June 8, 2014 Pentecost
Thou Shalt Be Robed in Power
Joel 2:21-32, Psalm 145, Acts 2:1-11, St. John 14:15-31
Tiger Woods, back when he was Tiger Woods, always wore red on Sunday. He explained that his mother had told him red is his power color. In the realm of high-stakes golf, Sunday is for the bold move, the final charge, the grand drama, the conclusion, the victory. He who packs the most power wins.
I think Tiger-mama had a point, although maybe not the one she intended.
For here we are on Sunday, all turned out in red. And not just any Sunday, but Pentecost. Red is the color of fire and blood and the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist had promised that the One coming after him, the One so much greater than he, the One called Jesus, would baptize His disciples not with water only but with the Holy Spirit and fire. The advent of the Spirit would be a spectacle, a demonstration of God’s overflowing power.
Well, there I go again, saying a dirty word. In our day, power is a trip – and never a pleasant one. We’re ashamed of it and afraid of it. We have abused power – and that’s to say nothing of the things our ancestors perpetrated – and so we must dispose of it like lead-based paint. It’s too toxic even to recycle.
I suspect some of you have been in meetings as I have where the one who presides – the “president” who would never answer to that title – is so deferential the meeting runs itself . . . right onto the jagged teeth of a reef.
John Wayne doesn’t swagger onto the scene any longer to right all wrongs and save the fair damsel. Our cinematic heroes are so conflicted they need three trips to the shrink to patch up their tattered feelings after every exploit. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Better we shred it, lest we abuse it again.
And so where does that leave us? For God the Holy Spirit came in power to endow us with gospel power to accomplish the work God has given us. Proclaiming the gospel, like growing old, is not for wimps.
Here’s where it leaves us: sorting out the difference between worldly power and godly power. This morning we have heard our Lord say, “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” Just as there is a worldly peace and a godly peace, so also is there a worldly power and a godly power.
Israel, obsessed with acquiring the former, could not recognize the latter when God put on flesh and served it up to them like a waiter on a tray. Israel turned up her nose and disdained the feast God offered. God the Son departed . . . and then God the Spirit arrived.
In the Spirit, as in the Son, God manifests His gentleness, love, passion and power. In the beginning – the genesis -- the Spirit hovers over the face of the waters. At Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, the Spirit descends like a dove.
At Pentecost the Spirit arrives as a “rushing mighty wind” and “divided tongues as of fire.” This is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy God gave through Joel which we read moments ago, the coming of the Spirit to endow God’s people with power – but not Israel alone.
"And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.”
And so, you see our problem in our power-averse age. When God rains down power on His people, He means for them to use it. God is never timid; neither does He expect us to be. Gentle, loving, even meek – but never timid. There’s a difference.
This is a matter that bears investigation.
In our gospel lesson, we find Jesus speaking to His apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem on the night before His betrayal. He is delivering a farewell address. He will soon depart to return to His Father. The apostles are more than a little agitated.
Jesus has led them for three years. He is going away as hostility against Him continues to rise. What will become of them?
Is this not the problem His followers have faced ever since, that we face today? How do we live for Christ when we are without Christ? But we are not without Him.
Their Lord promises them a Helper. Jesus will pray to the Father, and the Father will send this Helper. Of course, not everyone recognizes a helper when the Father sends one. I’m reminded of one who did.
A woman received a call at work informing her that her daughter was sick. On her way home, she stopped at the pharmacy to get medicine. When she got back to her car she found that in her haste she had locked her keys inside.
She spied an old rusty coat hanger on the ground. She had heard of using a coat hanger to pop the lock, but even as she picked it up she thought, "I have no idea how to use this."
She bowed her head and asked God to send help. In less than five minutes a beat-up old motorcycle pulled up. The rider was a bearded man wearing a do-rag. He got off of his motorcycle and asked if he could help.
The woman said: "Oh, yes, please, my daughter is sick. I've locked my keys in my car. I must get home. Can you use this hanger to unlock my car?"
The biker said, "Sure." He walked over to the car, and in less than a minute the door was open. She hugged the man and through her tears of gratitude she said, "Thank you so much! You are a very nice man."
The biker replied "Lady, I am not a nice man. I just got out of prison yesterday. I was in for car theft."
The woman hugged him again, sobbing, "Oh, thank you, God! You even sent me a professional!"
Now, that’s discernment.
The Helper Jesus promises is the Paraclete, from the Greek parakletos, referring literally to someone “called alongside.” Notice that Jesus assures them the Father will send “another Helper.” In English, this term might be ambiguous.
If I offer you another drink, you may not know if I am offering another like the last one or another of a different sort. One of the same kind or a different kind? In Greek, the meaning is plain: Their Lord is promising them another like Himself.
This is how He can tell them, "A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me . . .” They will see Him in the Holy Spirit, whom the world cannot know.
As Jesus represents the Father perfectly, the Spirit will be the exact representation of their Lord. This Spirit is the One Martin Luther called alter Christus, “another Christ.”
Among the Persons of the Holy Trinity there is no conflict or contradiction. To have the Son is to have the Father; to have the Spirit is to have the Son of the Father.
The Father will send this Helper, Jesus says, “in My name.” Here is the test we can apply when anyone tells us he has revelation from the Spirit. Does it line up perfectly with what Jesus taught and the example He left? Can it be done in His name?
The Paraclete is the Helper, Comforter, Encourager, Exhorter. Sometimes it’s hard to sort out His roles. In the Bayeux Tapestry, which celebrates the Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the caption embroidered below one scene reads, “Bishop Odo comforteth his men.” In the scene, he is prodding them from behind with a spear.
The Paraclete is our Advocate as well. In 1 St. John 2:1, the same term is used of Jesus, who is called “our Advocate with the Father.”
Now Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphans.” In other translations we find, “I will not leave you comfortless” or “desolate,” but “orphan” is better. The Greek is orphanos, and it referred to children left without parents or to pupils left without a master. When Socrates was executed, his disciples became orphanoi.
Jesus was the physical parent of no one but His disciples were learners who called Him Rabbi, “Teacher.”
In a farewell address, it was typical to leave behind a token, something to remember the speaker by. Jesus leaves with His disciples peace, not the world’s peace, which is merely absence of conflict. No, this is shalom: blessing, health, prosperity, harmony.
Whenever John Wayne stomped into a room to set things right, he wore the peace of moral certainty like a bishop’s mitre. In peace is the power of conviction. For us, it is impossible to wield gospel power without the peace our Lord gives.
But we must not expect that this promise of peace portends no conflict until, in a little while, we enter our Lord’s personal presence. The church father St. John Chrysostom said, “God measures our affliction to our need.”
Before we press on to the Pentecost event in Acts let’s note that St. Luke has given us one book in two volumes, Luke and Acts. In the first, we see the Spirit equipping our Lord. Christ entered His public ministry “full of the Holy Spirit,” “led by the Spirit,” “in the power of the Spirit,” “anointed by the Spirit.”
Now, in Acts, the Spirit appears to equip the Lord’s disciples, to robe them with power. To quote Chrysostom again, “the time was come to put in the sickle of the word; for here, as the sickle, keen-edged, came the Spirit down.”
The “rushing mighty wind” bespeaks the power Christ has promised, the “divided tongues as of fire” that rested on those present betokens purity. This is the new day dawning, the first step of the gospel’s long march out of Jerusalem and into Judea and on to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth.
Those on whom the forked flames rested begin to speak in languages unknown to them. But their hearers gathered from the far reaches of the Jewish dispersion for the harvest feast tune them in like the very voice of God, which indeed they are.
These Jews have assembled in their spiritual capital from as far away as Mesopotamia in the East and Rome in the West and God’s mouthpieces are pouring out His gospel with power in the Gentile tongues their hearers understand.
The speakers are Galileans, hicks and hayseeds. The Jerusalemites are the Parisians of their day, educated and sophisticated; Galileans are the Louisiana swamp rats, coarse and uncultured. They sound like Eliza Doolittle with a Cajun twist. Yet here they are before us, declaiming in languages their betters know nothing of, confessing the glory of God for all the world to hear.
Joel’s prophecy is finding fulfillment and as God begins to pour out His Spirit on all flesh He is reversing the curse of Babel. At the Tower of Babel, mankind came together, all speaking one tongue only, to “make a name” for themselves.
They would build a tower at the center of their city and this tower would reach into the heavens to bring God down to them and they would enlist Him in their service. But God is having none of it. He confuses their language. At the Tower of Babel, one language is made many.
At Pentecost, many languages are made one. The same gospel fills every ear. Some receive it, some do not. This latter group mocks the 3,000 who come to faith, branding them as drunks.
Well, scoff if you will, but the kingdom of God has erupted into world history in a new and powerful way.
The Holy Spirit has arrived with power to purify the people and to testify to the truth of the words of Jesus Christ. The gospel is poised to overflow Jerusalem and rush out to inundate the nations. Just over the horizon is that glorious day shown us in Revelation 7:
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’" (vv 9-10).
Fifty days after the Resurrection – “Pentecost” is from the Greek word meaning “fiftieth” – God unleashes His mighty power.
He can send His sinless Son into the world to serve Him and He can send His sin-stained sons out upon the world to serve Him. He can bend our faculties to His purposes. Just as He used the faculty of speech to divide mankind, He uses it to unite mankind.
He can call His precious Son home to His heaven and yet not leave His people to our own feeble means. He can send us a Helper who will clothe us with power to publish God’s glory to a world in desperate need of His salvation.
Will we kick that endowment into the gutter because we live in a place and time ashamed and afraid of power? We will not. As our Lord has given us His peace, not as the world gives, He has given us His power, not as the world gives.
He bought power for us at a horrific price. I’m reminded of an old gospel song:
Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow
There's wonderful power in the blood
Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood
And would you live daily His praises to sing?
There's wonderful power in the blood
We will not disdain this power that cost our Lord so dear. We will use it and reproduce it and then give the glory to God, the source of all power. We will join our voices to the Psalmist (115:1) and say:
“Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth.”