Acts 2:1-12 (The Day of Pentecost—Series C)
“What Does This Mean?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 15, 2016, 8:00 a.m.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Pentecost account from Acts 2:
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
Three times a year, Jews and Jewish converts from around the ancient world would pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They had come as they always did for the appointed feasts—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, and Cappadocians. They came from Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and Cyrene and Rome, Cretans and Arabians! They came for another ordinary Pentecost festival, but God gave them something so extraordinary that they had to ask each other, “What does this mean?”
What does the Festival of Pentecost mean? Why do we Christians celebrate it? Pentecost, the second of the great Jewish national festivals, was observed on the 50th day, or 7 weeks, from the Passover Feast. In the Old Testament it was known as “The Feast of Weeks.” In many ways it was a harvest-home celebration signifying the completion of the barley-harvest and the wheat harvest. The day was observed as a Sabbath day. All labor was suspended and the people worshiped the Lord at His temple to express their thanksgiving. The central feature was the presentation of two loaves of leavened, salted bread to the Lord. Additional sacrifices were made and free-will offerings were given to the Lord. It was a festival of good cheer, a day of joy to celebrate the completion of the grain harvest.
Faithful Jews came and were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. The disciples and apostles of Jesus were also there together. All were prepared to have a perfectly ordinary Pentecost. The time of day was a little before 9 in the morning. Suddenly, the ordinary became extraordinary. Out of heaven there was a noise. There was the sound of a driving, violent wind. This sound filled the whole house where Jesus’ followers were sitting, but there didn’t appear to be any wind making the sound. There was just this awesome loud sound. Then, divided tongues like fire were seen by them that sat on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages just as the Spirit gave them the words.
No ordinary stuff here, friends! The sound of a violent blowing wind without the wind and tongues like fire sitting on each one of the apostles is not what we would term “normal.” Nor is it ordinary or normal to be fluent in a language that you have probably never heard and absolutely have never, ever learned. Needless to say, at this sound a multitude of people came together and were confused. Picture it. You’ve come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, the Day of Pentecost. It was to be as ordinary as ever. But how can it be ordinary when all those people who spoke different languages heard the apostles speaking to them in their own birth-language and dialect? Ordinary goes right out the window! “They were utterly amazed and they marveled saying, ‘See, are not all of these who are speaking Galileans? How do we hear each in our own birth-language?’”
The apostles didn’t just finish a multi-language course from Rosetta Stone. They spoke all these languages and dialects because they were filled the with the Holy Spirit, true God, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. The Spirit gave them this special ability because He needed the multitude in Jerusalem to hear the mighty deeds of God in their very own language. Why? Because it was “harvest” time!
That’s right. The Jews had come together to celebrate the conclusion of the grain harvest. But God had, in fact, gathered them together on this Day of Pentecost to be the first-fruits of a new harvest of people that was just beginning.
In Luke 10, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2 ESV). But just as grain harvesters needed tools like sickles, so Jesus’ disciples who were sent out into the harvest of people, needed the right tool. Jesus promised in the Upper Room before His suffering, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me. And you will also bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27). On that Day of Pentecost, Jesus fulfilled His promise. He equipped the disciples with the Holy Spirit, the Helper. He gave them the Spirit in the fullness of power that enabled them to bear witness about Jesus in the people’s own language. The plentiful harvest of people got to hear firsthand about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Savior of the World!
The multitude of people from the nations heard personally about how Jesus, the Messiah, suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the world. They got to hear in their own dialect how 50 days ago this very Jesus rose from the dead, proving that His sacrifice on the cross was fully accepted by God the Father. Sin is conquered and forgiven. Death and the devil are defeated forever. There is new life for the one who receives Jesus as Lord and Savior through the gift of faith created by the Holy Spirit through the Word of Christ.
And that is what God gave to those who had gathered on that Pentecost. He poured out the Holy Spirit in power on the chosen disciples. The Spirit gave them the Word about Christ to speak and the languages in which to speak it. Then, working through that proclaimed Word, faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior was created by the Holy Spirit so that by the end of the day, as we read later in Acts 2, three-thousand souls were added to the Church—a great initial harvest indeed. That’s what the Day of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit means!
This extraordinary harvest continues to the Day of Pentecost, 2016. Through the waters of Holy Baptism, God the Holy Spirit has been poured out into your hearts. By the power of the Spirit you have received the new life of faith in Christ, the new life of sins forgiven. The Holy Spirit now uses you in His mighty and blessed work of sharing the Word of Christ with others, using your proclamation of the Word of Christ as a means of grace to create saving faith in the hearts of many, many more people before Jesus comes again in glory at the Last Day. You are an integral part of that mission. There are people who only you can reach with the message of Jesus Christ. You are uniquely positioned in your life and in your vocation to speak about Christ as the Holy Spirit gives you the wisdom when and where and how to speak His Word to others.
On that Sunday so long ago, the Holy Spirit came in an extraordinary way. He came in the sound of a driving, violent wind and filled the disciples as tongues like fire sat upon each of them. He empowered them to speak the message of salvation in Jesus Christ in languages that they had never learned. By this means, God the Holy Spirit made it possible for the devout Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem for that ever-so-ordinary Feast of Pentecost to hear the Gospel in their own native tongues. It was the beginning of a great spiritual harvest at the conclusion of a harvest-home festival.
What, then, does Pentecost mean for us today? The Holy Spirit gathers us here in the Lord’s house around the proclamation of His pure Word, the Word of forgiveness, and the Supper of Christ’s Body and Blood. It’s never an ordinary day here when God’s people gather in the name of Jesus Christ. Around God’s Word, and by means of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit fills you with faith, grants to you forgiveness of sins, and strengthens your new life in Christ right here through Word and Sacrament. Then He sends you out from this place and enables you day after day and week after week to speak the Word of Christ to others. So continue to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, letting the Spirit do the extraordinary work of sharing Jesus’ Word through you! Amen.