Today is the Feast of Pentecost – the Sunday when we focus on the revelation of the Holy Spirit fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead and ten days after He ascended into heaven. The three readings that the Church has chosen for this day all point to some aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament reading tells us that the Word of God is powerful enough to bring dry bones back to life. The Epistle is the account of Pentecost itself. The Gospel is Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit and His description of the benefits that the disciples will receive from the Holy Spirit.
Today marked an important day in the Church as this was in celebration of the Feast of Weeks when God gave the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Every pious Jew tried to be in Jerusalem for this feast. Those who could not come to Jerusalem observed it in the synagogues throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Needless to say, this was an important day and everyone who was able to go to Jerusalem was there.
As the people were gathered there, a truly miraculous event took place. Luke records for us, “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Jerusalem was full of faithful pilgrims on this day of Pentecost, right at the beginning of the Feast of Weeks. The sound of a mighty rushing wind and the appearance of tongues of fire were a call to gather the faithful men of Israel, just as Moses gathered the faithful so long ago to give to them the Law.
Here on Pentecost you saw the beginning of the New Testament Church as we know it. During the time of Christ, you had the apostles and other disciples and followers of Christ. When Christ appeared after the resurrection, He gave to the disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive and retain sins. Now, the gift of the Holy Spirit was being given to the people in a unique way. Instead of focusing on a Messiah that was to come, now their faith was in Jesus of Nazareth as the risen Messiah who had come and kept God’s promises.
What was so important on this day was that the people now heard the wondrous work of God for them, some perhaps for the very first time. They now heard of the saving work of Jesus Christ for them personally, how He laid down His life and took it up again so that they would have the forgiveness of their sins. But as awesome of a spectacle that was, of hearing the mighty works of God, there was something even more to the days’ events: they now had the opportunity to spread to others the mighty works of God. The believers were now equipped and prepared to being carrying out the assignment that the Lord had given to His church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The Holy Spirit had equipped the apostles to proclaim God’s great saving work in many languages. The confusion of tongues that resulted at Babel when men tried to glorify themselves by building a great tower was reversed on Pentecost. On this day, the Spirit moved men to glorify God in languages that were understood by all who heard
However, for some who were present that day, they did not see this for what it was but rather as men who were drunk. But if one went about this logically, then you could not say that they were drunk. In a drunken state, your speech might become slurred, but you wouldn’t somehow be able to speak a different language from your own.
Peter stands up and addresses the crowd by saying that these men are not drunk as some suppose them to be. It was nine in the morning, the hour of morning prayer, and the Jews did not eat until after that hour. Wine was drunk only with meals, and since it was too early for breakfast, it was also too early to have had too much wine. Peter did not need to defend himself, because his speech made it obvious that he was not drunk.
Peter’s real answer to the charge of drunkenness lay in his explanation of what was happening and why it was happening. The speaking in other languages was the sign that the Holy Spirit was being poured out, as God had promised through the prophet Joel so many years ago. The words of Peter’s Pentecost sermon were words that the prophet Joel spoke. These were words that the Jews would have been familiar with. The presence of the Holy Spirit was especially evident in the miracle of languages. Not everything else that Joel prophesied was going to happen in detail that day, but the gift of speaking in other tongues was a sign that the entire prophecy would be fulfilled in God’s good time and in His way.
As awesome of an event as Pentecost was, it was not about the mighty rushing wind or the tongues of fire. Pentecost was about the message that was being proclaimed: the mighty works of God. The message was about Jesus. The message was the forgiveness of sins. The message was salvation. The message was the Gospel.
On that day, the gift of the Holy Spirit was outpoured upon the people. Through the Holy Spirit, faith was granted to them. Still today, the Holy Spirit continues to do His work of bringing people to faith. We are brought to faith when God calls us His own through the waters of Holy Baptism. We are strengthened in our faith when we feast upon the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
God promised through Joel that all people, male and female, old and young, would receive the Spirit. All would proclaim God’s message others after receiving His revelation. When Joel speaks of the Spirit being poured out “on all flesh,” it would include Jew and Gentiles, “all whom the Lord our God will call,” those who repent and are baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
For you and for me, the Holy Spirit gives us ordinary people “utterance” to confess the faith. What we confess is not a testimony about ourselves, but about the One who saved us. It is a testimony of about the mighty works of God and what He has done for us. The Holy Spirit empowers the ordinary believer to speak God’s saving Word in ordinary ways that people understand. On Pentecost, each one heard the message of God in his or her own language. The Holy Spirit causes God’s Word of salvation to be understood when it is confessed by believers.
The Holy Spirit works through the Word to put the finishing touch of faith on our salvation. God the Father sent His Son into the world in order that the world might be saved through Him. The Son has purchased our salvation with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. The Holy Spirit brings this salvation to us as He calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, and sanctifies us in the one, true faith, and so the work of our salvation is complete. We do nothing but receive, for God does it all. Because God does it all, our salvation is secure and we shall live forever with Him. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.