MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
John 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: 27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. John 16:1 These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. 2 They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. 3 And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.
Man searches for truth. The information has increased the distribution of facts and opinions, but people still wonder, “What is truth?”
In this Gospel, Jesus teaches us about the work of the Holy Spirit. This particular Sunday comes after the Ascension of Jesus and just before the Day of Pentecost. Most Christians think that Pentecost is a holiday unique to Christians, but the day is simply taken over from Jews who continue to celebrate Pentecost as they did in the past, as 50 days after Passover.
The Gospel lessons from John address the coming of the Holy Spirit several times. I find one description of the work of the Holy Spirit annoying, but it also fits very well. Once Northwestern Publishing House published a book about the Holy Spirit called, The Holy Spirit, The Shy Member of the Trinity.
This title comes from the Biblical witness that the work of the Holy Spirit is to witness to the glory of the Father and the Son. If you read many different passages in the Bible, you will see how often the Father and the Son are emphasized, while the work of the Holy Spirit is implicit.
Dr. Robert Preus taught at Ft. Wayne that Pentecostalism arose because modern Christianity was too interested in Jesus alone, to the detriment of understanding the Holy Trinity, especially in how the Holy Spirit works. This requires some explanation. The liberals attacked Christianity by denying the divinity of Christ and wondering out loud what He really thought about Himself. Their main code word was “the mind of Christ,” distorting a phrase from Philippians 2. What they meant by this was that Jesus did not consider Himself the Son of God, so we should have this same “mind of Christ.” This also became a good excuse to teach a new doctrine of salvation by works.
Obviously in this concentration upon Jesus, built upon distortions and the manipulation of facts, the work of the Holy Spirit was forgotten. In one verse we have two descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit. One is that of Comforter, or Spokesman, or Advocate. In this role we know that those who are faithful in their study of the Word and careful in teaching the Word alone, without distortions or man-made additions, will speak God’s truth. That does not mean that any kind of blabber is the work of the Holy Spirit. But it does mean that “he who listens to you listens to Me.”
An individual could not on his own speak God’s Word. The Holy Spirit moves us to witness to the truth. Only the Spirit can plant faith in our hearts and nurture that faith through the Word and Sacraments. Knowing and believing this solves several basic problems. One is: how can I ever speak for God? The other is: how can I know what truth is?
The Christian faith is taught so clearly in the Bible that anyone can become an orthodox Christian through reading the Scriptures alone. We are helped by having other books, but the Bible does not require another book. What people often lack is not an understanding of the “difficult” Bible but a lack of study of the Word. The best professor of the Scriptures is the Holy Spirit. If we want to know what the Gospel of John teaches, the best books are not by Lenski and Kretzmann, as good as they are, but by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
I remember how excited Time magazine got about hyper-linked texts. We are used to it on the Internet now. Click on a link about Moby Dick and it takes you to the Melville museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, next to the WELS congregation there. Click on a word in the museum site and it takes you to the complete text of the novel.
The Bible did this many centuries ago. Every verse is linked to all other verses. We are confident that the entire Bible is God’s truth, but also that it is a unified truth. The tiny book of Jonah relates directly to the death and resurrection of Christ. The expulsion of Adam and Even from the garden includes the first Gospel promise of our Savior. The New Testament is filled with verses that contain a phrase from the Old Testament. Then we can see how God prepared His people for centuries to see and believe in the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus our Savior.
The Bible is the Book of the Holy Spirit. We can say the Holy Spirit does not get much credit, but to have that One Book on His resume is quite an achievement. After all, the Bible is not judged by any book. Instead, it judges all books. Recently I have been reading a massive book on Charles Darwin, who was quite a genius and student of biology. Nevertheless, Darwin’s works do not stand above the Bible even if Darwin is the smartest of all scientists. (I find it ironic that he studied the earthworm for 40 years and missed its unique role in improving the soil, emphasizing instead its ability to create soil and bury all the creations of man.)
The explosion of information makes people uncertain about the truth, but every believer can open the Scriptures and test the latest claims with what the Bible has always taught. This is a great comfort for adults and children, because we can be thrown into all kinds of educational turmoil and remain believers by clinging to the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
Although we have many faults, weaknesses, and sins, and fall into doubt about God’s power and goodness, the Holy Spirit constantly teaches us and strengthens our weak faith. As one person said to Jesus, “I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.” We believe. We trust in Christ, yet we fall into turmoil from the assaults of Satan, our weak flesh, and the unbelieving world.
How is an individual forgiven? Most of the confessions of Christianity are in confusion about this, but the Bible speaks clearly. Forgiveness comes only through the appointed Means of Grace: the Word, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. In each case, the Holy Spirit works exclusively through the Word to bring us forgiveness: through the invisible Word of teaching and preaching, the visible Word of Baptism and Holy Communion.
We have consistent worship throughout the Lutheran Church (that is the ideal, no longer in effect) for a reason – to call attention to the Holy Spirit’s work in worship, creating sorrow for sins through the Law and rejoicing in forgiveness through the Gospel. The worship service should be consistent from congregation to congregation, so that people do not whisper to each other, “I like the congregation’s pit band better than ours. We really need some bongo drums and better sound. I think I will donate some loud speakers in memory of my mother-in-law.”
Christianity Today was forced to admit that the traditional Lutheran worship service glorifies the grace of God more than any other. Isn’t it odd to have people gibbering in tongues to prove they have the Holy Spirit when the Word, baptism, and communion are welded to the Holy Spirit. In fact, God never works apart from these means of grace.
This is important to realize in terms of forgiveness. The entire world may refuse to forgive you, but every believer knows he is forgiven by God because of the promises given by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately what matters is God’s forgiveness and not the world’s forgiveness.
I know that many pastors and laity are facing great difficulties today. I cannot mention details, because they are confidential. But there is little respect for the Word of God today, especially among church leaders who no longer recognize the divine call of the pastor. Nevertheless, as bad as things may be, we still know that the Holy Spirit guides us through the Scriptures. God will judge all these things in time and the judgment will begin in the house of God.
KJV 1 Peter 4:17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
It is easy to be in a position of power and gloat over the harm done to others through bullying and abuse of power, but God sees all and understands what is in the heart of man. Many a poor Lazarus will be in the bosom of Abraham in the age to come. Many a rich baron will cry out for a drop of water when his unrepentant sins toss him into the eternal flames of Hell.
The Holy Spirit warns us and comforts us. If we love the truth, the Spirit of Truth gives us confidence and peace. If we hate the truth, the Spirit of Truth will seem to be a burning fire, a hammer, a terror, and wrath without end.