“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me. And you will also bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Oh, to be there on that day! The Day of Pentecost. A large multitude gathered from every nation under heaven. Rushing wind, tongues of fire, speaking in other languages. So much excitement that some could only imagine they must be drunk. Peter preaching boldly on the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy.
As we gather here on this Day of Pentecost, we don’t have that, do we? The assembly can hardly be called a crowd, let alone a multitude. And we’re not exactly the poster child for diversity. Only one person born outside the borders of the United States. One who speaks fluent (Portuguese) Spanish, a few who can converse in German, and one or two who know a couple of colorful expressions in Norwegian. The only air that’s moving comes from the ceiling fans. The only fire from the candles on the altar. The preacher is not nearly as impressive as St. Peter. And no one is calling the sheriff that we’re disturbing the peace.
But we do have the promised Helper, the Holy Spirit at work. Oh, certainly we are missing the wind, the tongues of fire, and the miraculous ability to preach in other languages; but we do have Baptism, the Word, and the Lord’s Supper. And it is in those means of grace that the Holy Spirit does His work.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s go back to what our Lord says as He tells His disciples what the Holy Spirit will do: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father,He will bear witness about Me. And you will also bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27). The first thing that Holy Spirit does is “bear witness” about Jesus.
Note a couple of things before we move on. First, we hear the glad news that the whole Trinity is working to save you, because the Son sends the Spirit from the Father to bear witness.
Second, the Holy Spirit bears witness—not “demonstrates,” for instance. We therefore conclude that the Holy Spirit regularly works by the Word, not by signs and wonders. He can work such things if He desires, but the absence of extraordinary sights does not mean He is absent.
Third, we note that, when the Holy Spirit bears witness, He bears witness about Jesus. The work of the Holy Spirit, in concert with the Father and the Son, is to bear witness about the Savior—not about Himself. Therefore, when the apostles bore witness, they spent little time on the Holy Spirit. By the work of the Holy Spirit, they testified of Christ. This is important for us to understand. The Holy Spirit desires to put the spotlight on Jesus. If we unduly focus upon the Spirit instead of the Son, we are not doing what the Holy Spirit would have us do.
The second action of the Holy Spirit is that He comes to Jesus’ disciples. He comes because Jesus goes away. Jesus says: “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. Now I am going to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:4b-7).
Jesus tells His disciples that He is going away, and this news pains them. Why? Because He is going to the Father by way of the cross. He is fulfilling the plan of salvation. He is preparing the way to the Father in heaven for all who believe in Jesus. Jesus speaks these words at the Last Supper. His betrayal, suffering, death are all very near. And it is because of His cross that He will send the Holy Spirit to them.
This tells us something significant. The work of the Holy Spirit is linked with the death of Jesus for the sins of the world. If Jesus did not go to the cross, the Holy Spirit would not come and work. Without Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Spirit would have no means to work saving faith. This reinforces what we learn elsewhere in Scripture, and in the rest of our Gospel lesson. The work of the Holy Spirit, first and foremost, is to deliver the forgiveness of sins won by Christ.
And this leads us to the third action of the Holy Spirit: He convicts. “And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11).
The Holy Spirit convicts, and that conviction has two meanings linked together. On the one hand, to convict is to convince by producing evidence. A prosecutor seeks to convince a jury and convict a criminal by displaying evidence. On the other hand, to convict is to pronounce a verdict. The criminal isn’t officially convicted until the jury declares him guilty. The Holy Spirit does both. He convicts by producing evidence of the truth, and He convicts by declaring a verdict.
So, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, because on account of sin the world does not believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit produces evidence in order to convince people that they are guilty of sin before God. Exhibit A here is the Law of God in His holy Word, because the Law shows us our sin and our need for a Savior. And only the Holy Spirit can convict us that we are indeed poor miserable sinners, who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of righteousness—because Jesus goes to His Father. He convinces us that the righteous, sinless Son of God went to His Father by way of the cross. Having triumphed over sin, death, and the devil, Jesus has returned to the Father in glory.
The Holy Spirit convinces us that that righteous Savior has suffered for our sins, and now gives us forgiveness and clothes us in His righteousness so that we might be acceptable to God. The Holy Spirit’s evidence for this is the Gospel. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that the Gospel is proclaimed, forgiveness is given, and faith is strengthened.
Hmmm… So far, the work of the Holy Spirit is therefore to preach the Law and the Gospel, which sounds suspiciously like the doctrine and practice of this congregation. And what is the third convicting work of the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. In other words, by Law and Gospel, the Holy Spirit convicts by handing down the verdict. The ruler of this world, the devil, is already defeated at the cross and sentenced to death—eternal death. All those who refuse the forgiveness won by Christ face the same verdict—“guilty”—and the same sentence of everlasting condemnation. However, it is quite the opposite for those who hear His message of sin and righteousness and, by the Spirit’s work, believe in Jesus. To them, the Holy Spirit announces the verdict of “Not guilty”—forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ. They will have everlasting life.
And that, in a nutshell, is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is sent from the Father to testify about the Son. He convicts the world of sin by the Law and announces the redemption of Christ in the Gospel. And as He gives the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit also gives faith to believe.
Given the Second Reading and the Gospel lesson for this day, can we conclude that the Holy Spirit is at work here at Our Saviour’s/St. John’s/Trinity? Absolutely! By the grace of God, we proclaim His Law and His Gospel, and by these means the Holy Spirit is at work. By that same Word, He works forgiveness and faith in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—just as He did among those early Christians in the book of Acts.
To those who ask, we gladly concede that the Holy Spirit can do extraordinary things like tongues of fire or languages if He desires; but His foremost work is to glorify Jesus and point to Him. If miraculous signs or speaking in other languages don’t point to Christ and Him crucified, it is safe to say they do not come from the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, we don’t especially miss rushing winds or tongues of flame, for they do not give forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Rather, given the Lord’s Word and Sacraments, we have far better workings of the Spirit—for what could be more extraordinary than receiving everlasting life?
On this Day of Pentecost, rejoice! As those first Christians gathered around Word and Sacrament, so do we; in fact, to ignore the means of grace and pursue the Holy Spirit elsewhere is to snub Him. Is the Holy Spirit here? Most certainly. Does He desire more attention for Himself and less for Jesus? Most certainly not! Our focus upon Christ and Him crucified is certainly, and only, the work of the Holy Spirit. And that is why Pentecost is so important, for apart from the Holy Spirit you would not be a Christian.
We live in a time when many deny such a thing as absolute truth, and the veil of sin is too much to keep them from refuting the absurdity of their position. Others still affirm that there is a right and wrong. However, it is only by the Spirit’s work that you confess your sinfulness and need for the forgiveness won by Christ at the cross.
It is only by the Holy Spirit that you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, for it is He who has called you by the Gospel.
It is only by the Holy Spirit that you remain a child of God, because He has gathered you into the Church and keeps you in the one true faith—the faith of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you.
It only by the work of the Holy Spirit that you can be sure that you are not forsaken, that Christ has redeemed you and will deliver you.
It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that you have the confidence of eternal life; for though you grow weary, He continues to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and keep you in the faith, so that you may be raised from the dead to life everlasting.
It is only by the work of the Holy Spirit that you have the comfort of knowing that He has made you one in Christ with those who have gone before you in faith.
Apart from the Spirit, you have none of these gifts. But by the Holy Spirit’s work, the kingdom of heaven is yours for the sake of Jesus. You can be sure the Spirit is with you, because you know exactly when and exactly where He works: In the Lord’s Word and Sacraments.
Thanks be to God, who for the sake of His Son sends His Holy Spirit. For on this day, and each day, the Holy Spirit is at work to convict you of your sin and Christ’s righteousness, so that, you might repent and believe: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.