A Gift (John 14:23-31)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation for this Pentecost Sunday comes from our Gospel text, especially where John records Jesus’ Word, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
Our God is the giver of all good gifts, we all know this. We freely confess it in Luther’s Small Catechism, where he wrote, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”
Today, the Feast of Pentecost, the focus is often – and rightly, I’d say – on the incredible gift given in Jerusalem, the gift of the Holy Spirit. The sound of the rushing wind, the tongues as of fire appearing and resting on the heads of the apostles, the proclamation of God’s Word in languages the speakers had never before used. That’s the gift everyone focuses on … but it’s not the only gift we heard about today.
Did you catch the gift we heard about in our Old Testament lesson? God’s great gift of … restraint? It had been a few hundred years since the Noahic flood, and mankind had made a comeback. They were widespread, they were long-lived, they were resourceful, intelligent, united, and sinful. That’s a potent recipe for disaster for all of God’s good creation, but it’s especially dangerous for the spiritual wellbeing of the humans, themselves. Their hubris would undoubtedly lead them to think more highly of themselves than they ought. It would likely lead to thinking of themselves as “gods.” “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” This pride needed to be nipped in the bud, and quickly, but instead of sending another flood (something He had promised to never again do), YHWH said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Not only did He restrain His wrath, lest the people again be destroyed, but He restrained their ability to more easily sin. Imagine the devastation humans could have wrought upon their fellow man and upon creation if they had been united in sinful purpose!
If only that had been enough to restrain Man’s sinful nature, but it wasn’t. To the surprise of no one—least of all, God Himself—in our confusion of languages and misunderstanding of one another, we invented newer and more debased ways of sinning against God and neighbor. The confusion of languages was a merciful gift, a way of stopping us from making things worse for ourselves, but it couldn’t save us from our sinful inclinations. No, a different gift would be required for that.
Our Gospel text … is the lead up to that gift. We’ve gone somewhat back in time, lectionarily speaking, to the night when our Lord Jesus was betrayed into the hands of evil men. He knows what He’s about to endure, and He’s giving His disciples the gift of His promise. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” It’s one of the last words He gives them before He’s lead away to die on the cross in order to make satisfaction for their sins and the sin of the whole world … and it’s a promise to not leave them alone. It’s a promise to send One who would help them, who would speak for them, who would use them to do the work God had chosen them to do. The promise of the Holy Spirit, reiterated by Jesus after He was raised from the dead and ascended back to heaven, was a promise that the disciples would see brought to fruition.
That’s the promise fulfilled we see this day, a gift being fulfilled to His disciples and to us. That, in and of itself, is a gift: to know that our God has made exceedingly great and precious promises, and that He has and continues to fulfill them. The same promised Holy Spirit is gifted to each of us in the waters of Holy Baptism, enabling us to recognize and confess our sin, believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, trust that His death and resurrection won for us the full forgiveness of sins, and believe that eternal life is ours.
Pentecost is a festival wherein we rightly give thanks to God for His many gifts, especially the gift of His Holy Spirit by whom we know that we are saved in Jesus Christ. However, there’s an overarching gift that we have yet to discuss here this day, the gift which prompted all the ones we have discussed thus far: the gift of God’s love for us poor, miserable sinners. It was His love that prompted God to confuse the languages and separate mankind, lest they further destroy themselves by their uninhibited pride. It was certainly His love which compelled our Lord Jesus to take up His cross, to die in the most horrific way imaginable, in order to make full payment, full atonement for the sins of all mankind. It was by His love that He kept His promise to pour out His Spirit, gave them hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone, and allowed them to call Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and resurrected Christ, both God and Lord.
Oh, yes, our God is the Giver of all good gifts, and as Paul tells the Roman Christians – and us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” His love … is the greatest gift of all! A blessed Pentecost feast day to you all!
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.