Sermon text- Acts 2:1-13
Note: Reading of Joel 2:28-32 in 5 languages (1 per verse)
THE HOLY SPIRIT COMES TO SAVE US BY GRACE
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit! We trust in You to save us. Amen!
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ, who keeps His promise to send the Holy Spirit to us: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pentecost did not begin in the New Testament. The festival of Pentecost was an Old Testament observance. It was celebrated by the Jews, 50 days after Passover. Passover first celebrated Israel’s deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. Fifty days later God gave them the Ten Commandments, at Mt. Sinai. That’s what this Jewish festival, “the day of Pentecost,” celebrated: the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai.
So what’s the deal with Pentecost in Acts 2? Why make such a big deal about it? Well, for one thing Jesus made a big deal out of it. Right before He ascended to heaven – 10 days before this – Jesus told them to wait together in Jerusalem for Him to send the Holy Spirit to them. He said at that time: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Ac 1:8).
The Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament. He is mentioned as a distinct Person of the Trinity in Genesis 1:2, by David in 2 Samuel 23, all the times it says “the Spirit of the Lord came upon” someone, and chiefly in God’s promise to send the Spirit, in Ezekiel 36 and Joel 2. So what was happening on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2? It was the fulfillment of God’s promise to pour out the Holy Spirit, and it was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send His apostles the Spirit. The Holy Spirit would come.
But we have to be very clear about the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s coming. Because we also pray: “Come, Holy Spirit!” The overriding impression of what happens on Pentecost is: power. But it was in service to something. The reason the Holy Spirit comes is: grace. It’s to give. To save. The hymn verse we sang about the Holy Spirit says that: “We trust in Thee to save us.”
So it’s important that the Holy Spirit came after Jesus completed His work. Back in John 7 it says: “The Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Jesus first had to live, suffer and die, rise from the dead and ascend to heaven. Only after He finished His redeeming work would the Holy Spirit begin to do His work publicly, for all people.
So here is a contrast between the Old Testament festival of Pentecost and the New Testament one. The Old Testament Pentecost pictures Mount Sinai, where it’s the preaching of Law. The New Testament one, once you get past the amazing signs, is the apostles preaching “the wonderful works of God,” the good news about Jesus, and it’s heard by everyone “in their own language.”So what happens on Pentecost is: the Holy Spirit comes into hearts not through the Law but through the Gospel, not commanding works but preaching grace – God’s forgiving love.
Let’s look first at what happened. “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” It wasn’t a wind but a sound like there was a mighty wind or storm in the room. “Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.” It wasn’t actual fire, but on their heads sat what looked like flames of fire, but it didn’t singe their hair.
Last of all: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This wasn’t just “like” something. The Holy Spirit actually filled them, but no one could see that. They could notice the outward signs of it, the words they spoke. The apostles spoke in the languages of people who were from various nations, in spite of not having learned these languages or dialects. It wasn’t gibberish; they understood. “Everyone heard them speak in their own language.” They said, “How is it that we hear, each in our own language?”
One final “sign” that day of the Holy Spirit: 3,000 people who heard Peter’s sermon repented, believed in Jesus, and were saved – a sign that the Holy Spirit was working! Peter did preach the Law that they killed Jesus, the Law is what “cut [them] to the heart.” But it’s the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, Peter preaching “the remission of [their] sins” through baptism, not their work but God’s grace, that saved them. It’s how the Holy Spirit came to them and came into them: by the Gospel.
This is the main thing to see today, and it’s a challenge. You tend to focus on the signs, the power that accompanied the Holy Spirit’s coming. But it was the preaching of “the wonderful works of God,” the preaching of Christ, that was the main thing. The people got that, they said: “We hear it!”
It’s a challenge in life too. It’s a challenge in the church today. You look around and see that just about everything but the wonderful works of God grabs people’s attention. You look at the world, at the non-stop attack of people trying to trans our kids and have them define themselves by their mental health, and try to silence Christians’ faith and keep us on the retreat or on the defensive, and it seems like Christianity is too weak, we don’t have enough power or influence. What God offers to His people in the Word, and Sacraments, people don’t think it does much. He wants our life to be centered around it, and even faithful Christians struggle to do this.
Your own faith doesn’t seem to move mountains or even be strong enough for day-to-day struggles. Your faith doesn’t seem remotely impressive. Maybe you don’t think much of it. Discouragement gives way to feelings of emptiness which gives way to apathy. We can look at the first Pentecost and be desperate for our faith experience to have this power or impressiveness.
But as the first Pentecost shows us, it wasn’t about the powerful outward signs. Those signs were there just to show that the Holy Spirit was there. He came not to show power. He came to show His love for poor sinners.
The Holy Spirit’s love for us is something we need to see. We know God the Father’s love, that He sent us His Son. We know Jesus and His love, that He came down from heaven and He even died for us. “God demonstrates His own love toward us” how? In that “Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).But today on Pentecost we’re reminded that the Holy Spirit loves us.
I like to explain this with an illustration from the world of health care. Think of how you go to the doctor when you’re sick. The doctor diagnoses you and writes a prescription. As soon as he writes the prescription are you better? No, still sick. Then you go the pharmacy and they hand you the medicine. Are you better? No, still sick. It isn’t until you administer the medicine to yourself, that it actually goes into you, that healing can start.
That’s how it is with God. God the Father is like the doctor – He diagnosed our problem of sin and death, and He wrote the prescription with care. He planned our salvation and sent His Son. Jesus is like the pharmacist. He carried out God’s plan, He “filled the prescription.” The healing and cleans- ing for all people’s sin is contained in the blood He shed, the blood that cleanses from all sin. He came down, He died for you, because He loves you. Now “it is finished” and it’s available to everyone!
But although everyone’s sins have been paid for and forgiven, and Jesus’ resurrection proves it, it does you no good at all unless it’s actually given to you and you receive it. Administering it —distributing it – bringing it to you and into you, is the Holy Spirit’s doing. He does this because He loves you.
How are we at receiving it? We prioritize other things and let them keep us away. We don’t take time for it. We live contrary to it. We even act ashamed of it or fight against His Word. We lose so much when we cut ourselves off from His Word! Our unhappiness is our own doing. Why is it hard to love as we should? Why do we lack peace? Why do we let others lower our standards? We make it hard for the Holy Spirit. We put up obstacles.
But does Jesus say: “No, Holy Spirit, don’t go to them. They’re not worthy. They aren’t ready. It’ll just be wasted on them”? No! God in His grace still sends the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit, in spite of what we are, He comes. And He keeps coming. He came in Baptism to give you faith, He came in the Word to you at first to give you faith; and now He keeps coming to you in Law-Gospel preaching, and in His Supper, to keep you in the true faith.
You can count on it that the Holy Spirit produces a good faith in you, with the fruits of faith. You don’t need to apologize for your faith, saying your faith is weak, etc. The Holy Spirit doesn’t give weak faith. He produces faith in Jesus, which is strong and living. The “weak” part is just that this living faith is being attacked. And you can count on it that the Holy Spirit will stay with you, protect this faith He gives you, keep you in this faith, to the end. He does it in His Word and in the Supper that strengthens you in the true faith.
May the Holy Spirit fill you inwardly and outwardly, surround you, and be with you always. Amen!