“Back to the basics: I believe in the Holy Spirit”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
You’ve heard of Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali? Of course, you have! They’re three of the greatest boxers of all time!
Not only did Sugar Ray earn a gold medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics, he was named “Boxer of the Decade” back in the 80s. George Foreman was a two-time world heavyweight champion and was named the ninth-greatest puncher of all time. And last, but not least, Muhammad Ali was no slouch either! Back in 1999, Sports Illustrated called him the Sportsman of the Century as well as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.
So those three were easy. Everybody knows them. But have you ever heard of Angelo Dundee? I didn’t think so. But let me tell you, if it hadn’t for him, we may never have heard of Sugar Ray, George Foreman or Muhammad Ali!
So who was Angelo Dundee? Born in Philadelphia in August of 1921, he first served as an aircraft mechanic in World War II. Then late in 1945, just as soon as the war was over, he moved to Miami Beach, Florida where he opened a gym and taught boxers how to box. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over time, he not only trained numerous boxing champions all over the world, he was their “corner man.” He was their coach, their trainer, the only one who was allowed to enter the ring and care for the fighter.
And Angelo Dundee was one of the very best! In fact, it was sports commentator Howard Cosell who once said of him, “If I had a son who wanted to be a fighter and I couldn’t talk him out of it, the only man I would let train him is Angelo Dundee.”
But as followers of Jesus Christ, we too have a “corner man,” a coach, a trainer, who’s even better than that. We have the Holy Spirit!
I’ll read the words of Acts chapter 2: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
So far in our study together on “Back to the basics,” we’ve taken time to look at the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” and the Second Article, “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” Now we turn our attention to the Third Article, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
And as we look at this Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, notice that everything is, in some way, about the Spirit. He’s the One who makes the Christian life possible, who makes the Church possible, and who makes a life of hope and courage possible. Our relationship to God is all because of Him.
Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
And he wrote in the words of his Large Catechism: “Neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him and have Him for our Lord, except as it is offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the Gospel. The work is finished and accomplished, for Christ, by His suffering, death and resurrection has acquired and gained the treasure for us. But if the work remained concealed, so that no one knew of it, then it were in vain and lost.” And he wrote: “That this treasure therefore might not be buried, but be appropriated and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed, in which He gives the Holy Ghost to bring this treasure home and apply it to us. Therefore sanctification is nothing else but bringing us to Christ to receive this good, to which, of ourselves, we could not attain.”
If you think about it, to say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” is to say one of the most understated affirmations we Christians could ever make. It’s rather like saying, “I believe in air” and “I believe in breathing.” Just as we cannot have physical life without breathing, we can have no life as the people of God without His Spirit.
As another author wrote, “How could any follower of the Lord Jesus not believe in the Holy Spirit? It’s a vital confession to make, for it confesses that all my hope is in God to save, and that all the glory for our salvation will be His.”
Imagine for a moment that you’re in first-century Israel. The day has just begun and you’ve just arrived at the outer gates of the city of Jerusalem.
And for years, you’ve heard stories about this legendary place. You’ve dreamt of seeing the splendor of the temple and the opulence of the governor’s palace. In your mind’s eye, you’ve imagined the priests, adorned with all their priestly robes, ministering in the temple courts. You’ve wondered what it would be like to walk the same streets that David and Solomon and all the prophets once walked. And now finally, you’ve arrived.
And as you make your way through the outer gates of the city, Roman guards seem to watch your every move. You quickly tug on the rope harnessed around your donkey, urging him to hurry past the prying eyes of the empire. You don’t want to be forced to stop. You don’t want these low-level soldiers searching through everything you brought for your trip.
And what a trip it’s been! You set out weeks before from your home on the shores of the Persian Gulf. You traveled for days on end along the banks of the Euphrates River before turning south toward Jerusalem.
And your trip has taken its toll. Your donkey’s exhausted after walking those hundreds of miles, and you’ve been run ragged. Your feet ache, your back hurts and your skin burns from hours under the hot sun. And now that you’ve made it to Jerusalem, all you want to do is to find a place to wash up and clean up.
When you find a bathhouse not far from the Temple mount, you begin the process of ceremonial cleaning. You’ve made this trip for only one reason, after all. You’ve come to celebrate the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, one of the most important religious festivals of all.
And after enjoying a longer bath than usual, you’re ready to see the city. And as you make your way toward the temple, you hear children playing and women grinding their grain for their daily bread.
And with just a few more steps, you’re there. You’ve arrived! Your senses are overloaded by the sights and sounds of your faith’s most holy place. Better than standing before the Lincoln Memorial or the Empire State Building or Mount Rushmore, you’re not just stopping to see a tourist attraction. You are about to encounter God!
And after spending a few moments to take it all in, you pick up your speed and move as quickly as you can through the crowd. You’re excited to meet the priests and to learn from them as they teach about God. You’re thrilled to hear what they might have to say.
But just as soon as one of them begins to speak to you, you realize that not only is he speaking in a different dialect, it’s a completely different language. And you can’t understand a word he’s saying! With tears rolling down your cheeks, you begin to think that maybe your trip to the holy city wasn’t such a good idea after all. And all you want to do is to leave this place that you once dreamt of seeing, and head back home. After all, all this was supposed to bring you to the doorstep of the divine. Now God felt further away than He ever felt before.
That’s when, all of a sudden, a loud, rushing wind fell from the sky without warning and roared through the city streets. You don’t know what it is or where it’s come from, but you can hear it and feel it just the same.
First one flame appeared, and then another and then another. And men you’ve never known or seen before suddenly speak in a language you can understand.
And what did they say? One of them, the one named Peter, suddenly shouted out to the crowd: “Men of Israel and all who are here in Jerusalem, understand this--these people aren’t drunk as you might think. It’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Instead, this fulfills what the prophet Joel once said: ‘In the last days,’ God said, ‘I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’...and it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Today, we too confess our faith in God the Holy Spirit. “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” we say, “the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…who spoke by the prophets.” And as Luther wrote, “The Holy Ghost has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the one, true faith.”
Someone once drew a picture of what the first Christian church in Jerusalem looked like. It was located smack in the middle of the capital city of the Jews, where most everyone looked down on them with contempt. They didn’t have a place to worship or the money to pay for it. Most of the members had next to nothing and the church was always on the verge of poverty. There were only 120 members and only a handful were trained for the work they had to do. Their leader, Peter, had a bad habit of always putting his foot in his mouth. James and John had a lot of enthusiasm, but were known to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. And when divisions crept in, some left and went somewhere else.
By all rights, that church should have failed. But it didn’t fail. Why? Because the Holy Spirit was with them and blessed them. And when they joined in their very first evangelistic service, three thousand people believed!
Back in the 1930s, during the days of the Great Depression, a man named Ira Yates owned a sheep ranch out in west Texas. But times were tough, and there wasn’t much money in sheep, so he was barely making a living. And with little money for food or clothes for his family, he lived on government subsidy. So there he sat, day after day, watching his sheep graze, trying to find some way to pay his bills.
Until one day, a group of men stopped by to say there might be oil on his land and asked permission to drill. Yates agreed and signed a contract.
And sure enough, at a little over a thousand feet down, the drillers struck a huge oil reserve, coming in at eighty thousand barrels a day.
But that was just the beginning! The more they drilled, the more they found, making it one of the largest oil reserves in the United States.
Though Ira Yates lived in poverty, he soon became the richest man in the state of Texas!
As American poet and novelist, Annie Dillard, once wrote: “As Christians, we play on the floor like children with chemistry sets, not knowing the power we hold in our hands. For if that power should ever come together, we wouldn’t be wise to wear a straw hat or a velvet hat like we wear to church. We ought to wear crash helmets or construction helmets, because the power of God is so strong, that we would need something to protect ourselves from it.”
That’s the power that the disciples once knew. And that’s the power and the promise of Pentecost.
O Holy Spirit, You once came to Your apostles and set their hearts on fire. We pray that You will also come to us and stir within us a deep conviction in our Lord Jesus Christ. And give us the courage to speak Your Word that many more may come to believe. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen