Beloved. Today’s Gospel again finds us with Jesus and the disciples in the upper room that first Maundy Thursday evening. St. John records the long discussion Jesus was having with the disciples to warn and to prepare them for the upcoming events they would experience—Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion and death. But Jesus also talks to them about His resurrection. That’s what we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel when Jesus said: “In a little while you are not going to see me anymore, and again in a little while you will see me, because I am going away to the Father.” And then today we hear Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit, the Counselor: Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth: It is good for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
Notice the shift that has taken place in our readings and in the Church Year. The first few weeks of the Easter season, we focused on Easter and the results of Easter—the forgiveness of sins Jesus won for us by His life, suffering and death and which He has entrusted to His Church to proclaim and distribute; we have seen Jesus act as the Good Shepherd and through this proclamation bring us to Him and into the sheepfold of His Church; we, saw last week, that Easter gives us a joy that cannot be taken from us. But now there is a shift, or perhaps better put, a bringing our thought to the next level—Jesus turns our attention from His resurrection and now to His ascension and His sending the Holy Spirit. As wonderful and glorious as Easter is, we could receive none of its blessings unless Jesus had ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit. Why not? As Luther points out so clearly: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to/ create faith in Jesus so that through that faith we receive the forgiveness of sins, the holiness of Christ, eternal life and every heavenly gift and blessing.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says of the Holy Spirit and His work: When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. When the Holy Spirit convicts the world about sin, this means that when people reject what the Holy Spirit says through the Word and refuse to believe in Jesus, they reject and lose His forgiveness; they stand convicted in their sin; by unbelief, which refuses to accept the forgiveness of sins, a person deliberately cuts him/herself off from salvation. When the Holy Spirit convicts about righteousness, because [Jesus is] going to the Father and we no longer see Him, means that those who reject Jesus are left with their own righteousness; since they rejected Jesus, they have no savior from sin and have to earn God’s favor by their own righteousness and since they can’t, they stand convicted. When the Holy Spirit convicts about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned, that means that those who reject Jesus choose the world’s prince, the devil, and so they share in his judgment. The work of the Holy Spirit flows from the work of Jesus; and the work of the Holy Spirit—even His work of Law, of convicting people of sin, has its goal and aim of finally leading them to Jesus and His gifts and blessings won for us on the cross. By His life, suffering and death, by His glorious resurrection, Jesus won for us—all people—the greatest heavenly gifts and blessings of forgiveness of sin and eternal life. When He ascended into heaven He sent the Holy Spirit to create the faith in us that receives these gifts.
Our text today from the OT prophet St. Isaiah describes in a very beautiful way the work of the Holy Spirit, whose coming on Pentecost Jesus points us forward to in the Gospel. Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
An important point to remember is that the Holy Spirit was very much “there” in the OT times. It wasn’t as if the Holy Spirit wasn’t there, or He didn’t do anything until after Pentecost. No! He was very much at work as were all three Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit’s work is creating faith. That’s not something He only does today in the NT era. In the OT times He was at work creating strong, powerful faith in the great saints like Noah, Job, Abraham, Isaiah, etc. as well as in all the OT faithful who are unknown to us today. The faith He created was in the word and promise of God, of that Savior who would come—Jesus Christ.
And don’t forget what we just confessed in the Creed—that the Holy Spirit spake by the prophets. That is, that the Holy Spirit was working in, on and through the holy prophets. He gave them the very words to speak and write and saw to it that what they wrote that He wanted preserved to us was preserved so that we would have an OT with the prophecies so we would know the Savior when He came.
But all this work of the Holy Spirit in the OT dealt only with the Savior who was coming, what He would do; it was all future. But when Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit visibly on Pentecost, when the Spirit [was] poured upon us from on high, then it was different. The salvation of the world had been accomplished; now the Holy Spirit would through the word and sacrament Jesus had given and entrusted to His Church bring the gifts and blessings Jesus won for us by His holy life and innocent suffering and death; now the Holy Spirit would be with the Church in a powerful way as evangelizer, enabling the Church to bring the Gospel into all the world. The Holy Spirit could first bring the accomplished salvation into the world only after Jesus brought it about, ascended into heaven and sent Him.
Notice our text: Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, from heaven. Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven as the Conqueror, as the One who came and did what He came to to—to destroy our spiritual enemies, to reconcile us sinners to the holy God and bring about for us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. From there, from on high, He sent the Holy Spirit to offer and give these gifts and blessings, working faith in us to receive them. This is His work to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify us; this is His gathering people into the Church.
The thing is that all of us Christians have been born “from above” by the Holy Spirit who was poured upon us from on high. We are Christians because the Holy Spirit has come upon us from on high. So the very fact that we are Christians is not because of anything we have done, any merit or worthiness in us, any righteousness or good works we may think we may have or done but because of the work of the Holy Spirit who has come upon us from on high. For most of us, the Holy Spirit came to us in the waters of Holy Baptism. It was there we were born from above; there we became a new creation. That means that instead of being an enemy of God like how we all were as we were conceived and born and came into the world, now we are a new creation, God’s own dear Christian and child and heir of heaven who now love Him, their Savior, and want to do His holy will. That we are Christians and members of His Church, love the Lord, serve Him in holiness, love, and good works and are heirs of heaven—that didn’t come from us, from our side, but from God, from the Holy Spirit poured upon us from on high. Look at our text: the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field. Left to itself, a wilderness or desert remains a wilderness or desert. But when it is acted upon with irrigation and proper planting, the deserts can bloom! The same way with us spiritually: left to ourselves we would all remain lost condemned sinners, unable and unwilling to come to know and love the true God rightly. But the Holy Spirit comes upon us from on high in the word and Baptism and acts on us changing us!
And the Holy Spirit didn’t just come down on us and work faith, bring us all these heavenly gifts, and then just leave us to our own devices. Instead, through word and Sacrament He is continually working in us and on us! The Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. Not only are we by the Spirit’s work brought from a wilderness to a fruitful field but He keeps working on us so that we grow in faith, love and good works so that what we once were as Christians, fruitful field, is glorious, yes, but is surpassed in time by a greater glory —the fruitful field is deemed a forest—by a greater love of the Lord, a stronger faith and more fervent and diligent life of good works/ holiness.
As the Holy Spirit has been poured upon us from on high and we “wildernesses” have become “fruitful fields”—that is, as the Holy Spirit works faith in Jesus in us and we become part of the holy Christian Church, we enjoy a great blessedness. And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. As a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit, we have peace, quietness and confidence. And why? –Because the Holy Spirit created faith in us that receives from Jesus the forgiveness of sins and His holy keeping of the Law. Where there is forgiveness of sins, then we know things are right between us and God; we then know He is our dear loving heavenly Father and is working all things for our spiritual and eternal good. St. Paul writes [Rm. 5.1]: Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace with God does not come from our side, from our efforts, but by righteousness alone—Jesus’ righteousness, His holy life He lived for us; His holy and innocent suffering and death for our sins. Through Spirit worked faith, we believe and receive His forgiveness and holiness. We stand before God righteous in Jesus. In that Spirit worked faith, we have peace of conscience. The Christian says: “Even though, no matter how hard I try, I still sin miserably every day, I rely on Jesus and His forgiveness, on Jesus and His perfect righteousness for me. I rely on and rest in the grace of God to forgive me—as He has promised to do—all my sin for Jesus’ sake. No matter how great the sin, no matter how Satan tries to convince me it’s unforgiveable, I have peace of conscience knowing that in Jesus that sin is forgiven and I am reconciled to God, my dear loving heavenly Father. In Spirit worked faith I firmly rely on the Lord’s mercy and grace; the certainty that our faith is built upon is the promises of God.”
No matter what our outward circumstances, no matter how tumultuous they may be—we can always have peace trusting in and holding to God’s promises to us. Where faith is weak or tottering, pray the Holy Spirit strengthen it. He will. Here we run to the word of God; here we run to holy absolution; here we run to the blessed Sacrament and look at Jesus—His body and blood—and hear: The peace of the Lord be with you always. Now we have peace—though devil and world will try to rob us of it—but eternally in heaven we will have it to the full: My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. Our eternal peace and security begin already now as the Holy Spirit has been poured upon us from on high. INJ Amen