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The Day of Pentecost

May 20, 2018
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Sermon for May 20, 2018 – The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this Pentecost weekend is from the book of Acts, specifically where Luke writes, “And at this 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 these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? … we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends.

Where is the focus in this text? Where do your ears prick up? What point in this story catches your imagination? It’s a little unfair to ask this question because we are only, honestly, getting a snippet of the narrative. Our text is coming at the tail-end of a fifty-day period. During those 50 days, Jesus appeared to His disciples on several occasions; only thing is, He was dead. No question, He was dead, and yet He appeared to His disciples, on more than one occasion, very much alive. He did this for forty days, ten days prior to our second reading, and then He visibly, physically, ascended back to His rightful place at the right hand of the Father, but not before reminding His disciples of the promise He had given them, the promise for another Helper, the promise we read about in our Gospel text:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” Jesus repeats this promise at His ascension, telling the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until it happens. And they do. They wait, for ten days, and now here we are. On the same day as the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot. This lesser-known feast (at least from a Gentiles perspective) celebrates several things at once. It marks 50 days from the Passover Sabbath, while also commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Religious significance abounds in this festival, but also cultural: this is also a harvest celebration, specifically the early harvest celebration. With this, came the idea that if the early harvest is good, the later harvest will be even better! This is a HUGE celebration in Jerusalem, with Jews from all nations coming to the holy city to celebrate – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, Pontics, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans, Cretans, Arabians, and Judeans. Virtually from every corner of the known world, where the fear of the God of Israel had come to the people, the people had come to celebrate. And it just so happened that it was on THIS day, THIS Shavuot, that we have our reading from Luke’s pen.

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This is incredible, make no mistake. It’s so incredible, that entire denominations have endeavored to recreate this day every day. It’s hard to blame them. But is that the focus? The sound like a mighty rushing wind, the tongues as of fire, the speaking in foreign languages? Is that what Luke is wanting to draw your attention to?

Well, let’s continue on, and we’ll likely reach the answer. These disciples, filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, speaking in languages that they have never used and yet are talking with the ease of native speakers, they’re speaking in the languages of all of those gathered in Jerusalem, and as these disciples give testimony, “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Miraculous? Yes. Absolutely. Not since before the fall of the Tower of Babel had human beings understood one another with such ease! Each of the hearers hears, listens, to the proclamations of these men, singing the praises of God in the languages their mothers had taught them. Is that where you get caught up? Is that what is so astounding? Is that where you, with all these Jews from all the world over ask in amazement and perplexity, “What does this mean?”

The entire narrative is so overwhelming, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. It’s easy to get caught up in the what and the who, the mystery and the fantastical. It’s easy to see these things and long for those golden days. But is that the purpose of this text?

No. The focus of this is not upon the bizarre and wild yet true story that we read here. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is an amazing fulfillment of Christ’s promises to His disciples, but it’s the message the Holy Spirit gives them to speak that should be the focus – after all, the work of the Holy Spirit is NOT to draw attention to Himself, but to point toward Christ, the Son of the Living God.

It’s not the amazing wonder that the disciples are using foreign tongues they’d never used before to proclaim the glories of God; it’s the message those tongues are speaking, the praise of God, the proclamation of His Law and His Gospel, to cut sinners to the heart, to kill them with the conviction of the law, and to make them alive again in Christ, which is precisely what Peter proclaims to all those who are within earshot, including those who think the disciples have gotten into the new wine. The focus here should not be the messenger, nor even the vehicle of the message. The focus is on the message – namely, the story of sin and redemption through Jesus of Nazareth, Who is called the Christ. Jesus said as much about the Holy Spirit Who gives utterance when He said, “… when [the Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

It’s easy to get caught up. It’s easy to get tangled in the signs of the times, with the wonders in the heavens above, and signs on the earth below. It’s easy to dwell upon numbers, and figures, how that church is losing members, yet how that one over there seems to be growing. It’s easy to decry and bemoan the state of our culture, the division, but that’s not where our focus must be. Acknowledgment of where we’re at is a good thing, but as Pastor French told the children last week, if we take our focus off of Jesus, it’s very easy to get lost.

The focus of our mission now is the same as it was on the Day of Pentecost, at that miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We are not called to miraculously speak in tongues, but we are called to proclaim Christ and Him crucified to all people, to translate His message of Law and Gospel into ways the people can understand. We are not called to prophesy to dry bones to come alive, but we are called to speak the truth in love, to call sinners out of darkness into the marvelous light of salvation found only in Christ, to call them from the death they love to find life in Jesus, whom they likely hate. We are called to faithfulness … in all that we are, trusting that the Holy Spirit is still doing today through us what He did in Jerusalem ten days after Jesus ascended, and trusting that the message that He brings to us and through us is true! It’s the message we bear that is our focus, keeping our eyes on Jesus, even in the miraculous found on Pentecost. It worked for the disciples, and it certainly works today, because the Holy Spirit works through His people today as He did then.

It’s fitting, then, that the Holy Spirit was poured out at the early harvest festival. If that early harvest was good, the later harvest would be GREAT. Yes, my friends, the Spirit is still working, still sowing seeds in the field, and if the early harvest at the first Pentecost was as great as we see it being, how INCREDIBLE will the Last Harvest be! He still works, still brings sinners to Jesus, through the utterances that He gives us, proclaiming in the tongues that we are given … the mighty works of God!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.