Download or listen to the Day of Pentecost: “Never Silent” (Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)
In the Name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many people seem to think or talk about the Holy Spirit as if He were the “silent partner” in the Holy Trinity. Which is understandable since the Scriptures talk a lot about the Holy Spirit and what He does, but there is very, very little that the Holy Spirit speaks. There are maybe only a handful of times where the Holy Spirit speaks, and most of them are where He speaks through others, such as David, or another psalmist, or Isaiah, or Paul, or the prophet Agabus, who says something from the Holy Spirit to Paul in Acts 21. I could only find two times in the entire Scriptures, two times, where the Holy Spirit directly speaks, and they are both in Revelation. God the Father speaks a lot, Jesus speaks a lot, but the Holy Spirit only seems to get a few direct lines. We seem to have very little audible evidence for the Holy Spirit, and maybe that’s why we look for visible evidence. Pentecost rolls around, and what do you imagine, what’s in your mind when you think about Pentecost? I know what it is. You imagine that room where the disciples are, and a rushing wind filling the room, and divided tongues, as of fire, appearing on their heads. Maybe you think about watching Peter stand and preach. You think about what you would have seen if you had been there. We do the same thing today: Lutherans don’t often talk this way, but when people want to describe a church where people are excited and smiling, singing loudly, maybe raising their hands, maybe speaking in unknown languages, they often say that church is “Spirit-filled.” They see what’s going on and believe it to be evidence of the Holy Spirit’s Presence or work. When many people believe in Jesus, or many people are baptized, or something new or exciting happens in the Church, people say that “the Spirit is moving!” And when nothing’s happening, they pray for the Spirit to “move.” Just like we imagine at that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection.
But go back to Acts 2. Read it again. What we hear about it is not what the people saw but what was said. The people don’t gather because they saw some strange and amazing things. They probably didn’t see anything. Only the disciples saw the tongues of fire. No, they come together because they heard the sound. What do they talk about? How they hear the disciples speaking in their own languages. How they hear these Galileans speaking of the mighty works of God in their own languages. When Peter begins to preach, he lifts up his voice and says, “give ear to my words,” listen to me. This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel. The Holy Spirit will be poured out on all God’s people, your sons and daughters, and they will prophesy, they will speak. Peter does talk about signs and wonders: he says that after these days, there will be signs and wonders in heaven and on earth before the great and terrible Day of the Lord. But none of those things will convince people to believe Jesus. None of those things will create faith in sinners. In fact, when Peter says that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and he goes on to say that the Name of that Lord is Jesus, he says, “All of you know that God did powerful things, and wonders, and signs to show that this Man was the Savior. God did do things that could be seen, and what was the result? Faith? No. They crucified Him. Peter says, “This Jesus, whom you crucified, God raised from the dead.” “This Jesus, whom you crucified, God has made Him both Lord and Christ.” And when they heard it, they were cut to the heart. And they said, what shall we do? And Peter said, “Repent and be baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and for your children, for all who are near and all who are far off.” And as many as heard and believed were baptized. Because how could they call on the Name of the Lord, in whom they did not believe? And how could they believe unless someone spoke to them? And how could they speak unless they were sent? (Romans 10:13-15). So the Father sent the Son and the Son sent the Spirit, and the Spirit spoke through the Apostles in boldness and power. And the Apostles can hardly speak of anything but Jesus. They cannot help but speak of what they have seen and heard. That’s what Jesus Himself promised them: I will send another Helper—I will call Him alongside you—and He will bring to your remembrance everything I said to you. He will testify, bear witness, speak, concerning Me. He will guide you into all the Truth, who is Jesus. He will not speak from Himself, but whatever He hears He will speak and proclaim them to you. He will glorify Me, because He will take what is Mine and proclaim it to you. All that the Father has is Mine, therefore He will take what is Mine and proclaim it to you. This is also what Jesus said earlier about the Scriptures: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have life; these are they that testify, bear witness, speak concerning Me (John 5:39). The same phrase He used of the Holy Spirit. Not because the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures are the same, but because the Spirit speaks through all the Scriptures. Through all of those promises, through all of those prophets, all about Jesus. It is the Spirit who speaks through David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Joel, Peter, Paul, John.
No, the Spirit is never silent; you cannot shut up the Holy Spirit. He is always speaking, and He’s always speaking about Jesus. But we cannot hear Him until He shuts us up. I am always shocked at how many of the words I form in my mind and with my mouth are about me. I watched a movie where one of the characters is a supposed communication expert. So he tells the woman with whom he is on a date: if you don’t know what to say, speak about what you know, and what do you know better than yourself? Talk about yourself! None of us have any problem doing that. We may get better at hiding it when we get older, but from the day we are born, each one of us is consumed with me. What I want, what I think, what I’ve done, what I want to do. For the Spirit to get a word in edge-wise, He has to silence all of that. He comes to silence the mouth of the world because of sin, which is first of all unbelief in Jesus. He comes to silence the world about righteousness, which we think is all about us, and our holiness, and our good works. But the Spirit will speak only of Jesus going to the Father by way of death, resurrection, and ascension. We do not see Him, so the Spirit speaks Him to us. He comes to silence the world because of judgment, the judgment of the ruler of this world, who is judged by Christ’s victory. Now the ruler of this world, the evil one, is cast outside, so do not follow him. His end is destruction, and so also for those who follow him. Every mouth must be stopped; all tongues must be silent about themselves. And then the Spirit does what He loves to do: He stuffs our ears with Jesus, He fills our mouths with Jesus, He speaks Jesus into our ears, hearts, bodies, and souls. Until we hear nothing, think nothing, know nothing, say nothing but Jesus. Still not holy? Have some more Jesus. Still sinning? Have some more Jesus. Still here in this world of death? Have some more Jesus. You cannot separate the Spirit from Jesus and what He has done. When Jesus died, the Spirit was there. Have you seen it in John’s Gospel? The translations keep us from seeing Him. They say, “Then Jesus, bowing His head, gave up His spirit.” As if all He did was die. That’s not what it says. It says, Jesus, bowing His head, handed over the Spirit. To be sure, it is the Spirit of Jesus, but the Spirit will not be separated from Jesus’ death. He will talk about nothing else. And then, after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus breathes into the disciples His Spirit. He says, “Receive the Holy and forgive sins.” Because the Spirit will not be separated from Jesus’ resurrection; He will speak of nothing else. And then here, after His ascension, the Holy Spirit speaks through the Apostles, and Peter’s sermon is little beyond Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Today He speaks the same words to you: we are silent as He speaks our forgiveness; we are silent as He gives us the bread and the wine which are Jesus’ Body and Blood; we are silent as He blesses us with Peace. We are silent as He fills us with Jesus, and Jesus only. Then we speak the same words He spoke to us; words about Jesus and what He has done. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. So the Holy Spirit calls me by the Gospel. He enlightens me with His gifts. Jesus as He gathers and creates the whole Church from nothing but the Word of Jesus. He creates the communion of saints and sustains them with holy things. In the Church He daily and richly forgives our sins, until the day He raises up me and all the dead and gives eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/26/12