Preached May 12, 2011
St. John 14: 15–31
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Happy Birthday, good Christian people! Today is the birthday of the Christian Church, the day on which the Holy Ghost was given to the Church, really initiating the active life of the Church on earth at that time. The earlier part of the Church year has been focused on the earthly mission of Jesus Christ, His birth, His Incarnation, His death and Resurrection, and finally His Ascension into Heaven. Now we turn our attention more to the mission of the Church in the world, carrying on Christ’s mission with the support of the Holy Ghost.
We turn to the Epistle lesson for today, and are immediately struck by something that seems strange. It begins, Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. Now notice that first phrase, when the day of Pentecost was fully come; that is a little like we might say when Memorial day had come. Pentecost was an already existing feast of the Jews, not some new Christian event. Where did this come from? It is derived from Leviticus, the law book of the Torah. Leviticus 23:5-16 5 In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S passover. … 10 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest: 11 And he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. … 15 And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: 16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the LORD. It is evident that this harvest festival, which became known as Pentecost, was exactly fifty days after Passover, according to the word of the Lord given to Moses. It necessarily always must fall on Sunday, which of course is also the day of Resurrection. Thus the Holy Ghost is given to the Church, that it might begin its work and worship on Sunday forevermore. We see here where those Christians err who think it necessary to worship on Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) such as the Seventh Day Adventist, Seventh Day Baptists, etc.
Going on to the latter phrase in the first sentence, they were all with one accord in one place. It is apparent that there would be many people gathered for the feast of Pentecost, because it was a long established holy day. This meant that the Holy Ghost was able to be given to many people in that one place all at once, so that many were empowered for the growth and expansion of the Church outward from that point. The result was that a great many were converted on the spot that very day.
The manner of the coming of the Holy Ghost was utterly astounding to those present. There was a mighty rushing wind, a sign of His presence often used by the Lord God in the Old Testament, but this was followed by tongues of fire on the heads of each of them. (The tongues of fire are the image that is modeled by the bishop’s mitre to this day in their role as successors to the Apostles.) Most astonishing of all, the Holy Ghost spoke to each man in his own native language, and there were men present from a great variety of nations. This last item is in many respects the most important of all because it points to the universal aspect of the Christian message. It was not just for the Jews; it was not just for the people gathered there in Jerusalem that day, but rather it was for the whole world. This was a truly revolutionary thought, one that “rocked the boat” a bit with many people who did not like the idea of extending salvation to all people, but rather wanted to keep it just for “our people,” however “our people” might be defined.
The great variety of languages in the world were ordained by God to control sin. When God sent His Church forth into the world, He made it very plain that language was not to be an impediment, but rather that the Church was to speak to all people. This was because the message of the Church is a universal message that God has entrusted to us to spread throughout the world in our day. Thus, while He does not wish to bring an end to separate languages and cultures around the world, He does want the message of Christ to reach every person in the world because it speaks to a universal need bringing grace to all mankind for all times.
In our Gospel lesson for the day, our Savior Jesus Christ contrasts the life of His Church with that of the surrounding world in five respects.
First the Church is given the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, which the world at large is unable to receive. John 14:16-17 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. Notice that the Holy Ghost is the explicit gift of Jesus Himself to the Church, given at His request to the Father. It can be received by the Church because the Church has known Christ Himself, but the Holy Ghost is denied to those who have not known the Christ. Thus, it is the exclusive gift given to Christians only, not to the world at large. Each part of the Church receives the Holy Ghost in proportion to its devotion to Christ, so that the greater the level of faith, the greater the presence of the Holy Ghost will be with that part of the Church.
Secondly, just as the world at large cannot see the physically absent Risen Savior because it did not respond to Him when He was physically present with us, so the world at large does not respond to the abstract concept of a spirit, the Holy Ghost, present with, and aiding Christ’s Church today. This abstraction generally fails to touch the non–Christian heart or awaken the mind in such away as to arouse interest from those outside the Church. For the world, which sees all things physical with such clarity, Jesus Christ is completely hidden. His birth in the manger, His Cross, His Resurrection and Ascension, all His life and teaching simply mean little or nothing at all in their eyes. It is exactly the opposite with the Church. Jesus Christ, with all of the events and teachings of His life, are ever present to Christians. We see Him, ever more clearly as we advance along our Christian way, in our prayers, in our worship, in our sorrows and labors, our difficulties and temptations. He becomes closer than any earthly friend, not merely with us, but in us and we in Him. This is simply not possible at all for those outside the Church.
Thirdly, the Church is learning to love God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, something that the world at large will never do. This brings the Church into the close family of God, while the world at large is left outside, as those who do not love the Lord, a terribly dangerous place to be at the day of Judgment. This is not because we are so bright or intelligent, but rather because Christ Himself has revealed Himself to us.
Then we have the question from Judas, John 14:22 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? This Judas, who it is pointed out is not Judas Iscariot, is concerned that they are going to be given saving information, but that it will be withheld from the world at large. Is that fair? Is that right? The answer is sad, because it says that people cannot be saved until they respond to the Word of God, until they accept what Jesus has to say to them. Remember when Jesus says elsewhere, John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. There are no other options.
Fourthly, the Church has a Teacher that the world at large does not have. This Teacher implants knowledge and the desire for knowledge in ways beyond the reckoning of the world. Knowledge from many sources are illuminated by this Teacher who is Truth Himself, and made attractive so that we will be drawn to that knowledge and enabled to integrate it into our understandings. Always, Christ is the Lesson, and the Holy Ghost is the Teacher.
The peace of the world is found in forgetfulness, often in sleep or even drunkenness or drugs. Such a peace is always subject to a rude sudden awakening; it is no real peace at all. The Fifth contrast that our Saviour draws is comparing the peace that He gives to His Church to that of the world. John 14:27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. The peace of Christ may include within it sorrow, but it conquers all the evils of the world and leads to stability in our lives. The reason we have so little of it is that we have left too many doors open to the world, so that the devil slips in to wreck our peace. If we keep the Holy Ghost between us and the door, all will be well!
The Holy Ghost has come to be with us evermore in this life, always pointing us toward Chist, our Saviour! He is the Comforter that was promised to come before Jesus ascended into Heaven, and truly He has come as promised. Alleluia!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.