Pentecost - A Work of God - Not Mystical Emotionalism

Text:  John 7:37-39a and Acts 2:1-21

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day where we hear about the amazing events recorded in the book of Acts.  It is the day that we hear about the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit being poured out.  Yes, at Pentecost some two-thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit was poured out.  Keep in mind though that this was not the first appearance of the Holy Spirit in the Bible, for the Holy Spirit was at work in the Old Testament as well.  Rather, what we hear about in the history book of Acts and what Jesus speaks of in our Gospel reading from today is that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is a pouring out that is above and beyond the norm.  Yes, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost was not the creation of the Holy Spirit and it was not the first appearing of the Holy Spirit, but rather it was a time where the Holy Spirit fulfilled His Office.

But what does it mean for the Holy Spirit to fulfill His office?  My friends the Holy Spirit functions to reveal and glorify Christ; He preaches Christ and testifies of Him.  This office; this role; this force of His Office, came into effect at Pentecost.  Let me explain, prior to Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, the disciples of Jesus were not ready or even able to function the way Jesus intended them to function.  Otherwise stated, the disciples had not yet witnessed the glorification of Jesus.  They had not witnessed nor did they fully understand Jesus’ glory; glory that was revealed in His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  Furthermore, the Holy Spirit couldn’t fulfill His office until after all these glorious events of Jesus had been completed. 

Today, though, we hear from our reading in Acts that there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.  Divided tongues as of fire appeared.  The disciples began to speak in other tongues; that is different languages.  Thus, this all resulted in the addition of three-thousand new converts to Christianity.  Indeed, it is truly astonishing to read about the events of the early church.  It is awe-inspiring hearing about the reversal of Babel; yes, the Gospel was not restricted due to language barriers, but rather the Gospel was spoken in various languages so that the message of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins could go forth to individuals of every nation under heaven. 

Yes, the Holy Spirit came upon the people in the book of Acts fulfilling His office which resulted in thousands of people hearing the message about Jesus, repenting, and converting; the church grew by thousands due to the Word going forth through evangelistic efforts of a small group of men.  This was all possible because it was the day where the Holy Spirit was poured out above and beyond the norm, as prophesied in the Old Testament. 

But why do we take time to contemplate this event in the church each and every year on Pentecost Sunday?  Not only is this event a part of our Christian history, but it is also important for us to consider due to many Christians failing to grasp who the Holy Spirit is and what He does.  Otherwise stated, many Christians unfortunately fall into two errors.  On the one hand there are some Christians who confuse the work of the Holy Spirit with mystical emotionalism and vague spiritual romanticism. On the other hand there are other Christians who are apathetic about the practical influence and workings of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

You see, on the one hand we fall when we are tempted into trying to repeat and manufacture the historic events of Pentecost.  Mistakenly churches and individuals can attempt to reproduce the great events of Pentecost by trying to conjure up awe and inspiration in the church so that the church can experience its own Pentecost resulting in massive influxes of new converts and an increase to church budgets.  “If we can just be joyous enough and if we can call down the Spirit and overcome our feelings of inadequacy, we may just see another Pentecost in our midst.”  Tragically there is a temptation among all of us that if we just put on the biggest, the most entertaining, and the most uplifting show in town, then we can create a twenty-first-century Pentecost and our wildest dreams will come true.  We say to ourselves, “We can’t make tongues of fire appear and we can’t make the sound of a rushing violent wind, but we can spice up our worship service and we create an evangelistic fervor if we just try hard enough.”  Sadly my friends, we cannot call down the Holy Spirit by force through our own agendas and He is not sent as a reward due to our own spiritual endeavors.   Rather, He is sent to us as a gift due to Jesus’ request to the Father.  Furthermore, we do not possess the Holy Spirit as a personal possession where He is put into our debt.  It is idolatry to attempt to tame God and to attempt to harness the Lord for our own personal plans.  Finally, we don’t stand a chance in creating a personal Pentecost.  We don’t and we can’t re-produce what occurred during that Pentecost some two-thousand years ago.  Why not?  “You see, the disciples never set out to have this Pentecost experience.  They didn’t organize focus groups and community polls to find out what the public masses were looking for so that they could “scratch the itch of the masses” and make a big public splash.  They didn’t sit down at a board meeting and discuss membership data, and formulate marketing plans and advertising so that they could increase their market share.  They didn’t even wake up that morning with the intention of going out from behind the safety of their locked doors.  It wasn’t their plans and purposes and intentions that made that first Pentecost what it was.  It was Almighty God.

It was the work of the Holy Spirit, who not only spoke the Truth of the Gospel through these men, endowing them with the gift of proclamation in a foreign tongue, but who also summoned a huge crowd of people to these guys’ front yard so that the crowd could hear the Gospel proclaimed to them. Remember: The text tells us that the sound of this great rushing wind caused everyone to come running so that they could find out what was going on.  Faith comes by hearing.  This hearing led the masses right to the source and wellspring of the Gospel.  These men didn’t manufacture anything.  In terms of “success,” these men were grossly inadequate, in and of themselves.  Left to their own devices and schemes and plans, they would’ve produced nothing but ruin and despair.  This Pentecost miracle was all God’s working.  All glory and honor (and credit) belongs to Him.”[1]

Yes, Pentecost is not something that is found in our own emotions or is conjured up from our own energy.  With that said though, was Pentecost nothing more than a unique historic event?  Did the Holy Spirit only operate at one point and time?  Does the Holy Spirit operate in the world and church today?  Is the Holy Spirit dead or is He alive?

The Holy Spirit, as we learned several weeks ago, was not given as a reward for your prayers or given because of your obedience and doings but rather He comes at the request of the Son to the Father.  As a gift, the Holy Spirit is given to you through the Word in order to be your constant companion.  The Holy Spirit stands aside you, counsels you, helps you, teaches you, reminds you of scripture, convicts you of sin, points you to Jesus, guides you, and gives all glory to Christ. Indeed, Jesus comforts His disciples and us by this profound promise.  He promises that He will not leave us but will continue to come to us through the Counselor and live within us through faith.[2] 

Furthermore, like Pentecost, the Holy Spirit does not and will not bring the message of Christ to you in vacuous and vague generalities.  No, His message will have substance; it will be the certain and absolute truth, for He will preach what He receives from the Father and from Christ.  Unlike the spirit of lies, the devil, and his mobs, the Holy Spirit will preach about Jesus and will Glorify Christ so that people will believe in Christ.  “In Christ your sins are forgiven.  Christ died—for you.  Rejoice and be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.  Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Christ Himself bore your sins in His body on the tree.  There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  It is finished—for you.”  Yes,
one should know and learn that the Holy Spirit will be in and with the Word.  He will guide you into all truth, in order that you may believe it, use it as a weapon, be preserved by it against all the lies and deception of the devil, and prevail in all trials and temptations.

While it is true that we cannot recreate Pentecost by our own doings, it is not true that Pentecost is a mere isolated and unimportant event.  Rather, the whole point of Pentecost is that it is an event where God works in spite of us.  It is an event where the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples to empower them to confess Christ.  It is an event where the bold proclamation of Christ went forth for the forgiveness of sins.  It is an event where the Holy Spirit fulfills His office.  It is an event where the Holy Spirit through the Word creates hunger and thirst in souls and then fills souls with the satisfying message of Christ crucified.  It is event that continues to this day because the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity who is active in calling by the Gospel, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping.  Yes, calling you, enlightening you, sanctifying you, and keeping you.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Jason Zirbel, “Extraordinarily Ordinary & Adequate” (7 June 2014)
[2] Paraphrase of the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed from Luther’s Small Catechism.

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