Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What sound does the Holy Spirit make? It’s an odd kind of question, but it is worth thinking about. What sound does the Holy Spirit make? At face value, using the best science and reason we have, we’d have to come to the conclusion that the Spirit can make no sound at all. Just a few weeks ago, we talked in Bible Study about the distinction between the body and the soul, the physical and the spiritual. The physical is what we interact with in a tangible way each and every day—the atoms and molecules that combine to make all that we can see, and even most of what we can’t. But the spiritual is something else entirely. You can’t dissect a human body, remove the soul, and place it in a petri dish off to the side. It’s not part of the physical world. If it’s spiritual, it’s not physical. Noise is made by physical vibrations, but the Holy Spirit is just spirit—it’s non-physical—so it can’t make any noise at all.
But we know that even our best reason and the best scientific methods fall flat. It’s not because we can’t use our reason or science at all, but that even these highest functions of our day and age are corrupt and broken. They can’t always and they don’t always explain the world as it really is. By our own reason or strength, we can’t believe God exists at all, let alone understand how He works. And while there is a distinction between the physical and the spiritual, the two do interact. C.S. Lewis goes so far as to say that human beings are “amphibians” of a sort. Just like a frog will spend part of its life in water and part on land, so a human being spends part of his or her existence in the physical world and part in the spiritual world. What you do in one affects the other. The physical and the spiritual do interact.
So we’re still left with this question: What sound does the Holy Spirit make? If we turn to the rest of Christian culture, we’ll hear time and time again about how the Spirit speaks to people. “Well, God told me...” and fill in the blank. But upon closer inspection, that turns out, at least most of the time, to be nothing but Christian jargon. Very rarely do these people actually hear anything. Instead, they feel like they should be doing something, sprinkle some Jesus-language over it, and justify their decision using spiritual language. Or worse yet, they’ll right down what they feel like Jesus would say to them in today’s world, write a book about it, and claim that these words are actually from God. Beware this type of material.
One specific group of Christians goes the other way. Whereas most will say that the Holy Spirit is silent, or at least quiet, the Charismatic, Pentecostal Christians will tell you that the Spirit is noisy. He comes in, takes over, and speaks through everyone—through every true Christian, that is. If you are a true Christian, they say, you will exhibit the gift of speaking in tongues. As they define it, this speaking in tongues is not speaking another human language; it’s speaking the language of the angels. To our ears, it sounds like nothing but gibberish. Sometimes, it shows up as what they call “holy laughter” where the person just laughs and calls it the Holy Spirit. Attend one of these services and you’ll be convinced that the Holy Spirit is capable of making a lot of noise, but not much else.
Over and against all that, today’s reading from the book of Acts describes the coming of the Holy Spirit and the noise He makes along the way. It was the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover, and all of Jesus' disciples were gathered together. Just ten days earlier, Jesus had ascended into heaven. He’d left them. But He promised not to leave them alone. He would send His Holy Spirit, as He said, “Not many days from now.” That day had come. “Suddenly, there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” The Holy Spirit was making noise. But it was more than just the noise of wind, just as it was more than fire that rested on the disciples. It was a sound like that of a mighty rushing wind and they were divided tongues as of fire. The Holy Spirit showed up, made some noise, filled the room, and filled the disciples.
But more than just a loud wind-like noise, more than an incoherent babbling, the Spirit made a sound. He filled the disciples who spoke not their own words, but what the Holy Spirit had given them to speak, even other human languages they had not learned. The Holy Spirit makes a specific sound through Jesus’ disciples. Visitors from around the ancient world all heard the sound of the Spirit, telling the mighty works of God.
At first glance, that might seem like an incredibly unusual way for the Holy Spirit to make His noise. But it is, in fact, how God speaks to His people most of the time. The author of Hebrews put it like this, “ Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” God speaks through human beings. If you want to know what the Spirit is saying, listen to the people He’s speaking through. Listen to Moses and David, learn from Isaiah and Jeremiah, study the words of Matthew and John, hear what Peter and Paul have to say. Listen to the Holy Spirit as He is still speaking through His Word both written and proclaimed.
When you read your Bibles at home, that’s the sound of the Spirit. When you hear the Word read for you, right over there, that’s the sound of the Spirit. Even now, as I’m preaching, you’re hearing the sound of the Spirit. It’s not because I’m extra holy or have any special connection to God that you don’t. But it’s because we all have been given the job or proclaiming Christ and you’ve asked me to be the one to do it publicly. So, when you share Jesus with your neighbor or your child, they are hearing the sound of the Spirit, if only they have ears to hear it.
But in the end, how do we know? How do we know that the words we speak or the words we hear proclaimed are truly from the Holy Spirit or not? In the case of Scripture, it’s pretty easy. We hold to the inspiration of Scripture not just because it claims to be breathed out by God, but because that’s how Jesus read the scriptures. They were authoritative for Him and so they’re authoritative for us. Everything rests on Jesus. But what about today? What about those popular Christian speakers, those best-selling authors, those televangelists, and even those everyday, ordinary pastors, and those everyday, ordinary people who claim to be speaking from the Holy Spirit? Test them. Check their words, check my words against what the Spirit has already spoken. The Holy Spirit will not contradict Himself. If something doesn’t line up, then it’s not the Holy Spirit.
Or as John writes in his first letter, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” Do they point you to Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended? If not, there’s a problem. Not only does John say that they’re not from God, and are false prophets, but he goes on to say that they have the spirit of the antichrist, the spirit who is set against God and His working.
What sound does the Holy Spirit make? He makes the sound of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He makes the sound of the forgiveness of your sins. He makes the sound of the Gospel, spoken on the lips of His people everywhere. The Holy Spirit is still speaking today the same Word He’s always spoken. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell