Sunday, May 31, 2020

“The Reality of Pentecost”

Our message comes to us today from the 2nd chapter of the book of Acts, beginning with the 1st verse, “Filled with the Spirit.”

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
  I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
  your young men will see visions,
  your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
  I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
  and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
  and signs on the earth below,
  blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
  and the moon to blood
  before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
  on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Acts 2:1-21)
O God, open our hearts and minds and souls to hear your word as if for the first time. Help us experience anew the surprise and joy that your presence in the word can bring us. Amen

“The Reality of Pentecost”

We’ve been living in liturgical limbo during the last ten days of the Church year, existing between two realities. We’ve 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 “stay [wait] in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

So the Apostles waited. They waited because the Lord Jesus told them to wait. But there was more to this waiting than that, much more. Something powerful was to happen to them when their wait was finally over on Pentecost day. The Holy Spirit would change them. Fear would be turned into a martyr’s boldness, fishers would become the world’s teachers, and doubt would be replaced by mountain-moving faith—all because of Pentecost!

Sometimes we 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 to dwell 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 leadership positions 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 some human-created religion. If Christianity were merely of human design, even if it were the best and most beautiful religion, the disciples wouldn’t have needed to wait in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Why would they need to?

Jesus’ disciples had lived with Him for several years, the most intense and personal seminary training. They could’ve begun 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 teaching others, right? That’s how it is with other religions.

Not so with Christianity. Christianity isn’t just about ideas, moral guidance, or ethical norms. Christianity has these things, but that’s not what the Christian faith is about. If it were, Christianity would be 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, an Advocate. 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, so sadly, many Christians live as if they are 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 because we intellectually agree to certain facts in our heads, which many of you studied long ago and haven’t looked at since.

If the Apostles had remained in that state of limbo, the state they were in between Ascension and Pentecost 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 indeed 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. I mean that sin still controls our lives, and that’s acceptable. I mean that we have little Christian joy, and that’s acceptable.

Today, we are often more like the fearful and doubting disciples before Pentecost. Christianity without Pentecost is but an empty form! If the Holy Spirit doesn’t permeate our lives with His presence, then our faith-life is but meaningless motion! If God’s Word does not have 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 anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:23).

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 that are spoken over the bread and wine, which makes the Lord’s Supper the Lord’s Supper.

Everything Christ has commanded His Church to do would be but an empty form 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 merely dieting if it is not done in a way to help curb the sinful flesh. It’s no coincidence that our Lord went into the wilderness to fast for 40 days, “led by the 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 misdeeds 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!” Perhaps you are, or maybe you aren’t.

Ask yourself this: “Can God raise the dead? Can He breathe life into the lifeless? Can He revive, renew, and recreate 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 recreate Pentecost for ourselves as if we can create within us what only God the Holy Spirit can do. This is one of the great sins 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 manufacture a Holy Spirit-like effect in your life? Your life would again become ordinary, mundane, and even boring—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.

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 the Spirit is active, that’s where Pentecost is happening today, here and now, for you. And that’s where you go looking for it!

Your baptism is 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 you 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.

The continuing work and life of Pentecost are not in the fire and the flaming tongues—even as enthralling as that is. The continuing work and life of Pentecost are in the Word that brings repentance and faith in Jesus.

The true miracle of Pentecost was the 3,000 brought to faith that day. The speaking in tongues was the way God the Holy Spirit enabled the proclaimed Word to be understood by all 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 declare the praise of Him 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 true faith.

Yes, you are part of that great breath and wind of Pentecost. That’s why your spiritually lifeless body now lives. How do you know? Because you believe in Jesus—and you can only do that by the Holy Spirit working in your life. 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.

Let us pray: Knock us off our seats, O Lord, with the wind of your Holy Spirit. Don’t let us just sit back and rest as though nothing important was happening. Remind us that you have come to bless and prepare us for your service. Now is the time of proclamation and celebration! Now is the birth of your church, not as an exercise in futility, but as a dynamic group of people who know you and love you as you know and love each of us. Flame up our hearts! Make us so joyful that we find it difficult to sit back and watch. We want to be part of your healing love and mercy. We want to be people who bear the word that your love for us is eternal; that Jesus Christ, our Savior, proclaimed and taught that love in all that he did and said, modeling for us a new way to live. Pick us up and propel us forward into your world. Help us to remember that you have given to us what we need to be your disciples. We just need to say a resounding "Yes!" to you. Thank you for all the wondrous patience and blessings you pour into our lives each and every day, as we offer our lives back to you in joy and hope. Amen

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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Sermon contributed by Richard Futrell.
Sometimes we 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.

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