Sermon for the Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-13 + John 14:23-31
Today we celebrate the fulfillment of yet one more promise of Jesus, His promise to send His Holy Spirit from heaven after He ascended into heaven. That promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, which we will now consider.
Pentecost means 50. It’s 50 days after Easter, which was also the Jewish Passover. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to go to Jerusalem and celebrate this “Feast of Weeks” every year, seven weeks after Passover, as a festival of firstfruits, a festival of thanksgiving to God for bringing Israel safely into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, where He would provide for them abundantly, as long as the Old Testament endured.
Pentecost was also celebrated among the Jews as the commemoration of the giving of the Law through Moses on Mt. Sinai, because it was roughly (or maybe exactly) 50 days after the first Passover that God spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel, after they had arrived at Mt. Sinai.
But the Old Testament had been fulfilled by Jesus, as the heir of that Testament. And before He died, He instituted the New Testament in His blood. The Law of Moses had been perfectly fulfilled by Jesus, the old Passover done away with, because Jesus, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us. Now Christians don’t celebrate the old Passover; we celebrate the new one: Easter, the resurrection of our Passover Lamb. Likewise, Christians no longer celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost. Now we celebrate the new one, which the prophet Isaiah foretold: Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
A new law has gone out from Jerusalem since the day of Pentecost, a new word. Not a law of slavery, but of freedom, God’s promise of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ, and the continual renewal of God’s people as we are transformed into people who truly keep God’s commandments, not by force or compulsion, but gladly and willingly.
All of that—the preaching of the word that went out from Jerusalem and continues to go out today, faith, and the ongoing renewal of Christians—is the work of the Holy Spirit.
You heard of the signs that marked the Holy Spirit’s outpouring on Jesus’ disciples who were gathered together in Jerusalem: the loud sound of a rushing wind, the appearance of little flames of fire in the shape of human tongues, and the proclamation of the wonders of God in many different languages that the disciples themselves didn’t know or speak. Those particular signs only happened once; they were never again repeated, because this was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church of Christ. The only sign that happened again occasionally was the speaking in different languages, as a confirmation that the Holy Spirit was still being given as a gift through the preaching of the Gospel after the Day of Pentecost.
What did those miraculous signs mean? First, they showed all the crowds of Jerusalem that these disciples of Jesus were from God and were approved by God. Which means that Jesus Himself was also from God and approved by God, that Jesus was indeed the Christ sent from God to Israel, whom they had crucified, but whom God had raised from the dead.
The flames of fire on the disciples’ heads were a sign that God, the Holy Spirit, was descending upon His disciples, just as it says in Exodus 19 that Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire.
The “tongues” of fire and the loud sound of rushing wind were a sign of how the Holy Spirit would blow through the world like wind, how He would work in the world: through the tongues of men, through the sound of preaching.
And the many different languages were a sign that the Gospel of Christ—the law of the New Testament—is not only for Israel, but for all nations. The blood of Christ was shed for all the nations of the earth. All nations should repent of their sins. All nations should believe in Christ and be baptized for the remission of sins. All nations would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now listen as I read to you the rest of the words that the Holy Spirit inspired in the Apostle Peter, and that He inspired St. Luke to record for us concerning the Day of Pentecost and what happened immediately afterward:
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. 18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. 21 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.’ 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. 25 For David says concerning Him: ‘I foresaw the Lord always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. 27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’ 29 “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. 34 “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’ 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Luke’s account tells the whole story very plainly. Just a brief word yet about the effects of the Holy Spirit’s coming from the words you just heard.
You see the understanding that St. Peter finally displays here about who Jesus is and the significance of His life, death, and resurrection. Things finally clicked for him and the other disciples. That was the Holy Spirit’s doing as He “taught them all things, and brought to their remembrance all things that Jesus said to them,” as He promised in today’s Gospel.
You see the boldness and confidence of Peter and the other apostles. Before, they were timid and afraid, in hiding from the Jews. Now they’re preaching boldly to all Jerusalem and ready to be recognized as Christians, no matter what the consequences might be.
You see the effects of the Holy Spirit as He worked on the crowds through Peter’s preaching. Three thousand people that day repented, believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and were baptized for the remission of their sins that day.
And then you see how the Holy Spirit continued to renew them in love and conform them to the image of Christ: they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. They kept gathering together around Word and Sacrament. They shared what they had with one another. They rejoiced in God’s salvation. And they acted in love toward their neighbor.
All of this was the Holy Spirit’s work. All of this is what the Holy Spirit has continued to do through His Church for two millennia. And all of this is what the Holy Spirit will continue to do in you and through you: He will teach you and give you understanding of Christ and His Word. He will fill you with boldness to confess Christ before the world, and with joy to persevere under the cross. He will bring more unbelievers to repent of their sins and to believe in Christ Jesus by the power of the Gospel, when and where He pleases. And He will continually sanctify and renew believers in love.
This is what we celebrate today and, really, every Sunday. Christ has sent the Helper, the Comforter, to us. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Amen.