Lessons: Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:23-31
Hymns: LSB 500, 497, 602, 768, 496
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is the Feast of Pentecost. This is an important day in the Church Year. As one of our Synod’s scholars recently wrote, “Among all the festivals of the Church Year, it is second only to the Feast of the Resurrection” (https://in.lcms.org/the-fiftieth-day-of-easter/). The importance of Pentecost is very much overlooked, but at least we don’t have a secular Pentecost paralleling the real Pentecost, like we do at Christmas and Easter. Like other feasts in the Church Year, we are remembering events that happened long ago, but apply to us today in very important ways. Every time and season of the Church Year has as its aim to direct our hearts and minds to our Savior, Jesus. Even as we focus on the Holy Spirit this day, our attention never departs from Christ. For the Holy Spirit’s task is to place in hearts through our ears and mouths Jesus, who is crucified and has been raised from the dead.
The name Pentecost is transliterated from the Greek for fiftieth. Prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost was another term used for an Old Testament celebration known as the Feast of Weeks. In the Feast of Weeks, the people of God assembled before the Lord at the holy sanctuary where they offered grain and animal sacrifices to God. They offered new grain before the Lord—grain that had just been harvested. It reminded them that they were once slaves in Egypt, but now the Lord supplies for their needs and has granted them freedom not only from their bondage in Egypt, but also from their bondage to sin through Christ. That feast was known as the Feast of Weeks because it occurred seven weeks after the Feast of Firstfruits (or 50 days later). And the Feast of Firstfruits is just two days after the Feast of Passover. So, in our observance of the Church Year, it’s now been seven weeks (or 50 days) since Easter and a couple more days since our Lord Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover with His disciples.
As is the case the past few weeks, today’s Gospel takes place on Maundy Thursday when Jesus is speaking to His disciples after instituting the Lord’s Supper and before arriving at the Garden of Gethsemane. There, in the Upper Room, Jesus announced, “The Paraclete, 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” (John 14:26). Here Jesus prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit. His words are clear, yet unfortunately the Holy Spirit is commonly misunderstood today.
The first thing we must know are the Holy Spirit’s pronouns. Many in our age think they can assign for themselves their own personal pronouns, thereby rejecting God as the Creator, who created mankind male or female. Also, many in our day think they can assign to God whatever personal pronouns they like, for some find it offensive that God uses masculine pronouns in the Bible. Some have decided to use feminine pronouns for God. They won’t call God, Father. And they won’t call Jesus, the Son. Others, forgetting the Holy Spirit is a Person in the Holy Trinity (but not a human), assign the Holy Spirit the gender-neutral pronoun, “it.” But recall what Jesus said of the Holy Spirit. “He will teach you all things.” So, we follow our Savior’s lead and refer to the Holy Spirit using the masculine pronouns.
The next thing we need to know is how the Holy Spirit operates. Jesus made it clear: “He will teach you all things.” The Holy Spirit will teach. But how? And why?
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the Galilean men the ability to speak in languages they had not learned. He also guided them to speak the Word of God, bringing to their remembrance the many things Jesus taught them. It was a miraculous working of God that all these different people could hear the Gospel in their native tongue. Today, we are privileged to support translation efforts that makes God’s Word accessible to people across the globe. It’s part of our Lutheran heritage. Martin Luther wanted the average layman to be able to read the Bible, and so he translated the Bible into the language of his people—into German. We are also privileged to support missionaries who tell the nations of Christ crucified and risen.
The miracle—the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues on Pentecost—was preceded by two others. First, there was the rushing mighty wind that they heard from heaven, and filled the house where they were sitting. A few years earlier, Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to the wind, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).
The other miracle involved fire. Tongues of fire alighted each of the disciples. This echoes back to when God spoke to Moses through the burning bush. And, after Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, God demonstrated His presence through fire the pillar of fire. It is also written, “Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Lev. 9:23-24). Years later, Elijah presented a challenge before the prophets of Baal, saying, “And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God” (1 Kings 18:24). And John the Baptist’s words are now fulfilled, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).
So, on this day, God the Holy Spirit came just as our Lord had promised. Guided by the Spirit, St. Peter preached a sermon directing the people to Jesus, showing how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures. In his sermon, Peter declared, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:23-24, 36). The people were cut to the heart. They asked what they should do. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). About 3,000 souls were added to the Church that very day!
This also gives us some answers about how the Holy Spirit teaches and why He teaches. The “why” is easy. He teaches to direct us to Jesus so that sinners will be saved. Jesus has come to take away our sins. He gives us life and salvation.
So how does the Holy Spirit teach? Is it as miraculous as it was on Pentecost? In a sense, the answer is yes. Hearts of stone are turned to hearts of flesh. The language barriers are still being overcome. The Word has free course in many places across the globe. Jesus is still being proclaimed, even in many places where Christianity is unwelcome or forbidden. What the Holy Spirit does through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the proclamation of the Word is simply astounding. He works faith where and when He pleases.
Yet, the miracles the apostles performed and the various spiritual gifts that were received through the Apostles’ laying on of hands came to an end. Once the New Testament Scriptures were written, there was no longer a need for the spiritual gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and many other signs to confirm the Word proclaimed by those endowed with various spiritual gifts. Just as the prophet Joel prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32), along with the various spiritual gifts, so also the Scriptures prophesied the end of these same gifts (1 Cor. 13:8-13, Daniel 9:24-27, Zech. 13:2-6). But that does not mean the Holy Spirit has left us alone or has become ineffective in our day. For the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, the preaching of the Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, is still at work. He is bringing to our remembrance the wonderful works of God, namely the blessings we have in Christ. Every time a child is baptized into Christ, the Holy Spirit is working. When parents read Bible stories to their children or tell and retell these same events, the Holy Spirit is at work. When brothers and sisters forgive one another in Christ, the Holy Spirit is at work. When we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Sacred Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is at work. And, of course, the Holy Spirit is at work here, feeding you the Word of Christ.
Are you tempted to think God is somehow too distant, that He doesn’t care any longer, or that He isn’t at work anymore in our lives? Repent, and trust the infinite wisdom of God. For Christ crucified and risen is still being proclaimed. The work of our Savior Jesus is still being sung in the liturgy and confessed in the Creeds. And He comes to us through His Word and the Lord’s Supper, where we are united to our Savior. In mercy, Jesus continues to bless you with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Recall Jesus’ words, “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” (John 14:23). Your home is with Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen