The Day of Pentecost, May 24, 2015
John 14:25-27 (NKJV) - "These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 "But the Helper, 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. 27 "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.
“Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation.” We sing those words almost every week. And yet in the end, restoring the joy of our salvation—that’s what the day of Pentecost is all about.
Pentecost began as a major Jewish festival, the Feast of Weeks, celebrated fifty days after the Passover Sabbath. People gathered to celebrate the blessings that the LORD their God had given them—in the blessings of a bountiful harvest, but also in the blessings they had received from His Word. And it was truly a joyful time. Work and fasting were forbidden on this day—you couldn’t work and you had to eat! What’s more, people came to Jerusalem from all over to celebrate this festival and worship at the temple. Every year Jerusalem became a happy melting pot of different nationalities, languages, and cultures—you heard them all listed in our Acts 2 reading—all gathered together to worship God and celebrate His blessings!
So it’s fitting that the Lord chose this day—this joyful day of celebrating the blessings of God and His Word—to send His promised Helper, the Holy Spirit. The joy-filled Old Testament Pentecost was just a shadow that pointed ahead to the true joy that the Holy Spirit would pour out: the joy of our salvation.
Our Gospel reading today reminds us that this is a joy that you can’t get by yourself. The disciples had no joy as they sat and listened to Jesus that night—the night He was betrayed. He had spoken much while He was with them (v. 25). It seemed like Jesus knew His time was limited so He was teaching the disciples as much as He could—much the same way that someone who leaves on a long trip might leave behind a long list of instructions while heading out the door. Their minds were full of questions and they didn’t understand the answers.
So Jesus made them a promise: “But the Helper, 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” (v. 26). He promised, together with the Father, to send them the Holy Spirit to be their “Helper.” The word in Greek that the New King James editors translate as “Helper”—it’s the word that you’ve sometimes seen in English as “paraclete.” A “paraclete” literally means “one who stands next to you,” as in an advisor or advocate—a counselor! The Holy Spirit would be their Counselor.
And He would do the things that a Counselor would be expected to do. The Holy Spirit would teach the disciples all things—that is, He would make everything understandable to them that they were having trouble with now. And He would bring to their remembrance everything that Jesus Himself had spoken to them. You and I have a hard enough time remembering what people tell us when we’re calm and collected, and when we’re stressed it’s next to impossible. Yet the Holy Spirit would keep the words of Jesus in the disciples’ minds—and they would understand it!
And that was exactly what happened on Pentecost. The rushing winds and the tongues of fire—even the miraculous speaking in tongues—were outward signs of God’s presence, but the really important stuff was happening inside. The disciples began to prophecy—to speak God’s Word—because of what the Holy Spirit was doing. Now they got it! They understood that all of Scripture was pointing to the saving work of Jesus Christ. Peter now understood that the prophet Joel, when He wrote those words about sons and daughters prophesying, was writing about this day—the day of Pentecost, the day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And when it came to remembering all that Jesus had taught them—the Holy Spirit had done that for them too. Not only in their preaching, but in later years as they sat and wrote down (or in some cases helped write down) the four Gospels which record the life and saving work of Jesus Christ. And in this way, the disciples got comfort from their Counselor--they had the joy of their salvation restored to them.
As I said before, you can’t get this joy by yourself. The joy of faith in Christ isn’t something you can convince yourself of or work yourself up into. You and I are born into this world spiritually dead in sin (Eph 2:1). What does that mean? Well, what does it mean to be dead? If you’re dead, do you know that there’s a Culver’s down the street? If you’re dead, can you get up and walk down to the Culver’s and order the flavor of the day? If you’re dead, do you even care about this thing called frozen custard? Sadly, no. Because you’re dead. It’s the same when you’re spiritually dead. You can’t know God; you can’t come to God; you can’t understand or love God; you don’t even really care who God is—because you’re dead. Your soul is a valley of dry bones (Eze 37:1-14).
But then comes the Holy Spirit, your Counselor. He comes in the Word of God, in the waters of Holy Baptism. He breathes new life into your sin-deadened soul. How? By teaching you all things. First of all He teaches you that you’re dead. Not just a little dead, or half-dead, but all dead—that there’s nothing you can do to please God. That if your hope is in yourself your hope is in vain. But the Holy Ghost isn’t finished yet. He also teaches you about grace. He teaches you that God loves you even though you’re dead in sin. That He loved you so much that He sent His only Son to save you. And that because of what Jesus did, you’re not dead anymore, but alive in Jesus. And that because Jesus lives having been raised from the dead, one day He will raise you out of your grave too.
And the Holy Spirit doesn’t just make you alive, He keeps you alive. Left to ourselves we would forget all that our Lord has done for us. But the Holy Spirit, our Counselor, is also constantly right there with us, reminding us of every word our Lord has spoken—not just during His time on this earth, but also through the words of all the prophets, apostles, and evangelists. He keeps faith strong—not by getting us to speak in tongues, but by feeding us with Christ’s body and blood. This is the work of the Holy Spirit that we celebrate today: the joy of faith that He gives us.
You have that joy because like those first apostles, you have comfort from the Counselor—comfort brought through the Word of Christ, by the peace of Christ.
There are a lot of things that trouble us and sap our joy. The beheading of Christians in the Middle East; the general moral decline of our country; the latest Pew Research study which shows more and more young people self-identifying as having no religion at all. Maybe you’re troubled by what’s happening in the church. So many scandals; so many churches where people—and pastors—are ignoring the clear Word of God. Or maybe, deep in the back of your mind, you’re troubled by the unsettling truth that the more people around you seem to slide into unbelief, the less you seem to care. You just shrug your shoulders and say, “It is what it is.”
Jesus made another promise to His troubled disciples, though, didn’t He? The ultimate gift that His promised Counselor would bring: the gift of peace for troubled hearts. “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” (v. 27). This wasn’t just any peace—this was Jesus’ own peace, the peace that He was going to finalize by His innocent death on the cross. This is the peace that would be confirmed not by a dead and buried Jesus, but by a Jesus who rose from the dead. This is the peace of reconciliation, the ceasing of hostilities between man and God, the peace of the forgiveness of sins.
This is the peace that Christ gave to His disciples; and this is the peace that He now gives to you. The peace by which God says to each of you, “For the sake of my Son, Jesus Christ, by His blood, I forgive you and welcome you with open arms.” This peace of forgiveness is more than just a wish, more than just a slogan on a bumper sticker—it’s actual peace! The Holy Spirit actually takes that peace and gives it to you, and then gives you the faith to believe it!
And it’s by that gift of peace that the Holy Spirit puts everything else in perspective. In that peace, you now walk before God with a clean conscience, set free from condemnation and guilt, set free from the paralyzing grip of apathy and fear. In that peace, you now walk before God in the sure hope that you are never alone, that the Holy Spirit is always with you, working to keep your faith strong through the Gospel. And He’s working through your own proclamation of that Gospel to plant seeds of faith and make them grow in the hearts of others—that while we all have the duty to speak the truth in love, converting people to Christ is not left up to you.
And finally, it’s in that peace that the Holy Spirit does His best work as the Counselor, as the Friend who stands next to you, puts His arm around you and takes away all your troubles and all your fears. He reminds you that no matter how bad things get here, the end of the story is already written: your grave is empty and you have life forever with Jesus.
You can get so wrapped up in looking for the fruits of the Spirit in your life and wondering if the Holy Spirit is even at work in your heart that you wind up skipping right over the most important blessing that the Spirit gives you! You believe in Jesus as your Savior! You didn’t come by this faith on your own; it’s God’s gift! And that gift alone has the power to fill your life with joy—the joy of knowing you’re saved! By teaching us Christ’s words and giving us Christ’s peace—that is our ultimate comfort from the Counselor. The ultimate joy of our salvation. May that joy be restored to you on this day and always. Amen.