Festival of Pentecost & Jerico Confirmation – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
Brought to the foot of Mt. Sinai after God had led them out of slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel were terrified. They were terrified because God came down on the mountain, and He didn’t come meekly. He came down in a raging fire. The whole mountain was wrapped in a thick cloud of swirling smoke. Lightning flashed, the ground trembled, and God spoke with a voice of thunder.
The LORD had come to give His holy Law to His people, to tell them how they should conduct themselves in their homes, in their communities, and in their gatherings to worship Him. The clear message was this: If you disobey this God, His fiery wrath is a terrible thing to face.
John the Baptizer indicated that the Messiah would come with such fire: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mat. 3:11-12).
Who could endure the day of His coming? Who could stand when the righteous God appeared (Mal. 5:2)? We have all disobeyed God’s holy Law. We have all invited His wrath against us. But Jesus did not come to destroy us; He came to save us. He came to face the hot anger of God and to step into the flames of hell in our place. He made peace with God for us. And He wants all sinners to know it.
This is why He sent out the Holy Spirit. Just like at Sinai, God came again in fire at Pentecost, but it was a much gentler fire. The Holy Spirit inspired in the apostles a message not primarily of Law and judgment, but of grace and hope. The people did not shrink back from this manifestation of God in fear; they drew closer in awe. They were glad to hear these Galileans speak in their own languages “the mighty works of God.”
The Holy Spirit had been poured out as Jesus promised to guide people in the truth. He was here to plant faith in sinful hearts through the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and to continue to shine the light of His grace and forgiveness into their hearts. In thanksgiving and prayer for the ongoing work of the Spirit, we rise to sing our festival verse, “O Light of God’s Most Wondrous Love” (ELH 399) / “O Holy Spirit, Enter In” (TLH 235, v. 1).
Text: Acts 2:1-13
In Christ Jesus, who delivered on His promise to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples, and who still sends out the Holy Spirit even now, dear fellow redeemed, and especially you, Karson, on your Confirmation Day:
When Lutherans hear the account of Pentecost, they come across some very familiar words in Acts 2:12. There the devout Jews in Jerusalem ask a simple question, “What does this mean?” We are used to asking that question. In the six chief parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, that question is specifically asked twenty-two times. It is a prompt for digging deeper, for coming to a clearer understanding of God’s Word.
But it isn’t just Lutherans who ask this question. Everyone does. The expressions may differ somewhat, but the idea is the same. A child may point to any number of things and ask, “What is that?” A person may examine evidence and try to figure out how things come together, saying: “What do we make of all this?” Or we may search for answers about why God allows certain things to happen: “What does this mean, God? Help us understand.”
The question is an important one. It acknowledges that we do not know everything. It expresses a desire to be taught. This is the position the Jerusalem Jews were in. It bewildered and perplexed them to hear these common Galileans speak in a multitude of languages. No matter where the people were from, they heard God’s truth in their own native tongue. “What does this mean?” they asked one another.
Peter told them. He cited the words of the Old Testament prophet Joel beginning with this statement, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Act. 2:17). And a few verses later, “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 21). Then he went on to teach about Jesus of Nazareth. Though He was crucified, died, and was buried, yet God raised Him up. Peter said that the apostles were witnesses of His victory over death, and that this Jesus was the one who now poured out the Holy Spirit as the people were “hearing and seeing” (v. 33). Jesus was the reason the message of salvation was being delivered to them in their own languages.
Hearing Peter’s words, the people “were cut to the heart” (v. 37). They felt the guilt of what had been done to Jesus some fifty days before this. With their “What does this mean?” answered, they now they asked a different question, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37). Peter replied, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (vv. 38-39).
Peter described the way for them to be reconciled to God. He did not tell them they had to carry out some great work or give a significant gift for the cause. Grace was extended to them on the basis of Jesus’ work. This grace was for everyone, no exceptions. Everyone who believed and was baptized would be saved (Mar. 16:16). These baptized believers received the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The same is true today. Forgiveness in Jesus’ name and the gift of the Holy Spirit are still given to those who are baptized. Many of you here today have received these blessings. God claimed you as His child in Holy Baptism and has continued to strengthen your faith through His Word. As long as you are kept in this saving faith, you retain the forgiveness of all your sins no matter what they may be, and the Holy Spirit continues to dwell within you. Especially today, we celebrate God’s giving of these blessings to Karson. We give thanks that he is now ready to confess his faith publicly in the presence of the congregation and to join us at the altar to receive the body and blood of our Savior in Holy Communion.
The devil does not want us to partake of these means of grace through which the Holy Spirit works. He tries constantly to tempt us away from them. He puts other things in front of us to keep us occupied and distract us from God’s saving Word. These may be good things like work and family, or they may be bad things that actively lead us to sin against God. Ultimately, Satan wants us to regard the Word of God like those scoffers on Pentecost. These heard the preaching of the apostles, and instead of listening to what was said, they accused the disciples of being drunk on new wine.
This treating the Word as insignificant or turning away from it can happen to any of us, and in fact it has happened to all of us. We have viewed the Word of God as something common, something we can take or leave. Maybe we told ourselves that what matters most is how we live our lives. Or what matters most is not what God gives to us, but what we offer to Him. We have failed to eat and drink and absorb the Scriptures as God’s own revelation and truth for us. Thinking we have the Bible mastered, we do not pour over it, humbly and diligently asking at every point, “What Does This Mean?”
And yet, even though we have not listened to and applied God’s Word to ourselves as we should, God in His mercy has brought us again today to hear it. Whenever His Word is heard or read or meditated upon, the Holy Spirit is at work in us. Through the Word of the Law, He exposes the sins of our mind and heart, so that we realize how far we have fallen short of God’s glory. And through the Word of the Gospel, He points us to Jesus, who lived the perfect life for us that God requires, and who died to atone for all our sins.
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit led 3000 people to be baptized when they heard God’s powerful Word of grace. And so He continues to work in our hearts today. We might not speak in other languages when He comes or have tongues of fire rest upon us. But His power is by no means diminished. He still comes assuring us that our sins are forgiven, that we are justified—declared righteous and innocent—in God’s sight because of what Jesus has done. Through this Gospel message, He also strengthens our faith and sanctifies us to be bearers of light in a dark world.
We cannot do without these blessings of the Holy Spirit. We want them more and more. That is why we don’t put away the question, “What Does This Mean?” when we are confirmed. The youth confirmed this week and next would tell you that they have learned a lot in the last two years. But they know they have further to go. Our prayer for Karson and all our youth is that they never stop growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2Pe. 3:18), and that the Lord keeps them faithful to His altar.
Confirmation is much closer to our spiritual starting line than to the finish line. We never get to the point where we have learned everything we could possibly learn from the Bible. We want to continue to dig into the Word and to search for the treasures God has placed there. The Holy Spirit will uncover them for us and lead us to a deeper and clearer understanding of the great love God has for us.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from stained glass by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, c. 1660)
The Festival of Pentecost & Confirmation Day – Pr. Faugstad exordium & sermon
The Holy Spirit descended from heaven in the form of a dove at Jesus’ Baptism, and He arrived on Pentecost with the sound of “a mighty rushing wind” (Act. 2:2) and made “tongues as of fire” (v. 3) rest on the disciples. But generally, no unique sounds or visible manifestations are apparent when the Holy Spirit is at work. His power is seen in the change that happens to sinners.
When Jesus appeared many times to His disciples after His resurrection, they did not immediately go around telling people the good news. This changed when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost. Now they preached boldly in public in the very city where Jesus had been condemned and crucified just fifty days before. Now no threats or punishments could silence them, not even when they were arrested and beaten.
Through the apostles’ preaching, the Holy Spirit brought thousands more to faith in Jerusalem. As persecution intensified, these Christians spread the message of salvation in Christ wherever they went. The apostles also went out on missionary trips, preaching the Gospel despite great opposition.
By the Holy Spirit’s power, people in city after city believed. In Ephesus, those who had formerly “practiced magic arts,” now burned their books valued at a large sum of money (Act. 19:19). The Book of Acts says that “the church” everywhere “was being built up” (9:31), “the word of the Lord was spreading” to Jews and Gentiles (13:49), and “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (19:20).
This powerful work of the Holy Spirit still continues among us. His power has not diminished since the first Pentecost. We can see this by the amount of believers who continue to gather around God’s Word. Without the Holy Spirit’s work, no one would believe the Gospel. But many do believe, not just here in this congregation, but throughout our country, and all around the world.
In recognition and thanks for the Holy Spirit’s saving work, we rise to sing our festival verse, “O Light of God’s Most Wondrous Love” (ELH 399)/“Holy Spirit, God of Love” (TLH 230).
Text: St. John 14:23-31
In Christ Jesus, who manifested His love for us through His death and resurrection, and who sent out the Holy Spirit that we might be partakers of this love, dear fellow redeemed, and especially you, Max, Campbelle, and Olivia, on your Confirmation Day:
Why is it that we direct most of our prayers to God the Father or God the Son, but hardly any to God the Holy Spirit? This has a lot to do with how Jesus taught His disciples to pray. In His model prayer He told them to say: “Our Father, who art in heaven.” In another place He said, “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (Joh. 16:23). But the Holy Spirit is certainly also involved in these prayers. When we pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, we are able to do this only by the power of the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith and keeps us in the faith.
At times we do also direct prayers to the Holy Spirit, and it is not wrong to do this. The Holy Spirit is equal in power and authority with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is true God. He is the Lord, and the Giver of life. He “proceeds from the Father and the Son,” and “with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,” as the Nicene Creed states.
One of the prayers to the Holy Spirit which the church has utilized for a long time is this one: “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of Your faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.” It is a picturesque prayer. As the Holy Spirit once filled the hearts of the disciples and caused tongues of fire to rest on them, so we pray that He fills our hearts and kindles a spiritual fire within us.
But why do we need this? Why is it so important that the Holy Spirit come to us and work within us? We need His holy presence because by nature, we are sinful. As precious and innocent as we may have looked when we were born, we were not holy. King David expressed this reality in Psalm 51: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5). As sinners, we were separated from God. We had no communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
But God is merciful. He established means by which we could be called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pe. 2:9). By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the living Word of God, a great number of sinners have been converted. They have been set on another path, a blessed way that leads to the mansions of heaven.
For the confirmand(s) sitting here today, this happened for them at their Baptism. When they were baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat. 28:19), they were claimed by this merciful God as His very own children. Their sins were washed away, they were given the gift of saving faith, and they became heirs of everlasting life.
Children are baptized in white gowns to signify the righteousness of Jesus that covers over them through the water and the Word. And they are before us again today in white gowns to show that they understand and treasure the gift that became theirs at Baptism. They desire to make a public profession of the faith that came to them by the power of the Holy Spirit. And they desire to have their faith increase as they will now be admitted to the Table of their Lord to eat and drink His body and blood for the remission of their sins.
Our prayer for them is that the Holy Spirit will continue to come and fill them as He has throughout their lives, and that He would continuously “kindle in them the fire of His love.” It is also our prayer for ourselves. The Holy Spirit must kindle this love in us, because we cannot produce it on our own or learn it from the world.
The world has a very different idea of love. The world defines love as the support of the lifestyle each person chooses. But this definition only applies to certain groups. In our society today, we hear that we should support those who challenge and fight against long-standing values of sexuality, marriage, and family. At the same time, any who hold those long-standing values are to be silent. Those who do not get in line with the world’s program of conformity are hardly treated with love; instead they are attacked, labeled, and subjected to ridicule. So much for the world’s version of love.
The love we want to have kindled and growing inside us is the love of God in Christ. God showed His great love for the fallen world by sending His only Son to pay the price for sin. God’s Son became Man in the Virgin Mary’s womb, and He lived a perfectly holy life under God’s law. Then He carried all of humanity’s sins to the cross where He made atonement for them by the shedding of His blood.
Jesus did this for everybody, even for those who would never call on His name, who would never believe in Him. He suffered on the cross for all people’s sins, as though He were the one who committed these sins. Imagine this love! Unlike our culture today in which one group of people is so ready to hate another, Jesus willingly suffered and died for His enemies! That is an unmatched love. It is a love that brings us great comfort when we struggle and when we fail to do what we should. Jesus died for these sins, and He forgives every one.
This great love of God also motivates us to do better and be better. How could we take a lazy approach to the Christian life when we see how focused Jesus was on doing His Father’s will? How could we ignore our neighbors in need when we see how Jesus humbly died for sinners? The strength to live for God and neighbor comes from the saving message of Jesus through which the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The Holy Spirit does not promise to come to us in any other way than through the means of grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacraments.
This is why Jesus emphasizes the importance of the Word in today’s text. He said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” Whoever loves Jesus will “keep” His Word; whoever does not love Jesus will not “keep” His Word. “Keep” in this instance does not mean “obey.” Jesus is not just talking about obeying the Ten Commandments. The word “keep” means to “pay attention to,” “hold onto,” “keep close.”
This is what Jesus wants us to do with His Word. He wants us to value it as the greatest gift we have. He wants us to gladly hear and learn it. He wants us to fill our hearts and minds with it. This is what our confirmands have been doing the last few years, and we pray that it will continue until the end of their lives. As we hear and learn and meditate upon this powerful Word, the Holy Spirit is at work in us. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit does what Jesus said He would do—He teaches us all things and brings to our remembrance all things that Jesus said. In this way, He feeds and stokes the flame of faith ignited within us at our conversion.
So now we push our confirmands closer to the front lines of spiritual battle by ushering them to the Lord’s Table. But they do not need to be afraid. They go forward with the blessing of God, knowing that His Word is true and His love for them is unchanging. The Holy Spirit will confirm them in this faith more and more through the Word just as He does for all believers. And He will remind us how Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.”
We have nothing to fear in this world, because “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). God grant that we may all grow in this confidence day after day, until we are taken from here to His eternal presence. “Come, Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of Your faithful people, and Kindle in Them the Fire of Your Love.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture is stained glass window from Saude)
The Festival of Pentecost – Pr. Faugstad Exordium and Sermon
“Do we have to celebrate your birthday again? We celebrated it last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.” Someone who talked like this probably wouldn’t be invited to next year’s party. Birthdays are important. They mark the day we made our entrance into the world.
Pentecost is the birthday of the New Testament Church. It is the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus’ disciples. With the sound of “a mighty rushing wind,” with “tongues as of fire” resting on each of them, the Holy Spirit came to give them godly courage and heavenly words to declare to the people. All those gathered there heard “the mighty works of God” proclaimed in their own language. “What does this mean?” they wondered.
Peter told them. He told them that Jesus of Nazareth, “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst”—was unlawfully crucified and killed by them. But God raised Him up and seated Him at His right hand. The people were “cut to the heart.” They had killed the Son of God! But Peter said, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2)
Then three thousand of those who heard his words were baptized. Three thousand! There had never been a day like this one. No other religion had ever taken off like this, because no religion besides this one is spread by the power of the Holy Spirit. But that was not the only day the Holy Spirit was active. He is still active. This is why we celebrate this festival, this birthday of the New Testament Church, each year, and why we thank God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who has brought the light of Jesus to our darkness and life to our souls. Let us now rise to sing our festival verse, “O Light of God’s Most Wondrous Love” (ELH 399)/“Holy Spirit, God of Love” (TLH 230).
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Sermon Text: St. John 14:23-31
In Christ Jesus, who kept His promise to send the Holy Spirit, who would teach the things of God and grant His peace, dear fellow redeemed:
Just about all people you meet today would describe themselves as “spiritual.” But not all would describe themselves as “religious.” Probably none would say that they are “religious, but not spiritual.” A whole bunch would describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” What exactly do these words mean? The popular definition of “spiritual” is that a person feels some connection to a higher power, whatever that may be. This higher power is not specifically the Christian God, the Muslim god, the Jewish god, or the Buddhist god. Today’s “spiritual” person rejects any specific teaching about God. The idea is that “god” is not something learned about; “god” is something felt and experienced. And how you feel and experience god is going to be different than how I feel and experience god.
This is the way the world defines “spirituality.” It is a supposed relationship with a god that doesn’t really have anything to say. This god sends no messages that would contradict a person’s will or decisions. This god says nothing about right and wrong. As far as the so-called “spiritual” person is concerned, god just wants us to be happy doing whatever it is we want to do.
It is no wonder that such “spiritual” people are not all that interested in being “religious.” Religion insists on certain standards and principles. It has structure. It presents specific truths about God and His creation. The free-thinking individual does not want to be bound by any of this. She thinks that religion is entirely man-made. It is the means by which one group of people wants to have control over others. With these presuppositions, the last place a person would look for spirituality is in organized religion. But why should self-made spirituality be any better or more reliable than man-made religion?
When the Bible speaks about spirituality, its definition is tied together with the work of God the Holy Spirit. It says that there is no real spirituality apart from the Holy Spirit. In St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he makes a distinction between the “natural person” and the “spiritual person.” The “natural person” refers to how all people are by nature. The natural person is “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). The natural person is “hostile to God” and “cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7,8).
This is why the Explanation to the Third Article of the Creed is absolutely correct in saying that “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” It is impossible for us to come to Christ on our own because we are spiritually dead by nature. There is no spark of good, no glimmer of hope, tucked deep inside us. To indulge in an inner spirituality apart from the Holy Spirit’s work is to give way to our own flesh, the world, and the devil. It is to remain lost with no chance of finding our way out.
But God has pity on the spiritually dead. He sent His Son to bring them life through His atoning death and resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1Cor. 15:22). Jesus has the authority and power to bring life to the spiritually dead, and He does it through His Word and Sacraments (Mt. 28:18-20). He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to “teach [His disciples] all things and bring to [their] remembrance all things that [He] said.” This work is still happening. The Holy Spirit comes to us whenever we hear and study God’s Word. He works a spirituality in our hearts that is not me-focused, but Christ-focused.
Without the Holy Spirit’s work, we would remain in our natural state. But as the Third Article of the Creed explains, “the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The Holy Spirit called us out of the darkness of unbelief, enlightened our hearts with the saving love of Jesus, and keeps us in communion with the true God. This is not an uncertain spirituality with uncertain benefits. It is a God-given spirituality that brings His gracious presence into our lives and our hearts. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
Jesus promises that the Triune God will abide with anyone who loves Him and keeps His Word close. You and I have not done always done that. We have not loved the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, and might (Deu. 6:5). And we have not been willing to give up every earthly thing—all the riches and pleasures of this world—for the Word. All too often, our love for God is barely evident, and our desire for the Word is greatly lacking. But God still loves you, and He still comes to you just as He is doing right now.
Wherever the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are rightly administered, God is present. Through these means, the Holy Spirit brings you Jesus. He credits you with Jesus’ perfect life. He bathes you in His precious blood. He feeds you with His holy body. This is a closeness with the divine that none of the non-Christian religions can imagine, and that the “spiritual, but not religious” crowd can only dream of.
A Christian Is Spiritual and Religious. By the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, he is called out of self-made spirituality and religion into the spirituality and religion of Christ. Man-made religion is worthless, but true Christian religion is not. It is established, shaped, and formed by the holy Word of God. It gives meaning and purpose to the Christian. The Word of God justifies—it is the means by which the Holy Spirit applies the death and resurrection of Jesus to sinners. And the Word of God sanctifies—it is the means by which the Holy Spirit suppresses your sinful nature and guides you to righteous living.
You and I were dead in our sins and given to all sorts of wickedness. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1Cor. 6:11). By the God-given Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit “daily and richly forgives me and all believers all our sins.” And He leads us to the “pure and undefiled” religion of love for God and love for neighbor (Jam. 1:27).
If the Holy Spirit did not do these things for you, you would care about nothing in this life but your own plans. But by His grace, the Holy Spirit has revealed to you God’s plan. He teaches you that the Savior who is seated at the Father’s right hand is “coming back to you.” On that glorious day at the Lord’s command, the Holy Spirit “will raise up me and all the dead, and will grant me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(portion of woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1794-1872)
The Festival of Pentecost – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 14:23-31
Of the three major festivals of the Christian church year, Pentecost is by far the least celebrated. Not only the lack of interest in this festival, but also in general, it seems that the Holy Spirit does not get His fair share of attention among the Persons of God. The Father is emphasized as Creator, whose Son obeyed His will. Jesus of course gets a great deal of attention as the God-Man who redeemed the world of sin. But what about the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t we spend more time studying His work?
We probably should, but I can assure you that the Holy Spirit is not jealous of the Father and the Son. And He does not require recognition to continue to carry out His work. If God’s work depended in any way on our proper acknowledgement, He would stop doing His work. But the greatest acts of God are often the things that are most overlooked and ignored. God the Father continues to preserve and operate creation by His mighty Word—operations that we take entirely for granted. God the Son shed His own holy blood for all sinners. The non-Christian part of the world rejects Him, and most of the Christian part acts like He didn’t do enough.
And all the Holy Spirit does is rescue souls from eternal hellfire. If He were not at work through Word and Sacraments, no sinner would believe. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except [by] the Holy Spirit” (1Cor. 12:3). Therefore we give thanks today for His work, work that He will continue to do for us out of love even when He is not acknowledged. But today, in praise of His work, let us rise to sing hymn #399 – “O Light of God’s Most Wondrous Love.”
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In Christ Jesus, whose work of redemption was and is declared throughout the world by the power of the Holy Spirit, dear fellow redeemed:
It all started with an idea. “What if we….” “No one has ever done something like this before….” “This will make us famous!” While some made bricks out of clay, others began to stack them together. The footprint of a great tower started to take shape. It was a testament to the ingenuity and strength of mankind. Perhaps this tower could even put them in contact with the God of the heavens. But they did not have to go up to God; He came down to them. He came to see the tower and the surrounding city that were being built. He was not pleased. It was not that they were constructing the tower in the wrong way. He was not there to give architectural advice. He visited them because they were ignoring His Word.
After the waters of the Flood had subsided, the LORD told Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). He wanted the population of humankind to increase again, and He wanted them to spread over all the earth. Instead, the descendants of Noah migrated to a place in the land of Shinar and settled there as a community. The LORD identified the problem, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (11:6). The LORD knew that a sinful people united would forget about Him and worship themselves. Therefore He confused their language and dispersed the people “over the face of all the earth” (v. 8). This confusion of languages, which persists to this day, is the reason that tower was never completed, and why that place became known as Babel.
The problem with the Tower of Babel was not in its construction but in its purpose. It may have been built well, but it was intended for the glory of man and not of God. The old Adam of every sinner is skilled at putting on a good show and drawing the focus away from the Creator. Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of being “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:27). The Lord is not concerned how pretty and well put together we look to the world. He cares about the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1Sam. 16:7).
What He desires to find in your heart is faith, trust in His Word. Jesus said in today’s text, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (v. 23). God wants to take up residence in you. But how can that be? How could you ever be a home fit for God? Some sinners think that building a proper home for God within themselves depends on them. They “give their life to Jesus” and “open their heart to Him.” They promise to live according to His Commandments and never go back to their old sinful habits. But this amounts to trying to climb up to God—like the people of Babel—instead of God reaching down to save. And what happens? The sinful habits return. Progress is not made. The building of self-constructed righteousness falls apart, as each of us knows by experience.
The idea that I must by my own power produce the righteousness God requires, is building on the wrong foundation. The Lord does demand our perfection, this is true. But we cannot manufacture this righteousness. The foundation for a solid spiritual building is Jesus. The Apostle Paul writes, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor. 3:11). But Paul seems to contradict himself when he says in another place that we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). Of course, “the apostles and prophets” refers to God’s holy Word which points in every place to Jesus. Paul adds that Jesus is “the cornerstone.” He sets the lines upon which the building is built. It stands or falls by Him.
Sinful human thinking sees this as great foolishness. All unbelievers are born and live in Babel making their grand plans. The world quickly discards Jesus, in the same way that a farmer might chuck an unwanted stone in the rock pile. But ironically, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps. 118:22). Whether or not the world accepts it, it is true. Salvation cannot come by self-determination or social activism. Salvation comes alone by faith in Jesus Christ.
So Jesus is the foundation and cornerstone, and you are supposed to be built up into a fitting residence for Him. How does that building look? Does the structure look good on the outside but is completely rotted and falling apart on the inside? Or do you hide your faith behind a weak, external appearance because you don’t want to draw any attention to your beliefs? Do you try to ignore the places where damage has been done by sin? Are you actively trying to patch the cracks where the cold wind of temptation rushes in?
We have not done such a good job at keeping our spiritual house in order. But God excels at construction and repair. If He sees water damage in the ceiling, He knows where the problem started. If the walls are crumbling, He knows how to make them strong again. This work of diagnosing and fixing is the work of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His disciples that “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). The Holy Spirit knows how to build up. He starts with the Law, getting us to see how we really are. We recognize that we are really the worst kind of materials. How could the Holy Spirit build something meaningful with us?
But He does. He chips away the defects and smooths out the rough edges. He plans our purpose in the house of God, carving out a unique function for each of us. And after the Holy Spirit constructs our faith through the Word, then He fits us together with other believers, side by side, piece by piece, until something beautiful rises up from the rubble of the world. What reaches to the heavens is a spiritual building for the glory of God. As Ephesians 2:20-22 says, you are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit Makes You a Home Fit for God. That is the special work the Holy Spirit was sent to do after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. He was sent to the disciples on Pentecost and enabled them to speak the languages of people both near and far. On Pentecost, the confusion of tongues at Babel—a judgment of God against sin—was removed. God wanted every nation to hear the Good News that there is salvation, forgiveness, and life for sinners.
And now this message has come to your nation and to your ears. God did not make a mistake when He chose you to be baptized and believe. And it is no mistake that you are now hearing His Word. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon you through this Word. A tongue of fire might not appear above your head. You might not suddenly speak in a different language. But you do have your sins forgiven and your faith strengthened.
Whenever you take to heart God’s Law and Gospel, the Holy Spirit is active there doing His convicting and comforting and sanctifying work. Since the construction work depends entirely on Him, you can have every confidence that your building will not topple. Therefore by faith in Jesus, you always remain a welcome home for Him.
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