Our text is today’s reading from Acts (Acts 2:1–21): 1 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?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14 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. 15 For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘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; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (ESV)
In December, with all the hustle and bustle of buying gifts and planning holiday meals, Christians like to remind the world that “the reason for the season is Christmas”—the birth of the Christ Child. And this morning, we could say that the reason for Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter is Pentecost.
Make no mistake about it: Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became Man in order to pour out the Holy Spirit upon sinners. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus first was conceived by that same Spirit and had taken flesh from the holy Virgin Mary. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus had lived a perfect life of love and obedience to His Father. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus suffered and died, descended to hell, and rose in victory on the third day. To pour out the Spirit, Jesus had ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father. And now, it was on this day of Pentecost, fifty days after He rose from the dead, that Jesus kept His promise. Jesus poured out His Spirit, and the Spirit rushed into human history like never before. He came with a startling suddenness that was impossible to miss.
The Holy Spirit—the third person of the Holy Trinity—came that morning in wind and flame and the miracle of the apostles proclaiming God’s mighty works in languages they had never learned. St. Peter preached a sermon proclaiming the crucified, risen Jesus to be the Lord and the Christ, the Messiah, the One anointed to be the world’s Saviour. As Peter concluded his sermon, he invited the people not to wait around for a similar miracle. Rather, he pointed them to where they (and every generation since) may receive the Holy Spirit no less powerfully than the apostles had: Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For 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 (Acts 2:38–39).
No fewer that three thousand people took the plunge that day. Adults and children got into the baptismal water. There they received the exact same Spirit that had fallen on the disciples earlier: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit came bringing joy abounding, the joy of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the Name of Jesus.
The Festival of Pentecost was always held fifty days after the Passover. Pentecost was a harvest festival, the ingathering of the winter wheat. Pentecost was also the celebration of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Sinai accompanied by wind and fire. And now, fifty days after Easter, Pentecost is transformed. Peter, quoting the prophet Joel, proclaims that these are the last days, when God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. The last days are the Holy Spirit’s days, and so Pentecost begins the time of the Holy Spirit. What began with the Father at Christmas—Of the Father’s Love Begotten—and continued with the Son through Holy Week and Easter—Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—now carries on with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
And the Holy Spirit transforms Pentecost into something greater that the ingathering of the winter wheat and the celebration of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Sinai accompanied by wind and fire. Now, in these last days, Pentecost is the ingathering of sinners into the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. Pentecost is the celebration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ— the Good News of our sins forgiven, our shame and guilt washed away, our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, our souls upon death entering into Paradise with the Lord and our bodies being raised up to eternal glory on the Last Day.
Can you see why the Holy Spirit has traditionally been associated with joy? The Holy Spirit gives us what we cannot receive by our own reason or strength; He calls and gathers us sinners into the Christian Church, what the writer to the Hebrews called the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (12:23). In the ancient world, the firstborn son received the father’s inheritance. That is why in the Bible, those who confess Jesus as Lord are called “sons of God”. For all believers have the rank of the firstborn son in God’s sight. They are heirs of God’s salvation, with all that it offers. God has entered their names in His heavenly family record even more carefully than the Jews did in their earthly genealogical records.
Scripture loves that expression: written in heaven. In Luke 10 Jesus tells his disciples, Rejoice that your names are written in heaven (v. 20) and in Philippians 4 Paul speaks of fellow workers whose names are in the book of life (v. 3). Each believer carries citizenship papers for heaven written in the indelible ink of God’s grace. Every believer on earth has a room reserved in the Father’s house.
And so, as we observe Pentecost today, rejoice! Rejoice that the reason for Jesus, God’s Son, becoming Man and living a perfect life of love and suffering, dying, and rising from the dead was so that He might pour out the Holy Spirit upon you. Rejoice that in Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit has gathered you into the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. Rejoice that today the Holy Spirit is performing a greater miracle than a mighty rushing wind and tongues as of fire and our speaking the Gospel in languages we have never learned. Rejoice that the Holy Spirit is working in you the great miracle of a repentant heart, a heart that confesses all your sins and lays them bare before God, a heart that trusts God to keep His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus. Rejoice that your sins, failures, sorrows, and afflictions—all of them put together—can never make null and void your citizenship papers for heaven written in the indelible ink of God’s grace. Rejoice that the Holy Spirit is ever working to keep you in the faith your whole life long so that you may receive the room reserved for you in the Father’s house.
The ongoing work of Pentecost is not in wind, fire, and miraculous languages but in Word and Baptism and Holy Supper. At the close of Pentecost, St. Luke notes: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the communion, to the Breaking of the Bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). And so, by God’s grace, you and I devote ourselves to the true doctrine of God’s holy Word, to the communion of saints, to the Lord’s Supper, and to the prayers and liturgy of the Divine Service. For in the assembly of saints gathered around Word and Supper and liturgy, the Holy Spirit is ever being poured out afresh for the renewal of our faith in Christ.
Pentecost. Fifty days. The ingathering, the Word, the Church. You are a part of it, for you are called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, kept in the faith by the Spirit.
Come, then, Holy Spirit, warm our cold and lifeless hearts with your Gospel fire.
Come, Holy Spirit, rattle our dry and dusty bones and make them live.
Come, Holy Spirit, loosen our tongues to speak the good news of Jesus.
Come, Holy Spirit, quench our thirst with the waters of Baptism.
Come, Holy Spirit, satisfy our hunger for righteousness with the Body and Blood of our Saviour.
Come, Holy Spirit, put the good news of Jesus into our ears, our minds, our hearts that we may hear, comprehend, and believe it.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.