“The Spirit’s Brave New World” (Acts 2:1-21)
Day of Pentecost (May 23, 2021)
As we greet this new day, we could proclaim, “Happy Birthday!” It is the Day of Pentecost, the Christian Church’s annual celebration and remembrance of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the twelve apostles and , through their witness, upon us. In a very real sense, it is our birthday , the birth of the Christian Church.
This means that our present, as well as our future are all actually very much influenced by the events of this Day of Pentecost. For the very dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit, as we are given to see it in Luke’s account in the Book of Acts, has had a most profound effect upon our whole world. In fact, let me just say that if the Holy Spirit had not come as He has, you wouldn’t be where you are today as a child of God and our world would be a whole different place, and not for the better either.
You and I could look out at the world right now and really question why God even puts up with it. It’s full of strife, pain, suffering, bloodshed, violence of every description, denial of truth, and every vile and abhorrent perversity imaginable.
In 1931 Aldous Huxley wrote a science fiction novel entitled “Brave New World.” Perhaps some of you have read it. Although Huxley set his story in the year 2540 London, it actual reflects the instability of his contemporary society plagued by a world war, the depression, industrialization, the rapid growth in all sorts of technologies, and the breakdown of societal norms and moral values. It was a “Brave New World” and he meant that in a most negative sense.
Huxley actually derived his title from Miranda’s speech in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Act V, Scene I). Having been “raised for most of her life on an isolated island, and the only people she ever knew were her father and his servants, …, When Miranda sees other people for the first time…she proclaims in a very ironic manner: “O Wonder! How many godly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in it” (Wikipedia).
I would suggest that the title Brave New World aptly characterizes the world you and I face. Traditional morals and values that have guided us in the Western World for two millennia are all but gone. The practice of religion and the exercise of a representative politic are but hollow vestiges of bygone days. The permissiveness of society has taken perversion out of the closets and dark alleys and made them mainstream. The deification of science has sought to make religion and God obsolete. Political correctness, the emphasis on personal freedom to do whatever makes one happy, and the call for racial equity and social justice have almost eliminated personal accountability, the family, and marriage.
But Pentecost tells us we can face this “new,” but very old, world with bravery. In fact, the rather remarkable, even wondrous, events of this day assure us that we can even confront our world with the absolute confidence of faith in Jesus Christ.
As we heard once again in the reading from Acts, there were wonders galore on that first Pentecost. It all began ordinarily enough. Devout Jewish men, heads of their households, from areas in a 360 degree radius around Jerusalem, were in the city for what was the second annual religious festival God gave to His Old Covenant people . The first, held in March or April was the Passover. It was to remember how the Lord brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. The last of the three was held in the 7th Jewish month, around September or October; it was to celebrate the harvest, but more importantly, to memorialize the journey from Egypt to Canaan; and to give thanks for the productivity of Canaan. And, here, the second festival, held always 50 days after the Passover, was held to offer up thank offerings of the first of the wheat harvest. It soon became known as Pentecost for fiftieth.
The events of this Pentecost, however, gave the worshippers a much different first harvest to focus on. It was the harvest of souls for the Kingdom of God. To mark its importance, and world changing power, God worked, some “great and wondrous signs.” The first was a sudden noise from heaven like a rushing, violent, wind which was centralized in the home where the Twelve apostles were residing. It was of such intensity and loudness that it attracted people from all over the city of Jerusalem.
Next, there miraculously appeared what were like little flames of fire hovering over the apostles’ heads. Finally, the apostles began to speak in other languages they had never before learned. They spoke as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance of the great things God has done.
So marvelous and astounding were these “signs” that people began asking each other, “What does this mean?” No one had ever seen anything like this, nor has anyone since. The crowd was totally baffled. Some in the crowd acknowledged, “Aren’t these speaking Galileans?” In other words, “These aren’t highly trained men. They’re not priests or even Levites. Why, they are not even high school graduates! How can they be speaking so fluently and beautifully our native languages? Something extraordinary is going on here!”
But, of course, others were not so impressed. In fact, they scoffed at the whole affair and said, literally, “They are filled with sweet wine.” Now, come on, did these folks really believe drunkenness could produce something so profound as the immediate ability to speak so perfectly in a language you had never before learned? Of course, they didn’t. Not unlike the doubters of anything miraculous today, they were mocking the whole affair, refusing to see God at work.
Whether they were getting the significance of the signs or not, these three signs were accomplishing exactly what God had created them to do: draw all attention to something even greater that was taking place; something that would forever change the world for them and for you and me.
What was that? It was the visible coming of the Holy Spirit upon these men Jesus had chosen to be His witnesses in the world all in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to them. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, Luke records that He said to His chosen disciples, “‘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 now, they no longer spoke for themselves. They were no longer mere fishermen from Galilee. The Holy Spirit was upon them not to lift them up to some station above all other people but to show that now God the Holy Spirit spoke through them. He had empowered them to speak boldly the great things of God, most especially, the great things God had done for sinners in Jesus Christ. He would bring back to their memory everything that Jesus had taught them (Jn 14;26). It was a new day for the world. With the Holy Spirit’s presence, no longer would it be business as usual. It was a brave new world in a very positive sense.
Speaking on behalf of the twelve, Peter, who had in a moment of weakness denied Jesus and even after Jesus resurrection feared of reprisals from the Jews, now in the boldness of the Holy Spirit, “…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.’”
Wow! Now all this truly changes everything. The last days have come. For thousands of years, God had prophesied that the end of days would come when this world with all of its rebellion, mischief, and unbelief would end. He had spoken through His prophets in various ways, through dreams and visions, that He would come Himself to bring to completion all things, to judge the wicked and bring comfort to His people with salvation.
2,000 years ago now, the angels filled the skies above Bethlehem with their song of praise, announcing that our 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 assures us that He has accomplished our salvation from sin, death and devil. God’s judgment has been carried out. He has born the sins of the whole world and made complete satisfaction for them in His own sacrifice on the cross. Our rebellion has been atoned for. We can live each day in His victory.
Now, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, God is assuring us that the end of days for this world has come. No longer do you and I have to rely on God’s prophets to hear a word from the LORD.
His Spirit is upon all flesh. Through the apostles’ inspired witness to Jesus, as recorded for us all in the Holy Scriptures, we have God’s final revelations. We need no other word from God. It’s all right here in the Holy Bible; everything about how sinners like you and me are saved… everything about how God expects us to conduct ourselves in this world…. everything about what we can expect in the days ahead… everything needful to save others.
This means it’s a new day for this world. The Holy Spirit is working through that Word in everyone who hears it to bring them to the knowledge of the truth of Christ and their salvation in Him. That means the Holy Spirit is now with each of us who are in Christ Jesus to empower us to be like the apostles and be witnesses of the truth to those around us. You do not need to wait for St. Peter or even the pastor to come and tell your friend or neighbor about the truth of his/her salvation in Jesus Christ. The Word you have been given through the apostles as recorded in the Holy Bible, is God’s Word of Truth. As we share, speak 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 you and me. The Holy Spirit brings the Gospel to bear in their hearts and lives which is the power of God unto salvation (Ro. 1:16).
This also means, by the way, that the last days of this world have come. Now, I do not say this because I’ve been listening to the tinfoil hat crowd on the internet, nor because I’ve become one of those millennialist, doomsday, prophets like Hal Lindsey or Oral Roberts, who are continually claiming the great battle of Armageddon and the Rapture are at hand. Such claims are clear misunderstandings of what Jesus and His apostles taught concerning the end of the world. As Jesus told Pilate He has no interest in physically reigning on earth or engaging in physical warfare. His, He said, is a spiritual kingdom. He reigns through His Word and Sacrament in the hearts and lives of His people.
I said that with the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost it signaled that we have entered the last days of this world based upon what the apostle Peter said in his sermon that day to the people of Jerusalem who witnessed with their eyes and ears the mighty rushing wind, the flames of fire on the apostles’ heads and the apostles’ bold speaking of the wonders of God in all those many languages. As you already heard, Peter evaluated it all through the end time prophesy of Joel. Led by the Holy Spirit, Joel clearly said “in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh… and they shall prophecy… and it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the Lord shall be saved.” Before His ascension Jesus had already 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” (Matt. 24:14).
Now I know it easy to get all caught up in the other words Joel says about these last days like the LORD 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…” These are spectacular things to observe to be sure. They are beyond our everyday experiences and so capture our imagination. However, they have been experienced throughout recorded history in such natural phenomenon as great wildfires, meteor showers, alignments of planets and blood moons. The real sign of the last of days is the coming of the Holy Spirit and the bold proclamation of the truth and Gospel of Christ which defeats the forces of darkness, shines the light of truth in the darkness, and brings lost and troubled souls into Christ’s kingdom.
All this signals, then, that we ought always be living everyday as though it were the last. With the coming of the Holy Spirit it ought never be business as usual; that is, living as though the world and its priorities are all that matters.
It is a brave new world now. Every day the world is spiraling downward into more decadence and decay. But that is actually the norm since the fall into sin. What makes it a new world is that now, the Holy Spirit has brought to you and me the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which changes everything, defeats evil, and saves sinners. Armed with the Spirit and the Word of Christ, you and I can face the world bravely. We can speak and live His word boldly. For we know, as Jesus promises, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
May the Holy Spirit, who is upon us in Jesus’ Word, and given us in our Baptism, embolden us to bravely live out our lives in these last days of this world no matter where life may lead us and boldly speak His Word of Truth no matter what opposition there might be to it! (Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum- The Word of the Lord Remains Forever) Amen.