Pentecost Sermon 2008| Rev. Rolf Preus| May 11, 2008
“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” Joel 2:28-29
The events of Pentecost were described by the prophet Joel in the words of our text. Through Joel, God foretold of an unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It would be like nothing before or since. It would be the end of one age and the beginning of another.
The Holy Spirit is the eternal God. He proceeds from the Father and the Son from eternity. He was there at creation. He has been working with the Father and the Son from the beginning of time. He was the One who spoke by the prophets. He participated in the miraculous birth of Christ. He descended upon Christ at his baptism and led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He filled Jesus with wisdom during his life and ministry among us. Jesus hid the fullness of his deity under the covering of weakness during the time of his humiliation. But he was never without the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has always been the Author of faith. He is the Lord and giver of life. While we must distinguish between the three persons of the Godhead, we cannot separate them into three gods. Wherever Jesus is there is the Spirit of truth testifying to the truth. He directs us to Jesus. He proceeds from the Father, as Jesus said. But he does not proceed from the Father alone. He proceeds from the Father and the Son. St. Paul calls him the Spirit of Christ. Jesus said to the apostles that the Father would send the Spirit in Jesus’ name. Jesus also told them that he – Jesus – would send the Spirit from the Father. The Holy Spirit has nothing to say to us that does not directly relate to Jesus Christ and our relationship with him.
On the first Christian Pentecost God used wonderful signs to make it crystal clear that the gospel that was preached was the truth. It’s not as if Peter got up to share some of his spiritual feelings with the crowd. No, he spoke authoritatively from God himself. And not Peter only: all of the apostles spoke the wonderful works of God in languages they had never before learned. And the apostles were not the only ones who were filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon men, women, and children of all ages. As Joel foretold:
I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is, of course, invisible. You cannot see the Holy Spirit. You cannot witness with your senses the power he has and the work he does. For the work of the Holy Spirit is faith. Faith is invisible except to God. We talk about the faith of others but we cannot see it, measure it, or even identify it. Only God can see faith. Only God can produce it. We can know that there is true faith only because we can know that the Holy Spirit is present.
The wonderful signs of that first Pentecost were the gift wrapping of the Holy Spirit. Have you ever watched little children open gifts? They will often become distracted by the wrapping. They find it so interesting that they ignore the present that is inside. They miss out on the true value of the gift. So it is with many Christians in search of the power of the Holy Spirit. They see how the Holy Spirit wrapped himself on that first Christian Pentecost. They become so enamored with the signs and wonders of that day that they neglect the gift underneath. They revel in the wrapping while neglecting the Holy Spirit altogether.
There is no doubt that God gave some wonderful gifts to the early church. “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” Joel foretold. And so they did. From Acts 21:9 we learn that an evangelist by the name of Phillip had four daughters who prophesied. In the next verse we learn of Agabus, the prophet. There were both prophets and prophetesses. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was not limited to preachers or to men. As God had said, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” Old men dreamt dreams. Young men saw visions. The Holy Spirit was poured out on menservants and maidservants. God made no distinction of gender, age, or social standing. All Christians are equal and all are joined together by one Spirit into one mind and understanding.
Even as all Christians are born of the same flesh and that which is born of the flesh is flesh, even so all Christians are born again by the same Spirit. “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,” God says. The Holy Spirit is for everyone. God does not see rich or poor, black or white, male or female, powerful or imprisoned, guilty or innocent. He sees flesh. He sees the mass of sinful flesh. He sees what brings us all down to the grave in guilt and what keeps us out of heaven and the presence of the Holy God and his angels. As St. Paul reminds us all, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”
From way back during the earliest years of human history God saw that we were flesh. Made in his image, yes. But fallen and sinful and prone to every kind of sin imaginable. As Moses records for us in Genesis 6:5,
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
When it comes to sin, God makes no distinction between old and young, male and female, black and white. Sinful humanity is flesh. It is corrupted with evil intents that are directed in opposition to God. Flesh gives birth to flesh.
What happens when the Holy God becomes flesh? He does not become sinful flesh. He becomes holy flesh. And in his holy flesh he confronted the sin of sinful flesh. He was an unborn baby, a newborn, an infant, a toddler, a little boy, a big boy, a young man, and a full grown man of thirty three years. And as flesh he remained holy, untouched by the fall. He was called the Holy One of Israel. He lived holy. He died holy. And he died in the place of sinful flesh. In his holy flesh he bore the sin of sinful flesh. He felt its guilt. He carried its weight. He endured all of the anger, the bitterness, and the hatred of sinful flesh. His holy love bore it and destroyed it. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the second Adam by whose obedience we become righteous.
He is the One who sent the Spirit. He is the One to whom the Spirit testifies. He is the One who teaches Christ’s teaching. This is what he does. This is what we need.
We don’t need the wrapping in which he came on that first Pentecost. The signs of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit foretold by the prophet Joel all came true in the early years of the church. Dreams, visions, revelations, and the gift of speaking in unknown languages continued for a time. These gifts were signs that the Holy Spirit was to be given to all Christians, not only to a special few. These gifts were also a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the preaching of the apostles. These gifts served to authenticate the gospel of Christ in the church’s early years. As the Bible was completed and the apostles passed on so did the gifts. They disappeared. As St. Paul predicted,
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
The signs disappeared, but the Holy Spirit did not. He continues to be poured out on all flesh wherever the gospel is purely proclaimed and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution. For God’s word cannot but bear fruit. It cannot return to him empty. The word is the sword of the Spirit. Holy Baptism is the washing of the Spirit.
The Bible does not promise that the spectacular gifts of Pentecost would continue throughout the history of the church. Some claim to have these gifts today. Those who make this claim usually do not teach that Holy Baptism is the washing of rebirth of the Holy Spirit. They usually deny that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us and given to us through this holy sacrament. They are like the little child who is so enamored with the pretty wrapping paper that he ignores the gift itself.
If we want the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives, we need look no further than the word that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the Scriptures, in the preaching, in our baptism, in the absolution, and in the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit is here among us. He lives within all Christian believers.
Some holier than thou pretenders act, as Martin Luther would say, as if they’ve swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all. They would have us believe that there are two kinds of Christians: fleshly Christians who live defeated lives and Spirit-filled Christians who live victorious lives. If you want to live a victorious life, they say, you must speak in tongues as they allegedly have done. Then you will be a Spirit-filled Christian.
But that’s not true. There is only one kind of a Christian: one who is flesh but is also filled with the Holy Spirit. A Christian is a forgiven sinner who has been washed clean of all his sins by the blood of the Lamb. We Christians struggle with many things in this life because we are flesh. But we are born from above. We are filled with the Spirit. And this means we are spirit. The Holy Spirit makes us holy. He confirms us in our faith. He may not come in the same wrapping he chose long ago, but he has the same power to make us holy. He replaces our doubts with hope. He uproots our unbelief and replaces it with faith. He turns our desires to serve ourselves into holy desires to serve one another. For the Holy Spirit is our teacher and the lesson he teaches us is the peace that the world cannot give but that is found only in Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us. He tells us that for Christ’s sake our sins are forgiven and we are one with our Creator. And so he fills us with peace. Amen