The Spirit's Fire Builds Christ's Church

Pentecost + May 17 & 20, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin                                                       Download PDF

Text: Acts 2:1-21

Hymn: Come Holy Ghost, God and Lord (CW 176)

On Tuesday afternoon it took less than forty-five minutes for flames to destroy Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Milwaukee. That fire did an estimated $17,000,000 in damage. It collapsed two spires, melted stained glass windows, and reduced beautiful wood furniture to ashes. It was a heart-breaking tragedy for the members of Trinity Lutheran Church.

Yet, hope and faith still rose up even as the church roof was falling down. Several members of Trinity Lutheran Church said in interviews, “The church is not a building. It is the people of God.” That is true. For as beautiful and as functional as church buildings are, the building we call “the church,” is not really the churchThe Church is the people who gather in the building to worship God in true faith. 

Of course, church buildings are still important. They are still beautiful. But here’s something strange and it seems like a contradiction. The very thing that destroys church buildings is the same thing that builds the true church. That thing is fire. 

Physical fire destroyed Trinity Lutheran Church on Tuesday afternoon. Physical fire could also destroy our church building in minutes. But spiritual fire is different. It does not destroy buildings.  Spiritual fire builds Christians. We see that on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit appeared in flames of fire. The Holy Spirit used the fire of God’s Word to kindle faith in the hearts of thousands of people. The Holy Spirit still lights the same fire of Christian faith today. So, today, God’s Word tells us, the Spirit's fire builds God's church.

Our text says, "When the day of Pentecost came, [the disciples] were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 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 other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." (v 1-4)

The Holy Spirit made a grand entrance. There was no doubt that God was at work. Rushing wind, tongues of fire, and the miraculous ability to preach in foreign languages testified to the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. 

Notice something about the first two signs the Holy Spirit uses. They were the blowing of a violent wind and tongues of fire that separated. When a fire separates and spreads it does a lot of damage.  When a violent wind blows through a town, we call it a tornado. Tornadoes do a lot of damage.  So the Holy Spirit came in the form of two very destructive forces.  Before the Holy Spirit’s fire builds Christ’s Church, the Holy Spirit must first destroy.

This image of destruction finds itself in the beginning of Saint Peter’s sermon.  Peter quotes the Old Testament Prophet Joel.  He says, "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…   Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.'" (v 17-20, Joel 2:28-32)

 Before the Lord comes with his creative Spirit, there are terrible signs of destruction--blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood. (v 20) This will happen in the whole universe right before Jesus comes back on Judgment Day. But, on a smaller scale, and on an individual scale, the Holy Spirit also causes destruction before Jesus enters a human heart. This destruction happens when the Holy Spirit does what Jesus says in John 16: "When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." (John 16:8)

So, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict you of your sin. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to make you confess, I am a poor, miserable sinner.  My heart is a foul swamp of sinful desires and evil intentions.  My mind is a factory for twisted plots and hateful schemes.  Out of my mouth gushes a river of lies, gossip, profanity, and insults.  My hands take God’s gifts and pervert them for sinful pleasure.  My feet run away from God and carry me to the nearest temple of self-indulgence.  My ears turn deaf to God’s call for justice but detect Satan’s faintest temptation to justify my every evil intention.  My eyes slam shut to every opportunity to help, serve, and honor my neighbor. But those same eyes open wide to stare at improper images, to gawk at ungodly gluttony, and to lust after illicit luxuries.

Now, only the Holy Spirit can lead us to such a confession. By nature, we think we are good people who only need a little encouragement. But the truth is far worse.  So, the Holy Spirit is like a doctor with CAT scans, MRIs, X-Rays, and blood tests. And after a thorough examination the doctor tells you, “No, you aren’t suffering from appendicitis. You don’t have a pulled muscle.  You have cancer—non-curable, terminal cancer. You are going to die.”

That’s not good news. And the Holy Spirit does not pull punches.  His job is to convict you of your sin. His job is to bring you the anguishing realization that you, yes you, truly deserve to burn in hell for every single one of your sins. But the Holy Spirit tears you down so he can build you up.  The Holy Spirit burns down your temple of smug, self-importance so that he can rebuild your life into a Holy Christian church; a church where he dwells with his presence; a church where Jesus Christ is welcomed guest, honored friend, and treasured Savior.

The Holy Spirit does all this building with the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s what happened on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to preach in foreign languages so that as many people as possible could hear about Jesus Christ, their Savior.  So, our text says, "Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language." (v 5-6)   

On that day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit made sure that everyone had the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ in their own language. The Holy Spirit creates the fire of faith using the good news of Jesus as his fuel.

That’s what the Holy Spirit still does today. Through the preaching of the Word and through Baptism and Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit builds you into the Christian Church. The fire of the gospel drives out cold, lifeless unbelief. The warmth of God’s love comforts your spirit that shivers with doubt and fear. The fire of God’s Word sets your heart aglow with faith. The promises of God’s love and salvation ignite you so that you are “on fire for the Lord,” producing abundant good works to the glory of God.

That’s how the Holy Spirit builds Christ’s Church – with the fire of God’s Word.  Now, certainly, humans build church buildings.  We pray that, hopefully, the Lord will allow the members of Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Milwaukee to rebuild their church.  We also pray that the Lord spares our building from such a tragedy. We pray that we can modify our building in the near future. We want our church to be a beautiful building.

But the real Church is more beautiful than any man-made structure. That’s because the Holy Spirit has made Christ’s Church pure and holy with the blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit has made Christ’s Holy Church—you, me, and every believer—he has made us burn brightly with faith in Christ, with love for God, and with the hope of everlasting life in heaven.  So, we pray:  Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of your love.  Alleluia!

Amen.