Pentecost – May 14th
and 15th – Acts 2 and John 14
In the Name of the
Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit +
Dear friends in Christ, a joyous and happy Pentecost to you. Pentecost, 50 full days after the Passover, Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter, Pentecost – that joyous day where we remember the disciples stepping boldly into the temple and preaching Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins to so many that needed to hear His Gospel. That is what we think of first when we think of Pentecost, isn’t it? The preaching of Christ? Is that what we think of when we speak of Pentecost? Or do our thoughts focus on the Holy Spirit off in a vacuum? Pentecost is sometimes thought of as the Holy Spirit’s day – the day where we finally focus on the Spirit – and the Spirit’s phenomenal acts of power and might. Behold the tongues of flame, behold the speaking in tongues, behold the boldness!
To what point, my dear friends? Why does the Holy Spirit appear as tongues of fire, why does He grant for this day the ability to the Apostles to speak in tongues? Was it simply a demonstration of the Spirit’s power? Was it a matter of the Holy Spirit wishing to remind us that He is here and active? “I'm over here guys, don't forget Me”? Peter tells us the answer by quoting the prophet Joel – God will pour out His Spirit so that people will prophesy, and there will be visions, and wonders – and all for one reason. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved. This is what Peter tells us. And immediately after quoting Joel, telling the people in the temple what they are seeing – this is what Peter preaches. “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.”
7 Weeks ago, Peter had been hiding in a locked room for fear of the Jews. Now, on Pentecost, He and the other Apostles stride boldly into the temple, filled with the Spirit, and they proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ. The miracle, the wonder of Pentecost isn’t the tongues of flame. The amazing thing isn’t that the Spirit grants the Apostles the ability to speak in tongues – but rather that by the working of the Spirit they speak at all. Gone is the fear of 7 weeks ago, gone is the confusion and bewilderment of the Apostles at the Ascension as they stood dumbfounded staring up into the sky – and rather the Spirit has come, and now they boldly preach Christ and Him Crucified for our Salvation.
That is the miracle of Pentecost, dear friends. The tongues of flame are neat, but they simply bear witness to the fact that these men have been anointed by God for this task. The speaking in tongues, that is simply so more people can hear and understand. The key thing, the important thing, that which the Holy Spirit has continued to do through all the ages since that first Pentecost is that the Gospel of Christ Jesus is proclaimed. This is what the Spirit does – He points to Christ, for it is in Christ Jesus that we have life and forgiveness and salvation, and there is no other name under heaven or on earth by which we are to be saved. That is how the Spirit is the giver of Life – He gives out Christ Jesus and Christ’s life.
The miracle and wonder of Pentecost, the true miracle and wonder, continues to this day, in every time and place where Christ the Crucified is proclaimed. We know and we see that the Holy Spirit was active on Pentecost. Do you think He is any less active today? Do you think that the Holy Spirit has taken a breather? Saint Paul teaches us that no man may say Jesus is Lord, that no one may confess Christ Jesus, except by the Holy Spirit. Does that not continue on to this day? Is not the Word of God preached here in this place even to us unworthy sinners? Do we not marvel that God deigns to come to us and give us forgiveness? And moreover, do not you yourselves speak of Christ Jesus and what He has done for you, what He has done for the whole world, to your family, your friends, your neighbors? Behold God’s Spirit at work for you and through you!
Sometimes when we look at Pentecost we can become whimsical. Oh, if only we had what the Apostles had. Sometimes when we look at Pentecost we become depressed and ashamed. I don’t see the Spirit at work in us like that, what’s wrong we us? Here's the thing though - when we think like that, we are looking at the wrong thing. Do you wish to know if the Holy Spirit is indeed active today in the Church? What then, should you look for? Not the speaking of tongues, not fires and flames and other such stuff. Look for the preaching of Christ! Is Christ proclaimed for the salvation of sinners? Hear what Jesus says concerning the Spirit and what He will do. 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. Peace I leave with you; My Peace I give to you. That’s our standard – that’s how we are to look at and judge the Church. Jesus tells us what the Spirit will do. Is Christ taught? Yes indeed. Do we remember that which Christ has said? Yes indeed. Do we receive peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that comes from the forgiveness of sins, does the peace of the Lord come to be with you always? Yes indeed. Then we know that the Holy Spirit is indeed active here, and active for us. The Holy Spirit is active in His Church, for the Spirit is the One who calls by the Gospel and enlightens and sanctifies and keeps people in the one, true faith.
Dear friends, we are the Church of Pentecost. We are the Spirit’s own Church. And our focus is not upon trying to make the Holy Spirit bring forth tongues of flame again – our focus is not upon seeing how we can do neat things like speak in tongues again. If the Holy Spirit wants you to speak in tongues, you will, and if He doesn’t, nothing you do will make Him let you speak in tongues, so don’t worry about it at all. That’s not what Pentecost was about. Pentecost was about the preaching of God’s Word spreading to every tongue – even strange tongues like Median or Lybian – or even eventually to the strangest language of them all – our own English language. Flames and tongues do not make the Church – rather we are the Church for we preach the same message and indeed, we benefit ourselves from the same message that was proclaimed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles on that first Pentecost.
In the Creed we confess that we believe in one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. We even call one of our creeds the Apostles’ Creed. When we say these things, we are making a claim – we are claiming that we hold to the same things that were preached on Pentecost, that we teach the same things that were taught, that the same Spirit who saw Christ proclaimed on Pentecost sees that Christ is proclaimed in our midst this very day. Towards the end of Acts 2, Luke describes for us what those who believed at Pentecost did. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Is this not the same thing that we do to this day here in this house? Do we not week in and week out gather together for fellowship in the Word of God, hearing His teaching? I know we call that room there the parish hall or the fellowship hall – but it is here, in the Sanctuary where Biblical Fellowship takes place. Fellowship isn’t Christian social time (not that there’s anything wrong with some good social time, mind you) – but it is where two or three are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, where we are gathered together into one people to Hear God’s Word and receive His forgiveness. We here with our fellow Christians confess our sins and receive forgiveness. We here with our fellow Christians devote ourselves not to the ramblings and personal opinions of some quack who happens to be our Pastor, but to the teaching of the Apostles, to the Word of God, to what Scripture teaches us. It is here in the Sanctuary that we devote ourselves to the breaking of Bread – that is our Lord’s own Supper, where He took bread and broke it and gave it to the Disciples. It is here in the Sanctuary that we devote ourselves to “the prayers” – that we gather together and pray all the prayers in the liturgy of the Church that we Christians have prayed for centuries, some even since the day of Pentecost word for word.
Just as the message of Christ crucified for sinners was proclaimed on Pentecost, it is proclaimed here today. And just as people on Pentecost heard and by the power of the Spirit believed, so too we hear the Word today and the Holy Spirit makes us to believe. We have our sins forgiven again and again here in God’s Church, we grow from the preaching of the Word, we receive forgiveness and strength from our Lord’s Holy Supper, we live out our lives as the Baptized, daily dying to sin and rising to Christ – and why? Because the Holy Spirit is active, because the Holy Spirit is active among us, because the Holy Spirit breathes life into us by the Word of God, and we rejoicing believe in the promises of Life and Salvation given to us in Christ Jesus. Indeed, by the Spirit of God we confess this same Jesus, we add our own voices to the great throng of saints who have gone before us – we join in the chorus of Angels and Archangels, and glorify God Almighty for the Redemption He sent us in His Son Christ Jesus. As Peter says, “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.” As Peter says, this is for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - Amen.