Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  11:39
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In the Apostles’ Creed we confess, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Each statement of faith is one link in the chain of salvation that begins with the Holy Spirit and ends with the life everlasting. Without the Holy Spirit there is no Holy Christian Church. Outside of the Holy Christian Church there is no communion of saints, and so on: no forgiveness of sins, and no resurrection of the body to life everlasting.
The Day of Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the Church. Now on one hand we can rightly say that the Church has existed from the time of Adam and Eve, the first Christians, the first to believe in the promised Savior. Even so, it is proper to look to Pentecost as the beginning of the New Testament Church, where for the first time in human history, Christians gathered, not in expectation of salvation to come, but as believers in the finished work of Christ.
But this gathering was only possible after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Apart from His work, no one, not even the apostles, could understand the words of Jesus. No one could choose Him as Savior, confess Him as Lord, or believe in Him as God the Son. All Christians agree that the work of the Holy Spirit is important to the Church. But what is His work, exactly? What did the Holy Spirit do on the day of Pentecost that created the Church? And what does He do today that causes the Church to continue?
Jesus tells us in John, chapter 14: “When the Helper comes, 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” (John 14:26). The importance of Pentecost is found in the last verse of the reading from Acts: “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11). This is the task of the Holy Spirit. He teaches us what the incarnate God has done for us men and for our salvation. He causes the words of salvation to be spoken, and He causes us to hear and believe these words. Wherever the Holy Spirit is operative, there you will find the words of Jesus being taught, heard, and believed by the faithful. The Holy Spirit never works apart from this way.
Today many Christians are looking for evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work apart from the preaching of Jesus’ words. Some claim that speaking in tongues is proof that the Spirit is operative. They are like children who open a present and then begin playing with the wrapping paper. The point of Pentecost was not that the disciples spoke in other languages. That’s the wrapping paper. But the gift of God on Pentecost Day, the point of the other languages, was that everyone present could hear about the wonderful works of God.
Jesus never promised that the Holy Spirit would give you the ability to speak in other known languages. He certainly never promised that you would begin speaking in gibberish that no one could understand, as some people do today. But He did promise that the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
Christians often try to find evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work within their own hearts. As a former Pentecostal, I remember that we were obsessed with “following the Spirit’s lead”. We were forever chasing Him, desperately hoping to be part of the “next wave of the Spirit.” “The Spirit of God is moving,” we would say. Where was He going? We didn’t know, but we were always on the lookout, afraid of being left behind. Perhaps you remember the Asbury Revival, all the rage a few months ago. When the media reported that the Spirit had been located on a college campus in Wilmore, Kentucky, some fifty to seventy-thousand people dropped what they were doing and flocked to join the revival. But then what? A never-ending worship service isn’t sustainable. After a few weeks, the students eventually went back to class, and everybody else went back to their lives. Some of them claimed to have had a life-changing, emotional experience—that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But how long can an emotional high last? It won’t sustain a Christian’s faith for the next fifty years as he walks through this vale of tears. A good feeling will not protect you from the pangs of a guilty conscience or preserve you from the snares of the evil one. Only the words and doctrine of Jesus can do that.
And that’s the danger of chasing a feeling or an experience and thinking that these things are proof of the Holy Spirit’s residence in your heart. When you received the Holy Spirit, His entrance may have been accompanied by an amazing feeling. I’d imagine that the Day of Pentecost was a pretty emotional day for everyone present. But feelings and emotional are not how we judge whether or not the Holy Spirit is present. Feelings ebb and flow, emotions come and go, but the Word of God endures forever.
If you want to know if the Holy Spirit is at work within your heart, don’t look to an emotional experience for proof. Don’t search for a feeling. These things may accompany His work, at times, but they are not trustworthy metrics. Imagine a young couple on their wedding day. The emotions are running high. They feel very much in love. And that’s all good. But will those feelings alone sustain their marriage for the next fifty years? No. And, in fact, if they are expecting the euphoria of the honeymoon to last, they will be sorely disappointed.
So it is with the work of the Holy Spirit. A feeling will not sustain your faith over the next fifty years, or however long God has you here on earth. There is, in fact, no promise in Scripture that you will feel good or have an amazing, emotional experience. Instead, Jesus promises you something far more certain and trustworthy. Listen, once again to Jesus’ words: “When the Helper comes, 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.” “He will not speak of Himself, but He will take what is mine and declare these things to you.” “He will speak what He has heard from me.” “He will teach you all of my words.”
Here is your proof that you have the Holy Spirit, and that He is still at work within you to bring about your salvation: Are you being taught the words of Jesus? Is His doctrine being brought to your remembrance? Are you hearing and believing God’s Word? Then you can be absolutely certain that you have the Holy Spirit. The Christian who looks to a feeling in his heart for assurance of this will ultimately fall into despair. Emotions cannot sustain the Christian life any more than the honeymoon can sustain a marriage. But the objective Word of God is a firm foundation that will withstand the troubles of life. And wherever this Word is faithfully preached and heard by the people of God you can be sure beyond all doubt that the Holy Spirit is at work.
The media will never write a story about how the Holy Spirit causes the Church to grow. There is nothing flashy about the faithful preaching of Christ’s Word and the right administration of His Sacraments. And the world doesn’t care for these precious gifts of Christ—at best, it cares only for the wrapping paper. Nevertheless, the Word of God does not return void. So long as the Holy Spirit continues the work He began at Pentecost, the Church of God will continue to grow, and the seed of faith was planted in our hearts in Holy Baptism will spring up to eternal life. For where the Holy Spirit teaches us the words of Jesus, there is the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. May God grant this always to be so among us. Amen.
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