Pentecost Then; Pentecost Now

Text:  Acts 2:1-21 and John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today may be a bit jarring.

Over the last six months we have heard about Jesus:  Jesus being born in a manger, hearing who Jesus was, hearing what Jesus came to do, hearing about Jesus dying and about Jesus resurrecting and about Jesus ascending.  Then today we get the sound like a rushing wind and the divided tongues as of fire and the thousands of converts.

Otherwise stated, it may be a bit jarring to go so quickly from the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  However, it really isn’t that jarring.  Despite Jesus being absent from earth due to Him ascending to heaven, mankind was not left alone, for the Lord God was still present with mankind.  There was no break in or jarring to the continuity of God’s presence on earth.  The Lord Jesus ascended and the Holy Spirit was present; He was active and working. 

And some amazing work He certainly did.  The barrier of language was no difficulty for the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit appeared to the disciples that Day of Pentecost some two-thousand years ago resulting in a tongue resting on each of them.  Being filled for a temporary action, the disciples then proclaimed the Gospel in other languages to the devout Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem from every nation.

Take a moment and think about the implications of this.  The Gospel was not restricted; the message of forgiveness was not muzzled.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, the message of the Gospel broke through language barriers.  It was translated into foreign tongues, showing that the forgiveness of sins belonged not only to the Hebrew speaking Jews, but the entire world—every tribe, every nation, every tongue, every dialect.  This Gospel was not to remain as some local story spoken with a hometown accent.  It was a message for the entire world.  It could not and would not be confined, but the Lord saw it fit to translate it, so that all the countries of the world were given the Gospel. 

As a result, thousands were converted that Pentecost Day, long ago.  Thousands added to the Christian faith that Pentecost morning, some two-thousand years ago.  From those thousands of new converts, the Gospel would then be returned to the people’s own homeland, spoken in their own particular language to many more individuals, resulting in the spreading of the Christian faith. 

This was the Holy Spirit fulfilling His office.  This pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not the Holy Spirit’s grand debut into time and history, but was the Holy Spirit pouring out above and beyond the norm.  It was the Holy Spirit fulfilling His office for a specific purpose to fulfill prophecy from long ago. 

All this stated, can we expect more of this phenomenal “Acts-chapter-two-work-of-the-Holy-Spirit-stuff” in the church today?  Should Zion Lutheran Church be looking to tap into the rushing wind, tongue speaking, and the filling of the Holy Spirit from long ago?  Frankly my friends and contrary to what you might hear from Christian television preachers, we cannot.  The speaking in tongues, the mighty rushing wind, and the devout Jews from every tribe gathering in Jerusalem were real events within a particular time, place, and context.  A time, place, and context that the Holy Spirit orchestrated by pouring Himself out above and beyond, thus fulfilling particular Old Testament prophecy.  That stated, we have not been given any promises from scripture that this could be harnessed or recreated in our modern day. 

Tragically though, we Christians don’t realize this all the time and we try to conjure up awe and inspiration in the church so that we can try to refashion a modern day Pentecost.  Sadly, there is a temptation among all of us that we need to somehow awaken the Holy Spirit to His office through us being on fire or engaged or energized or spiritized.  We read Acts chapter two and hear about the mighty rushing wind, the speaking of foreign languages, and believe that we—like the disciples—can somehow obtain this filling of the Holy Spirit and remake a modern day Pentecost. 

Dear 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.   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 do not stand a chance in creating a personal Pentecost.  We do not and we cannot 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 that made this happen.[1]

I certainly don’t mean to be a killjoy and I certainly don’t mean to create the impression that I am diminishing the role and work of the Holy Spirit, for I am not.  I am merely trying to set things within their proper context and to expose our overly enthusiastic imaginations.  You see, even though the story of Acts chapter two is most impressive, we as sinful-numbers- driven-emotional-thrill-seeking-Christians will always gravitate to that which is mysterious, large, grand, positive, and exciting, while missing the main thrust of what is going on.
Permit me to explain.

The speaking of tongues in Acts chapter two—the speaking of foreign languages—is so spectacular that we often forget the reason why the apostles spoke in tongues to begin with.  You see, all the remarkable stuff happened so that the Holy Spirit could fulfill His most basic and straightforward task: the proclamation of the Gospel and the gifting of faith unto everlasting life. 

Do not forget that the Holy Spirit, He functions to reveal and glorify Christ; He preaches Christ and testifies of Him. 

In the midst of the Pentecost miracle of the mighty rushing wind, the tongues, and so forth, another miracle was happening; people were being saved unto everlasting life.  “Today’s [reading from Acts chapter two] gives us the historical facts concerning that first Pentecost after Jesus ascended into heaven.  There were the tongues AS OF flame … the SOUND of a mighty wind … and speaking in tongues.  All of these signs were means to one very important end … the proclamation of the salvation of God worked out through Jesus offering Himself up on the cross.”[2]

Indeed, there were essentially two barriers that were being cross, two hurdles, if you well.  The message of the Gospel was breaking through the language barrier and the Holy Spirit through the Gospel was breaking through deaf ears, hard hearts, and unbelief, in order to grant faith, life, and salvation. 

You, who have ears, listen.  Contrary to popular opinions today, the proclamation of salvation through the language barrier and through hardened hearts did not stop on that Pentecost day.  My friends, the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force or a symbol of God’s power, but the third person of the Trinity who has made you holy and still makes you Holy. 

The same miracle of Pentecost continues to this very present day, for the Holy Spirit has led you into this community, placed you in the church’s lap, where He preaches to you and continually brings you to Christ.[3] 

Listen carefully, “neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in Him or receive from Him as Lord, unless these were offered to us and bestowed on our hearts through the preaching of the gospel by the Holy Spirit.”[4]  Therefore, “where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Spirit to create, call, and gather the Christian church.”[5]  However, “when the Holy Spirit is doing His job, all we see and hear of is Jesus.  When you clearly hear Jesus then you know the Holy Spirit is at work.”[6]

This means that the Holy Spirit—just like at Pentecost two-thousand years ago—“has called [you] through the gospel, enlightened [you] with His gifts, made [you] holy and kept [you] in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.”[7]
Dear Baptized Saints, the Holy Spirit through the Word is with you; He 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.

Dear Baptized Saints, like Pentecost, the Holy Spirit does not and will not bring the message of Christ to you vacuous and with 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 you will believe in Christ. 
Yes, you should know and learn that the Holy Spirit will be in and with the Word.  He is “there in your Baptism, being poured out upon you in water and Word, giving you a new birth from above in Christ—your very own Pentecost.  [He] is there in the Absolution, as life-giving forgiveness is breathed into your ears.  And the Holy Spirit is there in the Lord’s Supper, giving you faith in Jesus’ Word: This is my Body; this is my Blood for you.”[8]
The Holy Spirit 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.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Jason Zirbel, “Extraordinarily Ordinary & Adequate,” LCMS Sermons, (accessed May 23, 2015).
[2] James T. Batchelor, “Feast of Pentecost,” LCMS Sermons, (accessed May 23, 2015).
[3] Martin Luther, The Large Catechism: The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb & Timothy Wengert (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 435-436.
[4] Ibid, 436.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Naomichi Masaki (Source unknown).
[7] Martin Luther, The Small Catechism: The Book of Concord, ed. Robert Kolb & Timothy Wengert (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 355.
[8] Pentecost, (Higher Things Daily Reflections for May 24, 2015).

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