Pentecost Sunday| Acts 2:1-21| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| May 28, 2023
Pentecost celebrates the work of the Holy Spirit. What is the work of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit sanctifies us. What does it mean to sanctify? To sanctify means to make holy. But what does it mean to make holy? To make holy means to set apart for God’s special purpose. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us by gathering us into the Holy Christian Church, which is the kingdom of Christ, where He sustains us and all believers in the one true faith.
You’ll notice that St. Luke writes in Acts chapter two that the disciples were gathered on the day of Pentecost. I thought Pentecost was a Christian holiday? It is. But it was also a Jewish holiday in the Old Testament. As with everything in the Bible, the New Testament Pentecost is better than the Old Testament Pentecost. Likewise, the New Testament Passover is better than the Old Testament Passover. The Old Testament Passover was when the children of Israel slaughtered and ate a lamb for each household and smeared the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, so that the Angel of Death would pass over them and not kill their firstborn sons as he did to the Egyptians as the tenth plague against Egypt (Exodus 12). The Israelites celebrated this Passover feast every year by sacrificing Passover lambs. The New Testament Passover Lamb is Christ. We celebrate this Passover by celebrating Christ’s suffering and death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead. We celebrate the New Testament Passover on Easter as well as every Sunday.
The Old Testament Pentecost took place fifty days after the Passover, which is why it was called Pentecost, which is Greek for fifty. Fifty days after the first Passover, God gave the people of Israel the Ten Commandments when Moses went up on Mount Sinai. Every year, fifty days after the Passover, the people of Israel would celebrate God giving the Law through Moses. Now, in Acts 2, fifty days after the greater Passover, when Christ Jesus the true and final Passover Lamb was sacrificed for our sins, so that eternal death would pass over us, a greater Pentecost comes. This Pentecost is greater, because it follows a greater Passover and so grants greater gifts (Hebrews 8:6).
Christ is the greater Passover Lamb, because He is true God and being the fulfillment of all the prophesies, also true man. He lived under the Law in our place and was truly without blemish. And He suffered and died for our sins. The Passover lambs of the Old Testament were only signs of the coming Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. They could not take away any sins, but Jesus takes away all sins. Yet, Jesus’ suffering and death for your sins and His resurrection would do you no good if the Father and the Son did not send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who is true God with the Father and the Son, delivers to you what Christ won. And if the Holy Spirit does not deliver Christ to you, then you will die in your sins. The Holy Spirit’s work to sanctify you is as important to your salvation as the Son’s work in redeeming you.
So, how does the Holy Spirit sanctify you? He uses words, God’s words. In the first Old Testament Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave Moses ten words of Law. These words told Israel how they should behave. And yet, while these words were perfect and holy, they did not save the people, but rather condemned them by accusing them of sin. In the first Pentecost of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit gave the Apostles words. But these words were different. They did not simply give commands for us to follow, but they told of the mighty works of God in Christ Jesus. The words of God in the Old Testament Pentecost required works, which were never done. The words of God in the New Testament Pentecost told of the work already done for us by Christ. These words are received through faith.
This is very much what St. Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians chapter 3, “God made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” By letter Paul means the words of the law inscribed in stone (2 Cor. 3:7), and by Spirit, he means the Gospel of Christ proclaimed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. Now, indeed the Holy Spirit uses both the letter of the Law and the letter of the Gospel, but He does not save with the Law. Only the Gospel saves, because it depends on Jesus’ completed work and is received through faith. The Holy Spirit uses the Law to convict you of sin and bring the threat of death and hell upon your conscience. He does this so that you will be sorry for your sins. Yet, the Holy Spirit does not desire to leave you there. The Holy Spirit’s greatest work is convincing you that God has forgiven you all your sins for Christ’s sake. The Holy Spirit’s greatest joy and work is proclaiming Christ’s work of salvation for you.
The Holy Spirit works through words to sanctify you, to gather you into the safety of the Christian Church, so that you may be saved through faith in Jesus’ blood. People get distracted by the lesser works of the Holy Spirit, which accompanied the Holy Spirit’s greater works on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit caused the disciples to speak in languages they had never learned. So, people try to speak in tongues to prove they have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit caused the disciples to prophesy, so people seek to prophesy messages from God outside of Holy Scripture to prove that they have the Holy Spirit. And they do the same thing with healings, because the Apostles also healed many people. Yet, the attempts today to speak in tongues, prophecy, and heal do not give any certainty of the Holy Spirit’s work. They are all dubious at best. Besides, St. Paul said that prophecies and tongues would cease (1 Corinthians 13:8).
The Holy Spirit caused the disciples to speak in languages they had never learned to show that the Gospel is meant for all people of every language and nation. And it promises us that the Holy Spirit can work in our own language. The Holy Spirit caused the disciples to prophecy to fulfill Scripture and so that people would know that they were sent by Christ. Yet, Scripture doesn’t promise that these gifts will continue, nor do we need them. We have the Holy Scriptures, which the Holy Spirit has caused to be written. And we have the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which have Christ’s word and promise.
And here is why it is so important that we hold fast to God’s Word in Holy Scripture, to the Gospel of Christ and the Sacraments He instituted. That is how we know that the Holy Spirit is working among us! Did that guy on TV really speak in tongues? I don’t know. Probably not. Are you baptized? Yes? Then the Holy Spirit came to you and made you God’s child! Did that fellow on the internet really come up with a new prophecy from God? No. But the Gospel truth that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners remains true today!
The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word, which means that He works in His Church, where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are rightly administered. You don’t need to doubt where the Holy Spirit works. And you don’t need to doubt that He continues to work today! He works every time a child is baptized and when a sinner comes to Jesus. He works every time His Church gathers for worship and when a Christian confesses Christ. He works in your hearts with a burning that is as real as those tongues of fire on the disciples. He works to save your soul and grant you everlasting life.
The work of the Holy Spirit is the greatest work being done on this earth right now. What was accomplished on that first New Testament Pentecost? Three thousand souls were baptized and added to the number of the saved; three thousand souls that would have spent eternity in hell, but rather will spend eternity in paradise! And the Holy Spirit has continued to add to the number of those being saved even to this day!
We want more practical knowledge and skills, so most ignore the workings and teachings of the Holy Spirit, as if we know enough. But what knowledge or skill on this earth can grant you eternal life? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid,” says Jesus. The Holy Spirit gives us this peace with God by converting us to faith in Jesus! This isn’t shallow superficial peace, where you go along to get along, but have no true love for anyone. The Holy Spirit grants you eternal peace with God.
This peace with God grants you joy that the world cannot take away from you. You can lose your house, your money, your wife, children, everything you have, but the joy of being at peace with God can not be taken away from you, so long as you have faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit also gives you courage to confess Christ and do what is right. Consider Peter, who was afraid to acknowledge Christ to a servant girl, but now preaches to all the Jews in Jerusalem, including those who cried, “Crucify him!” to Pontius Pilate just fifty odd days earlier. When you hear and learn Holy Scripture, study it, and receive the Sacrament, the Holy Spirit grants you courage to face Satan and the world and not back down.
Finally, through the ministry of the Word, the Holy Spirit grants you love for your fellow Christian. At the end of Acts 2, St. Luke records that the Christians held everything in common with each other. They loved each other as their own bodies and didn’t consider anything their own! So filled they were with the Holy Spirit. This is part of the Holy Spirit sanctifying. He continues to work in you to bring you out of this world and into another. Just because you have faith in Christ, does not mean that the Holy Spirit is done working on you. The Holy Spirit must continue to work to sustain you in the faith, to increase your love, and joy and courage. If the Holy Spirit does not continue this work in you through His Word, then you will lose His work, including saving faith.
A final note: through whom does the Holy Spirit work? You are right if you say through the pastor. The pastor is called by God to proclaim God’s Word and be a steward of God’s mysteries. And so, we know the Holy Spirit works through the ministry of the Word and Sacraments. Yet, the Holy Spirit is not connected to the pastor apart from the Word. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is not separate from you when you speak His Word.
Now it is right that no one should publicly preach or teach without being called. And Holy Scripture has forbidden women from serving as pastors, from publicly preaching, teaching, and exercising authority in the Church (1 Timothy 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35); a teaching, which has become even more relevant as our world has rejected every distinction between men and women. Yet, every Christian is called to confess Christ. You don’t need to be a pastor to give a defense for the reason for the hope that is in you. Joel prophesied that both sons and daughters would prophesy. All of you in whom the Holy Spirit dwells are called to acknowledge Christ before men (Matthew 10:32). And the Holy Spirit promises to work even through your words to convert and save. Speak to your children about Christ. Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors about your faith in Jesus. And if you do not have the confidence to do so, then come to church and Bible study and learn more until you have such confidence. This is the greatest work God is doing today! The Holy Spirit is still adding to the number of those being saved. And we should be confident that He works through us when we confess the true Gospel. Amen.