christian in you talking. And that saint, that Christian, exists because of the work of the Holy Spirit. Because of the faith he worked in you, despite what the sinner in you says, you know you are loved by your Lord. You know he will be with you every day to encourage you, forgive you, comfort you, and lead you. Because of the faith he worked in you, despite what the sinner in you says, you know nothing will ever separate you from God’s love – no struggle, pain, hardship, or loss. Because of the faith he worked in you, despite what the sinner in you says, you know that the Lord will be at your side 24/7/365, and when the time is right, he will take you home to heaven.
And tell me that doesn’t have an effect on everyday living. How much could you really enjoy life if you had no idea who you really were, why you are here, and where you are going? That sounds like a miserable existence to me. But you know who you are – you are a child of God, made so by the Spirit. In a time when so many struggle and fail to be at peace with themselves, you have it. God gave that peace as he brought you into his family. You know you and your Lord are one, and he will always be at your side. That means you can face any challenge with confidence instead of fear/doubt. And you know that no matter what happens, that seat at the banquet feast of heaven is reserved for you. You don’t need all the things the world says are so important – tons of money, respect, a bigger this, a better that. In Christ, and due to the faith the Spirit worked in you, you look past those things to something glorious and amazing beyond words. Through your whole life, through the ups and downs, the good and the bad, you always have one eye on the future, a fantastic future with no end.
Really, the Spirit has changed everything about you. You are alive in Christ. You are a person of faith. You know the truth of God’s love. And you know the end result of that love. All this is yours, because for you, the Holy Spirit did his amazing work. Today is Pentecost, and yes, we do REALLY focus on the Spirit today. But in essence, every day is Pentecost. Who we are, what we are, and where we are going, those are all questions the Spirit has answered for us. All of them give us a confidence that only believers can have. And that confidence is a Spirit worked gift meant for each and every one of you. Enjoy today. Enjoy it tomorrow. Enjoy it for eternity. Amen.