Pentecost June 4, 2006
224, 236, 226(1-2,6-9), 234(4-6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Therefore say to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.’”
Dear friends in Christ:
What a difference one day can make. Things can look very bleak, but one event or even a good night’s sleep can turn things around. The day of Pentecost brought a startling change to the disciples of Jesus. He had promised to send them the Helper, and when the Holy Spirit did come His gifts went beyond any expectations they might have had. Certainly the disciples had the Holy Spirit within them before Pentecost because they had come to faith, but on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on them in great abundance and great things happened. He made a great difference on that day and beyond.
We also can see great individual changes in us by the Spirit. He works daily in us by strengthening our faith through the Word, but today we’re going to go back a bit further and examine how He changed our lives forever by bringing us to faith. We’re going to see What a Difference the Holy Spirit Makes in our lives! I. The Holy Spirit makes God’s name holy among us, II. By the Holy Spirit we are cleansed of our filthiness, and III. The Holy Spirit gives us a new heart to follow God
The first difference that we will consider is that the Holy Spirit makes God’s name holy among us. It follows then that God’s name is not holy among us without Him. In and of itself God’s name is already holy—everything about Him is—but we have profaned it, that is dirtied and polluted it by our words and actions. We know what it’s like to “trash” somebody’s good name and reputation by slanderous talk, or running their name through the mud. In the same way we have at times trashed God’s name. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went.” [v.22]
The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people, but they did not always act like it. Wherever they went they should have given a reflection of God’s holiness, but instead they would often times show their sinfulness. Even at the very time that Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving God’s Law they were making their own god to worship, the golden calf. As you read through the history of the Children of Israel in the Old Testament, time and again they fell into idol worship and disgraced God’s name.
We’d have to confess that the same is true of us. Without the Holy Spirit working within us we pollute God’s name as well, either using it in profanity or giving His name a bad reputation by doing the opposite of what He wants. We might want to say that the Children of Israel were worse because they worshipped false God. But we can profane God’s name by falling down to worship such gods as the almighty dollar or the false deity of pride. Like Israel, we in no way deserve all the chances that God has given us. We have “blown it” at every opportunity.
We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be Thy name,” and so we are asking for God’s name to be made holy among us. This is similar to what God promises in our text. “And I will sanctify (make holy) My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.” [v.23]
Martin Luther in his Large Catechism explains how God’s name is made holy and how it is profaned: “How does it become holy among us? The plainest answer is: When both our teaching and our life are godly and Christian.”
It is also true that when we are not godly and Christian then we pollute God’s name. Can we keep His name holy without the Holy Spirit? Certainly not! We need help to live a Christian life, and to reflect God’s Word in our words and actions. The Holy Spirit makes a tremendous difference here. When we are brought to faith, that is of course the greatest change, but as He increases our faith, He also increases the fruits of our faith, and helps us to know and to do God’s will. In this way the Holy Spirit makes God’s name holy among us.
The second area in which see the difference that the Holy Spirit makes is that He can cleanse us of our filthiness. There is no doubt that we are filthy with sin, but we tend to overlook this fact. We so very easily see, and perhaps comment upon, the sins of others; but it might be less common that we see an accurate reflection of our own sin.
There is a vast difference in our standard for holiness and God’s standard. At times your child comes to the table with dirty hands, even after he’s just washed them. His idea of clean is not the same as yours, in the same way that our idea of holy is less than what God demands. Dirty hands are one thing, those stains will eventually come out, but our souls have been stained by sin and we can’t get that out.
What can get us clean? In the Old Testament the Jews had ceremonial washings that they would go through before worship because God wanted them to realize that He is holy, and required holiness and cleanness. They would be sprinkled with hyssop branches. But these were mere ceremonial washings and could not cleanse the soul. In the 51st Psalm David pleads of God: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). We all long to have our souls purified and our consciences clean from guilt, but that is a cleaning that only God has the capability to do.
God does offer such a cleansing of the soul. “I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all the countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.” [vv.24-25] We don’t have the materials or ability to do this anymore than a baby could give himself a bath, but notice how God says “I will sprinkle clean water on you.”
We are reminded of a washing that we ourselves have gone through—Holy Baptism. That is indeed a washing of the soul. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Whoever receives Baptism receives the Holy Spirit and the faith which He creates. Through that faith we receive the blessings that Christ has won on the cross and can say with confidence: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). We are converted, that is changed, and the difference that the Holy Spirit works in us is like the difference between night and day itself for our very heart is changed.
This brings us to the third difference: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” [v.26]
The heart that we are born with is cold, uncaring, and selfish. It is a heart opposed to God. It is a heart of stone. The Bible speaks about Pharaoh hardening his heart against God when it came to letting the Israelites leave Egypt. Despite all the plagues that he and his people had experienced, he refused to acknowledge the Lord as God.
Today people can also harden their hearts in unbelief. You see evidence of this by the fact that the fairy tale of evolution is so widely accepted, promoted, and even called a scientific fact. There is evidence of hardened hearts when we see such sins as sexual immorality not just tolerated, but actually promoted. These are hearts that will not acknowledge God for who He is.
Realize, however, that these are also the hearts of you and I if God had not worked that great change within us. Note throughout this section of Ezekiel the many references to God’s hand in this. We could not read this and come away with any inkling that we had anything to do with conversion. God says: “I will make My name holy. I will take you from among the nations. I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart.”
The difference between being an unbeliever and a believer is made by God. The day that one of us could turn a stone into a blood-pumping organ like a heart will be the same day that we could change our own heart of stone to a heart dedicated to God.
God gives us a heart that instead of desiring only things for itself now has a desire to follow God. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” [v.27-28]
An unregenerate heart, untouched by the Spirit, has no love except for selfish love. With this new heart the Spirit drives us to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves. A Christian heart shows love to others because it is bursting over with love and joy.
What a difference on the day of Pentecost for those disciples—a difference that the Holy Spirit exerted. What a difference for us day after day that the Holy Spirit makes for us even at this time. He has made and continues to make God’s name holy among us. He has cleansed and daily cleanses us from the filth of our sin. He has given us a new heart, and continually works to keep that heart one of flesh rather than stone. Lord, continue to send your Holy Spirit upon us that He may strengthen our faith and purify our hearts so that we may live to Your honor and glory. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.