Download or listen to The Day of Pentecost, “Impressive” (Acts 2:1-21)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pentecost is an impressive day, as we heard from Acts 2 this morning. But sometimes I wonder if what impresses us the most are the pyrotechnics, the special effects. I mean, imagine if you are standing there witnessing these events as they happen: you hear a loud, rushing wind shaking the foundations of the buildings; if you’re in the right place at the right time, you see divided flames of fire resting on the heads of those 120 disciples gathered there to pray; you—people gathered from all over the known world—hear the apostles preaching the mighty things of God in your own language; and then, a little later, 3000 people are added to the number of Jesus’ disciples. These are impressive things, and then we look around at the church today, and we wonder where all those impressive things have gone. Where are all the outward signs of the Holy Spirit? Where are the thousands added to to the Church of Christ? It all seems a little more boring and mundane today.
But recall Elijah. Recall Elijah hiding in the cave on Mount Horeb. He’s hiding from the queen, Jezebel, and all of a sudden there’s a loud rushing wind that breaks apart the rocks. Then there’s an earthquake that shakes the mountain. Then there’s a fire. But Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is not in the wind, and He’s not in the earthquake, and He’s not in the fire. But then, there’s a gentle-breeze voice, and that’s where God speaks to Elijah. So it is on this day of Pentecost. The outward things are impressive, but the people are confused, and perplexed, and disturbed. Some even mock them and say that they must be drunk, mumbling incoherently. It’s not until Peter preaches that things begin to happen. Peter! Peter, who was afraid to admit to a servant girl that he even knew Jesus. He denied three times that he knew Him. And this after Peter had swore to Jesus that even if all the rest of the disciples left Him, Peter would not. Peter says he would die with Jesus. But then he denies him and we find him weeping bitterly in the darkness. But now, Peter is preaching Jesus boldly. People are mocking, and later he’d be threatened with arrest, and imprisonment, and even death. But everything is different: Peter has been filled with the Holy Spirit and made bold to preach Jesus. He tells the people that now the prophecy of Joel is finally fulfilled, when all God’s people will prophesy—that is, they will all speak boldly the word of God. And the omens in the sky and the signs on the earth are fulfilled in Jesus: it was in Jesus that God did wonders and signs and mighty things to demonstrate that He is the Son of God. And it was this Jesus that you crucified and God raised Him from the dead. And when he’s done preaching, then people are cut to the heart, and they say, “What shall we do?” And Peter says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive this same Holy Spirit, and this promise is for you and for your children.”
What seems impressive to us are the things we can see, but the work of the Spirit is not tied to those things, but to the Word that Peter preaches. We like impressive things, and I wonder if a little of that doesn’t bleed into confirmation. Baptism’s okay (and no Lutheran’s ever going to deny the importance of baptism), but what’s really great is Confirmation! Now these young people have made the Faith their own, they’ve affirmed and confirmed their faith. You might have a little party for a baptism, but for a confirmation, you’re going to have a real party! I don’t mean to downplay what’s happening today. Three more of God’s baptized people are going to begin receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord today. That is worth celebrating. But when Kerstin, Taylor, and Zach publicly and formally acknowledge the gifts God gave them in baptism, that is nothing more than what all Christians do every day in exercising their baptism. Daily, by contrition and repentance, the old nature in us is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, and daily the new man arises and comes forth to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Most of the questions they’re going to answer are baptismal questions: Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways? That’s a baptismal question. Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? Those are baptismal questions, and that’s the baptismal creed. The vows you make are important, and I pray that God would indeed, by His grace, cause you to hold fast to this confession and faith and Church, and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it. But it is not your vow or your promise that will sustain you throughout your life. Remember Peter. Peter swore that he would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from Jesus. And then he denied Jesus three times. So when you fail to acknowledge Jesus in your life, when you pretend you don’t even know Him, when you fail to receive His Word and His Supper, if you—God forbid—fall away from Christ and His Church—what will restore you? Not your promise and your good intentions. Only the promise and vow of God to you. When He claimed you in Holy Baptism and wrote His Name on you in the blood of His Son Jesus—that is the promise that will restore you. He never breaks a promise, no matter what.
Pentecost is impressive, but it’s impressive for what we would not have seen. Earthquakes, winds, and fires all happen regardless of whether the Holy Spirit is there. What cannot happen apart from the Holy Spirit is repentance and faith. It is the Holy Spirit who calls you by the Gospel; the Holy Spirit who enlightens you with His gifts; the Holy Spirit who sustains and keeps you in the one true faith until the day you die; and then He will raise up you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. Whether He adds to His Church 3000 at a time, or one by one, it is a miracle far greater than a rushing wind or flames of fire. The Spirit is active where His Word is preached and where His Sacraments are given out. These things may seem boring and mundane to your flesh or to the world, but to God they are the power unto salvation. They are nothing less than the Gospel attached to physical things, according to the promise of God. Where people say Amen to these words and gifts, the Spirit is doing His work. Where people confess Christ and say, Jesus is Lord, the Spirit is doing His work, because no one can say “Jesus is Lord” apart from the Holy Spirit. Where people are baptized, instructed, and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the Spirit is doing His work. And He will continue to do so until the final day of this creation. And where He makes believers, they will call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. May God grant it to each of us, and to the whole world, for Jesus’ sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/7/14