5-19-24 Pentecost

Bible Text: John 14:23-31 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus

St. Peter confessed Jesus and said, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” And the Lord Jesus told his disciples that He would build His Church on this confession and the gates of hell would not prevail against her. What’s easy to miss in our day but would have been obvious to everyone in the ancient world is that Jesus is calling for an offensive war here. You don’t use gates to attack. You use gates to defend. In the ancient world all cities were surrounded by enormous walls, sometimes hundreds of feet high, and dozens of feet thick. So thick that often they had houses within the walls. So Rahab the prostitute let the Israelite spies through the wall of the city from her house. And St. Paul escaped the governor of Damascus by being let down in a basket from a window in a house in the wall of the city. An army attacking a city wanted to break that wall and the obvious place was the gates of the city, the place where the wall couldn’t be as thick. So when Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, he is saying his church will be attacking those gates, she will batter down the gates of hell, and those gates will not prevail, they’ll fall. Hell, in other words, is not attacking us. We are attacking it. This is the preaching of Pentecost. We are not on the defensive. We are on the offensive, and we are beating down the gates of hell and all the powers of evil. In and by His Church Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, is destroying sin, erasing death, restoring justice, beauty, goodness, and righteousness. And He is giving that peace that this world cannot give.

The Christian Church has what all people need. Jesus calls it His peace. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives, do I give to you. Hell spreads its rule wide and far in this world. Hell’s Kingdom takes different forms too. In the Jews on Pentecost it was self-righteous hypocrisy – pretending they were religious and they know God, when they had just crucified God in the flesh! In the Gentiles it was gross sins, sexual immorality, the exposure of little babies to death, the destruction of marriage, all the pagan culture we see reemerging in our day. Hell’s kingdom takes different forms, but what the devil does and what hell’s kingdom consists of always, no matter the form it takes, is separation from God. St. Augustine had it right when he said, “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our souls are restless until they find their rest in you.” Human beings have no peace in the devil’s kingdom. Whether it’s because they’re clinging to their sins and shouting at you that love is love is love, even as they champion the most unloving things, like killing babies, or because they imagine they are right with God because they think they’ve lived a good enough life, they are not at peace. They are sad or angry or lonely or confused. And they need what only Jesus and His Church can give. They need to be reunited to their God. Without that, there is the greatest loneliness. We were made to be in communion with God. So Jesus sends the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to break down the gates of hell’s kingdom, to cast out the devil, who, Jesus says, has no part with Him, and when the devil is cast out and his gates destroyed, then Jesus enters in, with His Father, and makes His home in you. And there is peace.

How does He do it? How does Peter do it that day? How is it done today? You can point to the fire on their heads and the miracle of speaking in many different languages. But that was just the sign. It doesn’t endure. People will claim to speak in tongues today, but for some reason no one ever claims to have tongues of fire on their head. The gift of tongues was a sign, that the Spirit’s offensive attack on the gates of hell would go to all nations, all tribes, all peoples. As the devil had claimed this world as his own, and even Jesus calls him the ruler of this world, so Christ would claim it back for His Church. And you see that happen on Pentecost not by the tongues and the fire, but by Peter preaching the truth of Jesus. That’s it. Look at Peter and see a man, a Christian, who knows that what he says is the truth. He is not apologizing. He is not begging for a place at the table, as if he has his truth to share, but the Muslims have theirs and the Hindus theirs and the atheists theirs and the Jews theirs. No, he has the truth, the truth that everyone needs, the peace that every soul longs for. So Jesus promised the apostles. “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” So the Holy Spirit reminded Peter of the very things he and all the disciples witnessed, the very things they saw with their own eyes, and their hands handled, what they heard with their own ears from Jesus, all of it, his teaching, his perfect life, his baptism, his miracles, his suffering, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, what they were eyewitnesses of, these things the Holy Spirit reminds them of and inspires them to preach and write down in the New Testament.

How did the 3000 people who became Christians that day receive it? How did it happen? They heard a sermon. Peter condemned their sins. He preached to them Christ-crucified, true God and Lord in human flesh, wounded for their transgressions and bruised for their iniquity. And when they were cut to the heart, because they knew they crucified the Lord of glory, they asked what shall we do? And Peter answered, Be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then they all heard more of God’s Word and took the Lord’s Supper and prayed and were filled with joy that didn’t go away; they came to church weekly if not daily and kept receiving communion and hearing God’s word and loving one another. That’s what happened.

And that’s what happens here. Right here, God Himself comes among us. The Holy Spirit breaks down the gates of hell. He preaches that we have crucified the Lord of glory. That our sins put Him on that cross, your pride, your selfishness, your false judgment against your brothers, your gossip, put the Lord of glory on the cross just as much as the Jews’ cries of Crucify Him, Crucify Him. And you confess your sins. And hight here He makes His home with you who love Him because He has first loved you. Right here He claims you as His children, washed clean of all sin in Baptism and united to Christ’s death and resurrection. Right here your Brother and God Jesus Christ puts His true body and precious blood into your mouths, so that you are united to Christ as His Bride, on whom He pours His affection and guarantees His protection. And there is no separation now between God and you. Those were no empty words He spoke, “I am with you always.” And because He is ours and we are His, not only can we say, “O death where is your victory, O grave where is your sting?” Not only can we sing, “Sins disturb my soul no longer, I am baptized into Christ.” More than this, we have peace with God. My peace I leave with you, Jesus says. If God is for us, if our Father has claimed us, if His Son has made His home in us, and we have His Spirit, we are never alone, the despair of loneliness and separation from God the Spirit wipes away by Jesus’ word and body and blood.

And then we have true communion with one another. What a miserable thing not to be a Christian. God save us all from falling away, exchanging life for death and joy for vanity and knowledge for ignorance. Never being forgiven and so not forgiving. Having society with other humans but always only in pieces and stained with jealousy and resentment and the knowledge it will all end. But the communion of the Church, the communion of saints, where we who know the true God and are constantly known by Him learn to love one another, forgive one another, encourage one another, trust one another, with the knowledge that every fault we see in each other has been wiped away by the blood of Jesus that we drink together, and every annoyance we have will be erased forever in the glory of heaven, we are the family of God. We are the body of Christ. Everything that divides us from God and from one another – death, the devil, our flesh, our sins, this foolish, foolish world – Christ has triumphed over it all and we live by His triumph. He breaks down the gates of hell and frees us to be with Him and Him with us. Our God is with us. He will never forsake us. He unites us together. And no one will snatch us out of His hands. Amen.

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