The Feast of Pentecost

Readings: Genesis 11:1–9 | Acts 2:1-21 | John 14:23-31

Text: John 14:23-31

We often think of the Day of Pentecost in the past tense.  Around May 11 in the year 33 (or 29),[1]

“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.”[2]

That day, there were miraculous signs at which the people wondered.  Peter stood up and gave a miraculous, multi-lingual sermon, and that day 3,000 people believed and were baptized.  Such an event catches our attention, but nobody has seen it since.

Many Christians are misled by teachers who claim to recapture the wonders of that day.  They claim the Holy Spirit always causes people to speak in new tongues.  But as one pastor noted, it’s like children who get so distracted with the wrapping paper that they ignore the gift itself.[3]  The great miracles that accompanied Pentecost are just wrapping on the gift of multitudes believing in Jesus and being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins.  So, the real center of Pentecost is not the impressive signs, but the last verse Peter quotes from the prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”[4]  That’s of course, why the selection for the Second Reading ends at that verse.

And if that’s the main point of Pentecost, it’s certainly not just a past event that we long for or try to recreate.  If you think about it, isn’t it interesting that the charismatic movement claims to recreate the events of Pentecost, even though this was the once-in-time birth of the Christian Church, but nobody thinks to recreate the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, which was accomplished once for all.  The Holy Spirit is a very present help, because Pentecost is about the peace which the Holy Spirit delivers to souls from every nation.  To you, He brings the peace with God of your sins forgiven.

In fact, the Holy Spirit has always been God’s messenger of peace.  The newly formed creation fell through the unfaithfulness of Adam and Eve.  By just the 10th generation of the human race,[5] people had become so corrupt that God said, “I am sorry that I have made them.”  So God planned judgment against all of sinful humanity in the Flood, but “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”[6]  God showed mercy by delivering sinful Noah and his family from the “torrents of destruction.”[7]  The Lord called them into the safety of the ark while the rest of the unbelieving world was judged.  Then at the end of the flood, Noah sent out a dove.  At first, the dove returned because she “found no place to set her foot.”  But 7 days later, Noah sent the dove out again, and “behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf.  So, Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.”[8]  The dove returned as the messenger that God’s judgment was complete.  She proclaimed a new peace between God and man for all who believe.

Then there was the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (chapter 37).  “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry.”[9]  They were the bones of sinful, dead people.  In their despair, they said, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.”[10]  They had fallen under God’s just condemnation.  But the Lord also said, “Why will you die, O house of Israel?  I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn and live”[11]  So the Lord commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath:  “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”[12]  The breath of God, which is His Spirit, proclaimed peace and resurrection to those slain by sin.

Finally at the banks of the Jordan, the Spirit appeared again.  God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus, came to the river and was baptized by John.  “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”[13]  Just as the dove on the Ark announced the end of judgment, the Spirit announced the end of God’s wrath in His own beloved Son.  Just as the Spirit raised those dry, slain bones of sinners, the Spirit preaches peace and resurrection in Jesus, the Christ.

In the Gospel, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”  In the scope of all time, Jesus was with us for a tiny fraction of that time, just over thirty years.[14]  If salvation only happened for Jesus’ contemporaries, all the people before and all of us after are lost.  But in that short period of time, Jesus accomplished foretold, everything necessary for the salvation of the world.  He was born and shares in our flesh, yet without sin.  He was perfect in His fear, love, and trust in God above all things and He perfectly loved His neighbor as Himself.  He was also the perfect atonement for our sins.  God raised Jesus from the dead, never to die again.  Finally, as true God and true Man, He ascended to God the Father to blaze our way to heaven, and serves as our heavenly High Priest.  All of that took place over the course of 33 years, but the results are eternal.

Just before the Gospel reading starts, in verse 16, Jesus tells His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”  The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is the one who draws people—past, present, and future—to call upon the Lord Jesus and be saved.  He does this through the powerful Word of God, which He “brought to the remembrance” of the Apostles.  In the Spirit, they wrote the New Testament as the trustworthy record of God’s Word.  Now, the same Spirit calls you to believe through the Scriptures.

And the Holy Spirit is more than simply a memory aid.  What the ESV translates as “Helper” is literally Paraclete—an Advocate, or Counselor.  Luther said this about the Spirit’s title:

[It] designates a person who acts as counsel for one who is accused or charged with some crime, and who in that capacity undertakes to defend him and win his case, to advise and aid him, and to admonish and encourage him as occasion may require.[15]

The Holy Spirit takes an active role in bringing the word of Christ to our minds and hearts.  And we desperately need His aid!  The devil, the world, and our flesh are also busy trying to make us forget Christ’s Word and substitute it with some man-made imitation.  Like the Catechism says, “God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature which do not want us to hallow God’s Name or let His kingdom come.” This work is not as simple as forgetting God’s Word.  The work of God’s enemies is so that we profane God’s Name by not taking Him at His Word and making the Gospel into a new burden.  Rather than, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (period),” they would have us add our own works to prove we’re genuine, true Christians.  In a dreadful wavering between doubt and pride, souls are harassed to think they have never truly achieved such a wondrous gift as being called children of God.  Instead of proclaiming the Gospel, as we hear Peter and the Apostles in the New Testament do, it’s always listening to that hissing accusation, “Yes, but are you really a Christian?  How many people have you told about Jesus?  How many hours did you spend reading the Bible this week?”  Sorry to say, even though this sounds like good guidance, and may come with plenty of Bible verses to recommend it, but actually it’s confusing the Gospel and turning it into a burden.  The Church and her children are born out of the preaching of the Gospel to the undeserving, the weak, the failures, the thoroughly sinful.  Out of that new birth comes the joy of salvation, the impetus to tell others of the great things God has done for you, the delight in His Word, the free spirit which loves to serve God and neighbor.  But the Gospel which the Holy Spirit proclaims is always Peace in Christ.

God the Holy Spirit comes to us in our weakness.  When the world and the devil call us unworthy, delusional hypocrites, the Holy Spirit preaches, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”[16]  When we see our sins washing over us, so that we think there’s no hope left for someone as awful as me, the Spirit consoles us with the words, 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[17]  So, the Spirit truly does advocate for us and counsel us with God’s living Word.

In the Spirit’s comfort, Jesus says, “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.”  It is the peace which He gained for you by all of His work—His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and His coming again.  It is a peace beyond that of the world, because there is no perfect peace on earth.  Many have promised it, but none have delivered.  All of them are either failures or tyrants. If we look for that peace anywhere besides Jesus, we will always be left troubled. 

But your Lord gives you peace beyond the fleeting comforts of this world.  His peace stills all fear because your life now belongs to the eternal God who rules over all.  Are you troubled by what you’ve done or failed to do?  His blood covers all of your sins.  Are you afraid of what will happen in the future, or that you won’t be able to handle it?  Your days belong to His loving care[18] and there is “nothing in all creation that is able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”[19]

This is the peace which the Helper, the Holy Spirit gives to you.  The peace of God is yours through good and evil times, because it’s built on the sure foundation God only-begotten Son, given for you.  So, believing this Word of God, and His power at work through His Word, The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] 50 days after the traditional dating of Good Friday as March 25.  33 based on the length of Christ’s earthly life.  The date of His birth is debated because of calculation errors, and is likely to be 4 BC based on extra-biblical history.

[2] Acts 2:2-4

[3] Pastor Rolf Preus, Sermon for Pentecost 2012 –

[4] Acts 2:21, Joel 2:32

[5] Genesis 5:3-29

[6] Genesis 6:7-8

[7] Psalm 18:4

[8] Genesis 8:11

[9] Ezekiel 37:1-2

[10] verse 11

[11] Ezekiel 33:11

[12] Ezekiel 37:5

[13] Matthew 3:16-17

[14] Luke 3:23

[15] Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 3, p. 300 (ed. John Nicolas Lenker)

[16] Luke 19:10, Matthew 5:6

[17] Matthew 11:28-30

[18] Matthew 6:34

[19] Romans 8:31-39

The Feast of Pentecost

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1–14 | Acts 2:1–21 | John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Text: John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

The Day of Pentecost often gets a lot of attention because of how exciting it was.  From our second reading, we heard about the events of the day: a sound like a mighty rushing wind which got people’s attention, tongues as of fire, miraculously speaking other languages previously not studied, and so on.

But the impressive outward show is often not the point with God. After He had fed over 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, the crowds followed Jesus all the way around the Sea of Tiberius because they ate bread.  When it came to actually accepting what that sign meant, many of them said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” and went away. (John 6:1-60).  God grant that our faith not be in the fireworks of Pentecost, but in the working and power of the Holy Spirit.

God helping us, if we listen the texts appointed for today with ears of faith, yes, the Holy Spirit is the One we focus on this Pentecost, but what is it that He is doing?

Pentecost isn’t the first time the Holy Spirit shows up.  He has been at work in creation from the very beginning: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).  In the Introit, we prayed together with our ancestors in Israel, from Psalm 104,

27 These all look to you,

to give them their food in due season.

    28 When you give it to them, they

gather it up;

when you open your hand, they

are filled with good things.

    29 When you hide your face,

they are dismayed;

when you take away their breath, they die

and return to their dust.

    30 When you send forth your Spirit,

they are created,

and you renew the face of the ground.

(Ps. 104:27-30)

God’s Spirit is the source of life as we all know it, and all on earth enjoy that gift.  Not only that, but we can see God providing for the needs (not always the wants) of all His creatures. 

But the Holy Spirit has so much more that He does beyond physical life and daily bread.  In the Old Testament lesson, this is what the Spirit does in these last days:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

The word for Spirit and breath is the same (ru’ach), and the double meaning is intentional.  The Spirit (God’s breath) is giving life, but not only a beating heart and respiration.  There’s more: He puts breath into us, and we shall live…and you shall know that I am the Lord. 

This is what we confessed in the Nicene Creed, too.  “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.”  The Holy Spirit breathes into us and gives us true life.  Anyone who has suffered from asthma or congestive heart failure has experienced breath being stifled.  That’s akin to what sin and death has done to our natural life on earth.  Even though God has breathed into us the breath of life, it is shorted by disease, and robbed from us by death.  But the Spirit breathes into us the true life, even as we can identify with the words, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off,” (Ezek. 37:11) so the Holy Spirit breathes into us and makes us alive through Jesus’ resurrection.

And we also hear how that Breath of God is a Voice which goes out to every nation in the second reading (Acts 2:1-21).  Don’t get caught up on the sudden way these Galileans were able to speak in many human languages; the focus is on what they heard from this Voice of God:

17 “ ‘And in the last days it shall be,

God declares,

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,

and your sons and your daughters

shall prophesy…

21   And it shall come to pass

that everyone who

calls upon the name of the

Lord shall be saved.’

That’s what happened to the hearers on Pentecost, that Jews and proselytes from diverse countries from as west as Rome to the east as Persia, north as modern day Turkey (Asia Minor) to south as Arabia—Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” (Ezek. 37:9).  All of these people, from many nations, many things distinguishing them from each other, were called by the Holy Spirit to believe and have life from the world’s Savior.

This is the ongoing work of Pentecost.  It’s not about being overtaken by the Spirit, suddenly speaking in new tongues.  It’s that all people are called to salvation in Jesus Christ, so that at the end of the age, we will see what Revelation 7 records:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and [tongues], standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Taking a cue from the excitement of that day, the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906 marked the arrival of the Pentecostal movement, teaching that we should continue to look for the Holy Spirit to revive the church by causing people to speak in strange languages and manifest miraculous healings.   The prompting for revivals like the Pentecostal movement was because leaders saw the signs of the end times, and yet despite that it seemed faith had grown cold, and separated from the zeal recorded in Acts.  Their response was to look for miraculous healings, and sudden conversion experiences.  The trouble is while God gave this visible sign of what He is doing, He doesn’t promise that this will always be the case.

The things Jesus assures His of are described in the Gospel:

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

The word for Helper is literally Paraclete, an advocate who is called to one’s side to assist them, especially in a court of law.  Well, as we heard last week, testimony, or martyria, is how the world around us learns of Christ.  Jesus said this in the Upper Room with His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed.  The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, testifies of the Son of God.  Then, in turn, some of the Twelve (and later St. Paul) would be testify of Him—in the Scriptures of the New Testament, all written by or under the guidance of these chosen men.

But the Son must ascend into heaven before sending the Holy Spirit.  This is the start of the age of the Church, where the eternal life and salvation which Christ has brought for all people, is proclaimed with His almighty power.  It isn’t limited to a small group or a certain place, but that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47)  And this is what the Holy Spirit does among all people where His Voice is heard:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Nowhere do you hear that the Holy Spirit will cause flashy signs as were on the day of Pentecost.  He does what the Word of God is given to do: convict people of their unbelief in the only Savior, righteousness as the only one worthy to ascend into heaven, and judgment that the Devil has been defeated.  These are the mighty deeds which the people in Jerusalem heard, and which you, too have heard.

You see, the Holy Spirit doesn’t ever focus on Himself, but teaches us to rightly know Jesus as our Savior. He calls us spiritually dead sinners to repentance, teaches us to truly know the Lord, comes to us in our struggles and weakness and guides us out of our error and into all the truth.

The Holy Spirit’s work has continued uninterrupted in the Church, even to our day, because sinners like you and me are called to believe in Jesus Christ, living by the promise, “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).  By this Gospel, good news, the work is accomplished that we know the Lord, that the same Holy Spirit keeps us in this faith in our trials, and actually strengthens our faith through what we suffer.  And then on the Last Day, we await when the Holy Spirit will raise us from our graves and our eyes will behold an amazing thing: 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:16-18)

So be it, Lord, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord and Savior.  Amen.