The Holy Spirit seems to get short-changed when it comes to the Trinity. We have recorded for us all throughout the Old Testament the works and promises of God the Father. Also included in the Old Testament are the prophecies concerning God the Son, Jesus Christ. The New Testament is all about Jesus and His salvific work on our behalf. Recorded for us is the birth narrative, the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, and everything we know about His ministry recorded for in the Gospels. We have the story of salvation, won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. Included is the resurrection account and the hope that we have because of the resurrection.
But when it comes to the Holy Spirit, not much is recorded. The Holy Spirit is present at creation. The Holy Spirit is present at the Baptism of Jesus and other critical moments in the ministry of Jesus. The Holy Spirit has a critical role in the Trinity. He does not point to Himself. His role is to point us to Christ. In this way, the Holy Spirit establishes and strengthens faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
On this day when the Holy Spirit came, two amazing things happened. First, He came in a manner completely unique and unrepeated. He came in the roaring of a mighty wind and descended upon the disciples as tongues of fire. They began to speak the message of salvation in languages that they otherwise did not know. By this means, God the Holy Spirit made it possible for the devout Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost to hear the Gospel in their own native tongues. This was indeed a great miracle, for there were many gathered who had not heard the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as people scattered abroad who had not heard of Jesus and His salvific work for them.
This is a great miracle. By means of it, God the Holy Spirit works through simple human words to open the wounds we ordinarily hide, even from ourselves, exposing unbelief, disbelief, and every form of unfaithfulness and sin. You and I are born with nothing but unbelief, disbelief, unfaithfulness and sin. We want nothing to do with the saving work accomplished for us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the cross, even though this was done for us! It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that you and I are given that faith that removes from us the unbelief, disbelief, and unfaithfulness. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to say, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Second, He came also in another way, also totally unique, that is to say, there is nothing like it in human nature or experience. He continues to come in this manner day after day and week after week. He causes God’s Word to be uttered in human speech, and around it, and by means of it, He gathers a multitude of people, reveals their sin and need, and offers them the gift of faith, hope, and new life in Christ.
All this He does that sinners may be brought to the waters of Baptism and the daily repentance that flows from believing hearts into our minds, members, and hands. He invites sinners to hear the word of forgiveness spoken over them in gracious Absolution and receive the foretaste of the heavenly banquet in the Supper, in which Christ is both host and food.
These two miracles each had a vital role in God’s Pentecost plans. It was the first miracles that immediately captured the attention of those who had come to the feast. They could not understand what they were seeing or comprehend its significance. There, in the house where the Christians are gathered, is a great commotion. Besides the sound of wind, tongues of fire appeared on those gathered. I’ve never seen tongues of fire on a person before and I doubt those gathered there had seen them either. I’m sure it was a frightening sight to behold, but an awesome sight at the same time. For those gathered, there was no logical explanation available as to what was taking place. There was only one “reasonable” answer to explain this: “They are filled with new wine.” In short, they were drunk. That explained the speech they heard, for it must have been nothing more than drunken babbling. But of the devout men gathered, there was a voice of reason: “How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language…we hear them telling in our tongues the mighty works of God.”
This was not drunken babbling going on. This was not gibberish. This was the work of God taking place. It was the story of salvation being heard by the people in their own language. It was the work of the Holy Spirit, moving in them saving faith to believe the message being proclaimed so they would have everlasting life.
Peter, in the name of all gathered, explained the miracle as the fulfillment of the promise given the prophet Joel, the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
The Holy Spirit works through God’s saving Word. It is a Word intended for all people, not just a select and gifted few. Every single person in the house was filled with the Holy Spirit. The message was understood in every language and the message was the mighty works of God. When we hear this message from the Holy Spirit, what is it that we hear? We hear conviction. His Word convicts sinners who continue to look for extraordinary works of God rather than the ordinary ways He works through the Word and Sacraments. His Word convicts sinners who have continued to fail time and time again of keeping God’s Word perfectly. His Word convicts all to hell.
But the Holy Spirit brings another message as well. It brings a message of forgiveness to convicted sinners as well. God works through the sweet sound of the Gospel to save “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord.” God works mightily through the preaching of the Word of the cross, that there in Christ’s death and resurrection, you and I have life. God works mightily through the Word and water of Baptism. God works mightily through the Word that proclaims mere bread and wine to be His body and blood.
God’s mighty work comes to us through His simple Word. It is the Spirit working through that Word who assures us of salvation and empowers us to confess that faith in our daily lives.
While the Holy Spirit doesn’t get a lot of “face time” and great accounts recorded about Him and His work in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit does great and mighty work. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to work faith in the heart. Faith is the means by which we hold onto the gifts that Jesus Christ earned for us – the gift of righteousness that Jesus earned with His holy, sinless life – the gift of forgiveness that He earned for us with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death – the gift of certainty in the promises of God that Jesus demonstrated with His resurrection from the dead – the gift of eternal life with Him that Jesus promised when He said He would return to take us to Himself. All these gifts and more belong to us only because the Holy Spirit has worked the miracle of faith in us.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, the prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles of the New Testament provide us with the message of God. The first part of the message is terrifying, for from it we learn of our helpless sinful status before God and the eternal punishment that we deserve because of that sin. The second part of the message is the ultimate comfort, for it tells us that God did not leave us to suffer but sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die in our place so that whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but will have life eternal. This is the message that the Holy Spirit certifies with the wondrous signs of Pentecost. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding,