“The Centrality of Baptism: On Pentecost and in Your Life” (Acts 2:1-42)

The Day of Pentecost
Sunday, June 5, 2022

“The Centrality of Baptism: On Pentecost and in Your Life” (Acts 2:1-42)

Today is the Day of Pentecost, one of the three great festivals of the Christian church year, along with Christmas and Easter. This festival commemorates the day of Pentecost that we read about in Acts chapter 2. And what happened that day–the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s preaching of Christ crucified and risen and repentance and forgiveness in his name–what did that result in? The baptism of 3,000 souls that day. And we even see what happened in the life of the newly baptized in the days that followed: They continued steadfastly in the life of the church.

And so it is for us on this Pentecost day. Today we are gathered in the name of Christ as his baptized people. The Holy Spirit is at work in our midst, working repentance and faith in our hearts, delivering the goods Christ won for us on the cross–all that and more. Then there is the carryover effect of baptism into every day of our lives: dying to sin, rising to newness of life, and having the sure hope of the resurrection. And so our theme this morning: “The Centrality of Baptism: On Pentecost and in Your Life.”

First, let’s see what happened on the Pentecost we read about in our text. “When the day of Pentecost arrived,” Acts 2 begins. Pentecost was a Jewish festival. In the Old Testament, it’s called the Feast of Weeks, since it falls seven weeks after Passover, thus on the fiftieth day, and the word “Pentecost” simply means “fiftieth.” Pentecost was one of the three pilgrimage festivals of Israel, when all the Jews were supposed to travel to Jerusalem and worship at the temple. That’s why you have all those thousands of Jews in Jerusalem in Acts 2, having traveled there from all over the Mediterranean world where they had been dispersed.

This particular Pentecost was seven weeks after Jesus had been crucified in Jerusalem at Passover time. But Jesus arose, of course, and over forty days he appeared to his apostles, before he ascended into heaven. That was ten days ago, and Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem until he sends them the Holy Spirit to empower their witness. Which is what they’re doing when we pick the story up in Acts 2: They’re waiting in Jerusalem. Then the ascended Lord Jesus sends them the promised Holy Spirit, and they commence to witnessing about Jesus. They’ve got a ready-made crowd there, and Peter gets up to speak.

Peter preaches Christ to the people: This Jesus, whom you rejected and crucified just a few weeks back–this Jesus, God raised from the dead, and of this fact, we all are witnesses. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Now this same Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Well, this is a powerful message of repentance! The people are cut to the heart. “We messed up so bad,” they think. “Is there any hope for us?” “Brothers, what shall we do?” they ask the apostles. “Yes, there is hope,” Peter says. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

The people are convicted of their sin, and Peter preaches the good news of forgiveness to them. And notice where he directs them: to baptism. In baptism, they will receive the forgiveness of sins. In baptism, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, they will be saved by God from the judgment that is coming on this world.

And so they are baptized–three thousand of them on that day. But notice, that’s not the end of the story. That’s just the beginning. For all those newly baptized are brought into the life of the church: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” Not just on a surface level. No, it was a deep dive. “They devoted themselves,” it says. And to what? To “the apostles’ teaching”: They wanted to grow deeper in their faith. To “the fellowship”: They committed themselves to their congregation and their fellow church members, sharing life together and caring for one another, in very practical ways. They devoted themselves to “the breaking of the bread”: They communed regularly, partaking of the Lord’s body and blood. And “the prayers”: They praised God, and they asked for his help. They attended the regular liturgical services of Word and Sacrament. This was their life as the baptized people of God. This was the ongoing, continuing, carryover effect of baptism in their lives.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is the same for us today. What happened on the day of Pentecost back then continues to happen in our day. We still need to hear the message of repentance, for we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We still need to hear the word of the gospel, for we all need Jesus Christ. He is still the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord and Savior. He is your Lord! He is your Savior! You have the forgiveness of your sins in his name!

Pentecost keeps happening! The Holy Spirit continues to work in and through the church’s ministry, bringing people to faith and keeping them in the faith through the means of grace. The Holy Spirit is doing that for you right now, strengthening you in faith and love through the gospel means of Word and Sacrament. God continues to baptize souls, bringing them into the church. We are God’s baptized people.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ your Savior? This is evidence that God has given you the gift of the Holy Spirit, in Holy Baptism. As you learned in the Catechism: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Your ongoing faith in Christ–in spite of all that would pull you away from Christ, such as the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh–your faith in Christ is a miracle worked by the Holy Spirit, given you in your baptism and nurtured in you as you continue steadfast in the means of grace.

Pentecost keeps happening! You have opportunities right now to devote yourself to the apostles’ teaching, as you come here regularly for the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in sermons and Bible classes. You are part of this fellowship, our congregation, where brothers and sisters care for one another, where we share our life together. Here you can participate every week in the breaking of the bread, the Lord’s Supper, refreshing you and strengthening you in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. And we devote ourselves to the prayers: We pray for one another, for our country and world, for all those in need, and we praise God for his mercies, which are new every morning. And in our daily prayers, we continue this throughout the week.

We do all this as God’s baptized people. God has given us his Holy Spirit, and the Spirit changes and transforms our lives. This is what I’m talking about when I speak of the centrality of baptism in your life. You live each new day as God’s baptized person and as part of God’s baptized people, the church. This is your identity. This is your life. As Luther used to say: “I am baptized.” Not “I was baptized way back when, and that has no relevance for my life today.” Not that at all. But rather: “I am baptized. I am a baptized person in Christ, every hour of the day, every day of my life. This is who I am, and I thank God for it!”

The centrality of baptism, on Pentecost and in your daily life. Notice how I emphasize this reality even visually. I always lead Confession and Absolution from the baptismal font, showing that we all are baptized in the name of the triune God and that forgiveness in his name flows from this font out to you. And notice the placement of the font: right in the middle of the aisle, so that you pass by the font in order to approach the altar for Holy Communion. This is how we have access to God, as Christ’s baptized people.

The centrality of baptism in our lives. In the Large Catechism, Luther sums it up like this: “In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It delivers us from the devil’s jaws and makes us God’s own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory. For this reason let everyone value his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly.”

Published in: on June 4, 2022 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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