Rejoice in the Work of the Holy Spirit
O God, what would we be if You were to forsake us? What can we do if You withdraw Your hand? What can we know if You do not enlighten? How quickly the educated become infants; the prudent, simple; the wise, fools! Let us walk in the light while we have the light, so that we may not be caught in darkness. Help us to remain in the zeal of truth faith so that we may daily increase in it through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Amen. [Martin Luther]
We are born sinners and "outcasts" from God’s family. By God’s grace and the redeeming work of Jesus we are saved from our sin. However, the forgiveness of sins which Jesus won for us comes through faith in Him –something we would not have without the Holy Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit works in our hearts to create faith and through that faith brings the blessings of salvation to us.
God chose the opportune time to pour out the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Many people from many places were gathered in Jerusalem. Their attention was caught by the sound of a great wind. They knew they had found the "right place" when they saw the tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to "preach Christ" boldly (they who had huddled in fear just a few weeks earlier) and through their preaching He brought many to faith.
Text: Ezekiel 36:22-28
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.
In Christ Jesus our Savior, and the Holy Spirit who creates a new heart within us so that we might believe and be saved—dear fellow-redeemed:
Do you recognize the name, "Michael Haydn"? Some of you may recognize Michael Haydn as being an accomplished musician and composer. However, more of us would recognize the name of Michael’s brother, Franz Joseph Haydn who wrote the "Surprise Symphony" and other famous works.
Many of us would recognize the name "Johann Sebastian Bach" and perhaps even recognize many of the pieces which he composed. BUT…did you know that there were no fewer than 53 prominent musicians who descended from J.S. Bach, beginning with his several talented sons?
Michael Haydn and the Bach children were very talented and achieved a level of fame for their accomplishments, and yet they are lost in the shadow of a "greater greatness" … or at least the greatness upon which everyone focuses. In a somewhat similar way, the Holy Spirit, is at times the "forgotten" member of the Triune God.
Today is PENTECOST, the third great festival of the church year. The first great festival is CHRISTMAS during which we celebrate the FATHER’s gift of His Son to redeem the sinful earth. The second festival is EASTER in which we celebrate the SON’S triumphant resurrection from the dead after He had died to pay the penalty of our sin. And now…PENTECOST, in which we celebrate the coming of the HOLY SPIRIT and His work in the hearts of sinners.
Much of our attention, meditation, and praise does rightly focus on the atoning work of Jesus, the SON of God. It is the SON of God who took human flesh upon Himself and lived under the law to fulfill God’s expectations on our behalf. It is the SON who took our every sin to the cross and died for them there. It is the SON of God who rose back to life so that we would not die eternally and who now lives and reigns in the glory of heaven for our blessing.
This is the wonderful news of the Gospel—the news of salvation accomplished by the SON. Yet, as wonderful as this is, to you personally it would be little more than theory or fairy tale, if that forgiveness did not come to YOU. The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation which the Son of God won for you, comes to you through faith—faith which you have only because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
In our confession of faith a few minutes ago (Luther’s explanation to the third article) we stated: "I BELIEVE THAT I CANNOT (by my own reasoning or strength) BELIEVE! We said further, "In this Christian Church He (the Holy Spirit) daily and richly FORGIVES ALL SINS to me and all believers…" What? The HOLY SPIRIT forgiving sins?? I thought that was the work of Christ. Again, the forgiveness was won by Christ, but brought to you by the Holy Spirit so the Holy Spirit is truly your “forgiver.”
On this festival in which we celebrate the Holy Spirit, come, "REJOICE IN THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT!" I. He calls II. He cleanses III. He creates.
The people of Judah had turned their backs toward God and rejected Him in unbelief. By their sinful behavior, these Children of Israel profaned/blasphemed God’s name. By their behavior, the Children of Israel dishonored God’s name among the surrounding nations and diminished Him in their eyes. Speaking to Ezekiel (before the words of the text), God looked back to the time when the people were still living in Judah before their captivity and said: “Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds; to Me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity. Therefore I poured out My fury on them for the blood they had shed on the land, and for their idols with which they had defiled it. So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds.” (Ezekiel 36:17-19).
The Lord’s name would not remain profaned. God Himself would declare His glory even when His people failed to do so. To the people in captivity, God said: ‘Thus says the Lord God: "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord," says the Lord God, "when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.” [vv.22-24]
God declared that He would gather his people from among the nations to which they had been driven. God would demonstrate His graciousness by separating His people out from among the heathen nations and once again gathering them together as a nation. This God would do to demonstrate that His name was the LORD—Jehovah, the God of promise and salvation! By rescuing His people when they had so wickedly forsaken Him, God would declare and establish His name which the people had profaned.
On another occasion, at the beginning of Israel’s history, God honored His name among the heathen nations by what He did—or more specifically, by what He did not do. When the Children of Israel had committed idolatry around the golden calf, God was ready to destroy them. However, Moses pleaded with God saying, “…why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’" Turn from Your fierce wrath and relent from this harm to Your people” (Exodus 32:12). God did turn from His anger and did not destroy Israel. Just as God spared the people at Mount Sinai for the sake of the glory of His name, so too in Ezekiel’s day, God restored the people of Judah for the sake of the glory of His name.
God’s choosing the Israelites, preserving them, and then restoring them from captivity had nothing to do with their goodness. God did all of this purely that HIS NAME’S SAKE. It was the LORD God—Jehovah, the God of promise and salvation, grace and mercy who made the promise that He would restore His people. God promised to do this because He is who He is—our gracious God! Likewise, in His dealings with us, God does not provide us salvation because of who we are but because of who He is—for His name’s sake.
God promised He would separate His people from the heathen nations and once again gather them together in their land to be His people. While on the earth, Jesus worked to accomplish the same. He called out with His Word to bring people out of unbelief and gather them for His kingdom. Jesus told His followers, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring and they shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
The call of the Gospel continues to go out to sinners of all nationalities and backgrounds. Through the Gospel, God seeks to call sinners out of the sinful world in which they live and bring them to Himself, just as He gathered the Israelites from among the heathen nations. “I say to you many will come from the east and from the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
As the Word of the Gospel calls out, it is the Holy Spirit who works in that Word to bring sinners to faith. Working through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit "sanctifies" us or "sets us apart" from the world for God. Paul wrote the Corinthians, “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). To the Thessalonians he wrote, “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spiritand belief in the truth…” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
When the Holy Spirit is called our "Comforter" and "Helper" the name given to Him is really, "Paraclete" (cf: John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7). This name is not frequently used so its meaning is not familiar and therefore, "Comforter" or "Helper" is used. "Paraclete" means, "someone who calls someone else to his side." When someone is called to another person’s side it may be for instruction, for correction, for encouragement, for comfort, for sharing in joy. The Holy Spirit calls the sinner to His side with the Gospel, and then also with the Word comforts, helps, counsels, encourages.
When the Holy Spirit calls you to His side, among the other comfort He gives, He says, "I am going to make you clean." God told the Israelites, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.” [v.25]
Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites became familiar with the image of sacrificial blood being sprinkled upon the people and upon the Ark of the Covenant’s Mercy Seat. All of the sprinkled blood was a picture of Jesus’ holy blood being "sprinkled" for the true cleansing of our sins. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14). And a little later he encourages, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22).
Like the Children of Israel in Ezekiel’s time, we are very much sinners. We have the filthiness and uncleanness of our sin and we add to it each day as we sin all the more. God assures us that He cleanses us and washes us completely pure and clean of all our sin through the sacrificial and redeeming blood of Christ. Jesus won the forgiveness of all sins on the cross and God brings the cleansing of our sins to us through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as Paul wrote, “Having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…" (Romans 5:1).
It is by faith in what Jesus has done that God declares us righteous (justifies) in His sight. We are unable to believe without the Holy Ghost’s work in our hearts. The Holy Spirit cleanses us by "sprinkling us" with the cleansing blood of Christ through the faith He creates. “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit”(1 Corinthians 12:3).
We say "Merry Christmas" when we celebrate Jesus’ birth. We say "Happy Easter" when we celebrate His resurrection. "Peaceful Pentecost" would be a fitting greeting as we celebrate the work of the Spirit. The cleansing and forgiveness which the Holy Spirit brings to us gives us “peach with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Being cleansed of our sins means we have the peace of being able to look to God as our heavenly Father, not as an angry judge. It is the peace of being able to come before God care-free, because He is bearing our cares and worries. It is the peace of knowing that regardless of when our death or Judgment Day come, we need not fear because in Christ our sins are removed and in Him all shall be made alive.
The Holy Spirit calls us into the family of God, through the faith He creates cleanses us, and through that cleansing CREATES a new heart within us. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” [vv.26-28]
We are each born with a heart locked in the stone-cold grip of sin. By nature our hearts are hard and cannot love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Our hearts are hard and bitterly opposed to God as long as we are held under the sway of sin. The Holy Spirit changes that heart into a heart that loves God, into a heart that delights to follow in what is pleasing to God. The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts and creates a "New Man" to live within us that is so different from the sinful flesh (Old Man) which we have by nature.
This transformation is amazing indeed. Consider how Paul described the former sins of the Corinthian Christians: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, norsodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, norextortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Some of the Corinthian Christians had been involved in these open sins which Paul mentioned. Is it really possible for someone caught up in those sins to be turned away from it and to faith in Christ? Indeed it is!! – through the creative work of the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit has called us out of sin and the sinful world and the ways of the sinful world. He has called us to be children of God. This affects how we live our lives. “God did not call us to uncleanness but unto holiness…” (1 Thessalonians 4:7). I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me…” (Galatians 2:20).
The holy lives we seek to live apply not only in what people see, but also the parts of our lives that only we and God see. The thoughts, the unseen actions, how we conduct ourselves and live when on one else is watching. God calls us to holiness in this part of our lives too.
Not only do we show our love for Christ when we live lives that are pleasing to Him, but we also honor the Holy Spirit. For when the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts through the Gospel and creates the new heart within us, we become His dwelling place. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For "the two," He says, "shall become one flesh." But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:15-20).
Paul speaks specifically of sexual sins which in a very physical way join the temple of the Holy Spirit together with sin; but his caution applies to all sin as well. Every time we involve ourselves in sin we are involving the temple of the Holy Spirit in that sin. Your body are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit—don’t take that body into sin, don’t use that body to accomplish sin—pursue righteousness! (cf: 1 Timothy 6:11).
The creation of a new heart that seeks God to replace the old heart which opposed Him is a miracle. The creation of a new heart within us is no less dramatic than God’s creation of the world in the very beginning. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “It is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). The same powerful word of God which said, "Let there be LIGHT" and there was light (cf: Genesis 1) has also worked in your hearts to bring spiritual light to you.
Having the Holy Spirit dwelling within you is an assurance that eternal life is waiting for you in heaven. Paul told the Ephesians, “In [Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Heaven still lies in the future for each of us, but in the meantime you have the Holy Spirit as a seal—a guarantee. That guarantee states: I’m a citizen of heaven. See I have this proof, God has made me His child, I’m an heir of eternal life." Having the guarantee of heaven itself abiding in your hearts is indeed a wonderful blessing and every reason to rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit.
Today marks the end of the "festival half" of our traditional church year. God does not command that we follow a church year such as we do. He only desires that we worship in "spirit and in truth"(cf: John 4:23). However, we can see the wonderful blessing which our forefathers put into place when they developed the church year.
In the past several months we have thrilled to rejoice in the grace of ourFATHER who sent His Son as we came to the manger in Bethlehem. We have sorrowed over our sins during the days of Lent during which we saw the grim reality of our sins. We saw Jesus die on the cross for our sins. We have again been filled with the overflowing joy of knowing that Jesus, God’sSON is ALIVE! And now we also rejoice in the outpouring and work of theHOLY SPIRIT.
On Trinity Sunday, next Sunday, we bring all of this together and offer our highest praise and thanksgiving to the Great Triune God of our Salvation! How wonderful to rejoice in His blessings! … all of this is ours, through the work of the Holy Spirit… REJOICE! Amen.
Pastor Wayne Eichstadt