by Rev. Marcus T. Zill
Now, kids, don’t try this analogy out at home. Just take my word on this one, okay?
A flashlight is not very helpful if you hold it before your face and simply stare into the beam of light. In fact, if you use a flashlight like that you might just end up blind.
A flashlight functions not by drawing you to gaze at the light bulb in it, but by throwing light on an object which you need to see. Ultimately, seeing that object is the whole point. ;
It’s kind of like that with work of the Holy Spirit. We do not gaze directly on the Holy Spirit but instead the Spirit causes His light to shine through His Word so that we see it’s object - Jesus Christ. That is why the Holy Spirit is often called "the shy member of the Holy Trinity." He’s there. He’s at work. He’s just not about drawing attention to Himself.
Just as we do not focus our eyes on the flashlight but on the object which the flashlight sheds light on, so we do not focus on the Holy Spirit per se but on the Savior to whom the Spirit testifies. Faith clings to Christ. We know the Father through the Son, and we know the Son, because of the Spirit’s “shy” work in pointing us to Him.
You may have friends that come from other churches where they talk about speaking in tongues and other charismatic gifts of the Spirit. They may even tell you that they are trying to draw attention to the Holy Spirit because they believe that He has been neglected for centuries.
But that is the exact opposite of what the Holy Spirit wants to happen! The Holy Spirit does not call attention to Himself. The Spirit’s focus is to illuminate Christ. Faith’s object is Christ and so the Holy Spirit wants your focus to be on Christ too, and not on Him.
Ultimately, the Pentecostals and Charismatics end up celebrating the flashlight and in doing so they are in danger of being blind to Christ. Instead, we celebrate Christ, which makes the Spirit quite happy, even if He goes seemingly unnoticed in the process. He is quite content to illuminate the eternal Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
The work of the Holy Spirit is to shed light on Jesus Christ so that we know Him alone as "the way, the truth, and the life," the only way to the Father. And this work the Holy Spirit accomplishes through Christ’s Word, for His Word is a "lamp to our feet and a light to our path," to paraphrase Psalm 119. Through God’s Word, the Spirit sheds light on Christ that we may see Him and none other.
You see, God's Word and the work of the Holy Spirit go together. You can't ultimately have one without the other. That is why our Lutheran Confessions make the point that "In these matters, which concern the external, spoken Word, we must hold firmly to the conviction that God gives no one his Spirit or grace except through or with the external Word which comes before.... Accordingly, we should and must maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacraments. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacraments is of the devil." (SA III:VIII, 3/9).
And so when Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit, "the Helper" whom the Father will send in His name (John 14), He also speaks of how those who love Him will keep His Word. To keep Jesus' Word means to hang on to what Jesus says. That, in fact, is how the Holy Spirit teaches us. He does not bubble up inside of us as a warm emotion, or turn us into some sort of ecclesiastical lip-syncers. Neither does He gives us some special, secret insight into the plans and purposes of God that is revealed outside of God’s Word. Rather, the Holy Spirit works precisely through God’s revealed Word to bring us to, and keep us in and with, Christ.
It really is just as we confess in the words of the Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
This is what the Spirit does. He works through Means, means that are given to you through God’s Divine Service to you. The same Holy Spirit who breathed the gift of new birth into each of you through the waters of Holy Baptism, comes to you, still today in the preaching of Jesus' words. Where these words are received in faith, we have what they declare unto us. That is the Spirit’s work.
Jesus says in St. John 14:21, "If anyone loves Me, My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him." How deeply God makes His home with us we know from the Sacrament of the Altar. There He gives you His own body and blood to eat and to drink. The flesh born of Mary and nailed to the cross as the atonement for the world's sins is given you to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of them. The blood that poured from the Savior's veins to blot out your sins is given you to drink in the cup of the New Testament.
And so the Holy Spirit is not given once but over and over again wherever the Lord's words are going on. That’s the Spirit’s gig and He is quite content with it. He isn’t worried about not being noticed, rather He is thankful that we are seeing and receiving the One onto whom He is shedding His Light.
For the Holy Spirit and for us it really is all about Jesus. This is why we speak of Solo Christo (Christ Alone) and you’ve never probably heard the phrase Sola Pneuma (Spirit Alone).
The gift of the Spirit is the gift of Jesus Himself, His peace. Yes, the Spirit does drop in sometimes in great measure once and awhile as at the first Pentecost, but He is not here today and gone tomorrow. He does not swoop down on us to give us some spiritual high, which soon fades away leaving us empty. No, He comes constantly and surely in Jesus' words spoken to us in Absolution and Sermon, in Baptism and with Christ’s Body and Blood. These are His gifts and with these gifts we have peace because through these gifts we receive Christ. This is a peace that the Holy Spirit will never stop testifying to and illuminating for us. Thanks be to God.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Created: May 23rd, 2010