Pentecost Sermon, June 8, 2003
Acts 2:1-13 “The Spirit of Pentecost”
Not long after the great flood that destroyed the world by water, the leaders of the world gathered together at a place called Babel. They planned to build a tower that would reach into the heavens. They wanted to make a name for themselves. They did not want to submit to God. Like humanists of every generation, they thought that the answer to all human troubles lies within human capabilities. If there is a problem, we can solve it! God punished them in their pride by confusing their languages so that they couldn’t understand each other. The building project had to be abandoned because of the language barrier.
When God urged ancient Israel to repent of their idolatry and to listen to His prophets, He also threatened them by warning of an invasion of their land by foreigners whose languages they wouldn’t be able to understand. If they wouldn’t listen to the word of God when it was preached plainly, they’d have to listen to the judgment of God by hearing languages they couldn’t understand.
Pentecost is an historical event
that is often called the birthday of the Christian Church.
The Acts of the Apostles is part two of St. Luke’s Gospel.
It describes the early church and in chapter two St. Luke
describes the first Christian Pentecost. As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit descended miraculously
upon the apostles. They
were given the supernatural gift of being able to speak in foreign
languages that they had never learned.
Pentecost was the reversal of Babel.
Whereas at the tower of Babel, God confused the languages so as
to divide the people, at Pentecost God spoke the same gospel message in
a variety of languages to unify the people.
At Babel God confused the languages in mercy, because those
people were trusting in humanity to save humanity and their common
language gave them a false hope. At
Pentecost God overcame the confusion of languages.
The gospel is intended for all people of every tribe, nation,
people, and tongue. The
good news of Christ is for the whole world.
Pentecost teaches this. God
gave the apostles the ability to speak in all of the languages of the
Roman Empire to illustrate that no one was left out of Christ’s
commission to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
The Spirit of Pentecost has
never left the church He created on that first Pentecost.
The Father sent Him in Jesus’ name.
Jesus sent Him from the Father.
He came specifically to the men whom Jesus had taught.
Jesus had ascended into heaven to fill all things, but Jesus
would no longer be visible, as He had been before His ascension.
Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit.
On Pentecost, He fulfilled His promise.
Listen to what Jesus says in St.
John’s Gospel, chapters 14 through 16.
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another
Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; the Spirit of truth, whom
the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but
you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John
14:16-17) “These things I
have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send
in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance
all things that I said to you.” (John 14:25-26)
“But when the Comforter comes, whom I shall send to you from
the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will
testify of Me. And you also
will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
(John 15:26-27) “Nevertheless
I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I
do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I
will send Him to you.” (John 16:7)
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear
them now. However, when He,
the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He
will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will
speak; and He will tell you things to come.
He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare
it to you.” (John 16:12-14)
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of
truth. He comforts us. He makes His home within us.
He makes us holy. He
makes us holy by means of the truth.
He teaches us the truth about Jesus.
In teaching Christ to us He enables us to accept, to rely upon,
and to find comfort in Jesus. The
Holy Spirit joins us in communion with the truth by His almighty and
gracious power. When He
joins each one of us individually in communion with the truth, He joins
us all together as the Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints is
invisible to the naked eye. We
cannot see our holy fellowship. But
when we kneel before the altar and we eat and drink the body and the
blood of Jesus that is given to us in the Lord’s Supper, the unity of
Christ’s holy Church is most clearly expressed.
The people at Babel believed
that human unity was a human achievement.
That’s always the claim championed by the disciples of
humanism. And it’s always
a lie. True unity is always
a divine achievement. It is
achieved at the cross. It
is achieved when the Holy Spirit brings the fruit of Christ’s
suffering into our lives at the font, from the pulpit, and at the altar.
Sin divides us.
The blood of Jesus washes away our sin.
The Holy Spirit unites us by applying the blood of Jesus to us.
The Holy Spirit does not do this by lying to us.
He does this by telling us the truth.
He is the Spirit of truth. False
doctrine comes from the father of lies.
False doctrine divides the flock by giving false hope.
All false doctrine leads us to trust in human ability and
trusting in the flesh is the surest road to destruction.
The truth is revealed in the written word, the Bible.
The truth is revealed in the incarnate Word, Jesus.
The truth is revealed by the Holy Spirit.
Sin divides us.
We need the blood of Jesus to wash the sin away.
Otherwise we will be at war with each other. People who don’t receive the forgiveness of sins from God
through faith cannot forgive one another.
The wonderful works of God that were preached on Pentecost were
the works of Jesus. Peter
didn’t preach a message of religious self-improvement.
He preached the law with the full thunder of God’s judgment. And he preached Christ: His crucifixion and His resurrection.
The man who just a few weeks earlier had cowered in fear as he
denied his Lord was now filled with the Holy Ghost.
He showed no fear as he preached to the crowd saying:
He accused them of deicide.
He didn’t shy away from preaching it with perfect clarify and
bluntness. He concluded his
sermon with these words: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know
assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord
and Christ.” (Acts 2:36) You
would have thought that he was out of his mind to preach that way.
Who did he think he was to accuse thousands of people of
murdering God? Did Peter
know nothing of tact or diplomacy?
Couldn’t he have found a friendlier way of saying the same
thing? But it was the Holy
Spirit who spoke through Peter. We
read in the next verses,
St. Luke records for us that
three thousand people were baptized that day and that they continued in
communion with the gospel the apostles preached as they received the
Lord’s Supper together and prayed together.
The Holy Spirit created and sustained the church through the same
gospel and sacraments that we have yet today.
The Spirit of Pentecost has
never left the church because if He did the church would surely die.
Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be the Lord and giver of life, and
He gives that life through the voices of fallible men like Peter.
God’s word is infallible and God’s word is almighty, but
fallible and erring men preach it. The Holy Spirit cannot be found by looking for holy people.
Our holiness is hidden under sin and weakness.
The Holy Spirit cannot be found by looking for miraculous signs.
Pentecost was a miraculous display that God did not intend to
repeat throughout the history of the church.
The Holy Spirit is to be found wherever the preaching of Christ
– His crucifixion and resurrection – is heard.
The Holy Spirit is to be found wherever the washing of Holy
Baptism and the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood are administered
in Jesus’ name. And
wherever the Holy Spirit is, there is peace, there is comfort, and there
Our faith is so weak and we are
so foolish. We think we
know better than God how we may gain spiritual strength.
But whenever we rely on ourselves we are overcome by our own
weaknesses and we become hopelessly confused.
Whenever churches set aside the pure gospel and sacraments of
Jesus for something they think is more effective or more powerful they
end up divided in their own confusion, just as at Babel.
The true unity of the church is always God’s gracious work and
it is always the Holy Spirit who does this work by bringing Jesus to us
by means of the purely preached gospel and the rightly administered
sacraments of Christ. Those
who despise these humble means of grace despise God.
For God will not deal with us in any other way.
He will not bring us the forgiveness of sins, peace, and faith
except through these means of grace.
The church is not free to choose for herself how she will receive
the power of the Holy Spirit. Her Lord has already made this choice for her.
Perhaps we wish there were
something a bit more exciting than hearing the same old gospel, kneeling
at the same old altar, and hearing the same old words again and again
and again. But these words
are never old. They make
everything new. Every time
we come to church hearing and singing and confessing the familiar
liturgy, the Spirit of truth comes into our lives and washes away the
deceit that lives within us and rises up in every kind of sin of
thought, word, and deed. We
come in weakness, confusion, and sin for which we can do nothing but
confess to God that we are sorry. Here
the Holy Spirit makes us holy. He
imputes to us the righteousness of Jesus and He pours divine love into
our hearts. He fills us
with hope and He makes us the Communion of Saints.
How could we want anything more?
How could we be satisfied with anything less?
Rev. Rolf D. Preus