Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21

This past week in our liturgical, Church calendar, we’ve been in limbo.  We’ve been existing between two realities.  We celebrated our Lord’s ascension into heaven.  But since the Ascension, we’ve been waiting.  We’ve been waiting for this day.  Like the Apostles of old, we’ve been listening to our Lord’s instructions to “wait in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

So the Apostles waited.  But there was more to this waiting than just waiting.  Something powerful was to happen to them when their wait was finally over on Pentecost day.  The Holy Spirit would change them.  He would turn fear into a martyr’s boldness.  Fishermen would become the world’s teachers.  Mountain-moving faith would overcome doubt–all because of Pentecost!

We often don’t realize how much we need Pentecost.  Pentecost is the birthday of the New Testament Church.  Pentecost is God giving His Holy Spirit to all believers–not just a few!  No longer was the Holy Spirit’s presence to be in a building, the Temple, like in the Old Testament.  There, 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, all Christians have been brought into the Royal Priesthood, and each Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost also shows that Christianity isn’t a human-created religion.  If Christianity were simply of human design, even if it were the best and most beautiful religion, the disciples wouldn’t have needed to wait inJerusalemfor Pentecost.  Why would they need to?

Jesus’ disciples had lived with Him for several years, a most-intense and personal seminary training.  They could’ve started writing, teaching, and passing on what they had learned without a Pentecost.  Jesus had fully trained them.  Now it was time for them to start training others, right?  That’s how it is with other religions.

Not so with Christianity, for Christianity isn’t just about ideas, moral guidance, or ethics.  Christianity, of course, has these, but that’s not what defines the Christian faith.  If so, then Christianity would be nothing but another form of Phariseeism.  No, Christianity is about the Holy Spirit calling someone through the Gospel, enlightening him with His gifts, and sanctifying and keeping him in the true faith.  There is no New-Testament Christianity without Pentecost.

Pentecost is what Jesus promised when He said He would send another Helper, a Counselor, a Guide, a Comforter.  As God breathed into Adam, and he became a living being, so Christ breathes the Holy Spirit of life into His people, and His people come alive.  That’s what Pentecost is all about.  The Spirit gives living breath.  And filled with the Spirit, God’s people become alive, unable to be silent, confessing and proclaiming Jesus Christ.

But sadly, many of us live as if we’re stuck between Ascension and Pentecost, as if Pentecost never happened.  We live our lives as if the Christian faith were only a set of ideas.  We think we are Christian if we intellectually agree to certain facts in our heads.  Is that true?  Does someone become a Christian simply because he intellectually agrees to certain ideas?

If the Apostles had remained in that state of limbo between Ascension and Pentecost, they would’ve never brought the Gospel to the world.  They would’ve never lived out the faith as they did.  They would’ve never died for the faith as they did.  And they would’ve never preached as they did.  Their faith-life was what it was because God the Holy Spirit was blowing, moving, and breathing within them.

Sometimes we show little proof that we are living as post-Pentecost Christians (and I don’t mean all the ridiculous nonsense that, today, passes for being filled with the Spirit).  I mean that our faith is weak, and that’s acceptable to us.  I mean that sin still controls a part of our lives, and that’s acceptable to us.  I mean that we have little Christian joy, and that’s acceptable to us.

Today, we are often more like the fearful and doubting disciples before Pentecost.  Christianity without Pentecost is only an empty shell!  If the Holy Spirit doesn’t permeate our lives with His presence, then our faith is just going through empty motions!  If God’s Word does not its way with us, then our Christian life is one without power!

Consider how the life of the Church depends on the Holy Spirit.  Baptism saves us because we aren’t born only of water, but of water and Spirit (John 3:3-5).  Without the Holy Spirit, there would be no forgiveness in absolution.  That’s why our Lord gathered His Apostles together and breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain them, they are retained” (St. John 20:23).

Now think of the Mystery of Mysteries: the core of Christ’s New Covenant with His people, His Supper.  The existence of Christ’s body and blood in His Supper depends on the Holy Spirit working through the Word.  It’s the Holy Spirit working through the words the pastor speaks over the bread and wine, which makes the Lord’s Supper the Lord’s Supper.

Everything Christ has commanded His Church to do would only be an empty shell without the Holy Spirit.  And we can say that is true in all matters of faith and practice.  There is no prayer without the Holy Spirit praying in us.  Fasting is simply dieting if you don’t do it in a way that fights against the sinful flesh.  It’s no coincidence that our Lord went into the desert to fast for 40 days, “led by the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1).  We can’t overcome sin in our life without the Holy Spirit.  He is One who enables us to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13).

Now some of you might be thinking, “How do I experience this Pentecost Christianity?  I feel as if I’m stuck between Ascension and Pentecost!”  If so, then ask yourself this: “Can God raise the dead?  Can He breathe life into the lifeless?  Can He revive and renew His people, His saints on earth?”  Of course, He can!  Of course, He can, and He does, and He will by His Spirit, His breath, and His words.

The danger is that we try to create Pentecost, as if we can create within us what only God the Holy Spirit can do.  That’s the horrendous sin of our age: we think we can by our own work and effort do what the Holy Spirit does–individually, and as a congregation by manipulating external factors.

But what would happen after a few months of trying to create a Holy Spirit-like effect in your life?  Your life would again become ordinary, humdrum, and mundane.  It would be the same-old wind, the same-old fire, and the same-old speaking in tongues.  And then you’d be looking for something new to replace the old.  You can’t create a Pentecost in your life–only God the Holy Spirit can do that!

But thanks be to God that Christ is living and breathing from the right hand of God the Father.  And He sends the Spirit like a fresh wind across the face of His people, igniting Pentecost when and where He chooses.  For the Holy Spirit produces faith when and where He wills, in those who hear the Gospel (AC V).

The danger about letting Pentecost enchant us for the wrong reasons is that we take our eyes off Jesus.  That’s where the Spirit wants us to look, to Jesus, instead of being bedazzled by all the Pentecostal pyrotechnics.  For the Holy Spirit wants to bring glory to Jesus, not Himself.  The Holy Spirit is like a spotlight shining on Christ.  And as with all spotlights, you focus on where the beam is shining, not on the beam itself.  So it is with the Spirit.

Our confidence in the Spirit’s presence and working is not in the wind, the fire, or the tongues.  No, it’s in the preaching of Jesus, in the hearing of His forgiveness, in holy baptism, in His body and blood, and in the Word.  That’s where God promises the Spirit is active and at work.  So, that’s where you go looking for it.  And that’s where Pentecost is happening today, here and now, for you!

Your baptism was your Pentecost day.  Every time you hear the Word of Christ coming to you in your own language, that’s also your Pentecost.  Whenever you eat of the bread that is Christ’s body, whenever drink of the cup that is His blood, and whenever proclaim the Lord’s death, that is Pentecost for you.  Getting more Spirit into you is to be where the Holy Spirit is doing His work–and that work is done through Word and Sacrament.

What was the true miracle of Pentecost some 2,000 years ago?  It was the Holy Spirit bringing 3,000 to faith that day.  The speaking in tongues was how God the Holy Spirit enabled others to understand the proclaimed Word that day.  And there hasn’t been a day since then when the Holy Spirit hasn’t been doing His work.

Today, the Spirit of God still breathes life into His people.  The Spirit of God puts breath into your lungs and words into your mouth and ears.  The Spirit of God opens your lips, that your mouth may praise the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  The Spirit of God continues to call you through the Gospel, enlightening you with His gifts, and sanctifying and keeping you in the one, true faith.

Yes, you are part of that powerful breath and wind of Pentecost.  That’s why your spiritually lifeless body now lives.  How do you know?  You know because you believe in Jesus–and you can only have such faith by the Holy Spirit.  That’s why Jesus’ death is yours.  That’s why His life is yours.  That’s why His Spirit is yours.  And whenever that is true, you are living in Pentecost.  Amen.