What the Holy Spirit Does

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 26:00 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It would be easy to get the impression sometimes that the Holy Spirit is the rogue agent of the Holy Trinity. We know what the Father and the Son have done. We have that written down for us in most of the Scriptures. We feel like we have a handle on the Father and the Son. They seem predictable and understandable to us. But the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit is unpredictable! Who knows what the Spirit might do! The Spirit might do anything, at any time, with anyone! He might make you speak in languages that no one knows! He (or she, if you’re of a particular theological bent) might even say or do things contrary to what we’ve learned and heard and believed from the Scriptures. Anything and everything is justified by appeals to the Holy Spirit.

Some of this comes from places like John 3, where Jesus says to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wills and you hear its sound but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” But Spirit is the same word as wind. In fact, Jesus is probably saying that the Spirit speaks where He will, and you hear His voice, but you don’t know where He comes from or where He goes, but this is how it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. This is not about how unpredictable the Spirit is, but that He is free to make children of God wherever His voice is heard.

And here in John 14-16, in the very same Gospel, Jesus gets even more specific about what the Spirit does. He doesn’t say, well, who knows where the Spirit will show up and what the Spirit will say or what the Spirit will do. You’ll just have to wait and see, and try to figure out what is the Spirit and what’s not! No, here in the upper room with His apostles, before He dies and hands over the Spirit; here before He is raised and He breathes on them and says, Receive the Holy Spirit; here, He tells them exactly why He is sending the Spirit and what the Spirit is going to do.

The disciples are worried, anxious, sorrowful—something that completely and astoundingly changes after Pentecost—and Jesus says that their hearts are filled with sorrow. This is why Jesus sends the Holy Spirit: to their advantage and for their good after He ascends into heaven. He says He will send the Helper, the Comforter, the Advocate—the One whom He will send to their side for comfort and consolation, and to convince, convict, reprove, rebuke. The Spirit will convict or convince the world about three things, all of them about Jesus.

Concerning sin, because the world does not believe in Jesus. Concerning righteousness, because Jesus Himself is no longer visible in the world, but He is with the Father. Concerning judgment, because in Jesus’ death, the ruler of this world is judged and cast out (12:31). And this is what the Spirit does: testify to Jesus. Wherever the word of Jesus is, that’s where the Holy Spirit is, and that’s where the Holy Spirit is doing His work.

And that’s exactly what Jesus says: there are a lot of words that Jesus has for His disciples, but they cannot bear them all now. So He will send the Spirit of Truth, who will guide them in all the Truth, who is Jesus. The Spirit will bring to their remembrance everything that Jesus has said to them. In times of joy and in times of grief, we have trouble remembering things. I suspect, for example, that when I am preaching at weddings, the bride and groom are often not hearing, or at least remembering, everything I am saying. I also suspect that seminarians who are about to receive their first calls into the Holy Ministry do not hear or remember everything that the preacher says. They are waiting impatiently to find out where they will be sent.

And in times of grief as well, we remember certain things, but we don’t remember everything. No chance the disciples would remember everything that Jesus had said to them. No chance they would remember everything that He wanted them to write down for the time after they were gone. But Jesus sends the Spirit to bring to their minds everything they need to know and remember for their sake, for the sake of their hearers, and for our sake.

So the Spirit does for us as well. It is the Holy Spirit who brings to us the right Scriptures, the right Word of God, at the right times. When we are caught in the tangled web of sin that we weave for ourselves, the Spirit brings the convicting and reproving Word of God to drive us away from our sin to Christ who took it on Himself on the cross. When we are sorrowful, He brings us the Word of comfort and consolation. When we are guilty and burdened, He brings us the restoring and restful Word of Jesus’ light burden and the consolation of forgiveness and assurance in Christ’s all-sufficient work, life, death, and resurrection.

All of this is specific and centered around Jesus. Jesus says that the Spirit will not speak on His own authority, as if the Spirit would or could be independent of the Father and the Son, just as the Son is not independent of the Father or the Spirit. But what the Spirit hears, the Spirit will speak. You hear His voice! What does the Spirit hear? The whole Word of Jesus. But Jesus didn’t make that up. He received all things from the Father, and that is what the Spirit brings. There is one God, and therefore one will, and one work, and one salvation; one Lord, one faith, one baptism. One baptism, in which we have been given the one Name of God. There are not three names: one of the Father and one of the Son and one of the Spirit. There is one Name: the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Father sends the Son into flesh and the Son goes, as one with the Father. Then the Son sends the Spirit from the Father, and the Spirit is the gift of the Father. But we would never hear, or believe, Jesus the Son, or His Father on our own. We would remain in the world, refusing to believe Him. So the Holy Spirit calls us with the voice of Jesus’ words, and He enlightens us with His gifts—the new birth of the water and of the Spirit—and He makes us holy and He keeps us with Christ in the Holy Church, which is His body. This is how the Church is built: not by us, or because we’ve done just the right thing to attract people to Jesus, and if we do enough, they might just hang around. No, the only way the Church is grown is if the Spirit does His work, at His own good time, by the Word of Jesus which He has entrusted to His Church.

And in this Church, He richly and daily forgives our sins and the sins of all believers. And all of this—this calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, and forgiving—all of this is headed toward a specific goal: the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, that on the last day He will raise up you and me and all the dead, and He will give eternal life to you and me and all believers in Christ. This is all the work of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And today we give thanks especially that the Spirit who was over the water at creation’s beginning, the Spirit who was over Jesus at the water of His baptism, is the same Spirit who has been given to us at our baptism. This is the Spirit poured out on all flesh, on all people, so that all people will believe, hear, rejoice, and be raised from the dead to join the new creation, renewed by the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/22/21

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