Archive for June 9th, 2019

Pentecost

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

June 9, 2019
Rev. Richard Stark, Assoc. Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church
San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message

Have you ever noticed, no matter how often we read the Bible, or a specific passage within the Bible… no matter how familiar we are with the passage, there’s always something new for us to learn.

For the longest time I read Acts, chapter 2, believing it to be the story of the first Pentecost where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles; how they received what Jesus had told them to wait for, and what Jesus had promised them to carry out their ministry.

What I didn’t know, and what most people don’t realize, is that although this day that we call Pentecost, was a very special day, it was not the first Pentecost.  The Lord instituted Pentecostabout the same time He instituted Passover back in the Old Testament. Pentecostwas originally called the Feast of Weeks.  Since the Feast of Weekscomes fifty days after Passover,people began calling it Pentecost based on the Greek word for the number fifty.Pentecostand the Feast of Weeksare the same festival, and the Jews have celebrated Pentecostsince the days of Moses.

Pentecost is also one of the three pilgrimage festivals that required all the men of Israel to gather together in Jerusalem. “Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose [referring to the Temple in Jerusalem], on the festivals of Pesach (also known as Passover or the Feast of Unleavened Bread), Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), and Sukkot (the Festival of Booths). They shall not appear before the Lord empty handed. Each must bring a gift, appropriate to the blessing which the Lord your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17)

 

The Feast of Unleavened Breadis one week long and begins the day after Passover. TheFeast of Weeks or Pentecostoccurs fifty days after the Feast of the Firstfruits, which happens to be the first Sunday during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And, the Feast of Booths occurs about six months after theFeast of Unleavened Bread. 

Now, I know all this sounds confusing, but there is a method to my madness.

If we take these Jewish festivals and we look at them in relation to the life of Jesus, or more importantly, the death and resurrection of Jesus, we see that Jesus died on Passover, rose from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits. And the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus, manifested Himself in a very special way fifty days later on Pentecost,or duringtheFeast of Booths. And all these things occurred in Jerusalem.

What’s important about this is that this means that the Jewish faithful who presented themselves in Jerusalem according to the instructions given in the law of Moses were there and they were witnesses to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It’s important to see that the Holy Spirit gathered His Old Testament Church to witness the mighty works of Godjust like Luke wrote in the Book of Acts.

This brings up something else that hadn’t occurred to me as I grew up in church hearing about Pentecost.  I always enjoyed hearing about the Holy Spirit being poured out on the Apostles at Pentecost and the wonderful gifts God gave them that day. But I discovered another giving of the Holy Spirit in the Bible.

It happened on the day Jesus rose from the dead; remember the Doubting Thomas passage?

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together with the doors locked [because they feared] the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.  21Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)

Did you hear that? Jesus said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

Sometimes when we hear the passage about this Pentecost, we get so distracted by the “Wow factor” of “a sound like a mighty rushing wind… and by divided tongues like fire… [and, by the Apostles as] they began to speak in other tongues” that we don’t see or realize is the real miracle or the real work of the Holy Spirit that day. The real story wasn’t about what happened to the Apostles but what happened to the other people that were gathered there that day.

First, like we talked about before, the Holy Spirit brought all these faithful men to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, then He brought them together where the Apostles were, when they heard the mighty works of God, and then the Holy Spirit caused them to respond to what they saw.

Acts, chapter 2 goes on to say:

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you [too] will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41So those who received [Peter’s message] were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:37–41)

This is the great miracle of Pentecost!  The Holy Spirit, working through the Apostles, added three thousand souls to His church that day. Pentecostis not about the work of the Apostles; Pentecostis about three thousand souls coming to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit.

In His explanation to the third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther wrote that [the Holy Spirit]calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  The Holy Spirit’s work on Pentecost is an example of that.  1500 years earlier, the Holy Spirit worked through His servant Moses to establish feasts that would bring these witnesses together from the Old Testament Church to Jerusalem so that Luke the Evangelist could write,“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.”(Acts 2:5) It was not an accident that these men were in Jerusalem that day.  The Holy Spirit had called together the Old Testament Church to tell them that the long-awaited Messiah had come in the person of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was getting ready to convert the faithful of the Old Testament Church into the faithful of the New Testament Church.

That is the real reason for the great signs that were described in today’s reading.  The Holy Spirit was gathering His church together so that they could hear the call of the Gospel.  As the people of the Old Testament church drew near to the Apostles, they encountered people who told them who Jesus was and what He had done for their salvation. These people did not speak in the lofty language of the Hebrew of the temple, they didn’t speak in Aramaic (the street language of the day), they weren’t speaking the commercial language of Greek, or even the legal language of Latin, but each individual heard the story of Jesus’ saving grace in his own native language… the language he learned from his mother and father in the home of his childhood.  Each one heard in his own languagethe mighty works of God. (Acts 2:11)

All of these great works, these amazing things, were simply the means by which the Holy Spirit used to accomplish the goal of gathering together His Old Testament church and telling her that the wait for the Messiah was over… and the New Testament has begun.  Those faithful people that had traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, they were waiting and looking forward to the coming of the promised Messiah. They did their best to keep the ceremonial laws of circumcision, sacrifices, feast and festivals, and all the other customs as a reminder of God’s promise that one day the Messiah would come and fulfill the law and offer Himself up as a sacrifice, a sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  Now the Holy Spirit gathered the faithful together to tell them that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Messiah, the anointed one, the Christ.  On this particular Pentecostthe Holy Spirit called together the faithful of the Old Testament church and transformed them into the faithful of the New Testament church.

With all the amazing things that were going on that day, it’s easy for us to confuse God’s goal with the means He used to accomplish that goal.  After all, it’s easy to get distracted by [the] sound [of] a mighty rushing wind… the appearance of flames of fire… and the sudden ability to speak and understand a foreign language. It’s easy to get distracted and miss the Holy Spirit’s goal… the goal of creating faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ! That was the Holy Spirit’s goal on that day and that’s still the Holy Spirit’s goal today.

And amid all the signs and wonders of that day, there were still some who resisted. There were men in the crowd who mocked and yelled out, “[They’re drunk!] They are filled with new wine.”(Acts 2:13)There’s always a few in every crowd, and there’s always those who resist the call of the Gospel.

We can learn from this as well. This serves as a great comfort to us when we confess our faith to the people we meet in our lives. Sometimes they’ll be interested and want to know more. Other times they’ll reject our confession. And, when that rejection happens, we can take comfort in knowing that even when there was [the] sound [of] a mighty rushing wind… the appearance of flames of fire… and the Apostles speaking a foreign language, that there were some people who resisted and rejected their message. It helps us to leave up to God and continue to confess our faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Remember, on the next day, on the day after that Pentecost, there was no more sound of a mighty rushing wind, the tongues of fire had gone away, and people simply spoke in their own languages, but never the less, the Holy Spirit was still at work.  The story goes on. Luke tells us in Acts 2:47, “And the Lord added to their number day by day [with] those who were being saved.”  The church still had God’s Word and the Holy Spirit continued to work through that Word.

Today, the Holy Spirit still works through the Word of God. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The true sign of the Holy Spirit at work is the proclamation of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit gathers His people from all nations together into one holy and apostolic church. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, the Son of God, who was made man and saves us from all our sin with His suffering and death on the cross and promises us everlasting life through His resurrection. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word when we hear it with our ears… when we read it with our eyes… when we experience that Word in the waters of our Baptism… and when we receive it with the true body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.  The Holy Spirit is at work when we confess our faith before each other and when we share our faith with those who do not know Jesus.

In today’s lesson, the Holy Spirit used light and sound to gather the church to hear the proclamation that the Messiah they had been waiting for had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  The Holy Spirit transformed the church from the Old Testament church to the New Testament church and the Holy Spirit continues to build His church to this very day.

The Holy Spirit still calls each of us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies us and keeps us in the true faith. And, just as He call us into the church, He also calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps her in one, true faith.

As Martin Luther tells us of the Holy Spirit:

In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day, He will raise me, and all the dead, and He will give eternal life to me and all who believe in Christ Jesus. 

This is most certainly true.  Amen.