OF LIFE AND FIRE
There is one thing for which we should all be grateful. We live in a world of death, yet God grants to us the Spirit of Life. Not all the dams of the TVA, not all the power stations of the country's largest electric companies, not even all the batteries of all the cars on the nation's highways could furnish the power that comes from the Holy Spirit. Next Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost, an annual festival since the time of Moses, the old Jewish Feast of Weeks which was given a new meaning when 3000 people of Jerusalem were baptized that day at the preaching of Peter. Today, however, we want to go back a short time before Pentecost, to a prediction Jesus made at the time of His Ascension.
When Jesus left this earth He did not give his disciples any earthly honor, land, or resources. He did not set up a trust fund for His Church. He charged them with a sacred duty - You shall be witnesses to me …to the uttermost parts of the earth. That was parallel to what the Prophets had done in the past. They knew what happened to the Prophets. They had been close to God's own Son, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. They knew what happened to Him. They were now the custodians of an unpopular message. Left to themselves they would accomplish very little, but there were other considerations. Within the past year or so, Peter had walked on the surface of the Sea of Galilee. Y ou don't forget something like that. When he looked down at the waves it seemed impossible. The Lord had steadied him on the sea. Could He not send him help from heaven now?
Jesus knew how uncertain His disciples were. He promised them they would not be on their own. Ten days later they learned what it was all about. They heard the wind, they saw the small flames as visible signs of the Holy Spirit. That is one reason why we call Him Spirit of life and fire. Our hymn lyrics reflect this thought. Martin Luther calls Him "Thou holy Fire, Comfort true." The medieval hymn, veni creator spiritus, calls Him "Thou Fount of life, Thou Fire of love, the soul's Anointing from above." We have the hymn of the Twelfth Century master of devotional life, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote the hymn O Jesus King most wonderful. He calls Jesus "Thou Fount of life and fire." Don't worry about St. Bernard's getting the persons of the Trinity mixed up. After all, Jesus is the Fount of the Holy Spirit. Either of them could equally be called the source of life and fire. There is another objection here, namely that in our experience life and fire do not combine very well. In our fallen world fire tends to destroy life, but it also purifies, and genuine godly life requires purification. Nothing purifies like the Holy Spirit. He is the real God, whether anyone acknowledges Him or not.
So how does that fire help us? Ask yourself this: are you determined to conform your life to Christ? Are you glad of it? Have you lost some zeal for God's house? Are you failing in your policy of containment as far as personal sin is concerned? Do you pray as often as you should? Are you so different from the world that one actually notices it? Or do you blend in? If these questions bring up problems, the Holy Spirit is the solution. Without His help these personal problems can become family problems, business problems, even national crises, but we are not without Him. Just as God the Father is always creating, always sustaining, and always abounding in the blessings of Providence, just as the Son who redeemed us is always interceding for us, so the Holy Spirit continually turns us to Jesus, regenerates and enlightens us. Without the Holy Spirit we could not keep our faith for so long as an hour, but if your fire is burning low, He has the matches to kindle it.
On that first Pentecost Peter hit the people as hard as he could with the Law. He said You have taken the Messiah by wicked hands and crucified Him. That was the right thing to say. Yes, Peter did hurt their feelings. They needed that. People who feel good about themselves are not moved to repent. The Spirit used the Law to make the men of Jerusalem fear God's punishment, so they asked Peter What shall we do? They were totally prepared to do whatever Peter told them, so when he said to repent and be baptized, 3000 of them did, and thus received the Holy Spirit.
The Church has the same message for you today. The message that comes through in Mel Gibson's film is the same, that you by your sins have crucified the Messiah. You might be outwardly respectable. You might be virtuous at heart. But deeper still within you there is sin, which merits God's anger. That sin must be forgiven, cleansed by the blood of Jesus, forgiven by divine grace. The holy name which millions shout in blasphemy every hour is the only name under heaven whereby we must be saved, and only the Holy Spirit can bring you to Him. By the fire of repentance He prepares you for the cleansing. He joins you to Christ in the washing of regeneration, then He lays on you the holy cross, even as He keeps the fire of faith alive. Holy Baptism is not the end of the Spirit's work. It is a corner that you turn with Him, but you still need Him for the daily repentance which Baptism sets in motion.
Finally, the Holy Spirit made Peter bold. On Good Friday he had denied Jesus because he feared men. On Pentecost he told a huge crowd that they were murderers. Was he nervous about doing that? St. Luke doesn't say, but it would have been very natural. For us as well, to bear the cross is to face opposition. Like the apostles, we are the custodians of a very unpopular message, a politically incorrect message. People do not want to hear that the blood of Jesus alone can make them good and right. They resist that word. We would live in peace with everyone if we could, but we cannot because this is the devil's world. But the Holy Spirit wants this world for Jesus. He gave the apostles languages they had never studied. That doesn't mean he always works that way, but He does assure you of your election in Christ. He does make you confident that Jesus has conquered sin and death. He does make you happy to be witnessing to Him who made you spiritually alive. When it comes to spreading the fire of love, He has made you His match, not to be consumed by the blaze, but to be purified and warmed by the Spirit's presence. AMEN.
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross