Aren't You At Least Curious
There's a cartoon of a pastor shaking hands with a man at the door after Easter service. The caption reads, "Aren't you at least curious what goes on here between Easter and Christmas?" That's the spirit of Jesus' words to the disciples the night before He is to die. "Aren't you at least curious about where I'm going?" And I further say to you, "Aren't you at least curious about where, why, and what is the result of Jesus going?" These are the questions we will address on this celebration of Pentecost because the coming of God the Holy Spirit is really all about the going of God the Son.
Ten days ago we celebrated Jesus' ascension into heaven. Aren't you curious about where Jesus ascended to? Jesus thinks you should be. He marveled that none of His disciples asked Him, "Where are you going?" Though none asked, Jesus told them anyway. He ascends to One who sent Him. Jesus was sent with a commission from God the Father. We sing about it every Maundy Thursday service. "Go forth, My Son," the Father saith, / "And free men from the fear of death, /From guilt and condemnation. /The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, / But by Thy Passion men shall share /The fruit of Thy salvation."
Jesus returning to the One who sent Him should bring joy to His disciples' heart because that means He accomplished what He was sent to do. That means He has succeeded in freeing men from the fear of death, from guilt and condemnation. Imagine never having to be afraid of the grave. Imagine not knowing even a scintilla of guilt, not a nanosecond of condemnation. What joy! What relief! What peace! But the disciples know none of this. All they get from the news that Jesus returns to the One who sent Him is grief. Why?
The same reason we feel cheated for not being able to see Jesus, touch Jesus, speak face to face to Jesus. Jesus plainly tells us and them that it is for our good He goes away. But you think it would be so very much better if Jesus walked with you and talked with you and told you that you were His own. You think if you could just hear words from Jesus' lips rather than mine, touch His flesh and blood apart from Bread and Wine, and be washed by His hands rather than baptismal water, then you'd know, really know that you are free from the fear of death, from guilt and condemnation.
We aren't the least curious about where Jesus went because we think His going takes away what we really need. But Jesus says His going is for our good, so His going is what we should be focused on. So, aren't you the least curious about why Jesus ascended, why He had to go, why it wouldn't be good for us if He walked the earth in visible flesh and blood as He once did?
Jesus returned to the One who sent Him so He could send the Holy Spirit. You think you need a visible flesh and blood Jesus. You think you need the touch of His hand, the sound of His voice, the sight of Him with you. What you really need is His Spirit. "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit," says the Lord in Zechariah. It is the Spirit promised Joel that enables sons, daughters, old, and young to dream dreams of a new heaven and a new earth in the Last Days. It is the Spirit that gave Samson his strength, Solomon his wisdom, David his faith, and Elisha his miracles.
Yet the Spirit could not come to fallen mankind. He's the Holy Spirit; how could He land on guilty, unholy people? He's the Spirit of life; how could he land on dead men? He's the Spirit of freedom; how could He land on the condemned? Death had a legitimate claim to us because of God's un-kept Law. Guilt and condemnation were our constant companions because the laws of God we broke declared punishment to us now and forever. Paul gives us this unbreakable spiritual chain. "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law." As the sting of an upcoming shot haunts a 4 year old because he knows what a shot is, so the sting of coming death terrifies the adult because the Law tells us what our sins are and deserve.
Jesus was sent to free us from the fear of death, of guilt and condemnation and He did that. How? Remember the equation. Death's sting is sin and the power of sin is the Law. Deal with the Law and you deal with sin and death too. How did Jesus deal with the Law? Not by saying like some indulgent grandpa, "O pay no attention to it." No, it was God's Law it had to be kept. And Jesus kept it. As mighty Sampson put the gates of Gaza on his shoulders, so Jesus put the Law on His. At every point the Law pronounces you guilty, guilty, guilty, it said of Jesus done, fulfilled, kept.
Jesus fulfilled the Law in place of sinners. If you can't find in Jesus one un-kept Law, then you can't find one in those in Jesus either. But what about the punishment I'm condemned to right now and for eternity? That's what Jesus being a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief was all about. That's what Jesus being stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God and men was all about. That's what those three dread hours on the cross were all about. The Man Jesus bore the eternity of hell all men deserve. In Jesus you can't find one ounce of condemnation, guilt, or death not borne and paid in full, so you can't find it in anyone in Jesus either.
Jesus declared on Good Friday that He had finished keeping all the Laws of God and finished paying in full for the sins of the world. God so loved the world, so it was the world's sins He sent His Lamb to carry away. Having done that as a Man in place of mankind, when the Man Jesus took our flesh and blood to heaven, He had the right and power to send the Holy Spirit to mankind. Now the Holy Spirit had a landing place; those in Jesus are freed from sin and therefore have no decay of death or condemnation about them.
What makes that shower of colored sparks fall from the sky? The firecracker that has ascended from earth. That's a picture of what Jesus' ascension did. He was the catalyst for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This shouldn't be very much of a stretch for any of us. Whenever anything strange or unusual happens at a funeral everyone immediately thinks of the dearly departed as causing it. In the text the living Jesus says His return to the One who sent Him is the cause of the Holy Spirit coming to the Church on earth.
Now we're to this Day of Pentecost. Aren't you at least curious what the Holy Spirit does? Aren't you at least curious about this Holy Day which, like Christmas and Easter, the Church has services appointed for not only Sunday but Monday and Tuesday too? The Church historically thought the sending of the Holy Spirit by Jesus was a very important event. This alone should make us curious about it.
What does Jesus say the Holy Spirit does? Isn't it curious that He starts by saying what He will do for the world? And note Jesus doesn't say what He might do but what He does do. These are promises. The Holy Spirit convicts the world in regard to sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Holy Spirit convicts the world that it is a sin not to believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit convicts the world that the only way to be righteous in God's sight is through the Man Jesus who has ascended to the Father. The Holy Spirit convicts the world that their prince stands condemned.
Take Jesus at His Word. This is what the Holy Spirit does in the world. While it frees us in the Church from the fear of death, from guilt and condemnation it brings these upon the world. How does He do this? By the Word and Sacraments preached and taught here. Notice Jesus promises in our text to send the Holy Spirit specifically to the disciples and the second reading says He fell upon only the Church. Then the Church immediately starts preaching and teaching Jesus. Immediately her young men, old men, sons, and daughters start dreaming of sins being forgiven freely for Jesus' sake, of the Law no longer hanging over them condemning them, of their guilt being silenced, and their fear of death being laughed at.
Here's our problem. We think if only Jesus were here to do it in person then we'd see results. Don't you see that this denies His clear promises? He says that the Holy Spirit He sends us will convict the world. He doesn't say He might, or could, or even should. He says He will. Second, Jesus, who could do anything He wanted to do, doesn't will to stay with His Church in a visible manner like He did during His earthly ministry. He wills to keep His promises to abide with us till the end of ages through His Spirit which He pours out on us generously in Word and Sacraments.
We need the Holy Spirit. The world around us needs the Holy Spirit. Jesus says His Word is Spirit and life, so we preach and teach it to a dead world. Jesus says His Baptism is living waters, a washing of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, so we bring our babies to the font and call the world's too. Jesus says Communion is His Body and Blood; where Jesus is present His Spirit must be too. In Communion the Spirit of Jesus is Savior and Judge. Savior to those in Him; Judge to those outside of Him.
A few weeks ago we had another reading from John. It was part of this same discourse by Jesus in the upper room. Jesus says there, "Whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." What greater work could there be than convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment? The only greater work than these is freeing people from the fear of death, delivering them from the terrors of guilt, and releasing them from constant condemnation. The Spirit Jesus gives us in His Holy Words and Sacraments empowers, enables, and encourages us to do just this.
Did you notice how curiosity played a key roll at the first Pentecost? It drew people to the Church and it's preaching, and then curiosity caused some to ask that good Lutheran question, "What does this mean?" Others were content to explain the Spirit away as drunkenness. See, not everyone is curious about the working, ways, and Words of God. Aren't you at least? Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Day of Pentecost (20110612); John 16: 5-11