“The Day of Pentecost: What Does This Mean?” (Acts 2:1-21)

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, May 23, 2021

“The Day of Pentecost: What Does This Mean?” (Acts 2:1-21)

You know those people we heard about in Acts 2, the ones in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost? I think they must have been Lutheran. I mean, it says in our text, “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” That’s the Lutheran question, isn’t it? “What does this mean?” We’d almost expect the answer to begin, “We should fear and love God so that. . . .” Well, even if it isn’t right out of the catechism, this is still a good question to ask: “The Day of Pentecost: What Does This Mean?”

Let’s start by asking about that word “Pentecost.” What does this mean? Literally, it means, “fiftieth.” For it was on the fiftieth day after Passover that thousands of Jews from around the world were gathered in Jerusalem for one of the great pilgrimage festivals in the Jewish religious year. In Hebrew, this festival is called “Shavuot” or “Weeks.” The Feast of Weeks came seven weeks, seven sevens, after the Passover. That’s why all these Jews were in Jerusalem. They were there for the Feast of Weeks, “Shavuot” in the Hebrew or in the Greek, “Pentecost,” the “fiftieth day.”

But in this particular year, Pentecost came seven weeks after a most unusual Passover. For it was right around Passover that year that some truly amazing things took place. You see, there was this fellow Jesus of Nazareth who had gotten the crowds all worked up. The Jewish religious leaders called for his crucifixion, and the Roman governor Pilate gave it to them. Since then, his disciples had laid pretty low. They had been hanging out in Jerusalem, and now, on the day of Pentecost, “they were all together in one place.”

“And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.” The sound of a rushing wind. Tongues of fire resting on each one. What in the world does this mean? Well, actually, something not of this world. These were signs from heaven. The sound came from heaven, the sound of a mighty wind. The word for “wind,” whether in Hebrew or in Greek–the same word is used for “Spirit” or “wind” or “breath.” So the sound of the wind was a sign of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This was the breath of God blowing on them, filling and empowering these disciples of Christ. And then fire. John the Baptist had said of Christ, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” A holy fire, purifying the people of God. And “tongues” of fire, at that. Tongues are for speaking. And that’s just what they do: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

But why? Just to make a confusing babel of sounds? No. Again, this is a sign from God, a sign from heaven. It served a purpose. What happened was, when that sound occurred, the sound of the mighty rushing wind, it gathered a crowd. Remember those thousands of Jews in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost? When they heard this unusual sound, people were curious and went to see what was going on. And that’s where the disciples were.

When the crowd gets there, they hear something else just as unusual. It’s the believers speaking in a variety of languages. But aren’t they just Galileans? How come they’re able to speak in these different tongues? They couldn’t have learned those foreign languages, this bunch of uneducated fishermen. But the people in the crowd, the Jewish pilgrims from around the world, are able to understand what is being said in the languages of the nations they come from. Amazed, they ask, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and so on. “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God!”

And so this is what all the speaking in tongues is about. What does this mean? It means that God is going to have himself a people from all the nations of the earth. The gospel is going to go forth in many languages, to all peoples. “Every tribe and language and people and nation.” It’s starting here in Jerusalem, on this first day of Pentecost, the beginning of the church’s ministry out into the world. Jesus had told his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And this is it. Now it is starting.

It starts especially when Peter gets up and addresses the crowd. The sound of the wind and the speaking in tongues had gotten the attention of the crowd and drawn an audience. Now Peter is going to get to preaching. He will be that witness for Jesus in Jerusalem. First, Peter explains the phenomena that people had just witnessed–the wind, the fire, the languages. This, he says, was a fulfillment of a Scripture from the prophet Joel. God had promised to pour out his Spirit on all flesh. Now that promise has been fulfilled. “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” the Scripture said. And so here are these disciples of Jesus, telling forth the great things God has done in the person of Jesus Christ. This is a sign: We are now in the end times, the last days. Judgment Day is coming, the day of the Lord, “the great and magnificent day.” Therefore, people, be ready. Take refuge in the mercy of the Lord. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

If that was true then, how much more is it true today! If those people back then were in the last days, how much more are we, in these days, in the end times. Judgment Day is coming. We don’t know when or how soon, but it is coming. Therefore, we need to be ready. We need to be saved from the coming judgment, from death and hell and eternal damnation.

That’s how Peter begins his sermon, with the need for salvation. From there he goes on to tell how that salvation happens. He explains what calling on the name of the Lord involves. Peter tells this crowd of Jews that the Jesus whose death they had called for, just weeks earlier–Jesus of Nazareth, divinely attested to be the Messiah–this same Jesus, God has raised from the dead. His death was no accident. It wasn’t even your doing. His death was according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. But death could not hold him. God has raised this Jesus to life, Peter says, and we are witnesses of this fact. Exalted now to the right hand of God, Jesus has poured out the promised Holy Spirit, as you now see and hear. Be assured, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

What does this mean? What does this mean for you and me? It means that God’s plan and purpose was to send his Son to be our Savior. Jesus willingly, knowingly, went into death for our sake. We had sinned against God, blindly, ignorantly, not knowing how much we were actually enemies of God. Nevertheless, God has had mercy upon us. The death of God’s own Son paid for our sins. Jesus paid the whole debt of sin and death. He took the punishment we deserve. Therefore, rest assured, God is not punishing you. Jesus then rose from the dead, showing that death has had the sting taken out of it. And even though he has been taken from our sight, Jesus now is our ascended and exalted Lord.

What does this mean? It means that our Lord Jesus Christ gives us also the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we may know him and have faith in him and thus be saved. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to the church, empowering our witness here at home and to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit is our Helper, our Comforter and Counselor, the one who comes alongside of us, to guide us into all the truth and to empower our witness to Christ. The Spirit strengthens our faith in Christ through the church’s ministry of Word and Sacrament.

So what does all of this mean? It means that Pentecost is still happening. It is ongoing. It continues today. The gospel is going out to all peoples: Bonne Terrians and De Sotans, residents of St. Francois County and Jefferson County, Missourians and Chicagoans, Germans and Swedes–and if there are any Parthians or Medes or Elamites in the building, well, you’re getting the gospel, too. The Holy Spirit continues to work saving faith in the hearts of all kinds of people, through the ministry of the gospel. Christ’s Spirit-filled disciples–people just like us–we Pentecost people will tell forth the mighty works of God with our tongues to the people we meet. Yes, Pentecost is still happening today, as God’s baptized children speak forth their faith, and the Holy Spirit empowers their witness.

The day of Pentecost: What does this mean? It means that you who call on the name of the Lord–you shall be saved! And it means that the Lord will use our tongues, he will use our Spirit-empowered witness, to share the good news with others.

Published in: on May 22, 2021 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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