Acts 2:1-4 (Day of Pentecost—Series A)
“A Whole Lot of Hearing”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 4, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is taken from the Second Lesson for the Day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2:
1And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven like a blowing, violent wind and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3And there appeared to them tongues like fire dividing themselves and they came to rest on each one of them. 4And all were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other languages just as the Spirit gave them to speak out.
As we consider the events Pentecost today, I’d like to use as our outline Martin Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed as we read it in The Small Catechism. If you’d like to read along, you can find it on page 323 in the front of the hymnal.
To begin, when we as the Church confess, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” Pastor Luther explains that this means, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Apart from God the Holy Spirit, you and I are spiritually blind and dead. We are not able, indeed, we are incapable of trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture says of us in our natural condition, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). “The natural person does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Apart from the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing but actively resist the Gospel’s call to faith in Christ. St. Paul says in Galatians 5, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17).
The same that is true for us today was also true for all those who were in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost which took place fifty days after the Passover Sabbath. Fifty days before Pentecost, Jesus the Messiah had been crucified, the once-for-all-sacrifice for the sins of Israel and the whole world. Fifty days before Pentecost Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples, bestowing upon them His peace and His Spirit. Throughout the forty days from His resurrection to His ascension, Jesus appeared to His disciples, showing Himself alive to them and promising the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—“Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49b).
Now that day had come. Representatives of the nations were in Jerusalem—Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Capadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphilia, Egypt and parts of Libya, visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabians—Jews and converts to Judaism. All of them had come in obedience to the Law of Moses to celebrate Pentecost, which is also known as “the Feast of Weeks” or “the Feast of the Harvest.” This was a thanksgiving festival that all Israelites were required to observe by going to Jerusalem and making an offering of new grain along with two loaves of bread baked with yeast as a firstfruits offering as well as animals for a burnt offering to the Lord.
But there was a problem. These pilgrims didn’t know what their God had done for them in order to save them from sin, death, and the power of the devil. They came to Jerusalem under the “old covenant.” But God had done something new. In place of sheep or goats or bulls, God Himself had sacrificed His only Son on the altar of the cross in order to take away the sins of the world. God, as He said He would, made a new covenant with the people, a promise sealed in the shed blood of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, which cleanses all people from their sins. The writer to the Hebrews, quoting God’s Word through Jeremiah says, “’Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.’ . . . In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. . . . Therefore [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (Heb. 8:8, 13; 9:15 ESV).
But the people didn’t know what God had done! They were still struggling to keep the Law by performing all the ordinances and sacrifices that could never take away sin (Heb. 10:11). They didn’t know Jesus Christ by faith. They couldn’t confess Jesus Christ as Lord. “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Now, Luther’s explanation continues, “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
Romans 10, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 ESV). Paul previous asked, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14 ESV). The expected answers—the won’t and they can’t. It is through the Gospel which is heard that the Spirit both invites and enables people to believe in Jesus Christ. It is the Gospel which is heard that promises everyone a new life on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s why people need to hear the Good News! The Jews in Jerusalem needed to hear the Good News of the new covenant that is theirs in Jesus the Messiah-Savior. And so God the Holy Spirit made it possible.
What happened, then, at Pentecost? A whole lot of hearing! “We hear them telling in our own languages the mighty works of God.” And the mightiest of God’s works is the salvation from sin and death that He won for everyone through Jesus’ suffering, death, with triumphant resurrection from the dead. It was the message of Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins that the apostles and disciples, 120 men and women, proclaimed on that Pentecost in Jerusalem. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they spoke in lots of different languages that they had never learned in order that everyone might hear the Good News of salvation in Jesus. Through the hearing of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit brought 3000 people “to the Lord Jesus to receive His gifts” through faith (LC III:13).
This is what the Spirit has done for you as well. “Through the Word and the Sacraments, as through means, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake” (AC V:203). As He did on Pentecost, so the Holy Spirit does today. He has brought you to saving faith in Jesus Christ through the Gospel and the Sacraments. He has made Christ known to you in Word, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper. Through these Means of Grace, the Spirit delivers Christ to you. He delivers to you the gift of saving faith in Jesus. And that saving faith then receives the gifts that Christ won for you with His cross and resurrection—the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting.
Returning to the Catechism, Luther goes on, “In the same way [the Holy Spirit] calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one truth faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.”
When the Holy Spirit brought those 3000 people to faith on the Day of Pentecost, He made them members of Christ’s Church. You, also, are members of that same Church made up of all people whom the Spirit has gathered to Christ in faith throughout time. Neither they, nor you and I, would be in the Lord’s Church were it not for the work of the Holy Spirit in calling us to faith in Christ through the Gospel. In Christ, we are made into a community of believers by the Spirit. The Church, then, is the only community in the world in which God “daily and richly forgives” your sins and mine. What great gifts from God!
Now being a member of Christ’s Church through the work of the Spirit by the Means of Grace comes with privileges and responsibilities. Immediately following Pentecost, Luke writes in Acts 2:42 that the 3000 people who heard the Word and were baptized “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts2:42). They regularly received the Word and Sacraments with the community of believers. As members of the Church, we have that great privilege to come together as the Church in this place and receive the gifts of Christ through the Word and Sacraments.
As those who continue to receive the gifts of Christ through Word and Sacrament by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, we are also given the joyous responsibility of telling others about Jesus. Remember, people can’t receive the gifts of Christ apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit works through the hearing of the Word of the Gospel, just as He did on Pentecost so long ago. So there must be, today, a whole lot of hearing. People need to hear the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. So each one of you, because the Spirit is in you, is able to share the Good News of Jesus. After all, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9 ESV). As the Holy Spirit gives you the opportunity and the ability to share the Gospel, speak out, as did the first disciples. Tell people the mighty works of God, how He won the victory over eternal death and hell through the death of Jesus on the cross; how He purchased forgiveness of sins for everyone and now gifts to all eternal life; how Jesus rose from the dead foreshadowing our resurrection on the Last Day and death’s ultimate defeat. As you share that Gospel, people hear it so that the Holy Spirit will create faith when and where it pleases God and many more will be added to Christ’s Church. They will gather with us around Word and Sacrament receiving forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our Spirit-given faith in Jesus Christ.
On this Day of Pentecost, give thanks to God that you are privileged to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Give thanks to Him that through His Gospel, He has poured out His Spirit into your hearts so that you believe in Jesus Christ, your Lord, and come to Him in faith, receiving forgiveness and eternal life through the death and resurrection of Christ. Empowered by the Spirit through the Gospel, speak out the Good News of salvation to others so that they can hear the Word and know Jesus Christ along with us, and so be saved. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.