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Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-13 + John 14:23-31
Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter Sunday. Let’s review the timeline for a moment. On the night before He died, in that upper room on Maundy Thursday, Jesus began to teach His disciples in earnest about what was coming next. He had already told them that He would suffer, that He would die, that He would rise from the dead on the third day. They didn’t understand what He was talking about. He told them that He was going to the Father, that He, Emmanuel, God with us, would no longer be with us in the same way as before. They didn’t understand what He was talking about. And then He promised them that, after His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, He would send them a gift: The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
And it all happened, just as Jesus said, although His disciples didn’t understand any of it until after it happened. Jesus died on the cross; rose from the dead on Easter Sunday; appeared to His disciples on Easter and several other times over the next 40 days; then He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Ten days later, Pentecost.
Jesus kept His promise to send His Spirit from heaven, and you heard in the Epistle how that took place. The Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples, but you can’t see the Spirit. His name means “breath” or “wind.” How would they know He had been sent? Back at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and lighted on Jesus alone. But now He is to be given to all the disciples. How would they know He had come?
Would they “feel” His presence in their hearts? Not a word about any such thing. Instead, they were given three signs. (1) The sound of the loud, rushing wind—a sign that the powerful Spirit of God was among them. (2) The tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples—a sign that the Spirit now dwells with believers, and a sign that He would use their tongues, their preaching, to kindle a fire on the earth, to spread the kingdom of Christ in the hearts of men. And (3) the sudden ability of the believers to speak the wonders of God in different languages—a sign that the Gospel was to be preached to all the peoples of the earth.
And what did the disciples do with this newly-arrived Spirit? They preached the Gospel of Jesus and they baptized those who believed it—3,000 people that day. Sins were forgiven. A new life was begun. And the Church continued to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, being sanctified and renewed day by day. It says that the Christians continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. The Church continued to preach and to hear, to baptize, and to use the Sacrament of the Altar, and more and more people around the world heard the Gospel, repented and believed, and so the cycle has gone on and on for nearly 2,000 years. All of it was, all of it still is the Holy Spirit’s doing.
And again, all of it was exactly what Jesus promised in the Gospel.
If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.
If anyone loves Me… Where does such love come from? This love for Jesus, this devotion to Jesus is essentially the same thing as faith in Jesus, and you know where that comes from. “Faith comes from hearing.” Jesus’ disciples had heard the word about Jesus, and then they heard the word from Jesus Himself, that He was both God and Man, how He had been sent by God to save poor sinners from sin, death and the devil, reconciling them with God. His disciples had believed that from the beginning. They clung to Him in faith, even when they didn’t understand everything He told them. But when they saw the full extent of His love as He allowed Himself to be crucified for their sins, when they saw Him risen from the dead, when they heard His announcement of “Peace be with you” on Easter Sunday, then they had the greatest reason to trust in Him, to love Him, and they did. It was the Holy Spirit all along, pointing them to Jesus, drawing them to Jesus, working faith and love in their hearts.
If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. To keep the word of Jesus is to treasure it, to hold onto it, to believe it and to do it. It’s the natural product of faith. The one who loves Jesus will keep His word, will treasure it, will put it into practice. The one who doesn’t love Jesus won’t treasure His word, either.
There is another blessed result of loving and trusting in Jesus: and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. See what Jesus offers here? No matter what sins you have committed, no matter how wretched you have been, when you flee to Him in faith, when you love Him as the One who made atonement for your sins out of His great mercy and love for you, then you have the love of God the Father—only because of Christ, and because you now have Christ by faith.
And in His love, the Father does not remain distant. He’s not like some long-lost relative who loves you but never interacts with you. We will come to him and make Our home with him. Do you realize, that’s what Pentecost is? In pouring out His Spirit on His Church, Christ is here, too, and so is His Father—the Holy Trinity, dwelling in the hearts of believers, dwelling in the midst of His Church on earth, not far away, but very near. As St. Paul reminded the Corinthians, do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?
And what is He doing here in our hearts? After bringing us to faith, the Holy Spirit now renews believers in the image of Christ on a daily basis, urging us to live in daily contrition and repentance, nudging us along to keep the word of Christ, to walk according to God’s commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor. All the while He holds up Christ crucified before our eyes, directing us to Him, to trust in Him, to love Him, to follow Him, and finally to face death itself still clinging to Him in faith. And therein lies the peace which Jesus bequeathed to His disciples in the Gospel: Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
What else is the Spirit doing? As He dwells in believers, as He dwells in the midst of the Christian Church, as He urges Christians to speak about Christ in our many vocations, He is also reaching out to those who aren’t yet Christians, holding Christ before their eyes, showing them the love of Christ crucified, in order to convert them and kindle faith in their hearts, too. And when He does, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come to them and make Their home with them, just as They have done with us. And so the pattern repeats, on and on, until the end of the age.
This is the benefit of Pentecost. This is what we celebrate today. The Holy Spirit has been given to us as a lasting gift, to keep us in the faith, firmly rooted in Christ Jesus, to renew us daily in love, and to work through our preaching to bring the love and the salvation of Christ to the rest of the world. Rejoice in Him and give thanks for Him, because, even though Jesus—Emmanuel, God with us—has ascended into heaven, God has now made His home with us by His Spirit. Amen.