Day of Pentecost – 5/23/2021
As we greet this new day, we 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. It is our birthday—the birth of the Christian Church.
That means that the events of Pentecost impact our present and future. The dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit in Luke's account in the Book of Acts profoundly affected the entire world. If the Holy Spirit had not come as He has, you would not be where you are today as a child of God. Our world would be a whole different place, and not for the better.
You and I could look out at the world now and question why God even puts up with it. It's full of strife, pain, suffering, bloodshed, the violence of every description, denial of truth, and every vile and abhorrent perversity imaginable.
In 1931, Aldous Huxley wrote a science fiction novel, "Brave New World." Some of you have read it. Although Huxley set his story in 2540 London, it reflects the instability of his contemporary society, plagued by a world war, the depression, industrialization, the rapid growth of all sorts of technologies, and the breakdown of societal norms and moral values. It was a "Brave New World," and he meant that in the most negative sense.
Huxley derived his title from Miranda's speech in William Shakespeare's The Tempest (Act V, Scene I). "Raised for most of her life on an isolated island, and the only people she ever knew were her father and his servants," Miranda exclaims when she sees other people for the first time, "O wonder! How many Godly creatures are there here? How beautiful humanity is! "O brave new world, full of such people" (Wikipedia).
I would suggest that Brave New World's title aptly describes the world you and I face. Traditional morals and values that have guided us in the Western world for two millennia are nearly gone. The practice of religion and the exercise of representative politics are but hollow relics of bygone days. The permissiveness of society has taken perversion out of the closets and dark alleys and made it 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 old, world with bravery. 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. Devout Jewish men, heads of their households, from areas in a 360-degree radius around Jerusalem, were in the city for the second annual religious festival God gave to His Old Covenant people. The first, held in March or April, was Passover. It was to remember how the Lord brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. The last of the three occurred 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 the second festival, which was always held 50 days after Passover, was held to thank the first wheat harvest. It soon became known as Pentecost for fifty.
The events of this Pentecost gave the worshippers a much different first harvest to focus on. It was the harvest of souls for the Kingdom of God. God performed some "great and wondrous signs" to demonstrate its significance and world-changing power. The first was a sudden noise from heaven, like a rushing, violent wind, centered in the home where the twelve apostles lived. It was of such intensity and loudness that it attracted people from all over the city of Jerusalem.
Next, miraculously appeared what looked like little flames of fire hovering over the heads of the apostles. Finally, the apostles began to speak in other languages they had never before learned. They spoke as the Holy Spirit spoke to them about the great things God had 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, and no one has since. The crowd was baffled. Some acknowledged, "Aren't these speaking Galileans?" In other words, these were not highly trained men. They were not priests or even Levites. They were not even high school graduates. How can they speak our native languages so fluently and beautifully? "Something extraordinary is going on here!"
But, of course, others were not impressed. They scoffed at the entire affair and said, "They were filled with sweet wine." Did these folks believe drunkenness could produce something as profound as the immediate ability to speak perfectly in a language you had never before learned? Of course, they didn't. Unlike the doubters of anything miraculous today, they were mocking the whole affair, refusing to see God at work.
Whether they understood the significance of the signs or not, these three signs were accomplishing what God had created them to do: draw all attention to something even more remarkable that was taking place, something that would forever change the world for them and you and me.
What was that? It was the visible coming of the Holy Spirit upon these men that 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. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." You are witnesses to 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 above the apostles' heads indicated they could no longer speak for themselves. They were no longer mere fishermen from Galilee. The Holy Spirit was upon them not to lift them to some station above all other people. But to show that God, through the Holy Spirit, spoke through them. He had empowered them to speak boldly about the great things of God, most especially the great things God had done for sinners in Jesus Christ. He would refresh their memories on everything Jesus had taught them (John 14:26). It was a new day for the world. With the Holy Spirit's presence, it would no longer 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 reprisals from the Jews, now in the boldness of the Holy Spirit, "...lifted 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." As you suppose, these men are not drunk 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 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, fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall turn 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 prophesied that the end of days would come when this world. 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 to complete all things, judge the wicked, and comfort His people with salvation.
Two thousand years ago, the angels filled the skies above Bethlehem with their song of praise, announcing that our God, Immanuel (God with Us), had come. 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. God's judgment has been carried out. He has borne and completely satisfied the whole world's sins in His sacrifice on the cross. Our rebellion has been atoned for. We can live each day in His victory.
With the Holy Spirit's coming, God assures us that the end of days for this world has come. You and I no longer have to rely on God's prophets to hear a word from the Lord.
His Holy Spirit is upon all flesh. We have God's final revelations through the apostles' inspired witness to Jesus, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures. We need no other word from God. It is 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 necessary to save others.
That means it's a new day in 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 all of us in Christ Jesus to empower us to be like the apostles and witness the truth to those around us. You do not need to wait for St. Peter or the pastor to come and tell your friend or neighbor about the reality of 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).
That also means, by the way, that the last days of this world have come. I do not say this because I've been listening to the tinfoil hat crowd on the internet or because I've become one of those millennialists, 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. Jesus told Pilate he was not interested in physically reigning on earth or engaging in physical warfare. His is a spiritual kingdom. He reigns through His word and sacrament in the hearts and lives of His people.
I said that the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost signaled that we 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 prophecy of Joel. Joel, led by the Holy Spirit, said, "In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh... They will prophesy..." 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 world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14).
Now I know it's easy to get all caught up. In other words, Joel says about these last days, like how the LORD will show "wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, 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 outside of our daily experiences and thus capture our imagination. However, they have been experienced throughout recorded history in such natural phenomena as wildfires, meteor showers, alignments of planets, and blood moons. The real sign of the last 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.
We ought to live every day as though it were the last. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, it ought never to 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 has been the norm since the fall into sin. The Holy Spirit has now brought to you and me the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which changes everything, defeats evil, and saves sinners, making it a new world. Armed with the Holy Spirit and the Word of Christ, you and I can face the world bravely. We can boldly speak and live His word. 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 to us in our Baptism, encourage 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.