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Jesus had been talking to his disciples about the sending of the Holy Spirit for quite a while. He mentions the coming of the Holy Spirit numerous times in John chapters 14, 15 and 16, which record things that Jesus told his disciples in the upper room as they were celebrating the Passover with him for the last time. Forty days later, at his ascension, he instructed the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they had received the promised Holy Spirit.
Today we celebrate another wonderful instance of Jesus keeping his promises. Sometimes it seems that we have to wait a long time for God’s promises to be fulfilled, but in this case, the disciples only had to wait ten days. On the Old Testament festival of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, ten days after his ascension, the people of Jerusalem heard what sounded like a mighty wind. That sound drew a large crowd to the place where the disciples had gathered. Inside the place where the disciples had gathered, a ball of fire appeared and what looked like tongues of fire split off and hovered above the heads of those gathered there. When they came out to address the crowd they were enabled to speak in the native language of whoever was standing before them so that the wonders of God, the good news about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, would be communicated clearly to them.
It’s exciting to think about what the Holy Spirit did for the disciples. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit enabled them to remember clearly and accurately everything that Jesus had taught them. He enabled them to understand how everything Jesus said and did fulfilled the Scriptures. He enabled lowly fishermen, a tax collector, people who were considered uneducated, to speak in multiple languages. He enabled them to defend what they said about Jesus with clear words of Scripture. He enabled previously frightened men who were hiding behind locked doors to speak boldly and confidently to thousands of people and to witness before kings and governors at the risk of their lives. We are amazed when we see how powerfully the Holy Spirit worked in their lives. We are reminded of what God still can do in us and through us as we strive to be his witnesses.
It’s also exciting to look another direction, not just at how Jesus’ promise was fulfilled in the disciples, but how his promise was and is being fulfilled in the world. In John 16 we hear Jesus tell us what would happen in the world when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples as he promised. Jesus said, when he comes, he will convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment. Not only does Jesus explain to us what he means, but we see his promise fulfilled in the crowds who heard what the disciples were proclaiming on Pentecost, and we see it fulfilled still today whenever the good news about Jesus is proclaimed.
Peter told the crowds who had come to Jerusalem to worship at God’s temple, people who claimed that they believed God’s word and were looking for the coming of the Messiah – He told them that God had sent the Messiah. He told them who the Messiah was – Jesus of Nazareth, the one they had rejected and handed over to Pilate to be crucified. He told them, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. The Holy Spirit used what Peter said to convict many in the crowd of sin. They were cut to the heart. How could they have missed seeing that Jesus was the one they were looking for? How could they have killed the one God sent to save them! How could God ever forgive them! The Holy Spirit led them to see that because they did not believe in Jesus their sin remained on them and there was nothing they could do to remove it.
That’s still what the Holy Spirit works to accomplish through the proclamation of God’s word. His work, his job, is to point to Jesus and say “here is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, your Savior. He was crucified because of your sins.” Those who say, “what sins? Why do I need a Messiah?” Those who don’t believe in Jesus as their savior have their sins remain on them. Those who are cut to the heart, who are convicted, who realize that they deserve only God’s punishment for their sins, who are terrified of the eternal punishment they deserve and ask, brothers, what shall we do? They hear the comfort of the gospel. They hear Peter say, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off– for all whom the Lord our God will call.” They hear him say, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Three thousand people in the crowd were convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit and, as they heard Peter tell them what Jesus had done for them, and as they were baptized, the Holy Spirit convicted them about righteousness.
As Peter proclaimed the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and that he had ascended back to heaven to his rightful place at the right hand of God the Father, the Holy Spirit brought these people to realize that Jesus was not the blasphemer they had been told he was. The Spirit brought them to realize that if God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand, he must have been The Righteous One. He was not a blasphemer, just the opposite. He was the one who spoke the truth. His resurrection and ascension prove that he was who he claimed to be, the Son of God.
As Peter proclaimed Jesus, crucified for the sin of the world and raised from the dead, the Holy Spirit convinced them that the righteousness they needed to go where Jesus had gone, to be raised from the dead and join him at the right hand of the Father was theirs in Jesus. Even though they had done the unthinkable and crucified their Messiah, Jesus paid for their sins. Through faith in Jesus their sins were removed as far as the east is from the west. Their sin-stained clothing was covered with the perfectly clean garment of Christ’s righteousness in their place.
What a blessing that, through the word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit has done the same for you and for me. He has convicted us. He has convinced us that we don’t have and can never obtain the righteousness we need to join Jesus at the right hand of the Father and live in his glory for all eternity. He has convinced us that, because Jesus not only died, but rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, he is The Righteous One. He is the one who freely grants the righteousness we need to all who trust in him. As we witness about Jesus to others, the Holy Spirit is striving to convict the world, to convince everyone that the only way to be right with God is through faith in the one who was crucified for the sins of the whole world, and then rose from the dead.
Satan is called the Prince of this World, the Ruler of this World, the one who is trying to lead the whole world astray. He is the strong man who guards his house, trying to keep all the descendants of Adam as his captives. In order to set Satan’s captives free, to rescue us from the Strong Man Satan, Jesus had to defeat him.
Scripture reports a few of the skirmishes Jesus had with Satan and records how Jesus was victorious. When Jesus died it looked as if he might have lost the battle and we would be slaves of Satan for all eternity. But, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. Peter tells us that Jesus went and proclaimed his victory to Satan and the spirits in the prison of Hell. The Evil One, the ruler of this world, has been condemned. Like a criminal out on bond, he has some freedom. He is still dangerous. But his sentence has been decided and will be applied when Jesus comes again on the last day.
Through the word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit works to convict the world, to make it clear to all that if they continue to follow the ruler of this world, they will share his fate. They will be condemned along with him.
Through the word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit works to convict us, to convince us that the ruler of this world, our enemy Satan, has already been defeated and judged. “One little word can fell him.” Peter says, ‘Resist him, standing firm in the faith. James says, submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Satan is a powerful enemy. He is going to do all he can to re-capture us and make us his slaves again. Be prepared to do battle with him daily. Make use of the armor that God has given you, especially the Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. When he tries to terrify you, holding your sins before you and reminding you of the condemnation you deserve, remind him that all your sins are paid for by Jesus. Remind him that he is already judged and condemned. Call on the name of Jesus and Satan will flee from you.
It’s exciting to remember what the Holy Spirit did for the disciples on the day of Pentecost. But it is even more exciting to think about what the Holy Spirit continues to do through God’s word. He convicts us. He convinces us that we are sinners in need of righteousness. He convinces us that Jesus is our righteousness. And he assures us that Satan has been defeated. Because Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead and has ascended back to heaven we can be convicted. We can be absolutely sure that we have eternal life in him and power over Satan. And we get to do what the disciples did. We get to proclaim to the world that Jesus lived, and died, and rose again. He is the one and only Savior that everyone needs. We get to witness what the disciples did. Maybe not 3000 on one day, but we get to watch as the Holy Spirit convicts others in the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment so that they call on the name of the Lord and are saved.
Praise God every day for the work that the Holy Spirit does in the world and that he has convicted you about sin, about righteousness in Jesus, and about the judgment of Satan.