Topic: Biblical Verse: John 15:26-27–16:4b-15
The Festival of Pentecost
May 23, 2021
John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
A little over one week ago, my youngest daughter graduated from college – a big milestone for her and for her parents! It was one of the briefest commencement ceremonies that I’ve ever attended; just 45 minutes in length, which was just fine by everyone. As we were driving home, my wife and I were talking about all of this, and I said, “You know, you really have to stop and think about what happened here. We just finished getting all four of our children through college. That is a major accomplishment!” Does this mean that the First Bank of Mom & Dad is now closed for business? Although there may be more limited hours of operation in that bank now that our youngest has finished college, you never really stop being a parent, do you? One of the great gifts that our newly-graduated daughter possesses is how to self-advocate. She is one of those people who knows how to get what she needs, and will work tirelessly to do so. Woe to the person who stands in her way! On this Festival of Pentecost, we focus on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit; the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, who advocates not for self, but for us whose trust is in Jesus. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus refers to the Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” (John 15:26) and “the Helper” (John 16:7). It is that second description that I would focus our attention on today. That word “Helper” can also be translated as “Advocate.” And so the message for this Festival of Pentecost is entitled, “Our Advocate.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The Third Person of the Holy Trinity is often misunderstood. Even the day of Pentecost itself which celebrates the Holy Spirit can be overlooked and under-celebrated. In fact, Pentecost is one of the three major festivals of the entire church year, the other two being Christmas and Easter. Christmas celebrates the gift of God the Father; Easter celebrates the resurrection of God the Son; Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. Unlike Christmas and Easter, there are no outward trappings associated with Pentecost. Anyone having guests over for a special Pentecost dinner? Did you get your Pentecost cards mailed out? The commercial world has bypassed this festival, perhaps because the Holy Spirit is too abstract to put onto a greeting card. And maybe this is a good thing. Pentecost is something of a blank slate which we are free to develop into whatever special customs and traditions that are appropriate. So how will we celebrate this great festival?
In time of need, there is no substitute for having a good defense attorney. Hopefully, we’ll never need one, but if the need arises, far better to have that skilled legal counsellor represent us and speak in our behalf in that courtroom than trying to do this ourselves. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26). Here the Holy Spirit is called “Helper.” The original word here is parakletos (παράκλητος), a term rich in meaning, where we get our word “paraclete,” which we don’t hear or use much anymore. The word means one who literally comes alongside you to represent you and speak in your behalf in a courtroom setting. Old Testament figures such as Abraham (Genesis 18:23-33; 20:7, 17), Moses (Exodus 32:11-14, 32; 34:8f; Numbers 14:13-19), Samuel (1 Samuel 7:8f; 12:19, 23; 15:11), as well as prophets such as Amos (Amos 7:2, 5f.) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 14:7-9, 13, 19-22) interceded with God for their own people who were in need or distress. They became advocates, helpers, and counselors between God and his people. They pointed ahead to the One who comes to the aid of sinners, Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, whose blood intercedes for us (Hebrews 9-10) and who is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). During his earthly life and ministry, Jesus served in this helper/advocate role, taking upon himself our sins and offering his life as the atoning sacrifice for us all. But he promised “another Helper” (John 14:16), who would be with his disciples forever. The Holy Spirit is that other Helper. In a very real sense, the Holy Spirit serves as our defense attorney. The Holy Spirit does more than just put in a good word in our behalf, but brings active help, pleading our case before the Father’s throne, breathing new life into our dead and dry bones so that we may stand and live as God’s redeemed people.
Defense attorneys may be called upon to defend clients whom no one wants to touch. The court of public opinion often judges those accused long before a verdict is ever reached in court, and finds them guilty, especially high-profile people. What if God dealt with us in this way? Certainly, the Lord God would be justified in distancing himself from us because of our sin and iniquity. We stand condemned before our Maker and Redeemer for our failure to live as God would have us live in holiness and righteousness, loving God and serving our neighbor. When we stand convicted and condemned before the high court of heaven, when all seems lost, in rushes our divine defense attorney, our Helper and Advocate, the Holy Spirit! “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). Our divine Defense Attorney intercedes for us not according to what we think is best – according to our own wishes and desires – but according to what God knows to be best – according to his good and gracious will. The Holy Spirit pleads the blood of Jesus shed for us over against our sins.
Our Helper and Advocate, the Holy Spirit, crosses over ethnic, cultural, and language barriers, reaching out to all people. We live in a world that’s all about borders and boundaries; the divisions, differences and disparities between us, which fuel strife and conflict between people. The Holy Spirit is all about bringing people together under the banner of the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. On that first Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on the first disciples, they were given the ability through the Spirit to speak in other languages as eyewitnesses said: “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). The Holy Spirit overcomes our divisions and differences through the language of Christ’s love, made known in word but in deed. The flags of various nations are before us today, and will remain here in the Sanctuary throughout the summer, representing countries-of-origin from within our own congregation, reminding us of the wideness of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. The mission field is all around us, made up not just of people who look and talk like us, but many others whose skin color, language, and customs are different from our own. They, like us, are created in the image of God and loved by him. They, like us, are people for whom Christ Jesus gave his life and shed his blood on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Pentecost reminds us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
We have been given an amazing gift in the Holy Spirit, our Helper and Advocate! May this Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith” (Luther’s Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed), help us to be led by the Spirit in our thinking, our speaking, and our living to the glory of the Lord. Amen.