Hope in Today's Brave New World: The Significance of Pentecost

May 19, 2024 – Day of Pentecost | Acts 2:1-21 ESV


Brave New World

Pentecost: A Celebration of Hope and Empowerment

As we greet this new day, we joyfully proclaim, "Happy Birthday!" Today is Pentecost, the annual Christian celebration of the Holy Spirit's outpouring upon the twelve apostles and, through their witness, upon us. It marks the birth of the Christian Church, making it our birthday as well. The events of Pentecost significantly shape both our present and future.

The Dramatic Arrival of the Holy Spirit

The dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit, as depicted in Luke's account in the Book of Acts, has profoundly impacted our world. Without this divine intervention, our lives as children of God and the state of our world would be drastically different, and not for the better.

As we look at the world today, we might question why God endures its current state, filled with strife, pain, suffering, bloodshed, and violence. The denial of truth and the presence of vile behaviors further illustrate the world's troubled condition.

Brave New World: A Reflection of Contemporary Society's Instability

In 1931, Aldous Huxley wrote a science fiction novel titled Brave New World. Some of you may have read it. Although Huxley set his story in the year 2540 in London, it reflects the instability of his contemporary society, plagued by world war, depression, industrialization, rapid technological growth, and the breakdown of societal norms and moral values.

It was a "Brave New World" in a negative sense. Huxley took the title from Miranda's speech in William Shakespeare's The Tempest (Act V, Scene I). Raised on an isolated island, Miranda had only known her father and his servants. When she sees other people for the first time, she ironically exclaims: "O wonder! How many good creatures are there here? How beautiful mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in't!"

Facing Today's Challenges with Bravery

I suggest that "Brave New World" aptly characterizes the world we face today. Traditional morals and values that have guided the Western world for two millennia are nearly extinct. Religion and representative politics are mere shadows of their former selves. Society's permissiveness has brought perversion out of the shadows and into the mainstream. The elevation of science seeks to render religion and God obsolete. Political correctness, personal freedom, and the push for racial equity and social justice have almost eliminated personal accountability, family, and marriage.

However, Pentecost tells us we can face this "new," yet very old, world with bravery. The remarkable events of this day assure us that we can confront our world with absolute confidence in our faith in Jesus Christ.

The Extraordinary Wonders of Pentecost

As we heard in the reading from Acts, the first Pentecost was filled with extraordinary wonders. It began as an ordinary event: devout Jewish men, heads of their households from regions all around Jerusalem, were in the city for the second of the three annual religious festivals given by God to His Old Covenant people. The first festival, Passover, held in March or April, commemorated the Israelites' liberation from Egypt. The third festival, held in the seventh Jewish month around September or October, celebrated the harvest and the Israelites' journey from Egypt to Canaan, giving thanks for Canaan's productivity. The second festival held 50 days after Passover, was originally for offering thank offerings for the first wheat harvest and became known as Pentecost, meaning "fiftieth."

However, this Pentecost brought a different kind of harvest: the harvest of souls for the Kingdom of God. To mark its importance, God performed great and wondrous signs. First, a sudden noise like a rushing, violent wind came from heaven and filled the house where the Twelve Apostles were staying. This sound was so intense and loud that it drew people from all over Jerusalem. Next, what appeared to be little flames of fire miraculously hovered over the apostles' heads. Finally, the apostles began speaking in other languages they had never learned, proclaiming the great things God had done as the Holy Spirit enabled them.

These marvelous signs left people asking, "What does this mean?" No one had ever seen anything like it. Some in the crowd were baffled, acknowledging, "Aren't these men Galileans?" In other words, "These aren't highly trained men. They're not priests or Levites. They're not even high school graduates! How can they speak so fluently and beautifully in our native languages? Something extraordinary is happening!" However, others scoffed and claimed, "They are filled with sweet wine." These skeptics did not believe drunkenness could produce the ability to speak perfectly in previously unknown languages. Like doubters of the miraculous today, they mocked the event, refusing to see God at work.

Regardless of whether people appreciated the significance of the signs, these wonders accomplished their purpose: drawing attention to something even greater—the visible coming of the Holy Spirit upon the men Jesus had chosen to be His witnesses, fulfilling His promise to them. This event would forever change the world for them and us.

A New Era Empowered by the Holy Spirit

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, Luke records that He spoke to His chosen disciples, saying, "'He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, 'Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:45-49).

The flames of fire above the apostles' heads signified that they no longer spoke for themselves. They were no longer mere fishermen from Galilee. The Holy Spirit was upon them, not to elevate them above others, but to show that God the Holy Spirit now spoke through them. He empowered them to boldly proclaim the great things God had done, especially for sinners through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit would remind them of everything Jesus had taught (John 14:26). It was a new day for the world. With the Holy Spirit's presence, it was no longer business as usual. It was a brave new world in a very positive sense.

Speaking on behalf of the twelve, Peter, who had once denied Jesus and feared reprisals from the Jews even after Jesus' resurrection, now boldly addressed the crowd with the Holy Spirit's power. He said, "'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.'"

The End Times: God's Final Revelations

Wow! All of this truly changes everything. The last days have arrived. For thousands of years, God prophesied that the end times would come when the world with all its rebellion, mischief, and unbelief would end. He spoke through His prophets in various ways, through dreams and visions, foretelling that He would come to complete all things, judge the wicked, and bring salvation and comfort to His people.

Two thousand years ago, angels filled the skies above Bethlehem with songs of praise, announcing that God had come, Immanuel (God with Us). The Son of God was born of Mary. Jesus' resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father assure us that He has accomplished our salvation from sin, death, and the devil. 

Now, with the Holy Spirit poured out on all flesh, we no longer need to rely on prophets to hear a word from the Lord. His Spirit is upon all flesh. Through the apostles' inspired witness to Jesus, recorded in the Holy Scriptures, we have God's final revelations. We need no other word from God. It is all in the Holy Bible: how sinners like us are saved, how God expects us to live, what we can expect in the future, and how to save others.

Living in the Last Days

This means it is a new day for the world. The Holy Spirit works through the Word in everyone who hears it, bringing them to the knowledge of Christ and their salvation in Him. The Holy Spirit empowers each of us who are in Christ Jesus to be witnesses of the truth to those around us. 

You do not need to wait for St. Peter or even the pastor to tell your friend or neighbor about their salvation in Jesus Christ. The Word you have, as recorded in the Holy Bible, is God's Word of Truth. As we share and declare it rightly, the Holy Spirit rebukes, brings to repentance, convinces of the truth, converts, and comforts sinners (John 16:8-11). 

It is not our own doing. The Holy Spirit brings the Gospel to bear in their hearts and lives, which is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).

The Last Days: Prophecy and Spiritual Reign

This means, by the way, that the last days of this world have come. I am not saying this because I've been influenced by conspiracy theories or become a doomsday prophet like Hal Lindsey or televangelist John Hagee, who often predict the imminent arrival of the great battle of Armageddon and the Rapture. Such claims misunderstand what Jesus and His apostles taught about the end of the world. 

As Jesus told Pilate, He has no interest in physically reigning on earth or engaging in physical warfare. His kingdom is spiritual; He reigns through His Word and Sacrament in the hearts and lives of His people.

I say that the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost signaled the beginning of the last days based on what the apostle Peter said in his sermon to the people of Jerusalem. They witnessed the mighty rushing wind, the flames of fire on the apostles' heads, and the apostles boldly speaking of God's wonders in many languages. Peter interpreted these events through the end-time prophecy of Joel. Led by the Holy Spirit, Joel said, "In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh… and they shall prophesy… and it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the Lord shall be saved."

The Gospel and Our New Reality

Before His ascension, Jesus told these same disciples, "This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). It's easy to get caught up in Joel's other words about the last days, like the Lord showing "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." 

These are indeed spectacular and capture our imagination because they are beyond our everyday experiences. However, such phenomena have been observed throughout history in natural events like great wildfires, meteor showers, planetary alignments, and blood moons.

The true sign of the last days is the coming of the Holy Spirit and the bold proclamation of the truth and Gospel of Christ. This Gospel defeats the forces of darkness, shines the light of truth into the darkness, and brings lost and troubled souls into Christ's kingdom. This means we should live every day as though it were the last. With the Holy Spirit's arrival, it should never be business as usual, living as if the world and its priorities are all that matters.

Last Days in a Brave New World: Holy Spirit, Truth, and Gospel

We are now in a brave new world. Every day, the world spirals further into decadence and decay, a norm since the fall into sin. What makes it a new world is that the Holy Spirit has brought us the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which changes everything, defeats evil, and saves sinners.

Armed with the Spirit and the Word of Christ, we can face this brave new world bravely. We can speak and live His Word boldly. For as Jesus promises, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35). 

May the Holy Spirit, who is upon us through Jesus' Word and given to us in our Baptism, embolden us to live bravely in these last days, no matter where life leads us, and to boldly speak His Word of Truth, regardless of the opposition! (Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum - The Word of the Lord Remains Forever) Amen.