04 June 2017

The Water of Life from the Body of Christ

The high and holy Feast of Pentecost is of course a day of the Holy Spirit, as we confess and give thanks for His presence among us, and for His creation and preservation of our faith.  Today is therefore also a day of the Church; for whenever we confess the Holy Spirit, we also confess the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit and the Church go together, hand-in-glove, in such a way that you neither have nor confess either one without the other.

But the Feast of Pentecost Day, like every day in the life of the Church, is above all a day of Christ.  For the faith that is worked in you by the Holy Spirit is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church of the Holy Spirit is the Body & Bride of Christ Jesus.

The singular aim and purpose of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ as the Son of the Father, as the Word-made-Flesh, and as your Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  That is what the Spirit does —  by the preaching of the Gospel, in the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism, and around the Table of our Lord in His Body and His Blood.  That is what the Holy Spirit does on this great and glorious Day of Pentecost, and that is what the Church now celebrates in the Spirit.

Pentecost is arguably the most ancient liturgical feast of the Church, since it was a Jewish Feast already prior to the coming of Christ.  Celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover — just as we celebrate today on the fiftieth day of Easter — the Jewish Feast of Pentecost was one of three major pilgrim festivals observed each year in Jerusalem, as per the Word of God.  The other two were the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, the latter of which is central to this Holy Gospel.

The Jewish Feast of Pentecost was primarily a festival of the harvest.  On this day the Jews would offer the first-fruits of their wheat harvest to the Lord, and thus acknowledge Him as the Source of all creation, life, and growth.  And along with that confession of the Lord’s ongoing providence, the Jewish Pentecost also commemorated the covenants of the Lord — from His Covenant with Noah and the whole creation following the Flood, to His Covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai.

For the Church today, the new and greater Feast of Pentecost celebrates the life of the Church in the new and greater Covenant, that is, the New Testament of the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, given and shed for the life of the world.  So also do the Holy Apostles, by the Spirit of Christ, harvest and offer, not wheat, but three-thousand people as the first-fruits of His Holy Gospel.

To understand this fulfillment of the Old Testament Pentecost in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, it is helpful to consider the Feast of Tabernacles, which is actually the context and the setting of this morning’s Holy Gospel from Saint John.  Knowing what’s going on with that occasion reveals a great deal about Christ, His Salvation, and the gift of His Holy Spirit.

The last, great day of the feast, mentioned by St. John, was the eighth day, the “Day of Rejoicing.”  But on each of the preceding seven days of the feast, the priests marched in procession from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple and poured out water at the base of the Altar.  This daily water-ritual was the central and most important activity in the week-long Feast of Tabernacles.

The public reading of the Scriptures at this feast included Prophecies from Zechariah and Ezekiel, which taught that rivers of living water would flow from the Temple and bring life to all the earth.  Hence the significance of the water-ritual, and the even greater significance of our Lord’s Word.  He stands up in the middle of the feast, and He cries out a sermon on those Prophecies of living water, identifying Himself as the true Temple of God, and His own Body the Altar of Sacrifice.  Out of Him flow the living waters of the Holy Spirit.  Whoever is thirsty must drink from Him.

Immediately following this Word of Jesus, St. John clarifies that the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified on the Cross.  But in due time we hear the fulfillment of His Word.  For in the perfection of His Sacrifice, the Lord Jesus hands over the Spirit from the Cross.  It is not that He simply breaths His last, but that He bestows the Holy Spirit as a gift to all those who believe in Him and look to His Cross for life.  And it is also in that same Hour, as He is glorified in death, that blood and water flow from out of His wounded side, comprising the very River of Life that He prophecies this morning at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.

With the water from His side He has washed you in your Holy Baptism and poured out His Holy Spirit upon you.  And the blood from His side He pours out for you, and for the many, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for life and salvation.  As St. John also writes in his first Epistle:

“This is He who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ.  Not only by water, but by the water and the blood.  And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is Truth.  For there are three which bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood.  And these three agree as one.”

Now, keep these words in mind as we consider three things that happened at once in that Jewish water-ritual during the Feast of Tabernacles.  One priest would enter the Temple with a golden pitcher full of water from the Pool of Siloam; another priest would enter with a pitcher of wine for the drink-offering; and both of these men would come to the Altar for the burnt-offering sacrifice.  The water was poured into a funnel on the east end of the Altar, the wine into a funnel on the west, and both emptied out at the base of the Altar.

There can be no mistaking the fulfillment of this entire water-ritual and its significance in Christ.  For He is both the Temple and the Sacrifice, the Lamb of God who gives Himself entirely to the Father in death for the sins of the world and for your salvation.  His Cross is the Altar.  The water flows out of His side, and with it is poured out the Holy Spirit.  The wine is likewise poured out for you as His Blood, which flows as a River of Life from His crucified Body into all the scattered nations of the earth.  Thus are all of the Prophecies and Promises of God fulfilled in Christ alone.

So it is that St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon focuses on Christ.  For everything begins and ends with the Person and work of the incarnate Son of God, crucified, risen, and ascended in the flesh.

St. Peter pulls no punches in his preaching of the Law.  For the crucifixion of this Man of God, Christ Jesus, he calls the people of Jerusalem to repentance.  And by the Cross of Christ you are also called to repent, to confess your sins and believe the Gospel, since it was for your atonement and salvation that the Lord Jesus Christ was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death.

But that is not the end of the story, nor the end of St. Peter’s sermon.  He moves from judgment and the Law to the sweetest Gospel of forgiveness.  For God raised this same Jesus from the dead for your justification.  It was impossible for death and the grave to hold Him.  By His death, He has destroyed the power of sin and death; and so it is that you shall be raised in His Resurrection.

As Adam was first given life by the Breath or Spirit of God, so did Christ Jesus receive the Breath or Spirit of God in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours — at His Baptism in the Jordan River, and in His Resurrection from the dead — in order to bestow the same Spirit upon you and all who are baptized into Him.  Thus does He pour out the Spirit upon you, and breathe the Spirit into your body and soul, through His Word of the Gospel, His Holy Absolution of all your sins.  Thus are you a new creation in Christ Jesus, and thus do you live a new life by the Spirit of God.

Repent, therefore.  Confess your sins, and give heed to the Word of the Gospel.  Return to the significance of your Holy Baptism.  Or, if you have not yet been baptized, submit yourself to be baptized by the washing of the water, Word, and Spirit of Christ Jesus.  And according to His Word, as sure and certain as His Cross and Resurrection, you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is for you and for your children, and for all whom the Lord calls to Himself.

That is the significance of Pentecost for you.  It begins with Christ Himself, with His Baptism in the Jordan River, when He received the anointing of the Spirit in the form of a Dove; and with His Sacrifice on the Cross, when He poured out the Spirit for His Church in the water and the blood.

But this true Pentecost continues, even to the close of the age, in the Holy Baptism of each new Christian in the Name of this Lord Jesus Christ, and in the New Testament of His Blood.  By these fruits of His Cross, you receive the living and life-giving Spirit of God in both body and soul.

That great River of water and blood, from the crucified Body of Jesus, continues flowing in the Church at all times and in all places, wherever the Ministry of the Gospel is carried out in the Name of this same Jesus.  It became an overwhelming Flood on Pentecost, a cascading waterfall of Spirit and Life, a raging rapids of forgiveness and salvation, and, most important for you and for your children, a gracious washing of regeneration and renewal in the waters of Baptism.

Nor does it stop there, but it springs up in you and overflows for others.  The Spirit of Christ is alive and breathing in you, in such a way that you have also become a part of His River of Life.

To begin with, your Baptism is not a private or family affair; it ushers you into the Church as a member of the Body of Christ, just as it did for those several thousand Christians who were baptized on that first Christian Pentecost.  St. Luke goes on to describe their ongoing life within the Church in this way:  “They devoted themselves continually to the Apostolic doctrine and fellowship, to the Holy Communion, and to the prayers of the Church.”

So, too, in your life as a disciple of Christ Jesus, baptized in His Name and catechized by His Word, you continue to live as you continue to devote yourself to the Life of His Church in the Liturgy of His Gospel.  And it is the same Spirit of Christ Jesus who unites you with the Apostles, with the Christians of all times and places, and with your brothers and sisters in Christ to this day.

Outside of the Church, apart from the Body of Christ, there is no Holy Spirit, and there is no life, but only sin and death and hopeless despair.  Breathing your own air, stewing in your own juices, you are consumed by your sins; you cut yourself off from God and suffocate without His Spirit.

But as you drink from the spiritual fountains of Christ in His Church, and as you breathe the Spirit of God in the hearing and confession of His Gospel, you are given an indestructible life in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  You are filled with the Spirit of hope and confidence in Him, who strengthens and sustains you through faith in the Gospel.  And by your words and deeds of faith and love, you confess the Lord your God and His great Salvation.  You inhale and exhale the Spirit of the Living God, and you give the spiritual drink of the Gospel to those who thirst.

As you live through all the ups and downs of your pilgrimage on earth — as you suffer through the hardships and frustrations of so many different kinds of trouble, through infirmity and sickness, your own mortality, and the death of your loved ones — you do so in the confidence of Christ, your crucified and risen Lord, who has ascended to the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty, where He ever lives to intercede for you in love.  This Lord of lords and King of kings, He has made His enemies a footstool for His feet, including that last great enemy, death, which has already been defeated by His Cross and in His Resurrection, and which is soon to be swallowed up forever!

Here, then, is a pure River, the Water of Life, as clean and clear as crystal, proceeding from the Throne of God and from the Body of the Lamb who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives.  Thus do the Spirit and the Church say, ‘Come!’  And so let him who hears this Word say, ‘Come.’  And let everyone who thirsts, whoever desires, come and drink freely, without cost, this Water of Life.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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