Acts 2:38: Pentecost Today = Preaching and Delivering Forgiveness

Pentecost TodayFifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, ten days after He ascended, 120 Christians huddle together.  They wait for Jesus, for Him to fulfill His promise to send the Spirit.  Without warning, a mighty wind, the breath of God, fills the room where they wait.  They look and see moving, flickering tongues of fire dancing atop each person’s head.

Swept up by the wind, they find themselves outside, speaking and moving.  The Spirit, the wind, the breath of God within them must breathe out and give voice.  Those nearby sense the rumble of the rushing wind and wonder what’s going on.  They seek the source of this sound and find 120 people speaking in different languages.

The cacophony of languages overwhelms them.  Who can make sense of the sight and sounds?  Children leap, the aged with their wise and wrinkly faces are breathing out unlearned languages in a moving blur.  Some within the crowd can only think they must be drunk.  “Some sneered at them: ‘They’re full of sweet wine’” (Acts 2:13).

It is Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit descends and breathes on His people.  The breath of God moves and stirs Christ’s Church in ways unknown in days of old.  What happens that day is not breath-taking, but breath-giving and life-bestowing.

Did you ever wonder why wind and fire were part of Pentecost?  Earlier, God used both to lead His people out of their slavery in Egypt—and to point to something new.  He used the wind to dry a path within the Red Sea, so His people could cross over into their newfound freedom (Exodus 14:21).  God used a pillar of fire to guide His people at night (Exodus 13:21).  Through both wind and fire, the Lord directed His people to the time when He would bring them into His Covenant.

On Pentecost, God is now ushering in His New Covenant!  The Old is no more.  The first verse of Acts, chapter 2, tells us: “When the day of Pentecost arrived.”  The word for “arrived” is “fulfilled” in the original Greek of the New Testament.  “When the day of Pentecost was fulfilled.”  God is carrying out the promise of Jesus to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16).  The prophecy comes true.

No more is the Temple the place of God’s Spirit.  There, God revealed Himself above the Ark of Covenant, in His Shekinah, the cloud of His presence.  After Pentecost, each Christian now becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).  That day, God’s Spirit filled every Christian, and each began to speak in another tongue.  The Spirit didn’t only gift the Apostles that day, for Luke mentions more than 12 language groups.

So, 120 Christians run outside and start talking in other tongues.  What do they say?  Luke doesn’t tell us, but of this we are sure: their words are a result of the Holy Spirit’s work.  So, to figure out what they spoke, we need to look at what the Spirit does.

The Holy Spirit came to the Virgin Mary, and Jesus began to grow in her womb (Luke 1:35).  The Spirit came to Jesus at His Baptism (Luke 3:22), as the voice from heaven revealed God the Father to be delighted with His Son.  Later, Jesus told His Apostles: “The Holy Spirit… will remind you of everything I told you” (John 14:26).  Scripture also says the Holy Spirit will both testify of and glorify Jesus (John 15:26, 16:14).

What does Scripture tell us about the Holy Spirit?  He points us and brings us to Jesus. So, moved by the Spirit, all 120 start talking in other languages.  Since the Spirit inspired their speaking, they were proclaiming Jesus to others on that special day!

On Pentecost, we see a proper picture of the Church.  All 120 Christians run out to bring Jesus to others and become the voice of the Spirit to the world.  They confess Jesus to others in both word and deed.

Only one of them, however, stands up to preach: The Apostle Peter.  Pentecost shows all Christians proclaiming Jesus within the vocations where God places them to serve.  Both pastor and layperson are working in harmony.  Peter, being a pastor, preaches from his office of pastor.  But all Christians are, as Peter would later write, to proclaim the One who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

A week ago, we pondered Jesus’ words to His Apostles: preach “repentance into the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47).  On Pentecost, the Apostle Peter preaches a sermon, the first one in the Spirit-filled Church.  Will he be faithful to his Lord and preach repentance into the forgiveness of sins?  Later, in Acts chapter 2, Luke records part of Peter’s sermon.

Peter accuses his fellow Jews of crucifying the long-promised Messiah.  They are cut to the heart and convicted of their sin.  Peter then preaches: “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 your children” (Acts 2:38-39).

Did Peter did preach repentance?  Yes!  Did he preach the forgiveness of sins?  Yes!  But did you catch where Peter directed His fellow Jews to receive God’s forgiveness?  “Be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins.”  He preaches them to the baptism Jesus instituted—that’s where they receive the Lord’s forgiveness.

Peter doesn’t preach repentance and then tell them to pray the sinners’ prayer to ask Jesus into their hearts.  You won’t find that in Scripture.  What Peter does do is direct them to the waters of Baptism where they “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  When the Gospel comes to a non-Christian, Scripture shows that evangelism leads to baptism.  Peter will later write that “Baptism saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).  Paul will call Baptism a “washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

The flames and the wind of Pentecost do not lead to more spectacular displays of fire and speaking in unknown languages.  How can this be true?  What happened on Pentecost day after the crowd gathered?  Peter preached the Word of Christ; 3,000 were baptized.  Luke wrote, “the day of Pentecost was fulfilled.”  God’s fulfillment of Pentecost now leads to Word and Sacrament.

God “fulfilled” Pentecost.  So, it makes no sense to chase after those same fireworks of long ago.  That would be like wanting to go back to animal sacrifices, even though God fulfilled them on the cross.  Does God give us a new command to wait for another Pentecost?  No.  Scripture shows us: The dancing flames and the moving wind of Pentecost point to the preached Word and the baptismal waters.

The work of God’s Spirit in Christ’s Church began with fanfare and flame, attracting much attention.  Today, the Spirit works in a quieter way.  The Spirit comes to us in Baptism, as Jesus promises, but no wind blows past us and no flame flickers on the skin.  Despite that, God promises to be at work in the Word and water, forgiving our sins, bringing us into His kingdom, and giving us a spiritual birth from above.

The Spirit also comes to us through the preached Word, despite the lack of impressive, pyrotechnic displays to bedazzle us.  Even so, we find the Holy Spirit granting the gift of faith, forgiving our sins, and conforming our lives to Christ.

The Spirit Jesus poured out on His Church also comes to you.  He came to you in your Baptism, just as He did for the 3,000 gifted with grace through the waters of baptism.  Like the 3,000 that day, your Baptism is also your personal Pentecost.  But God’s still not done.  For Christ doesn’t just pour out His Spirit once and then turn off the tap.  No, the Holy Spirit is ever moving, working whenever and wherever He promises to be.

Later in the book of Acts, Luke records our Lord’s Apostles gathering in a house, where the Spirit descended, once more, on those same Apostles.  You receive the Holy Spirit—in full—and yet more is always waiting to come to you afresh.  Your Lord wants to keep pouring His Spirit into you.

So, the Spirit doesn’t only work through Baptism.  He’s also at work through the preached Word, where the Spirit is strengthening your faith.  He is at work in and through the Supper.  By the Spirit’s power, Jesus feeds you with His body and blood, bringing to You His forgiveness of sins, ever anew.

The continuing work and life of Pentecost aren’t in the fire and flames—as enthralling as they are.  They are in the Word, which brings repentance and faith in Jesus—just like at the first Pentecost!  So, if you want the fireworks and the flames, repent!

On the day of wind and fire, Peter preached: The Word.  He directed them—not to more pyrotechnic displays of wonder—but to Holy Baptism.  On the day of Pentecost, the Word and Sacrament received their power from the Holy Spirit, through Jesus, from God the Father.  Do you want to know where the Holy Spirit is at work?  He’s working through Word and Sacrament, shown to us by the events of Pentecost day.

Today, the same Holy Spirit is here.  He is working, delivering the peace our Lord won for you on the cross.  Jesus told His Apostles: “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  So don’t let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  Even though Jesus ascended into heaven, He still gives us His peace through the Spirit He sends.

Our Lord bequeaths His peace to you by forgiving your sins.  In Christ, you stand before God, covered with His righteousness, filled with Him living within you.  All this is from the heart of the Father, delivered to You through His Son, and guaranteed by, and in, His Spirit.  You are alive with the life of God’s presence, whose presence is peace, and to whom we give glory unto endless ages.  Amen.