Acts 2: Pentecost


To a people baptized in the waters of the Red Sea and now wandering in the wilderness, God came.  To make them His separate and distinct people, He gave them many rites and rituals.  Among these commanded worship forms (in Leviticus 23), we encounter Pentecost, a thanksgiving festival for the first crop of the wheat harvest. 

From this ingathering of grain, the people presented to God two loaves of bread, made from fine flour and oven-baked with yeast.  In their tradition, Pentecost also recounted God giving His Law to Moses at Sinai, 50 days after their liberation from Egypt. 

So, many Jews are in Jerusalem to celebrate this feast, as the infant New-Covenant Church stands on the cusp of many changes.  This Church now numbers 120 people—eleven Apostles and around 110 laypersons, including women and children. 

Still, they wait, for Jesus to fulfill His Word, to send the promised Spirit.  The first Christians are huddling together on this joyous, Jewish gathering.  Soon, the sound of a mighty wind—God’s divine breath—rushes down from heaven, filling the room.  Spirit-created flames, like tongues of fire, now dance atop each of their heads. 

Swept along by this Wind, all 120 find themselves outside, speaking and moving.  The breath of God, His Spirit, coursing within must breathe out and give voice.  From this day on, every Christian will now be a Temple of the sacred Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). 

At creation’s dawn, God breathed into Adam, and he became a living being.  So also does Christ breathe the life-giving Spirit into His people, and they become alive.  Yes, this is Pentecost—the Spirit giving us His living breath.  Now, unable to be silent, God’s people cannot be contained, confessing and proclaiming Christ Jesus.  By Christ’s choice and doing, He forever changes His Church.

Many festival-goers sense the rumble of rushing wind and wonder what’s going on.  Curious, they seek the source of this sound and realize others are speaking in different languages.  Such timing by God’s Spirit, making sure people from many lands are staying in Jerusalem.  Some are Jews by birth.  Some are Gentiles who converted to Judaism.  Though they gather for this Old-Covenant festival, many will return home with a different message.  Another far superior—of the Father’s fulfilled promises in Christ and His work for the redemption of the world.

At first, these Christians talking in other languages confuses these onlookers, perplexed by words they don’t understand.  Some now begin to sneer, for the cacophony of dialect, lingo, and tongue overwhelms them.  The sight and sounds are too much to comprehend.  The aged with their wise and wrinkly faces are breathing out unlearned languages in a moving blur, while younger children leap.  A few within the crowd can only think they must be drunk, crying out, “They’re full of wine” (Acts 2:13).

Soon, the chaos dies down, for God is a God of order.  From Pentecost, we discover a beautiful picture of how our Lord’s Church functions.  All the Christians confessed Jesus to others, but the Apostle Peter is the one who stands up to preach.  Both pastor and people work in harmony, proclaiming Jesus in their various vocations, where God calls and places them to serve. 

The visual display is now over.  The spoken Word replaces the dancing fire and flames.  For the Spirit does not dazzle for its own sake, to take our breath away, but rather to be breath-giving and life-bestowing. 

In our Bible version, read today, Acts chapter 2 begins, “When the day of Pentecost arrived.”  The Greek word is “fulfilled.”  So, what took place is a fulfillment of what John the Baptizer and Jesus said, also including what the Prophet Joel earlier foretold.  Don’t expect another day like Pentecost, which came about to fulfill prophecy.  Understand, this is, instead, the Spirit’s unveiling to Christ’s holy Church.

The message of this day arrived, but not only to the Eleven and those who waited with them in the upper room.  No, Christ intended His promise to convey the Father’s Spirit for the whole world.  So, this explains why God used an already-existing festival as the time He chose to send down His Spirit.

On the day when the turbulence of wind came without the matching storm, what captivated the people?  Consider Acts 2:7.  The text doesn’t report, “Stunned and in wonder, they marveled aloud.  ‘Hey, did you catch those fiery tongues blazing on top of those heads?  How awesome!’”  Those flickering flames didn’t astound the people, nor did the sound of the whooshing wind.  Based on Luke, what impressed them was hearing about God’s mighty acts in their language.

Some did dismiss the sin-forgiving message on Pentecost day, and the same is still true today.  How should we respond to this?  Shrivel up and slink back into the upstairs room, to enjoy what we understand to be real, but are now too timid to share?  Oh, Peter responded to such fear on Thursday night of Holy Week, denying Jesus three times.  Not so on this day. 

Careless of his safety, not panic-stricken by the possible ridicule of those who refuse to listen, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter arises to proclaim Christ.  So, let’s examine what he said.  First, Peter doesn’t apologize but, instead, defends the truth.  With an Old-Testament passage familiar to his Jewish listeners, he thunders his opening salvo.  For Peter recognized this text pointed forward to this event. 

Apart from his message, Peter’s use of Joel’s ancient words emphasizes a vital point, which still rings true to our present day.  The Gospel message isn’t something new, coming along only after Jesus arrived.  No, its roots burrow deep into the ancient promises of God, recorded in the Old Testament. 

Grasp how Joel’s words compress history in limited lines of Hebrew poetry.  The Father will pour down heaven’s Spirit on all who receive His Word in faith, not only to a selected few.  Tell me, through whom did the tongue-loosening Spirit speak?  Consider Joel’s prophetic words, quoted by Peter.  Young men and those older, sons and daughters will prophesy, pronounce God’s Word.  Neither is this something only meant for the wealthy since slaves also will be recipients of the Spirit (Acts 2:17-18). 

On Pentecost, each Christian spoke by Spirit inspiration, for each received the Jesus-sent Spirit.  Each shared his Word-bestowed belief, each in his turn and place in life. 

How long will this confessing of Christ go on?  From parent to child and those later to come, for as long as both sun and moon endure.  Only when the sun turns to darkness and the moon to blood, poetic language for the end of time, will the Lord’s Day arrive. 

To keep His promise, Jesus will return.  All in life who called, trusting in Him will, likewise, call on Him on the Last Day.  So, our Savior will send His Spirit again—to raise each body from death.  Some to everlasting life, to thrill in the promise of heaven, which Jesus earned for them, paying the penalty their fallen deeds deserved.  For others, eternal judgment, existing forever in their righteousness, not Christ’s.

Old, foretelling words from Joel say this in summary form.  The Almighty keeps His promises, ruling over history so no Word of His falls useless to the ground.  Gape at how He lived up to His pledge to send a Sin-Crusher born from a descendant of Eve.  Over time, God’s undertaking to rescue us unfolded further in Scripture, such as His virgin birth in Bethlehem and riding a donkey to enter Jerusalem. 

From one generation to the next, God kept His agreement alive, despite our human perversity and wickedness.  Through events and people, including the evil choices people make, God will do His work, to honor His vow to redeem us, which included Joel’s prophecy.  On Pentecost, we find God fulfilling some of this, with still more to follow, until the time when time’s clock will tick no more. 

On the day of wind and fire, Peter preached the Word.  After preaching Christ, where did he direct them?  Not to more pyrotechnic displays of wonder, but Holy Baptism.  Later, in Acts 2, in verse 38, Peter boomed.  “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  The sermon shows us Christian evangelism leads to baptism, not to seek something within yourself or to say some prayer for God to save you.

Learn to identify where the enlivening Spirit is working and active?  Like 2,000 years ago, He still works through Word and Sacrament, shown to us by the events of Pentecost day.  Listen to Christ’s saving Word.  From Him, draw courage to believe and confess its saving truth to the end of your days. 

Through history, God remained faithful to His Word, His oath to restore you into His care and keeping.  After the fall into sin, God prophesied a Savior—and He came.  By this Savior’s doing, God vowed to exonerate and give us eternal life, which He also did.  In Jesus’ chosen ways to deliver His salvation to us, He promised to be present with us—and He is.  The Lord declares He will be with you in the hour of death and, yes, be your joy on the day of judgment!  Like before, He will do as He says.

So, when darkness shrouds the sun, and blood becomes the moon, we can still praise God, for He created and saved us.  In love, He continues to preserve us by His presence, promise, and power of the Gospel.  With the passing of each moment, day, and year, Jesus gives us more time to grow in our knowledge of Him.  On the fearsome day of His return, you will forever find in Him the fulfillment of all His promises to you.  All this is true because He is doing all this for you.  Amen.