Dear Disciples of Jesus,
As we prepare for our Lutheran Week experiences, it is my hope that you are preparing by contemplating the person and nature of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the focus, not only for our theological conference, but also for our Mission Festival and Convocation.
I encourage you to read about the work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible and to reflect on Martin Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed.
We will focus on the first and second chapters of the book of Acts and specifically on Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Our world fails to acknowledge the existence of evil, opting for acceptance and thinking that everything is good. There is no place for sin in such a worldview. Many live denying sin’s effect in the pursuit of pleasure, power, pornography, drugs, alcohol and a host of other perverse behaviors — destroying both our relationship with God and our relationships with others. In believing that our inherent goodness, knowledge, political agendas and personalized spirituality will save us, there is little need for a Savior or for the Gospel of Jesus Christ or for life as a disciple of Jesus. We blame the futility, despair, anxiety, loss, grief, emptiness and depression on circumstances rather than the condition of our soul, struggling to survive apart from Christ.
There is an old saying among evangelists: “The hardest work is not getting folks saved but getting them lost.” Peter’s preaching on Pentecost bears witness to that truth. The disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit and immediately they were witnesses of Jesus Christ. Peter announced that the kingdom Jesus proclaimed was for all people. When they heard the truth and were “cut to the heart,” they asked, “What should we do?” Peter told them exactly what Jesus proclaimed. The Kingdom of Heaven has broken into this world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Repent and believe in him!
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was offering himself to all who believed. He offers what only the Messiah, the Christ, can provide for all people for all time — forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. He does not offer a philosophy for living, a political platform, a new set of rules, a new religion, and certainly not an organization or institution. Jesus is the Gospel. He is our focus, our life, our hope and our salvation. He comes to us and invites us to follow him. He calls us to be his witnesses, his disciples, with a mission to invite others and disciple them. Pentecost reminds us that this is all the work of the Holy Spirit.
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit delivers power —dunamis (in Greek) — dynamite to the Church. The more important questions are how open are we to the work of the Holy Spirit and how do we rely on the Spirit’s power and strength? When we hear of people speaking in tongues, miracles, bold witnessing, healing, transformation and great growth, some get concerned because they believe such experiences would cause them to feel “out of control.”
That is a primary difference between having a religion and having faith. Religion is our attempt to regulate a chaotic world. Faith is complete trust in Christ’s sovereign control over all things. 2 Timothy 3:4-5 says that in the last days the Church will have people who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power.” Apart from the Holy Spirit, the Church can accomplish nothing that is consistent with Christ’s will and mission.
On Pentecost, wind and fire are both manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ teaching, the most profound discussion about the wind and the Spirit is in John 3. Jesus told Nicodemus that people must be born of water and the Spirit. Jesus says, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).
You cannot control it, but you can clearly see its effects. You cannot control a tornado. But, after it has passed through, you can see its path and its power. Between the wind and the tongues of fire, every person gathered together could hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language.
Jesus said, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:16-17). “He will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
In describing the reality of the world to Timothy, Paul wrote that some people are “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”(2 Timothy 3:7). It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we are able to discern the truth and proclaim it boldly.
That same Holy Spirit is available today! The Spirit’s purpose is still the same today. The Spirit provides comfort, convicts us of the truth, including our own sin and the truth about Jesus. The same Spirit assures us of forgiveness and salvation. Through that same Spirit we are equipped with gifts to build up and strengthen the Church. Some will speak in other languages or work signs and wonders or bring healing and wholeness of life in the name of Jesus to hurting people throughout this world. Through that Spirit we are equipped to share the Gospel of Jesus, to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. He helps us to connect the dots of information that lead people to Jesus, just as those first disciples did on Pentecost.
We would do well to remember that the disciples were not just filled with the Spirit once. Prior to Pentecost Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Then he told them to wait until they were filled again with the Spirit at Pentecost. Later, Acts reminds us that they were filled again and again. In fact, Paul writes in Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit.” It is an ongoing action that is never completed.
The entire Church can only experience the transforming power of the Spirit one disciple at a time. The Holy Spirit resides in the Church by residing in the heart and life of each believer who is a part of the body of Christ. Those first disciples were frightened and lacked faith. They didn’t fully understand the plan, even though they had been with Jesus for three years. But the Holy Spirit brought unity, strength, courage to act and just enough faith to speak out. And the results were amazing. The string of events changed the entire world. Without Pentecost we would not be here today!
Paul tells the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
While the church is often preoccupied with programs and styles, techniques, methods and marketing, Jesus is concerned about one thing — our openness to the work of his Holy Spirit as his faithful disciples.
C.S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity, reflects on the fact that, when you consider the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that equips you to be Christ’s witnesses, you may be thinking this is more than you bargained for in becoming a Christian, a follower of Jesus. He writes, “I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted him to do, and we should be obliged if he would leave us alone. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what he intended us to be when he made us. … Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on. You knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but he is building a palace. And he intends to come and live in it himself.”
While such a transformation may seem overwhelming, it is far better than to slip into an unintentional affirmation of universalism. If we aren’t living as faithful disciples, witnessing, proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples of all nations, what are we assuming? Do we believe they will hear the truth from someone else? Do we believe it doesn’t matter if people don’t believe in Jesus? Would people conclude from our lack of passion for sharing our faith that all people must be saved, and that Jesus offers us nothing that we don’t already possess?
Being a disciple, making disciples, being witnesses, evangelizing others is central to our faith because it was central to Jesus’ mission. It is the very reason he came and is present with us. It is only the power of the Holy Spirit that transforms us into such followers of Christ Jesus who care so deeply that we cannot refrain from sharing the Gospel and discipling others.
Looking forward to seeing you soon.
Bishop John Bradosky