Pentecost - Acts 1:1-13 - May 24, 2015

Order of Holy Communion (pg.15)
Hymn #235 O Holy Spirit, Enter In
Hymn #224 Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord
Hymn #236 Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid

Readings
Joel 2:28-32
Acts 1:1-13
St. John 14:23-31

Collect
O God, Who taught the hearts of Thy faithful people by sending to them the light of Thy Holy Spirit, bring us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who with Thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end.

Sermon

1)         The disciples are together in one place when a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind filled house where they were. Not a wind but the sound of a rushing wind. This is the first sign. The sound is followed quickly by the second, divided tongues, as of fire which sat upon each of the disciples. A mighty sound. Tongues as of fire. These two signs look forward to the third sign, tongues not of fire but language that is a mighty sound going forth through the city. That’s all a tongue is. It’s another word for language. St. Luke demonstrates this in when the crowd present for the festival of Pentecost hear the wonderful works of God in their mother tongue. Everyone present probably spoke Greek. Many may have known Aramaic. But in this miraculous working of the Holy Ghost Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs, people from all over the known world, hear their native tongue. This even is truly miraculous but it is not the main event. The sound of a rushing wind, the tongues as of fire, and the new tongues which the Spirit puts in the mouths of the disciples are not the main miracle.

2)         Many imagine the speaking in tongues to be the main miracle. Many churches in our day enshrine the speaking in tongues as what Pentecost was all about. One church in Kansas that I am familiar with has a special ceremony they do every Pentecost. They seek out members of their congregation that known foreign languages. During the reading of the lesson from Acts, each one of them is to read the lesson, out loud, in the language that they know. Someone reads aloud in German while another speaks French. One man reads Acts 2 in Hungarian while another reads the text in Spanish, all simultaneously. Pentecost is something that happened a long time ago, in their minds, so it becomes something to be reenacted each year so that their congregation can experience it too. Pentecost is about speaking in tongues. There is a church north of Johnson City, a charismatic church, whose sign says blatantly what many imagine, “Pentecost: An Experience.” Being a charismatic church, they believe this Pentecost miracle is experienced not by crass recreation but by present day Spirit-inspired speaking in tongues. But not German, French, Hungarian, Spanish, and the like. Being “charismatic” they believe the tongues which they speak are to be unintelligible, heavenly language which the Holy Ghost gives to Christians as they believe He bestowed on the church in Corinth.

3)         But the gift of tongues given to the Corinthian Christians were not ecstatic experiences and unintelligible sounds that no one, including the one speaking, could understand. The word Paul uses to teach about the use of tongues in church is the same word which St. Luke uses in today’s lesson. Based on this there was no difference between the tongues spoken in Jerusalem at Pentecost and the tongues spoken in the early Christian congregations. In both instances, the Holy Ghost had inspired the speaking in a foreign language. Looking at the tongues being spoken in worship at Corinth more closely we also see that interpreters are needed because if someone preaches in a language no one can understand, it edifies no one. And if a preaching cannot be understood then it is worthless to building up faith in men’s hearts. Not only that but the word St. Paul uses which we often translate “interpreter” is elsewhere translated as “translator.” Still more convincing is the fact that in no other letter to no other congregation does St. Paul mention tongue-speaking, nor is it mentioned in the book of Acts beyond chapter 2. That gift, like the gift of prophesy, faded early in the history of the church just as the other signs of the apostles (2 Corinthians 12:11), such as the gift of healing. When someone in the church claims to be exhibiting direct revelation from God, the gift of healing, or speaking in indecipherable language in the name of God, we are to see it for what it truly is. Jesus tells us in Mark 13:22, False christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.

4)         But if the three miraculous signs of Pentecost aren’t the point, then what is? The point is what these three miraculous signs point to: The preaching of the Gospel to all nations. That is “the miracle” of Pentecost. It’s a shame that the lesson from Acts 2 ends where it does. Immediately Peter stands up to answer the faithless accusation that they are drunk at 9am. Inspired by the Holy Ghost, Peter now stands up to preach to a great multitude. Where only 50 days ago Peter could not even bear to speak with a servant girl during the trial of Jesus because he was consumed by shame and cowardice, now by the empowering of the Holy Ghost Peter confronts thousands with their sin. He says in Acts 2:22-24, 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 -- Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.  Peter says it was YOU who put Jesus to death. It was your lawless hands that did that wicked deed. You may have handed Him to Pilate but it was your work Pilate did. So the Holy Ghost, through Peter, does exactly what Jesus said He would do in John 16:8, When He has come, He will convict the world of sin.

5)         By that preaching of the Law, that condemnation of both the sin and the sinner, the Holy Ghost brings these men to sorrow, contrition, and repentance over their deed and the unbelief that moved them to reject Christ. They say to Peter, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  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. 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. (Acts 2:37-39) Being cut to heart, having their consciences pricked and killed by the condemnation of the Law, Peter then speaks the second word that God has for sinners: the Gospel. Repent and be baptized, every one of you. Be baptized because in Holy Baptism Christ is present to forgive you all your sins, even the sin of rejected and crucifying Him. Be baptized because in Holy Baptism God now saves you. Peter will later in life write the same thing in his first epistle, chapter 3:21. Be baptized because Baptism is not just plain water, but water combined with the word and promise of God.[1] That’s why Peter adds, for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost is present in baptism, given in baptism, which is why the forgiveness of sins is also given in baptism. The presence of the Holy Ghost in baptism makes it a water of life, rich in grace, and a bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says to Titus in chapter three: Through the bath of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified and heirs of eternal life according to hope.[2]

6)         St. Luke then writes, Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. (Acts 2:41) That’s the miracle of Pentecost. The Holy Ghost causes the Law to be preached to condemn sinners. Then He, in mercy, causes the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and new life to be preached so that those condemned sinners may be forgiven and rise to new life. The Gospel that Peter preaches by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost is Holy Baptism. (We call it ‘holy’ baptism because it is God’s work not our own, for all His works are holy). All that is preached is God’s Law and Gospel. All of it centers upon Christ, the Law centers of their rejection of Him and their unbelief. The Gospel centers of the forgiveness of sins and gift of the Holy Ghost given in Baptism into the name of Christ. Even the gift of the Holy Ghost is given so that these men might believe, for the chief work of the Holy Spirit is to create and sustain faith in the hearts of repentant sinners. No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3) In all that the Holy Ghost does today He proves the words of Christ true. Christ had told the apostles then 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. (John 15:26)

7)         The great miracle isn’t the sound of a rushing mighty wind. Nor it is the tongues as of fire that rested upon their heads. Nor is the chief miracle on this day or any day, the speaking in tongues. All these promote the chief miracle which the Lord wants to extoll this day: the preaching of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost given to men so that men might hear and believe the Gospel, since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17) And that way, and that way only, is the church on Highway 281 correct. Pentecost IS an experience, not an ecstatic experience of unintelligible language, not an experience of hearing the confusion of Babel undone, but the experience of hearing the Gospel plainly and clearly, that Christ has died for you, to atone for all your sins of thought, word, and deed, and that by faith in His merits and death for your sake, you have the forgiveness of all your sins, life, and everlasting salvation. That is what it is to experience what they experienced at Pentecost. Thanks be to God that we not have to hear this Gospel of the forgiveness of our sins once a year on this, but that every day the Word is purely proclaimed is a Pentecost for us. Amen.


[1] Luther’s Small Catechism. 4th Chief Part: Holy Baptism. Question 1.
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism. 4th Chief Part: Holy Baptism. Question 3.

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