Pentecost Sunday – June 12th, 2011 – Acts 2
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
The last 4 or 5 weeks or so have all been leading up, preparing us for this week. The time spent in John’s Gospel, hearing our Lord in the Upper Room, promising the Apostles the Spirit were all leading, all driving to our Lesson from Acts 2 today – the day of Pentecost, the birth of the New Testament Church, that Church which you and I are a part of, that Church which not even hell itself can prevail against. And so, when we consider Pentecost Sunday, we see and learn how our Lord shapes and grows His Church, even to this day – so this morning, let us ponder what it is that our Lord does on Pentecost, and how that is done now in our midsts.
First things first – we see and learn that God has an impeccable sense of timing. It has been 50 days since Jesus rose – 7 weeks. It’s been 10 days since the Ascension – and what of the Apostles. They had been left to hang on out in Jerusalem. Well, why would God just have them hang out – why not just dive in and get to things right away? Because God is patient and does things at the proper time. God waits for Pentecost. Now, one of the things that we end up saying that isn’t quite accurate is that we will refer to Acts 2 as “that first Pentecost.” It’s not – it’s not the first Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish festival – Shavout – the festival of weeks, one of the major holidays – 50 days after the Passover. And all good Jewish men were required to go to the temple and bring the first fruits of the year, the barley harvest, in as an offering. This is why we hear from Acts, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” It was a day of a major festival, so you have people from all over the Roman Empire and even beyond who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate this year’s Shavout in Jerusalem at the temple.
So, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles, and they preach in the temple, who hears it? Not just the local folks – but folks from all over the world, who are then going to go and return to their homes. This is fantastic timing by the God. And while the disciples might have been sitting around bored wondering, “come on God, get on with it already” – when God acts, it is the right and proper time. This is something we need to remember as well. God is the Lord of the Church, and it is He who establishes the harvest. He is the One who grows His Church, and He acts with wisdom and love for His Church. We are not in control – God is. This can be a very hard truth for us to accept as Americans. As Americans we like to be in control – we’ll just work hard and then we’ll be whatever we want to be – we can be self-made men. There are no self-made Churches – this congregation is not shaped by our own wisdom, by how suave and entertaining the pastor is, or any of that. No, the Church grows by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, at work here in our midst, bringing people faith, growing us in the knowledge of God, and establishing in us ever more love and devotion and trust in God Almighty and in Christ Jesus.
And this leads us to the second, big lesson of Pentecost. We often think of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit’s big day – look, here’s the Holy Spirit, here is power and might and speaking in tongues. Catch the Spirit – woo-hoo! Is that the point of this day… that we become some type of holy cheerleaders – We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you? Yeah! Go team Jesus! Isn’t this the way a lot of people take this day? Our Pentecostal friends take for themselves the term “Pentecostal” because they are focused on the Spirit, because they claim that they can speak in tongues, all brought on by the Holy Spirit – after all, isn’t that the point of Pentecost? Nope. Not at all. And we can miss it because our lectionary, our system of readings cuts us off right when it starts to get good. It’s like we’re on a roller coaster and we get to the top of the first hill and then… we’ll just stop here. The good stuff is what comes next.
What happens is you have all this build up – the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles, and they start speaking – and note something too – “And at the sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all of these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?’” And then 15 languages are rattled off. First of all, Pentecost has nothing to do with speaking in a babble that people can’t understand – it has everything to do about speaking and God miraculously making other people understand. When Peter speaks – everyone hears him in his own native tongue. That’s the wonder – everyone understands him crystal clearly. Tongues are to be about understanding and hearing – this is what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14 – “If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God.” If no one understands you – shut your trap. The point is never “oooOOOooo, I can speak in tongues” but rather proclamation. And what does Peter proclaim?
Well, in our text, we see Him stand up, and He explains from the Scriptures that this is what Joel told us all would happen – and then we cut off the reading. Right at the hill, ready to dive in, and we stop. Listen now to how Peter drives right on in in the next verses. This is Acts 2:22-24. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” The point of Pentecost is this – that Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation is proclaimed in the various tongues of the world.
You see – the Holy Spirit has a very simple job. He points to Christ. He proclaims Christ. He opens our eyes, opens our minds, so that we understand the Word of God which proclaims Christ Jesus to be our Savior from sin. John 14 – “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Or John 7 – Jesus says, “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive…” The Spirit brings the Word to us, and then establishes and grows and protects faith in Christ Jesus and His salvation. The Spirit focuses us upon Christ. The Spirit is why when we hear God’s Word we are pointed to Christ, why and how we understand all this Church stuff really being about Christ and His love for us. The Spirit is why Christ Jesus and Him Crucified has remained the heart and center of all that we are and hear in the Church. The Holy Spirit keeps us in Christ Jesus so that we believe and have life in His Name.
The special tie for you in this is your Baptism. When Peter finishes his sermon, the people say, “Now what?” And Peter’s response, Acts 2:38-39, is as follows: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Baptism gives the forgiveness of sin and it gives the Holy Spirit. When you were baptized in Christ’s Name, in the Name of the Triune God, your sin was forgiven. More than just that – the Holy Spirit entered in to you, took you up as His own dwelling place. Again, we cannot emphasize enough that Baptism is God’s Work, it is something that God does upon you, that God gives to you. Peter’s not telling these people to jump through hoops for God. Be baptized… that’s passive, that’s receptive. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again – passive, receptive. Baptism isn’t what we do for God, it’s a gift wherein God works upon us. Even… our children, for this promise is for you and for your children. All about what God does – because everything in the Church is ultimately about what God does – the God who loves you, becomes man for you, goes to the Cross and suffers and dies for you.
There is another spirit at work in this age, the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of Satan. And how do you recognize Satan at work? Not by horns and a pitchfork, but by this. False and lying spirits will by hook or by crook try to distract you from Christ Jesus. This is what John says in his first Epistle, chapter 4 – 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. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming and now is in the world already.” How do you know? What do they say about Jesus? Do they confess that Jesus has come, that He is true man and true God, that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – is their focus upon Christ and Him crucified? If not, don’t listen to them. Is their focus upon what Christ Jesus has done for you… or what you need to do for God (which generally involves you obeying them and giving them stuff)? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. Do they point out how Christ has done everything required for your salvation and gives this gift freely – or do they attach strings to it, say that you yourself must add a bit of this, a bit of that? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. If they glorify and extol you rather than Christ, if they point to how wonderful you are, do not listen to them. We are simply this – sinners who have been redeemed and forgiven by a gracious and loving God, even Christ the Crucified who has risen and given us His own life by the power of His Word and Spirit.
And this is the focus of the Christian Church – it has been since those 3000 were baptized and returned to their homes and proclaimed Christ and Him Crucified. This is what shapes us today, as we, the Baptized in Christ’s Name, are gathered together by the Holy Spirit around the Word of God and shown Christ Jesus our Savior. May our eyes ever more be upon Christ Jesus, even to all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +