Acts 2: 1-21
Of all of the great holidays on the Church’s calendar, the day of Pentecost has got to be the most mysterious and the hardest to comprehend.
* Christmas is easy to understand. A baby was born. We know all about that.
* Good Friday is all about the death of that child now a man. We’ve all had some experience with death.
* Easter is all about the resurrection of that man from the dead, a little more mysterious than birth and death maybe. But we see this all the time in nature as flowers and grass die in the winter and come to life again in the Spring.
* The Ascension of our Lord may seem a bit strange at first, but we’ve got this whole thing of space travel down to such a science to the point that no one would dare say that a man can’t fly.
But Pentecost, how do we understand the sound of a mighty rushing wind from heaven that’s all sound and no wind? And the tongues of fire on the Apostles? And the ability to speak in foreign languages without any training or teaching? What are we to make of all of that?
That was the great question of those who were eyewitnesses to all of this. “And at this sound, the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And all were amazed and perplexed saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Some tried to take the mystery out of it by explaining it all in a perfectly rational and understandable way. “They are filled with new wine.” We’re always trying to take the mystery out of the mystery. The unknown scares us. If we don’t understand it then we can’t explain it. And if we can’t explain it then it must be bigger than us. And if it’s bigger than us, then we can’t control it. And we do like to be in control.
Did you notice that Peter didn’t answer the question by explaining the physics of the phenomena? Nor does he point to himself and tell them that this is the surefire sign that he and his eleven friends have special gifts of the Holy Spirit. Nor does he point to them and tell them that they should strive to speak in tongues too.
No, Peter points them to the Word of God. It’s not about me, not about you. It’s about God, doing what He promised to do. He promised to send His Son into the world. And He did just that. He also promised to send His Spirit into the world. That’s what He’s doing right here. “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel. In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”
So, the day of Pentecost is the big kick off of the “last days,” or the “end times.” God is wrapping up the work He completed on the cross of Christ when Jesus declared, “It is finished.”
The day of Pentecost was the first of the Last Days, the beginning of the ‘end times.’ We’re not told when the last of the Last Days will come. We are told that we’re not supposed to worry about it or waste time trying to figure out when. It’s enough to know that we’re somewhere in between the beginning and the end of the Last Days.
It’s the time of Pentecost. The time for God, the Holy Spirit to do His work. God the Father has already sent His Son into the World and the Son has already atoned for the sins of the world, reconciled us to God and ascended into heaven where He is directing the course of events during these last days.
The whole purpose for the time that God has allotted between the first and the last of these Last Days, is for the Holy Spirit to do His work. And the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring men and women, boys and girls to Jesus and Jesus to them. Because, “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “There is,” after all, “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” than the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 4:12), .
That brings us to the heart and soul of the work of the Holy Spirit and why the day of Pentecost is such a major celebrations for Christians.
Here’s the deal as clearly and plainly as I know how to put it. The work that Jesus Christ did on the cross and by His resurrection and in His ascension into heaven – didn’t change us one bit. Not one single bit.
Even after Christ was crucified for the sins of the whole world – we remained unchanged. The One who was changed, if you can call it that, was God the Father. By His blood shed on the cross, the Son took all of the Father’s wrath for the world’s sin upon Himself and the Father was ‘propitiated.’ A big, theological word that means that the Father was not just satisfied, He was down right pleased. His frown turned into a smile. The Father sees us differently now. He sees us through His beloved Son, crucified for us, and for His sake, His wrath is changed to mercy and His punishment is changed to reward.
But we weren’t changed one bit by His blood shed for us.
Luther’s explanation to the 3rd Article begins like this: “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him…” It’s an incredible arrangement of words. “I believe that I cannot believe.” We’re do you get a belief like that? Not from inside ourselves. We believe we can do anything if we just put our mind to it. We believe that we CAN believe, you just have to make a decision to do so.
We get a much more accurate picture of ourselves is we look at the people who lived in the plain of Shinar. They were children and grandchildren of Noah, that righteous man. They must have either forgotten or rejected their father’s faith. “Call upon the name of the Lord to be saved?” Ridiculous! “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, AND LET US MAKE A NAME FOR OURSELVES lest we be dispersed.” There’s strength in numbers. Our salvation is in the strength of our society, our nation, our government, our, our, our, whatever. Our trust is in our own name, not the name of the Lord.
So, in agreement with Luther, we say, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him?” And with that question, we suddenly realize that the belief that we have about ourselves didn’t come from within ourselves. It came from outside of us – from an alien Word that came to us from above us. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1Cor.12:3). And so, as soon as we say that we believe that we cannot believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him,” we realize that we’ve already been changed by something outside of us.
And that something is really a someone – the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit changes us. The Holy Spirit makes a whole new person out of us. Jesus goes so far as to call the work of the Holy Spirit a ‘rebirth.’
Without the day of Pentecost, Christ would have still died on the cross for the sins of the world and been raised for our justification, but no one would ever believe it. Oh, we may believe that the historical events actually happened. But we would never believe that Christ died for ME.
Luther always said that the hardest part of the faith were those two little words, ‘for me.’ Believing the facts and understanding the doctrine is child’s play compared to believing He died for me, so that I may call Him MY Lord and MY savior.
This is why, when Jesus tells His disciples that He is leaving them, He means that they should be comforted by this. “The Father will send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, in my name.”
This is why, after Peter finished his Pentecost sermon, and the congregation, cut to the heart as they were, demanded to know, “Brothers, what must we do?” Peter didn’t say, ‘you need to make a decision for Jesus.’ You need to ‘call upon the name of the Lord.’ That’d be like telling my cat ‘Luther’ to bark like a dog or fetch a stick. It’s just not in his nature. It’s more like his nature to tell me to go get the stick myself if I want it so bad.
Peter said, “Repent.” Stop trying to do what you can’t do. “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.” (Acts 2:38). Here is where the Holy Spirit does His work of changing men and women, boys and girls, one human being at a time.
The Holy Spirit did His pentecostal work on Polly right before our eyes this morning. Today is not only the Church’s Day of Pentecost, it’s Polly’s personal day of Pentecost. She was converted in the water by the Holy Spirit, just as you were converted in your baptism.
By Christ’s death on the cross in the year 33AD., God the Father called Polly, “My child.” But now, by the work of the Holy Spirit, Polly has been changed and she cries out to God saying, “Abba, Father.” In perfect love for Polly, Jesus laid down His life for her. And by His own blood shed for her, He calls her, “my beloved, my bride.” Now, by the work of the Holy Spirit, but she has the love of Christ in her heart and longs to be His and to call Him her Lord and serve Him as a dutiful and loving wife.
Baptism is the work of God the Holy Spirit in these last days through which He changes us and we “call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.”
But the Holy Spirit’s work isn’t over with baptism. I know that a lot of the baptized act like it’s all over there. But Jesus says, “He will teach you all things.”
Faith and trust is a matter of the heart, but if I don’t know the One in whom I put my trust, no matter how earnest or sincere I might be, my faith is going to be empty and aimless, and easily deceived. So the Holy Spirit teaches us all things, through the preaching of His Word.
The preaching of the Word is the work of God the Holy Spirit in these last days, through which He changes us and we “call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.”
But the Holy Spirit’s work isn’t over there either. Jesus also says, “He will bring to remembrance all that I have said to you.” We receive the name of the Lord once in our baptism, but repeatedly in the Lord’s Supper – “do this in remembrance of me.” By this Supper, the Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus and Jesus to us in the most intimate way.
The Lord’s Supper is the work of God, the Holy Spirit in these last days, through which He changes us and we “call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.”
Holy Baptism, the preaching and teaching of His Word, the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit is doing His pentecostal work in these last days, right here and right now, changing us, converting us, sanctifying us, and we call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.
This message by Rev Paul Nielson is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project , You can read more at The Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Waterville, Maine.