John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Has a light bulb ever gone on in your head when you realized a truth and you said, “I get it!”? That’s one way the Holy Spirit works. Martin Luther expressed a different understanding than most people of what it means to be baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit.
The children of Israel had been celebrating Pentecost for almost 1500 years prior to Jesus’s birth. They celebrated a festival called Shavuot – the festival of weeks, also known as Pentecost – which means “50th.” On the 50th day after God led Israel out of Egypt, the Law was given to Moses on Mt.Sinai. During this festival, they celebrated receiving the Law through Moses. There are many faithful Christians today who think we ought to do that today – put God’s Law on a pedestal in public places.
The Law can be used to change the external behavior of some people, but it cannot change anyone’s heart. The Law has no power to save us. And in reality, the celebration of the Jews was lip service only because they were always falling away from obedience to the Law. How can you celebrate something you think is a burden to you? How can you celebrate something you ignore when it stands in your way of following your own pleasures?
Christians are no different from the Jews in the same way. We don’t perfectly follow the law Jesus gave us – to love. We seldom change our plans when a neighbor or an acquaintance goes into the hospital and needs support. We don’t love our enemies or forgive a family member who hurt our feelings. It’s often a religion of words spoken with our lips and not lived with our hearts.
In the days before Pentecost, the disciples were praying together. They encouraged each other; they reminded each other of all that Jesus did. True to his promise, fifty days after Jesus freed the world from bondage to sin and death, the Holy Spirit descended upon each of the disciples, appearing as tongues of fire on their heads.
Fire is often used in the Bible to indicate the presence of God: the burning bush that Moses was drawn to on the mountain; and God guided Israel through the wilderness at night with a pillar of fire; and others.
As the disciples stood, tongues of fire settled down upon them. This was no consuming fire like the fire and brimstone falling on Sodom – which is what you’d expect for Jerusalem for crucifying God’s only Son.
No, the fire of the Spirit descended as the soft flame of a candle, and landed – gentle as the love of Jesus – like a peaceful snow falling on a Christmas Eve.
The followers of Jesus were filled with a burning confidence that Jesus had shown them the truth about the heavenly Father. And they began to speak with words that even foreigners and people of different cultures could understand. They spoke boldly about the wonderful works of God.
They didn’t come out like Old Testament prophets demanding people follow the Law of Moses and do God’s will. They proclaimed the things they had witnessed in and through Jesus.
The people who heard the Word were touched in their hearts. The Law had never touched their hearts. It was the news about the love and goodness of God that changed them – at least 3000 of them. It changed their hearts and minds and brought them to trust the good news that Jesus Christ reveals the Father. We have no reason to fear eternal condemnation because God is good. God is love.
Martin Luther said the Holy Spirit came on that Pentecost and replaced their understanding of the old covenant law of Moses with a new law, the law of love as we see it fulfilled in Jesus, the Anointed One. They were released from bondage to a demanding God of laws and punishment. The Spirit showed them how Jesus reveals a God of love and mercy.
Luther thought you were born again of the Spirit when your heart is changed so that you see love is the law. The old covenant law continues to be a tool that shows you why you need a Savior and also gives you guidelines in how to love your neighbor. He said “the written law does not enter the heart nor does it cause good works to follow. The Law has only outward significance.”
It’s kind of like people doing things because they are forced to be good. Those are the dry bones the prophet Ezekiel was talking about – people being forced to be nice to their neighbors but their hearts weren’t in it, their hearts were dead. There was no joy or love in following the law. People who follow the law because they have to rattle around like skeletons have no joy, no quality of life that God wants for them. That’s why Luther said, “The Law is dead-writing only and it has ruled a dead people – for hearts are dead who do not willingly do God’s commandments.” (in his sermon on John 14:23-31).
The Spirit shows us that God did not give the Law to be forced down peoples’ throats like spinach down a four year old or like tofu down a grown man. Jesus didn’t come forcing the Law of Moses on people or telling them they’d better eat it or they’ll pay dearly for not obeying. No. Jesus said if you want to have life, the quality of life only God can give you, follow God’s wisdom and instruction.
The old law was “do it because God said you’d better do it.” The new law the Spirit brought on Pentecost is “love your God and your neighbor because it will bring you the quality of life God wants for you.” Jesus condensed the words of the old law into one: Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love is dedication to the wellbeing of others, no matter how I feel about them.
The difference is that we see God as Love, not as Anger; a God totally dedicated to our good and wellbeing. Instead of seeing the Law as spinach or tofu, the psalmist said God’s instruction is like honey to the taste. You follow it because the Holy Spirit has taught you the law is love.
People don’t become godly because we force them to follow laws. A change has to take place internally that causes them to fall on their needs because they recognize the goodness of God, the universal and unlimited love of our God.
The Holy Spirit points to Jesus Christ and says, “Do you want to see God completely and truly? Look at Jesus, the Word made flesh.”
The Holy Spirit’s work is to create such certainty of faith in us, trust that Jesus Christ shows us the fullness of the Father and convince us we have no reason to fear an eternal destruction by fire. Instead of a Law that threatens to put us into the fire, the fire of the Spirit is placed within us. Now we know God is kind and loving, not angry and ready to cast us into hell. We fear nothing now. We recognize the goodness of God and this inspires us to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. Then we love our neighbor because we understand the Divine Spirit breathed life into them at their birth, too.
Jesus has shown us the heavenly Father. We are free to live with boldness and joy and confidence because we know that all is well with our souls.
When the Holy Spirit comes, you will look at Jesus and say, “Oh my God! I get it! I finally get it!! I’ve got to tell someone – God is good…all the time!”
If you want Martin Luther’s view of the Holy Spirit, check out this post.
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