If bald people are ‘follicly challenged’, and short people are ‘vertically challenged’, then those without the Spirit are ‘Spiritually challenged.’ The first two are really no big deal. The last is. Paul says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:9). And, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are Spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). And Jesus cries out at the highlight of the Feast of Tabernacles, 6 months prior to Good Friday, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” That is, “if anyone is without the Sprit, let him come to Me.” This message is only for the thirsty. While we all recognize physical thirst, we don’t Spiritual. And as Luther said in a sermon on this text, “Unless it is preached to the thirsty, it is more despised than accepted” (LW, 23, 267). Even as before the sinful heart can be given forgiveness it must be given sorrow over sins, so before dry hearts can be given water they must be given thirst.
Nothing lives without the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we are dry bones, bones that are very dry, says Ezekiel. Not for nothing does Scripture compare the Spirit to water. Everything needs water to live. Go to an arid region. See what the slightest rain does to the desert. It explodes with flowers. Get one of those little bath things for kids. Put them in water they grow 600%. God breathes the Spirit of life into Adam and Adam becomes “a living being” (Gen. 2:7). If God withdraws His Spirit says Scripture “all flesh would perish together and mankind would return to the dust” (Job 34:14-15). This is the horror movie image of a person rapidly going from aged, to withered, to bones, to dust.
You can fake having the Spirit. You can act repentant, believing, thankful. Just as a child can be taught to say, “Please” and “Thank you” and be neither, so you can go around wishing everyone from clerk to call center worker a ‘blest day’ without wishing anyone did. You can fake having the Spirit as easily as you can fake being thirsty, but let a doctor tell you that you must drink more water, and you’ll start looking at the water glass like an enemy. But when you’re really thirsty no one has to tell you, encourage you, let alone make you drink.
We lost the Spirit in Eden. Our first parents sinned and the Spirit left them. Without the Spirit they fled from God, turned on each other, and blamed God. The paintings depicting them before and after the Fall are good. Happy, innocent, carefree, at one with God, nature, and each other, and after the Fall fear, pain, dryness engulfs them. As we inherit Spiritual blindness from Adam so we did Spiritual deadness. Ezekiel’s dry bones pictures our plight; Paul flat-out states it: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” The unholy spirit at work in the sons of disobedience is naturally at work in you (Eph. 2:1-2). But we don’t know that without God telling us, showing us. We’re like the hummingbird shot while hovering. It goes on hovering not aware it’s dead. So, without the Spirit we look in the mirror and think not too bad. But when the Spirit shows us what we really our, we see the face of Dorian Gray that is really us.
Nothing lives without the Spirit and physical miracles are done by the Spirit. In the OT lions were killed, armies were slaughtered. Go home and read what physical feats Samson did when the Spirit came upon him. And the Spirit did not just destructive physical things but constructive. Read Exodus 31: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri…and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts-- to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship” (1-5), And Ezekiel shows us the Spirit’s power in the preached Word of God over dead, dry bones. The Spirit by the Word brings them back to full life. Chesterton said the power of God demonstrated in Easter isn’t seen in the rebirth that happens at springtime to leafless trees. No, it’s seen in a decayed, decomposed tree coming back to life (Collected Works, Vol. XX, 90).
There are few resurrections in the OT. Elijah and Elisha each raise a child. See 2 Kings 13:21 for an almost comical one. The Spirit of even a dead Elisha is strong to raise. But the mightiest thing done by the Spirit is to send sins away, to forgive sins. Dead, guilty Adam and Eve are promised that the Seed of the woman would do what they couldn’t: crush the head of Satan. The Spirit of God struggles with fallen mankind for 120 years fruitlessly, but still saves 8. When the Seed is again engulfed in idolatry and apostasy, the Spirit saves Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees. Then the Lord surrounds His Promised Seed by a nation, and gives that nation His Spirit to forgive sins. Time and again they fall away and become Spiritually dry, dead, enemies of God, yet always He sends His prophets and waters a remnant through the power of the Spirit.
Okay, say I am thirsty. How do I get this water? Here’s a hint. After the sermon which exposes our thirst with the Law and quenches it with the Gospel, we still cry out with David in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right Spirit within me…” Originally, the Offertory wasn’t primarily a response to the sermon. It was directed to the upcoming Sacrament in anticipation of the gifts about to be received there (Harris, Explanation to the Divine Service, 16). Communion isn’t just the Body and Blood of Jesus, but His “right Spirit” given here to eat and drink.
In His Baptism, we saw the Man Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, being given the Spirit. The Bible makes this clear by the Spirit descending upon Him visibly as a Dove. The Man Jesus, tempted in all ways we are, never lost the Spirit through sinning. He never despaired of God’s love or failed to love His fellow man. He never sinned in thought, word, or deed. Not even a little. So the Spirit never departed from Him until He gives it, and that didn’t first happen on Pentecost but Calvary. Read John 19. You know the comforting words the crucified Jesus says just before dying, “It is finished.” Not “I am” but “it is”. The ‘it’ is suffering for a world’s sins; paying for your sins; defeating the Devil, the World, and our fallen flesh. It’s finished, completed, done. But there’s more. We read, John 19:30, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing His head, He gave up His Spirit.”
Jesus died as a Man for mankind and our salvation. He who had the Spirit without measure won the right to give it to His brothers and sisters. The first thing He did upon being raised on Easter, was establish an office on earth for giving the Spirit out. You remember. “Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you." And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’" The Lord, Yahweh, breathed on the first Adam and made him capable of passing on physical life. The Last Adam breathes into being an office able to pass on Spiritual life. Paul says this: “‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving Spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45).
Do you thirst for the Spirit? Do you long for forgiveness? Are you very dry bones? Are you a dead decomposed tree for which springtime is no real answer? Are you Spiritually challenged? The crucified Jesus gave up the Spirit and the resurrected Jesus put it the mouth of men on earth. I wish the things Jesus left us filled with the Spirit - Baptism, Absolution, and Communion - someway showed what they really were spiritually by physical phenomenon. I wished baptismal waters glowed; sparkler’s flared from my mouth when I absolved you; angels choirs shouted Hallelujah at the distribution of Jesus’ Body and Blood. You find stories in church tradition about physical phenomenon accompanying the Means of Grace, usually the Lord’s Supper, but they mostly go the other way. Someone improperly communing whether living in sin or a secret heretic and the Body and Blood do something gruesome: bleed visibly or choke the person to death.
My way would be more salutary and in keeping with what the Lord says about the Means that deliver His Spirit to sinful people such as us. Scripture says Baptism is “a washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). What if the more we dived into our Baptisms the more the age, the decay, the wrinkles left our bodies? We’d splash Baptismal water on our face and the bags under our eyes disappeared faster than Plexaderm. O how we would run to our Baptism then! We would thirst for the Spirit in our Baptism and drink deeply and often.
Jesus says His Words are not only life but Spirit. Peter says Jesus had the Word of Eternal Life. John says His Word cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Most everyone knows the feeling of can’t wait to take a shower, can’t wait to get this filth, this dirt, this sweat, this grime off of me. O that we could see Absolution as a pressure water that took no skin off but only the dirt. It stripped off layers of the grime we had accumulated from 10,000 sinful thoughts or one sinful deed. If we could see absolution, using the Blood of Jesus Christ, doing that physically, we’d be like Peter in the upper room. Beg Jesus to wash all of me. We’d thirst for absolution as a parched throat does water.
Jesus declares that His Body and Blood are not only forgiving but lifegiving. Scripture says heaven’s gates must open to receive Jesus; they can’t be shut to Him. If we could see in Communion His Body and Blood transforming ours into His, so much so that the angels marvel at how much we look like Jesus, if we could see the heavy doors of Paradise swing open for these forgiven, fresh bodies every time we communed, we’d run to this Table with thirsty, open mouths every time we could.
In our text Jesus calls the thirsty and promises way more than drink. He promises that from our belly, rivers of not just water but living water, will not just come but gush. Jesus gives over the top imagery about His Spirit, so even the Spiritually challenged would thirst. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Day of Pentecost (20210523); John 7:37-39a