Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21

The crowd at Pentecost thinks the first Christians are drunk.  They hear the cacophony of 120 Christians.  They hear the old and wrinkled, the young and sparkly eyed, men and women, and pastors and parishioners all speaking in the rush of excitement.  The crowd thinks they are hearing a bunch of drunkards.  That’s what St. Luke tells us: “But some sneered at them and said, ‘They are full of sweet wine’” (Acts 2:13).

But it’s not only because they can’t understand all the languages the first New Testament Christians are speaking when they come running out.  It’s also the goofy smiles on their faces.  It’s also the bounce in their step.

The Psalms say the Lord gives “wine to gladden human hearts” (Psalm 104:15).  And so the people at Pentecost mistake the glad hearts and joy of the first Christians for a drunken high from last year’s autumnal wine.  But the joy of a sweet wine, which naturally fermented after the grape harvest, compared little to the joy of God finally breaking His long-binding curse.

For it is Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit now descends and breathes on His people.  Pentecost means “50” in Greek.  Originally, Pentecost was the harvest festival of the winter wheat, 50 days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  In the rabbinic tradition, Pentecost celebrated God giving Moses the Torah at Mt. Sinai, 50 days after the exodus.

But this is the new Pentecost, not the old.  The new Pentecost took place, not at Mt. Sinai, 50 days after the exodus, but at Jerusalem, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection.  It’s not God giving Moses the Torah.  It’s God giving His people His Holy Spirit that they may proclaim the New Torah, the Gospel, throughout the world.

To usher in this new reality, Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit from the Father.  Through the Spirit He has sent, Jesus is now sending out His people to begin the end-time harvest of all humanity into His kingdom.

That day, the breath of God moved and stirred on Christ’s Church like never before.  It sounded like a mighty wind, perhaps, even a tornado.  That was the sound that gathered the people who were there to celebrate the old Pentecost.  Above each Christian, “separated tongues, liked flames of fire, came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3).  And the Spirit within them could not be contained.

120 Christians ran outside, and all began to speak in other languages.  That’s why the Jews celebrating the old Pentecost thought, at first, they were drunk.  It sounded like babble.  But instead of dividing and separating, now the differing languages were to make them all one in Christ.

Wind and fire were signs of God being with His people during their exodus out of Egypt.  Later, John the Baptizer promised that Jesus would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).  And on Pentecost, Jesus fulfilled that promise.  Tongues of fire rested on all 120 Christians, and the Holy Spirit filled each of them.  Then they began to speak in various languages and dialects.

On Pentecost, we see a beautiful picture of the Church.  All 120 ran out to proclaim Jesus to others.  On Pentecost, we see a picture of all Christians confessing Jesus to others.  But it’s the Apostle Peter who stands up to preach.  On Pentecost, we see a beautiful picture of the Church, with both pastor and layperson working in harmony, proclaiming Jesus in the various vocations where God had placed them to serve.

No longer would the Old Testament Temple be the place of God’s Holy Spirit.  In the Old Testament, God in the form of His Shekinah, the cloud, revealed Himself to His people above the Ark of Covenant in the Holy of Holies.  No longer was the Holy Spirit only given to people in positions of leadership, to do the tasks God had given them to do.  Because of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has brought all Christians into the Royal Priesthood, with each Christian now being a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Because of Pentecost, the people who gathered in Jerusalem heard Jesus proclaimed in their own languages and dialects.  The gluttonous Cretans, the bullying Romans, and the proud and belligerent Parthians all heard about Jesus.  Brought into the harvest were also the small-town folks of Phrygia, the rich and vain Arabians in their jeweled turbans, and the cynical Jews and halfhearted proselytes.

But the Spirit continued to breathe where He promised to be: in the Word of Christ.  Now, we even find stiff-necked Germans, the fickle French, the stiff upper-lipped English, and optimistic Americans have all been brought into the fold of the Church.  Today, the Holy Spirit is blowing strongly throughout Africa, South America, and China.

Our Old Testament reading spoke of a different language-event: the tower at Babel.  There, God thwarted our ambitions to build a tower to the heavens by confusing our languages.  How wonderfully understated, yet subversive, of God.  If you want scatter people, make it so they don’t understand each other’s subjects and verbs.

Our Old Testament reading reminds us that, apart from God, our ambitions will result in confusion and chaos.  Without the Lord, our efforts to unite, to be “one people,” will come to nothing more than tower building.  Our Old Testament reading also reminds us who’s in control, who’s running the verbs when it comes to our faith.  We don’t; God is.

We don’t climb our way up to God–not with our towers reaching to the heavens or with our religions that try to do the same.  God comes down to us.  God becomes one of us and one with us: “The Word became Flesh” (John 1:14).

At Pentecost, God undoes the confusion of Babel.  Oh, the diversity of languages remains.  But now God uses the diversity of languages as a sign of His Spirit.  God brings His people together–not by giving them one language–but by giving them one Savior and so bringing them into “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed).

There is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6).  There is one Spirit, one bread, and one cup.  Our union in Christ is the true unity of the Church.  At Pentecost, God gathers all nations once again into His fold.  All are to be one in Christ.  Once again, all are to be of one tongue, even if we still speak many different languages.  For this oneness is not of grammar and syntax.  This oneness is based on our union with Christ.

The ordinary way of Pentecost is the preaching of the Word, Jesus.  It’s baptism and it’s body and blood.  Immediately after Pentecost, St. Luke tells us this.  The first Christians “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ doctrine, to the fellowship, to the Breaking of the Bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  In other words, they worshiped in much the same way that we still do today: Preaching, teaching, fellowship in the Bread (which is the Body of Christ and the cup that is His blood), and in the prayers.

So the language we are now to speak is the language of the Church.  That is how we live out our unity in Christ.  The language of the Church, no matter the tongue in which it is spoken, is always the same.  It sounds like what Peter preached on Pentecost.  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children” (Acts 2:38-39).

So, saints loved by God, repent!  As Peter preached on Pentecost, so I preach to you: repent!  Turn from your sins.  Return to your baptism.  Leave your vices behind and come begging for mercy from the King of the Jews.  “For you are not your own, you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20): the blood of Jesus.

Because of your unity with Christ, your citizenship is now in heaven.  Your passport is your baptismal certificate and it is stamped in the blood of the Supper.  You are a forgiven child of the Father.  Your sin has been removed.  The promise of the Kingdom of God is yours.

Jesus knows what is best for His Church.  And He has promised to be with us always.  The Spirit is how Jesus can both be in heaven and, yet, still be with us.  Yes, Jesus “went away” when He ascended; yet, He didn’t go “somewhere” in the sense of place.  Instead, He withdrew His visible and touchable presence.

Today, we can’t see Jesus as His disciples did, nor can we see Jesus in all His glory.  And yet He still comes to us.  He is still with us.  He comes to us by the Spirit He sends, in the Spirit-ed Word that has His own presence.  He come to us in His Supper, where the Spirit working through the Word gives us Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

Today, that same Spirit is here, working among us, delivering the peace Jesus won for us on the cross.  Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

His peace is the peace of sins forgiven.  It’s standing before God fully “Jesused,” covered and filled with Christ’s divine nature and righteousness.  It’s having Jesus defeat death for you and for your salvation.  It’s the peace that Jesus gives you in the Holy Spirit.  That’s the true peace and joy of Pentecost.  Amen.