This Sunday was Pentecost in the Church year — the day we mark what happened in Acts 2. If you aren’t familiar — open up your Bible and read the story. Pentecost was really the kick-start to the New Testament Church — with miracles all over the place — the sound that filled the city, the flames of fire, the speaking in all those languages! Can you imagine being there? And it wasn’t just the miracles; it was the message. The disciples were reaching so many different people in so many different languages. And the message, they had changed lives. Three thousand people were baptized that day. The Holy Spirit was active.
How cool it would have been to experience Pentecost, to see God work like that. Actually, I can take the “would have” out of that sentence, can’t I? How cool it is to experience Pentecost, to see God work like that. Whether you realize it or not — we are living in a perpetual Pentecost. That’s what Jesus promises in our text today from John 15.
In John 15:26-27, we have Jesus promising us the power of the Holy Spirit — the one who creates faith and strengthens faith — so really, he’s promising just one big extension of Pentecost.
Here is the promise: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” That’s why I can say we have a perpetual Pentecost — because Jesus promised and delivered the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Notice the term Jesus uses to describe this gift he promised to send us: “The Counselor.” Other translations render that word “Comforter,” “Advocate,” “Helper,” even “Paraclete.” And actually, that last one is just taking the Greek word and putting it in English letters, not really translating at all.
That’s the word John used: “Paraclete.” It was used in legal situations for the one who gave a defense and represented the accused. It was used more regularly in general ways for the helper and encourager.
The Paraclete. As I was wrestling with all the ways this word can be used this week and trying to find a way to communicate it, I thought of a scene from that Jackie Robinson movie that just came out, “42.”
The movie tells the story of the first man to break the color barrier in Major League baseball, and all the resistance he faced, how he was so isolated and alone against such vicious attacks. No one could understand what he was going through.
This particular scene started with a father and son in the stands talking about their baseball heroes and how excited they were to see the boy’s favorite player, Pee Wee Reese, play, as he took the field for warm-ups. Then Robinson took the field and the crowd started shouting all sorts of racial slurs and insults, and after the son sees his dad doing that, he joins right in.
That’s when Pee Wee Reese, 10 time MVP, one of the most popular players of his day, runs across the infield and has a conversation with Robinson, the one everyone was attacking. Then Reese put his arm around Robinson and just stood there, facing the crowd, showing Robinson that he is there for him, at his side, at the same time comforting and counseling him, advocating for him and defending him against those insults, just by being there by his side — his Paraclete.
That’s the Holy Spirit with us, except the Holy Spirit is better at it. He’s got more than just some fame and a few MVP awards to help as he is by our side. The devil is constantly trying to bring us down, convincing us of our guilt as he tries to separate us from God, or causing us into guilt with his temptations in our life.
You’ve heard those slurs from the devil, haven’t you? You’ve felt his temptations. And, the worst part is, you know he’s right when he reminds us of our failures and tells us that there’s no way God should love us. “The wages of sin is death” and we know we deserve it. The devil is right when he tells you that all the problems in your life are of your own making.
But then Jesus reminds us in our text of our perpetual Pentecost. He tells us that we’ve been given the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Paraclete, the one who stands by our side and reminds us of the truth. That’s how Jesus described him, “The Spirit of Truth.” That’s what the Spirit does to be our Paraclete, the one by our side to help. Jesus said that he “goes out from the Father” and “testifies about me,” about Jesus.
He is the Spirit of truth because he is the one that is constantly going out from, representing the Father. And his tool is testifying about Jesus. That’s what conquers our guilt, as through the word, he reminds us of Jesus death for our sins. That’s what conquers our fears as we see our Savior ascended and ruling. That’s what conquers our death as he brings us from death to life in faith.
Let me quote for you a paragraph from a sermon Martin Luther preached on this text nearly 500 years ago. He was talking about what having the Holy Spirit does for us:
“Behold, this leads to a confident and staunch heart that can scorn the devil with all his terror and torment, defy all his might, and say: “Sin, if you want to condemn me, you will first have to condemn Christ, my dear Savior, Priest, and Intercessor with the Father.
“Death, if you want to devour me, you must begin on top, with Christ, my Head. Devil and world, if you want to torment and frighten me, you must first pull Him down from His throne. In brief, I will fear nothing, even if lightning were to strike this moment and throw everything into confusion.
“For Christ is mine with His suffering, death, and life; the Holy Spirit, with His comfort; and the Father Himself, with all His grace. He sends the Holy Spirit to preach Christ into my heart and to fill it with His consolation. This is the main glory and prerogative of the Holy Spirit.”
(Luther’s Works, Volume 24, Sermons on John)
Praise God that we have that gift of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit living in our hearts.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.