The Day of Pentecost [b] May 23, 2021
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
26 “[Jesus said,] “But 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. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.
4 … I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 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. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
In the Name of Jesus.
The Lord looks at the sinner. He sees a pile of bones.
The sinner wants to think he’s alive. Wants to think he’s thriving. Some shortcomings, sure. Some weaknesses, some areas in need of work, some flaws here and there, but things can be brought along, improved, changed.
The sinner wants to think he’s alive—just needs some work.
In this way, when the sinner looks at Jesus, he sees at best a handyman. What’s wrong in your life, Jesus can help fix it. Jesus is then reduced to Tim the Tool Man for spiritual problems.
Do you want to know what Jesus is for? He’s here to change your life, like changing a rundown house by putting in new floors and appliances. In this way of looking at it, the Church becomes Home Depot or Lowe’s—it’s about having the tools and supplies and methods for a changed life.
When Jesus is reduced to being our handyman, and the Church is reduced to being a place to change our life, the sermon is reduced to being advice on how to be a better Christian, on how to live each week—everyone leaves the sermon thinking, “that was a great sermon, it gave me some practical tips, some great tools on how to improve myself,” and the Bible is reduced to being a book of rules and obedience.
Is that what Jesus is, a changer of lives, a spiritual Tim the Tool Man? Is that what the Church is, a place to improve and change your life? Is your spiritual life a matter of a broken-down house in need of updating and changing?
When the Lord looks at the sinner, he gives a much harsher assessment.
When the Lord looks at the sinner, he sees a pile of dead bones. Not a sick person in a hospital bed who needs good medical care to be changed. Not a person who’s like a broken-down house in need of improvement.
Dead-bones, that’s what the Lord sees. No life, no hope, nothing even to change. A carcass. Ezekiel 37:1:
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Can bones make themselves alive? Can bones make a move to decide for Christ, can they call God into the heart? Could our Lord have found a more bleak picture to describe a valley full of sinners?
But this is good, actually, to see ourselves as dead bones! It is good to be removed of any false hope of reviving ourselves, of any sham of the Christian life being a matter of change or improvement or learning to obey.
But if the Christian life is not the exercise of improving yourself, of learning to obey, of changing, then what is it?
It’s the life of a pile-of-dead-bones-sinner having breath breathed into him so that over against everything he is, and everything he ever had the potential to be, over against a dead-bone life with no hope, he stands up before God living and breathing; he stands up out of the grave, which no bones can ever stand up out of, except that God, the giver of all life, breathes into him the breath of life, bringing forth before God a living person.
The Christian life is the life of being brought out of death into life—it’s the life of breath breathed into dead bones. Ezekiel 37:9:
Then [the Lord] said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
God breathes breath into you, and you live!
A strange thing about that word “breath.” In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New, the word for “breath” also means “spirit.” In Greek, it’s the word pneuma. Pneuma is breath; it is also spirit.
In the Creed, we confess the Holy Spirit.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The Lord and giver of life,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit is the Holy Pneuma, the Spirit of God who breathes life into the sinner, into you and me and our children.
How does the Holy Spirit breathe life into you?
If it is true to see a sinner as dead in his trespasses, as unable to make a decision or a choice to save himself, unable to breath life into himself, then how will the Holy Spirit give life to the sinner?
As he was on his way to the cross, and in giving the promise that he would ascend to Father to be our intercessor, Jesus said,
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Jesus sends to us the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit, the sinner now lives.
How do we know the Holy Spirit? Because we feel spiritual? Because we feel peace and calm? Because we feel like we are on the same wave-length as God, whatever nonsense like that might mean?
Jesus says nothing here about our feelings. The Spirit will glorify me, says Jesus, he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
How do we know the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is known to us, and is with us, when the words of Jesus are being declared.
In the proclamation of the cross, the Holy Spirit is there, by those words, bestowing life.
In the word of forgiveness spoken from one Christian to another, the Holy Spirit is there, declaring Jesus, bestowing life.
In the words of Baptism, the Holy Spirit is there, cleansing the conscience, bestowing the holy Name, breathing life into the sinner.
In the midst of Christians who have been gathered to the Lord’s Name to receive his Body and Blood, the Holy Spirit is there. He is there in those words Jesus spoke as his Last Will and Testament before he died, “This is my Body,” “This is my Blood—for the forgiveness of your sins.” The Holy Spirit, in bringing the words to the Church, is there, declaring the words of Jesus to us, bestowing life.
Jesus sends to the Church the Holy Spirit. He sends to you the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brings to you the words he receives from Jesus. These are the words of the crucifixion, the words of Jesus justifying every sinner; they are the words bringing to us the Body and Blood of the cross in the Sacrament. They are the words of Gospel we are given to speak to one another, the words of all sins forgiven and every sinner reconciled to God.
In those words which the Holy Spirit has received from Jesus and now has declared in the Church, the Holy Spirit is taking sinners—piles of dead bones in God’s eyes—and breathing into them, breathing into you and me, the breath of life. For that’s what it means to hear the word of the forgiveness of all sins.
In the Name of Jesus.