Pentecost May 19, 2013
2 Corinthians 1:18-24
Acts 2:1-8, 12-18
226(1-5), 227, 224, 226(6-7)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Revel, dear Christian, in the certain knowledge that your sins are forgiven and that Heaven’s door stands open, waiting for you to enter the Paradise that has been won and prepared for you by Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
There is a word in English that we use when the issue is beyond sure—even beyond certain. You’ve known about this word ever since you were a little child. You learned it from the progression of the questions you were asked: “Are you sure? Are you certain? Are you positive?” It was one thing to be sure, another to be certain, but if you were positive, then there just was no doubt.
Positive, however, seems to be a bit hard to come by in a less-than-certain world—especially when it comes to the future. Stop for just a moment and try to list even a half dozen future events about which you can be absolutely positive. The fact is you can’t do it, not in a world where change and decay reign.
It is in this light that the world views Christianity and its promises as unrealistic and highly questionable. Unfortunately, it is often in this same light that Christians view those same promises. Let it not be so among us. Today we will be reminded to look at, not only what we have, but also at what we have been promised. When the Lord God Himself promises, that is the time to be positive. The text that will guide and instruct us on this Pentecost is found in Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians, the first chapter:
But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.
These are God’s words. In humble thanksgiving and desiring to be filled and instructed by these words we pray: “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.”
We learned as children, and have been reminded often since, that we can break the 8th Commandment even by telling the truth. We do so whenever we speak the truth with evil intentions. In every such case we are acting contrary to the will of our God. It, therefore, ought not surprise us that we can also fail in our calling as Christian witnesses even though we never speak that which is untrue. Again, how so? By dwelling on negative truth.
Let me use an example that every parent will readily understand. Parents recognize what very few children understand: bad stuff happens. Children are invincible in their own minds. Parents know from experience that invincibility simply does not exist. With this understanding, parents have some tough choices to make. How often and concerning how many dangers should we warn our children? Every parent can sympathize with the overprotective moms and dads out there. A parent’s natural love for his child makes every parent want to shelter his child from as much pain and danger as possible. The problem is knowing how much is too much. Overprotection can easily lead to paranoid and fearful children, but how do we balance that with the need for prudent precaution?
The same sorts of problems confront pastors and teachers of the Word of God. Individual Christians often seem to carry about the same illusion of invulnerability, only with adults it exists in the spiritual realm. In other words, adults come to realize that they can be physically damaged, but they often refuse to see that they can also be severely injured spiritually. Much like the overprotective parent, the temptation for those entrusted with the spiritual care of souls is to try to identify and protect those that are dear to them from every possible spiritual danger. The result is that we become so concerned with what might happen that we lose sight of what has happened and what our Lord has promised will happen to every single child of God. Bottom line? Pastors spend so much time warning their members about all of the spiritual dangers out there that we often fail to focus on the good things that God has already done for us and the great things He has promised for the future.
This is the general area to which our text carries us—the delicate balance between confidence and overconfidence and the tragic difference between dead sure and just plain dead.
One of the greatest failures of the Christian Church down through the ages is that we have failed to communicate to the world around us that ours is a religion that is, above all else, positive—in both character and promise. We have failed to disabuse the world of the appalling misconception that Christianity is a dour, forbidding, and gloomy religion—a religion of “No!” and “Don’t” rather than “Yes!” and “Done!”
We do this whenever we give the outside world the idea that we are prevented by our religion from doing a wide variety of things that we would dearly love to do, and we certainly would do them if we could get away with it. The message we need to share is that we have been freed from our slavery to sin. Sin no longer dominates and controls us. We have the means to defeat it and as a result we are free to love the will of our God and to walk according to his desires. The world believes that we are unwilling slaves. We need to show them that we are grateful, willing servants.
Our text makes short work of any misconception that Christianity is primarily a religion of prohibition and condemnation. Just listen to the tone of Paul’s inspired words: “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” [vv.19-20]
You have to work pretty hard to get “dour” or “forbidding” or “gloomy” out of these words, don’t you? What is it, after all, that these words are telling us? They certainly are not picturing Christianity in any sort of negative light are they? Far from it, they breathe of joyful assurance and confidence concerning that which is and that which is to come. Why such confidence and assurance? Because these promises are all based on Jesus Christ—the One who never fails.
Jesus Christ is the single most positive thing to ever happen to sinful mankind. Positive because, by His own words, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17 ESV). Positive because even now Jesus does not make demands on us, He makes offers and He makes promises. It was Moses who came with demands and threats. Moses brought the Law. Jesus came with a different message. “For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
What does that mean “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”? It certainly does not mean that there was no truth in the Law. The Law, however, was certainly not gracious. Grace, remember, is defined as “God’s undeserved love for sinners.” There was no give to the Law, no room for error whatsoever. The Holy Spirit through James said of the Law: “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Just think for a moment of the enormity of those words. Imagine living from birth until the moment of your death and never once sinning—not once. Then, on your deathbed, one sinful thought flashes across your mind. At that moment you become guilty of all sins. In that instant you are as guilty and deserving of death as any murderer, thief, liar, child abuser, or idolater. That is what it means when we say that there was no give to the law, no room for error. To sin, even once, was to die. This is the message Moses brought.
What about Jesus, what message did He bring? “…not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” [vv.19-20 ESV] Our text is telling us that Jesus carried with Him from Heaven no threats, no requirements, no demands. He came to do for us what we would not and could not do for ourselves—keep perfectly the very Law that demanded perfection from each one of us. Jesus kept that Law perfectly every moment of His life on earth, and then He gave that life on the cross as a payment for the sum total of all mankind’s sins. On the cross He paid for every last one of them. That is what He announced when from that cross He said, simply enough, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
Dear Christians that is our religion. Is there any “no” in anything you see there? Is there any negativity of any kind? Is there any doubt or uncertainty? Any gloom or despair? How could there be? Jesus left nothing undone. He left no sin without payment. The battle in no way remains uncertain. It has been fought and it has already been won for us by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Ah, but in sneaks the Devil, whispering his disturbing half-truths in our ear: “Yes, Jesus may have won, but will you? Can you, a sinner, really have any confidence about your eternal future? Don’t you know others who once believed as you do, only to fall away later in life? What makes you think you will be any different? How can you possibly have any confidence, any certainty that you will not turn away in the end and die in unbelief?”
The comforting truth is that our Lord Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He recognizes that each one of us is just as incapable of keeping ourselves in the faith as we were in bringing ourselves to faith in the first place. True, we were spiritually dead then and we are not now, but Psalm 103:13-14 assures us: “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” The same Father who loved us enough to send his own Son to die for us would never forsake his children. We have been reconciled to Him. Our text offers us only comfort and assurance. There we read, “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” [vv.21-22 NIV]
This passage brings us ’round to the great event we celebrate today: Pentecost. Pentecost was the day God poured out the Holy Spirit in full measure upon His New Testament Church. Surely the Holy Spirit was also at work in the Old Testament, but at Pentecost His presence flooded the Church that Jesus Christ had established. There the Spirit remains, living forever thereafter in the hearts of his children.
The gifts brought by this permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit are simply extraordinary. Though this Holy Spirit was given to us for many reasons, today we have been examining one in particular as revealed to us in our text: The Holy Spirit was sent into our hearts as a seal or guarantee of the great things God has done for us.
What does our text mean by a “seal” or “guarantee”? It means that just as God’s promise to pour out His Spirit into our hearts was fulfilled at Pentecost, so now also we can and should have confidence that since He kept that and every other promise ever made, every single one of His promises will also be fulfilled. “By faith we stand,” [v.24] our text assures us, and by the Holy Spirit we are preserved—the same Holy Spirit who even now lives in every single child of God.
A loving Savior would never die for us only to abandon us. His plan from the very start was to send the blessed Comforter to live in our hearts. This He has done. It is now the Holy Spirit who sustains and preserves us. We could be in no better hands. While it is true that we still have our old Adam with us and, therefore, possess the frightening power to drive the Holy Spirit from our hearts, we have not been called to such doubts and fears. We have won because Jesus, our Champion, has won.
The Holy Spirit will continue to protect and preserve us through the means He has established for this very purpose—the Gospel in Word and in Sacrament. Feast on that Gospel message, dear Christians. Fill yourselves with the Word, for it is the Bread of Life. Search through those Scriptures to discover the many promises there—sure promises made by a perfectly faithful God. In Christ Jesus we can be positive, which is the very message we want to share with the world. The debt of sin has been paid. Our passage to Heaven has been earned. What on earth could ever be more positive? 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.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.