Roger's Postings

Friday, June 10, 2011

John 20:19-23.                        The giving of the Holy Spirit.             12/6/11

(19)  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" {20} After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. {21} Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." {22} And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. {23} If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Today we are reminded of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: God’s gift to his Church. Now in light of the focus and importance that is placed on the Holy Spirit in Christian circles today, we need to look closely at what his role is for the Church: for us. We have much ado about the Holy Spirit and his place in the lives of Christians today that is not central to what Pentecost and the gift is really all about. The result is much confusion, wrong-focus, and ultimately delusion.

This being the case I believe that we first and foremost need to go back and listen to what Jesus himself has to say with regard to the Holy Spirit and his coming to his disciples. Here in the Gospel of John, we have Jesus saying quite clearly; "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."  Hear this again.

Yes, you heard right. The real gift of the Spirit has to do with the proclamation of forgiveness of sins. This is the essential work of the Spirit; not first and foremost speaking in tongues, prophecy and all that kind of thing that is associated today with popular Christianity. Nor is the Spirit’s primary role that of giving us a special message that is above and beyond the Scriptures. No Jesus clearly states that the gift of the Spirit is tied to the message of forgiveness.

It is not that this is just one isolated text that is making this point. In fact every time Jesus speaks of the giving of the Holy Spirit in connection with the work of his disciples it makes the same point. Let us read;

(Luke 24:46-49)  He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.  I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

(John 6:63)  The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. The Spirit gives life. How does he give life to souls that are dead in sin? Through the forgiveness of sins. It is not the worldly, human things that we can see that are important: not me and what I have and do that counts. It is Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins that he has extended to us that gives life.

(John 16:7-11)  But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

(John 16:13-14)  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. Again what is it that Jesus wants us and all people to know? And what is it that that Jesus constantly preached to the people? The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Good News; the Good News of the forgiveness of sins through his death on the cross.

(Acts 1:7-8)  He said to them: "..... But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Witnesses of what? Of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Yes in every instance there he makes the very same point with regard to the work that is associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

From there then we come to that Pentecost Sunday when the Spirit did come on the disciples. There in the Acts reading we hear that; All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. So at a quick glance here we might get the idea that here we have clear evidence of the thinking that seems to be so prevalent today. Yet what do we find as we read on? What was it that they were speaking? Clearly discernable languages, and with a very clear message that is fully in accord with the Scriptures.

"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him....... God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.........When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

So here again we see this very clear message come to the fore. We have the Holy Spirit at work, doing what Jesus said he would do. Even his ongoing work in those people connects and draws their focus continually to that same message. We read: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

That being the case we need to be wary of much of the thinking and hype that is peddled about the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not primarily about gifts and spectacular happenings. It is not first and foremost about personal experiences and good feelings. Nor is it about some new message or personal knowledge with regard to having a good life here in this world.

Yet what do we hear again and again being focussed on by so many?

Let us remember, the Spirit of God wants people in heaven, not to have heaven on earth. He wants them to recognise their sin and need for help and a saviour, not that they are OK and for them to feel good about themselves, so that they can live as they please. No, the Spirit seeks for people to repent, recognising that humanity does not have all the answers and turn away from a focus on ourselves, rather than on being positive and not wanting to acknowledge that there is so much that is bad and wrong.  God wants people to know about Jesus and his death on the cross and its absolute importance for us and for our salvation, rather than simply about Jesus and his miracles. In worship he wants us to focus on God’s Service to us through Word and Sacraments rather than what we do for God. And the list could go on.

Yes the Spirit wants us to focus on Christ and the forgiveness and eternal life that he has won for us. That is what he was sent to do. That is what is important for us and all people to know. When the Spirit leads us and others to know this Good News then he has truly done his work.

That being the case let us thank God that he has sent us his Spirit, and thank God that he has done his special work of getting through to us that which is important for us. He has made known Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins to us. To him be glory and honour now and always. AMEN.

Pastor Roger Atze

Glandore/Underdale Lutheran Parish



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