Prepositions for Pentecost
The sermon title is not "Propositions for Pentecost" but "Prepositions for Pentecost. A whole book can be written about a single Greek preposition. They are that versatile, meaningful, and nuanced. We often overlook prepositions, but Greek prepositions are very precise. The cover is a diagram of what Greek prepositions mean precisely. The diagram is not of my making, and if you consult other Greek grammars they will diagram them the same way. So prepositions for Pentecost can tell us a lot.
See the preposition pros. That's found in Jesus' words, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink." See how it goes right up to the object? In the diagram Jesus is the circle. Pros is "the face to face" preposition. And we have a sense of just what that means from our expression "in your face" or "get out of my face" or even "I couldn't face that." This is up close and personal. When Jesus says the thirsty are to come to Him, He means right up to Him, eyeball to eyeball, face to face.
There is no other cure, help, or hope for thirsty sinners but a face to face with Jesus. Jesus is speaking at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem where the pouring out of water was a prominent feature. Remember all festivals were a shadow pointing to Jesus the substance. He is saying to the attendees. If all this leaves you feeling parched, like there has got to be more, that you're spiritually dried up, come get in My face.
That's my message to you too. You're hobbies, your job, your marriage, your life leaving you parched, dried up, a spiritual desert? Silly rabbit. You were never suppose to be seeking eternal fulfillment in temporal things, spiritual satisfaction in material things, the growth, greenery, or water of the Creator in the creature. You can only come face to face with that in Jesus.
The next preposition for Pentecost is diagramed just below pros. It's eis, and "into" is the right nuance. See how unlike pros, eis does more than go face to face with Jesus the circle; it goes into Him. Eis is found twice in our short text. "Believes in Me" and "believed in Him." In both cases the insert translates "in" not "into." Virtually all English translations do. But as you can see en is diagramed as being "in" the circle. It's static, not moving. But Jesus refers to believing into Me. There is movement into Him.
First let me remind you that our text pertains to the Holy Spirit who was first poured out by Jesus 10 days after His Ascension. You can't get, don't deserve, and will never find the Holy Spirit apart from Jesus. You can get many other spirits outside, apart from Jesus but not the Holy Spirit who is water to the soul through the gifts He brings.
That's getting ahead. I want you to focus on eis, into. It will rescue you from spiritualizing the word "believe." From thinking the believing going on in you is just one more thought or feeling going on in you amidst the dizzying array that is always there. Coupled with pros, eis calls us to come face to face with Jesus and get into Him.
You know what this is? This is being in the upper room and putting your finger into the nail wounds in Jesus' hands. This is sticking your whole hand into the gaping spear wound in Jesus' side. You know He invited them all to do that and demanded Thomas do so. Now you do it. Believing into Jesus isn't dancing outside Him with fiery thoughts of how you believe in your heart He forgives you, loves you, cares for you. O no, it's sticking your finger into hands that were nailed to a cross because He carried your sins upon His body. It's sticking your hand into a gaping hole made by a spear to prove Jesus really did die for you. It's reaching your hand into the Jesus who died for you and what's this? I feel a beating heart.
I'm debating here. Should I take you to the other great "into's" that flow from this? Should I take you to the fact that you have been Baptized into the Father, into the Son, and into the Holy Ghost? The word in the baptismal command is eis not en, into not as we say in. Should I go to the Altar and point out that Communion is taking the Body and Blood of Jesus into your mouth, into your stomach, and into your bloodstream and all throughout your body? No, that's too much too soon.
Let's go instead to the next preposition for Pentecost in our text. It's in Jesus words, "Whoever believes into Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of water will flow from within him." With this preposition the circle no longer stands for Jesus. It's you; the one who believes into Jesus. And once I tell you the from within is translating the Greek word ek and you see it diagramed right across from eis, you'll see from within is too wimpy of a translation. As the diagram shows ek means out of. I'm from Michigan but I am out of my mother.
The diagram does a good job of showing you the relationship between eis and ek, between into and out of. Do you get the gritty, graphic, earthy sense of these words? As we come into the blood, sweat, and tears that Jesus endured while keeping the Law in place of the world and while dying under the punishment the breaking of those Laws deserve, they do something to us, in us. The blood, sweat, and tears of Jesus are living, powerful, active things; they don't lay dormant in us but bring something out of us.
As I alluded to, our touch point of getting into Jesus is Water that we're put into; it's Words put into our ears; it's Bread and Wine put into our mouth. These bring all the good gifts that Jesus had as True God and won for us as True Man by doing what we could never do in flesh and blood. But Baptism, Absolution, and Communion bring more than His good gifts, they bring His Spirit. Jesus promises that the one who comes face to face with Him and believes into Him out of him will flow living water.
Here we must do a little more Greek work. I have no idea why the insert translates "streams." Well, it can mean that, but when the plural is used. It means "large amounts of flowing water" (BAG, 694). That's a river. When you hear that the Greek word is potamos and you know that hippopotamus means "river horse," you know you're not supposed to be picturing a trickling stream but a flowing river.
And really the word ek which is properly translated "out of" being translated from within does the disservice of pointing us back inside ourselves where Paul assures us "nothing good dwells." It takes us from focusing on what comes out of us based on going into Jesus to focusing on what comes from within. We who are born curved in on ourselves, who are prone to think we can get an accurate picture of our spiritual state by checking our spiritual temperature or levels within us do not need to focus on what is within us but on what Jesus brings out of us.
Jesus says the one who believes into Him out of him will flow rivers, not drops, not creeks, not streams, rivers of living water. And this flood of waters is the Spirit. And according to Zechariah 4:6, it's "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit" that God gets things done. You looking inside of yourself for the strength to get through another difficult day is like Sampson looking at his muscles to see if they are big enough to lift the gates of Gaza. You looking inside yourself to see if you have the power to believe the unbelievable, to love the unlovable, or to forgive the unforgivable is like Peter looking at his feet to see if they had the power to walk on water or Paul looking for the power to raise the dead inside himself.
The Holy Spirit given by the Word of God enabled these men to do miracles. Looking for strength in you to get through another day, another problem, another challenge, another fear, another pain, another sorrow, is like looking into an empty well for a drink when there is a river of gushing water right outside your door. The river, that is the Spirit, is rushing by right now out of your Baptism that you were baptized into, out of the Absolution that was breathed into youby Jesus' Words, and out of the Body and Blood Jesus that will be put into you.
There's one more preposition for Pentecost. It's translated "by this He meant." Literally John writes, "This He said concerning the Spirit." Look at your diagram. You'll find peri located at the top around the circle. Here the circle stands not for Jesus, not for you, but the Holy Spirit. Some diagrams put peri on the outside, but still define it as around, not literally being on all sides, but as being all about, concerning. All that Jesus has said here has to do with the Spirit. Coming face to face with Jesus, going into Jesus, and flowing rivers out of you have to do with the Spirit.
The insert correctly retains the definite article the. This is important. The Spirit of God dare never be thought of as the changing spirit of the times (In the Name of Jesus, 228) let alone you're changing moods or sense of believing. It is the Spirit that Jesus won for humanity by His holy life and paid to give to sinful humanity by satisfying God's wrath that had taken His Spirit from us. This whole text concerns the Spirit Jesus ascended into heaven as a Man to pour out on all mankind. This whole text is about the Spirit Jesus gave to His Church to take to the world. How? By feeding the poor, by working for justice, by protesting for peace? No by baptizing and teaching everything He commanded. But do we have enough Spirit? Of course we do; we have rivers, plural, gushing out of us.
Many of you work in professions that are exacting. Engineers don't say close is good enough; computer professionals won't accept literally one bit of wrong code; medical people demand accurate instruments. But many think God is less precise. His Word is a matter of interpretation not a matter of presenting precise truth. Prepositions say otherwise. The prepositions of Pentecost tell you exactly whom you're faced with, what you've gotten into, what comes out of you, and whom it's all concerning. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Day of Pentecost (20150524); John 7: 37-39a