Sermon for Pentecost Sunday
Genesis 11:1-9 + Acts 2:1-21 + John 14:23-31
Fires are sweeping across the West. The Murphy Fire: 68,000 acres burned, and counting. The Miller Fire: 89,000 acres burned, and counting. The Horseshoe Two Fire: 135,000 acres burned, and counting. The Wallow Fire: 430,000 acres burned, and counting. See the damage fire can do!
John the Baptist once said, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Today we celebrate that baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire that took place on the day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem when the risen and ascended Lord Jesus poured out his Holy Spirit like fire on his disciples, and it’s been burning ever since. This fire, kindled on the earth by God himself on the Day of Pentecost, is the Spirit Fire. The Spirit Fire Is Burning. 1) It blazes from the tongues of men, 2) It sweeps across every nation, 3) It saves mankind from the flames.
IT BLAZES FROM THE TONGUES OF MEN
On Pentecost Sunday – seven weeks after Easter, when all Jesus’ disciples were gathered together, a sound filled the house where they were, the sound like the blowing of a violent wind, like the kind of wind that drives a wildfire over the forests and makes it uncontainable and unstoppable. And then the fire came. Fire rained down from heaven, visible only for a few moments. But like the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses so long ago, this fire didn’t burn anything up. Like the fiery furnace in the days of Daniel, this fire didn’t harm God’s people. It took the form of tongues, like the tongues of men, and it came to rest on the heads of Jesus’ disciples – whether it was just the Eleven apostles or all 120 believers in that first Christian church, we don’t know. But for some reason, God chose fire in the shape of tongues to announce the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell with those believers.
The reason is not a secret. They all began to speak in other tongues, other languages. They spoke, not just any words, but only words that the Holy Spirit gave them to speak. And so now it’s clear: The Spirit Fire Burns. But where? Where does it burn? Where should we look to find the Spirit Fire? Should we look around for miracles? Should we check and see how we feel? Do you feel saved today? Do you feel the Spirit moving you, burning inside you for God? Should we listen inside our hearts to figure out what the Holy Spirit’s will is for us? Should we look around for signs of his presence and for proof of which church is really being led by the Spirit? No, no, no. The Spirit himself has shown us on the Day of Pentecost where we should seek his fire. The Spirit Fire Burns: It blazes from the tongues of men.
God had said long ago through his prophet Jeremiah, “Is not my Word like fire?” God’s Spirit has bound himself to words, to speech, and not just any speech, but to the words that he himself inspired in the Old Testament prophets and in the New Testament apostles, and also to the words of Gospel preachers today who preach in accord with those Biblical words. That is the Spirit Fire. That is the method he has chosen to burn his way into the hearts of men, to convict of sin, to create and strengthen faith. Jesus said in the Gospel, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word.” And what would the Counselor do when he came? He would remind Jesus’ disciples of all the things Jesus said to them. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The Spirit is never without the Word, and the Word is never without the Spirit. The Spirit Fire Burns. It blazes on the tongues of men.
IT SWEEPS ACROSS EVERY NATION
The fires in Arizona and now New Mexico seem unstoppable. They just keep spreading and spreading and ravaging the forests. But they will eventually be extinguished – either by rain or by firefighters or when their fuel supply is cut off. But the Spirit Fire will never be put out. It will keep burning and spreading until it sweeps across every nation, every continent.
That was God’s purpose in choosing the Day of Pentecost for the outpouring of his Holy Spirit, and in choosing the sign of speaking in different languages in order to draw people to the Spirit Fire. Like smoking billowing up from a house, that sign got the attention of the whole city. Since it was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, there were Jews and Gentile converts to the Jewish religion visiting Jerusalem from all over the world. And when they heard the sound of this loud wind and all these people making loud proclamations in many different tongues at once, the crowds drew closer to see what all the ruckus was about, and as they did, all these people from other countries heard their own languages being spoken by people from Galilee, who were not known for being well-educated. And what they heard amazed them even more: they heard these people declaring the wonders of God – the great acts of rescue and deliverance that God has done for his people.
Back at the Tower of Babel, God’s Spirit confused the languages of mankind and forced them to divide up and spread out. He did that for our own good, because the sinful nature that infects all people is like a destructive fire. And the more people come together in their rebellion against God, the hotter that fire gets until humanity simply burns itself up and self-destructs, just like it did before the Great Flood, just like it was starting to do all over again at the Tower of Babel. So God divided people up into different languages and different nations.
A divided humanity will also burn itself up and self-destruct; it just takes longer. And God had a plan that required time – time for one nation – Israel – to grow up and receive God’s teaching, to hear God’s Word and to preserve it until the time for the promised offspring of the woman to be born, until the time for the Christ to come and rescue mankind from sin, from death and from the devil.
Now that Christ had come and lived and died and risen again and ascended into heaven, now, as of the Day of Pentecost, God no longer intends to zoom in on just one nation or one area, as he showed by unleashing his Spirit Fire in many languages. He doesn’t favor any race above another, or even any individual above another. The sacrifice of Christ was for mankind, not just for Israel, and the Spirit Fire that brings the Gospel of Christ has now been kindled on the earth to do battle against the fire of our sinful, corrupt nature – one fire waging war against another. The Spirit Fire must burn and spread and sweep across every continent, to people of every nation and every language.
IT SAVES MANKIND FROM THE FLAMES
Sometimes, in order to prevent wildfires from destroying huge chunks of land, forest managers will execute what’s called a “controlled burn.” They use fire to protect people from fire. In his Pentecost sermon, the Apostle Peter mentions a truly destructive fire that is coming – the fire of God’s final judgment. The Spirit Fire has been unleashed on the earth, not to destroy mankind, but to save mankind from the judgment fire that is coming. The Spirit Fire burns to save mankind from the flames.
Peter explains the strange events of Pentecost to the curious crowd. This Spirit-enabled proclamation is the fulfillment of what God said through the prophet Joel: “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Then, Joel and Peter jump straight from there to the day of judgment. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
So, you see, the “last days” began on that Day of Pentecost. The kindling of the Spirit Fire on the tongues of God’s people marked the beginning of the end of this earth. The fire of God’s Word will spread, or as Jesus put it, “This Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all nations, and then the end will come.” Then the fire of God’s judgment will be unleashed against the earth. And all sin will be destroyed. And all sinners will be burned up. Nothing will escape those flames.
Nothing, except for sinners who are found relying on the blood of Christ for forgiveness and salvation. The one who was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, who was raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father – he is the only refuge for sinners on that great and glorious day of the Lord. All who are found trusting in him – everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus in faith – will be saved.
But no one can trust in him. No one ever would trust in him. The fire of our sinful nature rages against God and hates him and would rather spend eternity in the flames of hell than share heaven with the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. The fire of our sinful nature has cut off the power lines that would supply any of us with the power to believe in Jesus and rely on him.
“But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith, in the same way he calls, gathers enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” The Spirit Fire, blazing on the tongues of men, sweeping across the nations, is that which restores the power lines to our hearts, so that when you hear the apostle’s word to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins,” that which you have no power to believe, you just believe, and you, too, are safe from condemnation. The Spirit Fire, burning in the Gospel, is the flame that saves you from the flames of hell on the Last Day.
The Spirit Fire ignited on the Day of Pentecost. It burned through the stubborn hearts of the people of Jerusalem and it lit the flame of faith in their hearts. 3,000 people were baptized on that day. 3,000 souls, and counting. What is the count up to now? Millions? Billions? See how the Spirit Fire has swept across the world! It’s traveled all the way to Las Cruces and has burned its way you’re your hearts, too. Stay close to this fire. Hear and preaching of the Gospel, blazing from the tongue of Christ’s call servant. Be warmed and forgiven and strengthened often with the Sacraments. Live by the light of this fire, that your works may burn with the love of Christ. And never stop alerting the people in your life to this fire. “Here, here in my church there is a saving fire sent from God. Come and see! Come and hear!” May your life and your lips, may our church and our congregation always burn brightly with this Fire. Amen.