Skip to comments."The Day of Pentecost: What Does This Mean?" (Sermon on Acts 2:1-21)
Posted on 05/27/2007 11:42:10 AM PDT by Charles Henrickson
The Day of Pentecost: What Does This Mean? (Acts 2:1-21)
You know those people we read about in Acts 2, the ones gathered in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost? I think they must have been Lutherans. I mean, it says it right there in the text: And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, What does this mean? Thats the Lutheran question, isnt it? What does this mean? We would almost expect the answer to begin, We should fear and love God so that. . . . Well, even if it isnt right out of the catechism, this is still a good question for us to ask today: What Does This Mean?
Lets start with the obvious, that word, Pentecost. What does this mean? Literally, it means, fifty days. It was on the fiftieth day after Passover that Jews from around Palestine--indeed, from around the world--thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for one of the great pilgrimage festivals in the Jewish religious year. In Hebrew, its called, Shavuot, or Weeks. The Feast of Weeks came seven weeks, seven sevens, after the Passover. So thats why all these Jews from around the world were gathered in Jerusalem at that time. They were there for the Feast of Weeks--Shavuot, in the Hebrew, or in the Greek, Pentecost, the fiftieth day.
But this particular year, Pentecost came seven weeks after a very unusual Passover. For it was right around Passover that year that some truly amazing events took place. There was this fellow Jesus of Nazareth who had gotten the crowds all worked up. They called for his crucifixion, the Jewish religious leaders did, and Pilate gave it to them. Since then, his disciples had laid pretty low. They had been hanging around in Jerusalem, and now, on Pentecost, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. The sound of a rushing wind. Tongues of fire resting upon each one. What in the world does this mean? Well, actually, something not of this world. These were signs from heaven. The sound came from heaven. The sound of a mighty wind. The word for wind, in both Hebrew and Greek, is the same as the word for Spirit. So the sound of the wind was a sign of the Spirit. This was the breath of God blowing upon them, filling and empowering these disciples of Christ. And then the fire. Had not John the Baptist said of Christ, several years earlier, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire? A holy fire, purifying the praise Gods people offer up to God. And tongues of fire, at that. Tongues are for speaking. And thats just what they do: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
But why? Just to make a babel of sounds? Mass confusion, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing? No. Again, this is a sign from God, a sign from heaven. And it served a purpose. For what had happened was, when that sound occurred, the sound of the mighty rushing wind, it gathered a crowd. Remember, there were all those thousands of Jews in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost. So when they heard the unusual sound, they went to where the disciples were to see what was going on.
When they got there, they heard something else just as unusual. They heard these people speaking in a variety of languages. Evidently, someone in the crowd must have recognized the disciples and spread the word that they were Galileans. So how come theyre able to speak in all these different languages? They obviously hadnt learned these foreign languages, this bunch of uneducated fishermen and so forth. But the people in the crowd, these Jewish pilgrims from around the world, theyre able to understand whats being said in the language of the nations they come from. Utterly amazed, they asked, Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and so on. We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God!
And so this gets at what all the speaking in tongues is about. What does this mean? It means that God is going to have himself a people from all the nations of the earth. The gospel is going to go forth in many languages, to all peoples. Every tribe and language and people and nation. Its starting in Jerusalem, on this first day of Pentecost, the beginning of the churchs ministry out into the world. Jesus had told the disciples, just a few days earlier, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And this is it. Now its starting.
It starts especially when Peter gets up and addresses the crowd. The sound of the wind and the speaking in many languages had gotten the attention of the crowd, but now Peter is going to get to preaching. He will be that witness for Jesus in Jerusalem. First, Peter explains the phenomena the people had just witnessed, the wind and the fire and the languages. This was a fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture. God had promised that he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, and now that promise has been fulfilled. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and here were these disciples of Jesus, telling forth the great things God has done in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a sign we are now in the end times, the last days. The judgment day is coming, the day of the Lord, the great and magnificent day. Therefore, people, be ready. Take refuge in the Lords mercy. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
If that was true then, how much more is it true today! If they were in the last days back then, how much more are we, in these days, in the end times. Judgment Day is coming. We dont know when or how soon, but it is coming. Therefore, we need to be ready. We need to be saved from the coming judgment, from death and hell and eternal damnation.
Thats how Peter begins his sermon, with the need for salvation. From there he goes on to tell how that salvation has been brought about. What the name of the Lord--the revelation of who the Lord is--what that involves, particularly in the person of Christ. Peter tells this crowd of Jews that the Jesus whose death they had called for, just weeks earlier--this Jesus of Nazareth, who was divinely attested to be the Messiah, by virtue of the mighty works he had done--this same Jesus God has raised from the dead. His death was no accident. It wasnt even your doing. It was according to Gods set purpose and foreknowledge. But death could not keep its hold on him. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has poured out the promised Holy Spirit, as you now see and hear. Therefore be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Now what does all of this mean, for you and me? It means that it was Gods plan and purpose that he sent his Son to be our Savior. Jesus willingly, knowingly went into death for our sakes. We had sinned and rebelled against God, blindly, ignorantly, not knowing how much we were actually enemies of God. Nevertheless, God had mercy upon us. The death of Gods Son paid for our transgressions. Paid the whole debt of sin and death. And therefore death had the sting taken out of it. Jesus being raised from the dead shows that this is so. Now, even though he has been taken from our sight, Jesus is our risen Lord.
What does this mean? It means that our risen and ascended Lord Jesus gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we would know him and have faith in him and thus be saved. The Holy Spirit is Christs gift to the church, empowering our witness to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, our Counselor, our Helper, the one who goes with us along the way to bear witness to Christ. The Spirit strengthens our faith in Christ through the churchs ministry of Word and Sacrament.
So what does all of this mean? It means that Pentecost is continuing. Its still happening today. The gospel is going out to all peoples: Jews and Gentiles, Missourians and Chicagoans, Germans and Swedes, South Africans, Kenyans, and Koreans--and if there are any Parthians and Medes left, theyre getting the gospel, too. The Holy Spirit continues to work saving faith in the hearts of people, through the ministry of the Word. Christs Spirit-filled disciples--people like us--will tell forth the wonders of God with their tongues to the people they meet. Yes, Pentecost is happening today, as Gods baptized children speak forth the faith and the Holy Spirit empowers our witness. Finally, what does this mean? It means that you who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians--we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, What does this mean? But others mocking said, They are filled with new wine.
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Thanks, Pastor. I wore red today, and downloaded your message to e-Sword once I returned home.
God’s blessings this holiday, as ever.
Someone asked me today why an old name for Pentecost was "Whitsunday." I told him I did not know, but apparently it had something to do with the color white. So I looked it up this afternoon, and it seems it was because of the white garments worn by those baptized at Pentecost.
Next Sunday: The Holy Trinity. Get to do the Athanasian Creed. Yay!
Thank you, Pastor.
Red Fox? How could you?
Next Sunday: The Holy Trinity. Get to do the Athanasian Creed. Yay!
That means I have to open the book. I never could get that one down pat. And it's not used often enough to keep even some of it memorized.
I also find myself using the old versions of the Nicene Creed and Lord's Prayer. The 'art', 'thy', 'thence', etc. keep slipping in. Frankly, I hope it never stops happening.
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