The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, May 27, 2012
“Spirit, Breath, Wind: The Lord and Giver of Life”
(Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15; Acts 2:1-21)
Today is the Day of Pentecost, a day when we call special attention to the person and work of the Holy Spirit. That is what I would like to do now, using as our theme a phrase we just spoke in the Nicene Creed, where we called the Holy Spirit “The Lord and Giver of Life.”
Life–this is what the Holy Spirit is all about, giving us life. The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, gives life to dead people. The Holy Spirit gives life in connection with Christ. And the Holy Spirit gives life through his empowering the church to proclaim the life-giving gospel. We’ll come back to each of these points in a little bit. But to start let’s just say that “The Lord and Giver of Life” well describes the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now what about the person of the Holy Spirit? I mean, we’ve said something about his work, which is to give life, but what about his person? In other words, who is he? Is the Holy Spirit just some impersonal force or power? Sort of a “May the Force be with you” Star Wars kind of a thing? No, the Holy Spirit is a personal being, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, true God, divine in his nature. OK, so is the Holy Spirit–or “Holy Ghost,” as the old English put it–a “ghost” like we would think of Casper the Ghost? No, that’s just a misunderstanding of the language. It just means he’s a spiritual being. He didn’t take on human flesh like God the Son did. No, when we call the Holy Spirit the Lord and giver of life, by saying “the Lord” we are confessing his divinity, that he is true God in his essence. Again, as we just said in the Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit “with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.” We could not say that unless the Holy Spirit is true God, the Third Person of the Trinity. This is why Jesus, in his Great Commission, gave us the name of the triune God as “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. We can see that in our lessons today. Now particularly when we look at our reading from Ezekiel and our reading from Acts, I especially want you to notice the mention of the terms “breath” and “wind” in connection with the Spirit. This is significant. Throughout the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New, the terms “breath” and “wind” are closely associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, in both the Hebrew language, which is what the Old Testament was written in, and in the Greek, which is what the New Testament was written in, in each language there is one word that can cover all three terms, “S/spirit” or “breath” or “wind.” In the Hebrew, it is the word “ruach,” “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.” And in the New Testament, it is the Greek word “pneuma,” again, translated as “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind,” depending on the context. And when the breath or the wind is associated with the work of the Holy Spirit, it is generally related to the Spirit’s work of giving life.
Look at the reading from Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel is shown a vision of a valley full of dry bones. “Can these bones live?” Not normally. Dead, dry bones cannot come to life on their own or by any human effort. But the Lord says to Ezekiel: “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” Ezekiel does as he is told. The breath comes into them, and they live.
The breath that gives life is a picture of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who gives life to dry bones and dead people. The Lord God says, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.”
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. Now hear the word of the Lord.” This is a word for us. We were like dead, dry bones. Our sins had killed us, condemned us to death. We had no life within us, according to our fallen sinful nature. We were dead spiritually, which leads to physical death and eternal damnation. But then the breath of God came, the life-giving Spirit, who raised us from the dead and stood us on our feet. This is the Holy Spirit, breathing life into us. Spirit, breath, wind: The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.
So first: The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, gives life to dead people. Second, the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life, gives life in connection with Christ. This is what Jesus says, isn’t it, in the Gospel reading from John. In teaching there on the Holy Spirit, Christ tells his disciples: “He,” that is, the Holy Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Holy Spirit gives life to us by glorifying Jesus. There is no life, real life, apart from Jesus. The dead bones would still be dead if it were not for what Christ did to win life for us, the very life that the Spirit now gives us.
This life comes from what Christ has done for us. To raise dead bones, the life has to come from somewhere. And it comes–it only comes–from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf. By his death Christ conquered death. And by his resurrection he brought life and immortality to light. Jesus Christ died the sinner’s death for us on the cross, the righteous and holy Son of God dying in your place and mine, taking the punishment for our sins upon himself. Jesus broke the back of sin and death in the process. Death lost its hold over you. Forgiveness was won by Christ’s blood. And then when Jesus rose again on the third day, it was showing the victory of life, the victory that Jesus now shares with us. And it is the Holy Spirit who delivers this life of Christ to us, to each one of us personally and to all of us together, through the ministry of the gospel.
I often describe the work of the Holy Spirit as taking all the benefits that Christ won for us on the cross, back in Jerusalem in A.D. 30–the Holy Spirit is the “delivery man,” the “Fed Ex man” or “UPS driver” who delivers the goods to us, with our name on the package, here where we live, now in the year 2012. And the vehicle that the Spirit uses to deliver the goods is the gospel, the preaching of the word and the sacraments which Christ has instituted. The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ in this way, and this is how he gives us life.
The Holy Spirit gives life to dead people. The Holy Spirit gives life in connection with Christ. And now third, the Holy Spirit gives life through his empowering the church to proclaim the life-giving gospel. This is where the “wind” comes in. Literally. Or at least the sound of a mighty, rushing wind.
That is what we hear in the reading from the Book of Acts: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.” Before his ascension, Jesus promised his disciples that soon he would empower them to be his witnesses, to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem–this is where and when it begins. The sound of the rushing wind signals the arrival of the Spirit for the purpose of empowering the witness, the church’s gospel witness that will give life to people.
And so this is what happens. The company of believers are all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they begin declaring the mighty works of God to the assembled multitude. Peter gets up, and he begins preaching a sermon. We get the first part of Peter’s sermon today; we’ll get the rest of it next week. But the bottom line is that he preaches the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he calls people to repentance and faith, with the promise of the forgiveness of sins. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” There it is. The Holy Spirit is giving people life through the preaching of the gospel of Christ. And the sound of the wind signals the Spirit’s arrival.
That wind is still blowing today. The Holy Spirit is still giving people life in our day, here and around the world. Where the preaching of Christ crucified and risen for our salvation–where that is happening, there the Holy Spirit is giving life. So it is happening, right here, right now, this morning. The Spirit is glorifying Christ Jesus, your Savior. The Spirit is breathing life into you, raising you from deadness to life. Breathe in the life. Feel the power of the wind. The Holy Spirit is doing his work.
Spirit, breath, wind: The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, “who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.” On this Day of Pentecost, we do worship and glorify the Holy Spirit for doing his life-giving work among us.