Pastor Gary Wong, May 31, 2020
5 "Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
How many of you know a man by the name of Wally Pipp? How many of you have heard of Lou Gehrig? While many people know that Lou Gehrig was a great baseball player whose career and life were cut short by a fatal disease that bears his name, it’s usually only baseball trivia experts who know anything about Wally Pipp. Yet these two players’ careers were inextricably linked. Wally Pipp had been the starting first baseman for the 1925 New York Yankees. One day, as the story goes, Pipp asked his manager to take him out of a game because he was suffering from a splitting headache. Pipp was replaced by a rookie named Lou Gehrig. Can you guess what happened? Pipp never got back into the starting line-up. Gehrig went on to play in a record 2,130 consecutive games, earning him the nickname of the “Iron Man of Baseball” and eventually a spot in the Hall of Fame. Pipp’s headache turned out to be, in Pipp’s own words, “the most expensive aspirins in history.”
Today’s lesson speaks about two of the persons of the Trinity who are inextricably linked. On the day we celebrate the festival of Pentecost, we see how Jesus fulfilled his promise of sending the Holy Spirit in a spectacular way. As his disciples, we thank and praise the Lord that Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Through his Word and sacrament, the Spirit works in and through us to advance God’s kingdom and bring glory to his holy name.
While St. Luke records the details about what happened on the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, it would be good for us to go back to the evening of Maundy Thursday to gain a better understanding of the words Jesus spoke in our text. As you recall, Jesus and his disciples had gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover. During the course of that evening, Jesus had said many things to his disciples in an effort to prepare them for what was about to happen. Specifically, Jesus told his disciples that he was leaving them. How did the disciples react to this news? Peter, the ever-impetuous speak now-think later disciple asked, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Not to be denied, Peter persisted, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” In response to this rash declaration, Jesus very bluntly told Peter that not only that he lacked the courage to lay down his life for Jesus, but that Peter would disown him three times!
That stunning prophecy silenced Peter, at least for the moment. Jesus then comforted his disciples by telling them that he was going to his Father’s house in order to prepare a place for them. Jesus went on to explain many things that would be taking place, including the fact that he was going away, and that the world would hate the disciples because of him. Jesus concluded this lengthy discourse by saying, “I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you” (16:4). So, did Jesus’ disciples get it? Apparently not; because with the very next breath, Jesus declared, “Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away” (John 16:6, 7).
Why did Jesus say that it would be a good thing for the disciples that he would be going away? Knowing what was in their hearts, Jesus scolded his disciples because of their reaction to the news of Jesus’ departure. When he told them that he was going back to “him who sent me”, not one of the disciples asked, “Where are you going?” Now, some of you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, Pastor. Didn’t I just hear you say that when Jesus told his disciples that he was leaving Peter had asked, ‘Lord, where are you going?’” Well—you’re right. Peter actually did ask that question. The point, however, is that Peter did not ask out of genuine concern for where Jesus was going or what he would be doing. Rather, Peter was more concerned about what effect Jesus’ leaving would have on him and his fellow disciples. Peter’s question was prompted by selfishness.
Because Peter and the rest of the disciples were only focusing on themselves, the news of Jesus’ departure filled them with grief. Sadly, they were only feeling sorry for themselves. Because they didn’t understand Jesus’ mission, they couldn’t see how Jesus’ leaving them was a good thing. Many of them were probably thinking, “Jesus—you can’t be serious. How can your leaving us possibly be a good thing? Good? From where I’m standing, leaving us would be the worst thing ever! Now don’t get me wrong. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’ve already done for me. For instance, when you came to me and said, ‘Follow me’ you gave me a new-found purpose in life. From that moment, I’ve been following you and learning from you. You have taught me that God wants all people to be saved and that the kingdom of God is near. With all of my heart, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. But if you leave us, how can you restore God’s kingdom?”
Jesus’ disciples just didn’t get it, did they? If they had, they would have understood that Jesus’ departure was absolutely necessary in order for Jesus to complete his mission on earth. Friends—remember that Jesus had revealed his travel plans several times before Maundy Thursday. The Scriptures foretold where Jesus would be going on the Friday we call “Good.” Jesus would be going to the cross where he would give up his life for us. Unless Jesus shed his holy, precious blood to pay for our sins, there would have been no hope for the entire human race. If Jesus had stayed with his disciples, we would have been facing a future of everlasting suffering in hell. Praise the Lord that Jesus literally went to hell and back so that we can look forward to spending eternity in heaven with him. Through faith in Christ, we are guaranteed a room in our heavenly Father’s mansion.
The Bible tells us that for forty days after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and had given many proofs that he was alive. But now that his work on earth was over, it was time for him to return to his Father in heaven. Do you think that his disciples finally understood why it was a good thing that Jesus was leaving them? Apparently not. St. Luke tells us that on the day Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were expecting that Jesus would remain with them on earth. How do we know that? The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus’ answer quickly corrected their misguided notion. In so many words, Jesus told his disciples, “Friends—I’m going, but you are staying. But don’t worry. I’m not going to leave you all alone. I’ve asked my Father to send you the Counselor who will be with you forever. In the meantime, you’ve got work to do. You will be my witnesses. I want you to tell people all about me. Tell them the good news that their sins are forgiven because of what I’ve done. But don’t just tell the people in Jerusalem. Go out from there into Judea and Samaria. Keep teaching about the kingdom of God and don’t stop until everyone in the world hears the gospel. I know it’s a big job; but you can do it with God’s help. There’s one more thing before I leave. Don’t leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father has promised.”
After Jesus said these things, he was taken up into the sky before the disciples’ very eyes. When the angels had told the disciples that Jesus had gone into heaven and assured them that he would be coming back, the disciples’ minds were put at ease. They then returned to the City of David and waited for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. So, what did the disciples do as they were waiting? Luke tells us that they all joined together constantly in prayer. What did they pray about? I think it’s safe to say that the disciples prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sending his Son into the world and into their lives. No doubt they thanked Jesus for choosing them to be his disciples, a privilege that they knew they didn’t deserve. They also probably prayed that the Holy Spirit would help them be God’s faithful witnesses to the world. The disciples didn’t have to wait long for their prayers to be answered. Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, the disciples were together in one place. Suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages as the Spirit enabled them. The result of the Holy Spirit working through their witness was that three thousand believers were added to their number that very day!
Friends, even though we weren’t in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, we, like those disciples, are also filled with the Spirit. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into our lives at our baptisms where he gave us the gift of faith through the power of water and his Word. Ever since that day, the Spirit has been working in us, strengthening our faith with God’s Word and the sacrament. As his disciples, Jesus sends us out to be his witnesses. Yet, Jesus does not send us out alone. He sends us out with his Word and his Spirit. Through God’s law, the Spirit convicts those who do not believe in Jesus as their Savior. He convicts those who depend on their own works to be right with God; and the Spirit convicts those who reject Jesus and instead choose to follow Satan as their leader. At the same time, we share the gospel that teaches that Jesus has won forgiveness, eternal life, and a perfect home in heaven for all who believe. Finally, it is the Spirit who works through God’s Word that we share to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify his holy Church.
Dear friends, Jesus has ascended into heaven where he rules over all things for our good. Even though we can’t see him, Jesus is with us. What’s more, he has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Jesus and the Spirit are working together with and through us to advance God’s kingdom. So on this Pentecost Day, we praise the Lord that he pours out his Holy Spirit on us. Through faith in Jesus and by the power of his Spirit, we worship and serve the Lord with joyful hearts. Let’s get in the Spirit and may all that we do be to the glory of God’s holy name. Amen.
“Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord” (CW 176)
Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord!
May all your graces be outpoured
On each believer’s mind and heart;
Your fervent love to them impart.
Lord, by the brightness of your light
In holy faith your church unite
From ev’ry land and ev’ry tongue;
This to your praise, O Lord our God be sung. Alleluia!
Come, holy Light, Guide divine,
And cause the Word of life to shine.
Teach us to know our God aright
And call him Father with delight.
From ev’ry error keep us free;
Let none but Christ our Master be
That we in living faith abide,
In him, our Lord, with all our might confide. Alleluia!
Come, holy Fire, Comfort true;
Give us the will your work to do
And in your service to abide;
Let trials turn us not aside.
Lord, by your pow’r prepare each heart,
And to our weakness strength impart
That bravely here we may contend,
Through life and death to you, our Lord, ascend. Alleluia!