Sermon on Acts 2:1-13 and St. John 14:23-31
+ Jesu Juva +
We have just sung in Martin Luther’s Pentecost hymn, “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord! Be all Thy graces now outpoured!” God’s graces are richly poured out on us this day, for there are three major angles on Pentecost in the Sacred Scriptures. Pentecost is the harvest festival in Leviticus, the time that Israel counted fifty (pentecoste) days after the sickle was first put to the grain and enjoyed a harvest festival to the Lord. In later Jewish tradition, Pentecost celebrated the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, when God first made a people for Himself. In the NT, Pentecost is the day the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in special measure, sending their sound out into all lands and their words into the ends of the world. This morning, we will explore all three aspects of Pentecost: the harvest of souls, the giving of the law, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost is the harvest festival. We read in Leviticus that Pentecost was also called the Feast of Weeks, for it was celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of the harvest. You do the math: seven days x seven weeks = 49 days, plus one for the great day of salvation = 50 days, the number of jubilee and freedom in the OT. And so the Lord commanded Israel to bring from their homes an offering from the harvest–bread, lambs, drink, and a sacrificial goat. The priest waved the offering before the Lord and proclaimed a holy convocation for Israel, a Sabbath day on which no work should be done. Pentecost was proclaimed “a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations,” for “I am the Lord your God” (Lev 23:15-22). If you’re thinking that this sounds a little like our Thanksgiving, you’re absolutely right. Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks and the festival of harvest, said that the Lord gave Israel her manna, her daily bread. It said that the Lord who created them would “richly and daily provided all that [they needed] for this body and life,” as Martin Luther puts it. It acknowledged the Lord God as the Lord of the harvest and it looked forward to the greater harvest of believers in Christ.
In the NT, Pentecost is the harvest of souls. Fifty days after the sickle was put to the grain; fifty days after Jesus was hung on a cross; fifty days after the promised Seed had been buried in the ground and sprouted to life the third day, there was a harvest of souls for Christ. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (Jn 12:24). And so Jesus, the seed of Israel, was crucified, dead, and buried as the promised seed; yet He rose to life on the third day and promised a mighty harvest to come. Today’s second lesson from Acts tells us about the beginning of that harvest. “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” You heard the roll call of tongue-twisting names: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and many more. The word “ecumenical” comes from a Greek word that means the entire inhabited world, and that’s exactly what God had gathered in Jerusalem on the most important Pentecost of them all. Each one heard the Gospel in his own language, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the call to repent and be baptized. “And about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41) and “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
So it is for us. The harvest festival of the OT and its fulfillment in Acts 2 has never ended. It continues in our midst to this very day. Every gathering of the faithful to give thanks to God for all His benefits; every sermon of full-strength law and full-strength gospel; and every baptism is the continuation of Pentecost. God calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His baptismal family throughout the world, and He devotes us to His doctrine and fellowship, to His Blessed Sacrament and His prayers. As we have just sung:
Lord, by the brightness of Thy light / Thou in the faith dost men unite
Of ev’ry land and ev’ry tongue; This to Thy praise, O Lord, our God, be sung.– TLH 224.1
Pentecost is the festival of the giving of the Law. In later Jewish tradition, Pentecost was celebrated seven weeks to the day after the Passover Sabbath, to celebrate the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, where God made a people for Himself. Recall from Exodus that in the third month after Israel left Egypt, they came to the wilderness of Sinai. And what’s the first thing that God did for His people after the exodus? He gave them His Law and made them His own. And so Moses went up to God on Mt. Sinai to receive the commandments of the Lord. God said, “Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people . . . a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:5-6). And on the third day, the day of new life, thunder and lightning and clouds covered the people as Moses stood at the foot of the mountain to receive the Law of the Lord. “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me’” (Ex 20:1-2). You know the rest of the story – the blood of the atonement sprinkled on the people, the extended commentary on the Law in Deuteronomy (literally the “Second Law”), and the fulfillment of the Law in Christ.
In the NT, Peter gave full-strength Law to the Pentecost pilgrims. Fifty days after the great Passover of our Lord; fifty days after the Lamb of God was killed and eaten; fifty days after Jesus rose to life on the third day, the Law was preached through St. Peter to work repentance in the hearts of the Pentecost pilgrims. Just after today’s Epistle, Peter gave his famous Pentecost sermon, which has lost none of its weight because the truth never changes. I invite you to read all of Acts 2 this week. Peter said, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.” After quoting selected passages from the OT and preaching their fulfillment in the death and resurrection of the Messiah, Peter cut to the heart: “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Yes, the Messiah you rejected; the preacher and miracle worker whom you tried to stone; the bloody, beaten, unsightly criminal on the cross whom you thought was dead and gone, He has risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God as both Lord and Christ. Therefore, “Repent, and let everyone one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). And, crushed under the weight of the Law, many believed and were baptized.
So it is for you and me. Pentecost reminds us on the fiftieth day after Jesus rose on the third day that God has given the Law to us for our good. As Moses received the Law on the third day after the Lord promised it, and as many were crushed to repentance when Jesus rose on the third day, so we receive the Law of God because it is good for us. We meditate on the Ten Commandments to prepare ourselves for confession. We hear the Law read aloud in Scripture lessons and preached in sermons. And it’s all for the sake of the gospel of full and free forgiveness in Christ. For we know what’s coming to the repentant: forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation for all who believe. Again, from Martin Luther’s Pentecost hymn:
From ev’ry error keep us free; Let none but Christ our Master be
That we in living faith abide, In Him, our Lord, with all our might confide. — TLH 224.2
Pentecost is the festival of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Today’s OT lesson from Joel predicts the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. After promising the restoration of Israel and a new kingdom under the Messiah, the Lord spoke through the prophet Joel, saying, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” Moreover, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” To be sure, the Holy Spirit was alive and well in the OT. He was present at creation in Genesis 1–2, hovering over the waters and keeping the creation in check. He was present every time the Word of God was spoken, delivering the Word to the ears of the faithful and creating repentance and faith. But Joel promised the Holy Spirit in abundance, especially in the days after Jesus’ ascension, when His disciples would not be able to see Jesus with their eyes. In that day, in the day that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, there will be wonders in heaven and on earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke, the sun turned to darkness and the moon to blood, all in preparation for the day of the final judgment.
In the NT, Jesus promises and delivers the Holy Spirit in full measure. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” About fifty days after this promise of the Spirit; fifty days after the Spirit proclaimed the resurrection through the voice of the angels; fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead in the power of the Spirit, “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a might rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” The wind said that the Spirit was alive and active, powerful enough to crush you in repentance and resurrect you to new life in Christ. “And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each of them.” The tongues meant that these Apostles would preach the word with their mouths. The fire proclaimed that their word was also alive and well, working repentance and creating faith. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It was no human effort to “grow the church” that day. Rather, it was the work of the Holy Spirit, blowing mightily through Jerusalem to tell everyone the good news that God was for them in Christ.
So it is for us. To be sure, there is no command in Acts to try to repeat the details of this Pentecost. There is no need to look for a literal wind, visible tongues of fire, or the gift of speaking in tongues. The original grammar of the NT makes it quite clear that these details were given one time, not to be duplicated. But the theology of this event – the Spirit working through the preached Word in every language – continues to this day. Pentecost carries on every time we hear the good news that Christ, the One crucified for crimes He never committed, is our Lord and Savior. It happens every time the preacher invites the unbaptized to baptism and the baptized to the Lord’s Supper; through the translation, distribution, and study of Bibles, catechisms, and hymnals in every language; in bilingual services, even those that require patience and charity among those who are not used to them; in short, Pentecost carries on every time someone hears in their native language the mighty works of God in Christ. Once more from Martin Luther’s Pentecost hymn:
Thou holy Fire, Comfort true, Grant us the will Thy work to do
And in Thy service to abide; Let trials turn us not aside. — TLH 224.3
Well, as we said at the beginning, Pentecost is a day of all God’s graces being poured out on the faithful: the harvest of souls, the giving of the Law, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s all fulfilled “on each believer’s mind and heart” this day in Christ as He gathers His church from the ends of the earth, preaches His Word through the mouths of His pastors, and gives us the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and bring to our remembrance all that Jesus has said. And so this day we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of your love” (Antiphon). INJ. Amen.
Rev. Brian Hamer
Redeemer Lutheran Church