Summary: A look at the beginning of the Third Article of the Apostles' Creed.
If you end up in hospital because of a serious ailment there are three kinds of professionals there who work together to make you better. The doctor, after diagnosing your illness, will write out a prescription. The hospital pharmacist will fill that prescription. And then a nurse will administer the prescribed medication. In a similar way the three-in-one God works together to cure us from the terminal illness of sin. God the Father wrote out the prescription which called for the suffering and resurrection of his Son. Jesus, God the Son, filled the prescription by dying for our sins on Good Friday and rising again Easter morning. And God the Holy Spirit administers the medicine of forgiveness through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. (Arthur Graf)
By comparing the Holy Spirit to a nurse I don’t mean to give the impression that he’s not of the same “pay grade” as God the Father or God the Son. The truth is without God the Holy Spirit, the work of the Father and the Son would be meaningless to us because we wouldn’t believe it to be true. As we continue to work at guarding the good deposit of Christian teaching as outlined in the Apostles’ Creed, we turn our attention today to the Third Article of the Creed where we confess in part: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Ironically the only reason we can confess that and really mean it is because of the Holy Spirit; he’s the reason for believin’. Let’s find out more.
The Holy Spirit is as important to us as the Father and the Son, but I wonder if we don’t treat the Holy Spirit the way we treat our military veterans. We think a lot about veterans in November when we wear the red poppy and salute veterans at Remembrance Day ceremonies, but the rest of the year they’re largely forgotten. Likewise at this time of year, fifty days after Easter, we celebrate Pentecost and remember how the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in what looked like tongues of fire. We sing hymns extolling the Third Person of the Trinity on Pentecost Sunday but don’t think much about him during the rest of the church year. There’s actually a very good reason for that. Like a veteran who fought for the glory and freedom of his country and not to make a name for himself, the Holy Spirit works to bring attention to Jesus, not to himself.
Look at how that truth was illustrated on the Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection. Although on that day the disciples received from the Holy Spirit the ability to preach in foreign languages they had never studied before, their sermons were not about the greatness of the Holy Spirit. Instead the disciples spoke about sin and what Jesus had come to do to save us from it. Isn’t this exactly what our Gospel Lesson today said that the Holy Spirit would do? Our savior remarked: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father… he will testify about me” (John 15:26).
But the Holy Spirit does more than tell people about Jesus through the witness of believers. He actually creates faith in the hearts of sinners so that they will believe the message about Jesus. The Apostle Paul once declared: “…no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3b). As I said at the beginning of this sermon, the Holy Spirit is the reason for believin’. And how is it that the Holy Spirit comes to us? For the answer let’s turn (finally!) to our sermon text. “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper” (Acts 13:1-5).
This event took place about ten years after Paul’s conversion to Christianity, which we heard about last week. At this time Paul was serving as one of many “pastors” of the congregation in Antioch, a city 300 km north of Jerusalem. While he and the other leaders of the congregation were praying, the Holy Spirit somehow made his will known: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2b). The personal pronouns remind us how the Holy Spirit, with the Father and the Son, governs the Church. He was now sending Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey so that more people could hear and learn about Jesus. Without that witness those people would have remained in darkness and would have died in their sins.