“Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again.” (Numbers 11:25)
In the holy name of Jesus, amen.
This day we celebrate the day of the season of Pentecost. We celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, which was poured out upon the apostles so that they began to speak in languages that people understood with the tongue or the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is that there was forgiveness in Christ, who was crucified and risen and ascended to the right hand of the Father. This message went upon the people gathered there in Pentecost, the three thousand souls that were baptized that day, an incredible day.
And with the word of God always comes the Spirit. And so the Spirit Himself was given then to all those who heard from all over the world. And then, not surprisingly, as they went back to their homes, whether they were from Crete or Mesopotamia or Arabia or Rome, they went back with that same message, “Jesus crucified, died, and risen for the forgiveness of sins,” They preached it in their own native language as the Spirit continued to give them utterance.
We see the book of Acts really as the book of the giving of the Holy Spirit, not just on that day of Pentecost. Still, he continues to be poured out, attached to the word of gospel preaching, again the good news of Jesus Christ but also extended to those who were baptized. So we hear it with Cornelius, the jailer, we hear it with other families, we hear it with congregations and synagogues, we hear the Apostles going forth with the gospel and the Spirit and the Spirit working faith in the hearts of those who hear so that they too receive that word and then believing are baptized and continue in the faith until the day they die. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
And it’s not meant to be limited to one people in one place at one time, but the Spirit was to go forth to all nations along with that gospel preaching and the baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As when the dove alighted on Jesus and his baptism, so the dove alighted on all those who heard the gospel and were baptized. That means that you have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been alighted upon you when you were baptized and dwells in you now by the preaching of God’s Word. As we’ll hear from Matthew 28 next week that wherever there is baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is the Word of teaching going alongside it to nurture, strengthen, and sustain in that faith the Spirit working through that Word today and always.
You have the Holy Spirit, which means you’ve already been called to faith. You’ve already been gathered into a Christian church. Here you are being regularly enlightened with the good news of Jesus from His word, and you’re then being kept separate or distinct from the world that is sanctified, made holy, by God’s own declaration as He put His name upon you and as His Spirit dwells in you. That means there is no such thing as being a Christian apart from the Holy Spirit and the gifts the Holy Spirit gives. There is no such thing as the Holy Spirit isolating individuals as Christians.
Yes, the Spirit is given to each individual, then that individual is gathered to others into fellowship. Just as Luther says in the Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel and enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Here we have both next to each other. The Holy Spirit has called me to faith. No one else can believe for me, But my faith is never separated from the faith of others in the Church, which is why we can listen, sing, and hear God’s word together. “In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
The whole Christian Church. You’ve been gathered not only unto Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation, but into His Holy Church, there to be constantly nurtured and sustained in that faith, as even as Luther reminds us in the Small Catechism. We have, by our baptism, the noble vocation of consolation and conversation with one another as brothers. This modern world we live in has forgotten the deep connection between the faith of the individual and the faith of the Church.
Incidentally, this is true for the Roman Catholic Church, Hermann Sasse reminds us, as it is for the evangelical church. We’ve forgotten that we do not sit in the church as individuals, he says, “each holding their own private devotion, and if necessary, that could be done at home and in their own rooms, but that we as members of the congregation are together in one accord with each other in prayer and supplication, to gather in the confession of the one true faith. All belong together, the unity of love and the unity of faith. Where the one is missing, the other is also missing.” He wrote this in 1940 for the Feast of Pentecost on May 12th of that year.
And I can’t help but think about how many, as we say, post-COVID, have decided they can be Christians alone and outside the Christian congregation. We have people who consider themselves members of this congregation but won’t come into this building when other Christians are here. They choose instead to watch services online, perhaps, or watch on television. But by doing so, they’ve cut themselves off from the work of the Holy Spirit. They’re denying one of those works that the Spirit has promised to do, as he did on Pentecost, gathering those three thousand souls to the Apostles to hear gospel preaching in person, in person.
There’s no such thing as an individual apart from the body. We’re not just souls or spiritual beings; we’re body, soul, and spirit. Thus, there is no such thing as a spiritual church without a bodily church, without people gathered together as individual members of what Jesus even calls the body of Christ, His church. So he also says that “On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit works on men who are gathered together in one accord.” That is the church, the temple in the world until the end of days. And this church immediately an appearance before the world.
So the church’s message is the Holy Gospel, that sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. It’s completely a free gift, and wherever the message is heard, there God the Holy Spirit is at work calling you to faith and giving you faith that dwells in your heart and conscience. But it is not a faith that is alone, but it is a faith that again gathers you into a church where you can be strengthened and nourished and encouraged by the word of God preached to you, but also have the same kind of consolation and comfort from fellow Christians sitting next to you. And thereby, you will have the strength to resist whatever temptation comes your way because you’ll have others to lean upon in addition to the word of the Spirit.
This is the vision of the church that is given to us in Acts. As the story plays out later in the chapter, chapter two, we find out that they’d gathered together as a congregation daily in the temple to hear God’s word and then in their homes, probably a large home of a wealthy patron to receive the breaking of the bread, the supper. And, of course, that’s the important thing to note is that there is no such thing as private or individual communion. It defies even the meaning of the word “Communion,” with union, to join together with others, not only with Christ, and Christ with the bread and wine, but with you with one another.
So it is that the central work of the Spirit here in divine service is the giving of forgiveness, of sins, not only in the remembrance of your baptism and that word of absolution, not only in the preaching of his word, but especially as he gives you Christ’s body and blood under bread and wine in his supper, joining you not only to Christ in union but joining you to one another in a very bodily and physical way as you eat and you drink.
And so you see that you have been gathered into the Holy Christian Church. The Spirit is at work in you, and thus the Spirit will continue to work in you as he did on Pentecost. That word that has been placed into your ears and now dwells in your heart by the Spirit, that word of forgiveness, will work its way out in your own lives as you encounter others in need of forgiveness, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit will give you utterance and the opportunity but also the encouragement and to strengthen you to speak that word of forgiveness to those in need today and always. May God the Holy Spirit grant you such strength, patience, and a willing heart to speak. In Jesus’ name. Amen.