A great and festive day in the church year, to be sure. Yet we often forget
that the Pentecost we hear about in our second lesson today was by no means the
first Pentecost. The children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been
celebrating it for over 14 centuries by the time of Christ and the apostles.
The word means “fiftieth,” and there are 50 days between the Passover week’s
Sabbath and Pentecost. It’s also the fiftieth day since the Feast of
Firstfruits, one of the Jewish festivals the Lord established during the
Israelites’ Old Testament wanderings.
Feast of Firstfruits always took place on the day after the Sabbath following
Passover, which means it was always on the first day of the week. If Pentecost
was fifty days later—seven weeks plus one day—then Pentecost also took place on
the first day of the week. A Sunday, like today.
Christians assemble and worship on Sunday, the first day of the week, chiefly
because on that day our Lord arose from the dead. But we mustn’t forget that
Sunday is also the day on which the Holy Spirit was given to the church, and
the day its mission of “making disciples of all nations” began in earnest.
Jewish feasts, found in Leviticus, chapter 23, are a parallel of the work of
salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ. To fully comprehend Pentecost, we need
to back up a bit, to the first of the appointed feasts. At the Passover, you
may recall, an unblemished lamb was sacrificed as a commemoration of the first
Passover in Egypt. The lamb’s blood, smeared on the lintels and doorposts of
the Israelites’ homes, had provided protection from the angel of death.
is a “type” or forerunner of Jesus’ own death as the Lamb of God. You remember
what John the Baptist had said to his own followers about Jesus: “Behold, the
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). Paul later
wrote, in 1st Corinthians: “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been
sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
day after the Passover Sabbath, the day which became for us Easter Sunday, was
the Feast of Firstfruits. And it was on this day that Jesus rose from the
dead, and “became the firstfruits of them that slept,” as Paul also told the
Corinthians in explaining the resurrection (1st Corinthians 15:20).
celebrate the goodness of God in giving them a harvest in the Promised Land,
the priest was to wave a sheaf of grain before the Lord. But things are
different on Pentecost. On this day, the priest would wave loaves of bread.
unlike the Passover bread made without yeast to remember the haste with which
the Israelites left Egypt, the Pentecost bread is leavened bread.
would be relatively easy for us to distinguish physically between the sheaves
of grain waved before the Lord at the Jews’ Feast of Firstfruits and the two
leavened loaves waved at Pentecost. But it’s more challenging to pick up the
parallels to Christ’s work in these physical representations. We certainly
have to be cautious about using analogies that aren’t given to us explicitly by
the Scriptures, of course, but as long as we don’t call them a “type” of
Christ, we can still find them useful to illustrate things. Try to think about
it this way:
sheaves were made up of many stalks of grain, with many individual grains in
each of their heads. But in the Pentecost loaves, the many grains have been
broken down, ground and mixed together, then fused by the heat of the oven into
one single entity.
us, the Feast of Pentecost pictures the formation of the church. At Pentecost,
the Holy Spirit baptized the believers and united them into one body. There
was leaven in the Pentecost loaves, just as there will be the leaven of sin
present in the church on earth. The church will not be perfect until it gets to
must not conclude that the ten days of praying that Jesus’ followers did
following His ascension brought about the miracles of Pentecost, or that we
today should pray to experience another Pentecost of that sort. Like our
Lord’s death at Calvary, that Pentecost was a once-and-for-all event that will
not be repeated. We would not ask for another Pentecost for the Spirit any more
than we would ask for another Calvary for Christ. What God has done in the
Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 is as fully sufficient for the Church as was
Christ’s death on the cross.
we consider the events of that Pentecost, it is important that we separate the
incidentals from the essentials. What’s important to realize about Pentecost is
that it’s all God’s doing, not ours:
came and the people heard a sound like rushing wind and saw tongues
similar to fire. The Spirit baptized and filled the
believers, and then the Spirit spoke through them as they praised
God in various languages. The Spirit empowered Peter to preach,
and then the Spirit convicted the listeners and gave them faith,
so that 3,000 of them recognized Jesus as the Christ and were saved.
Holy Spirit had certainly been active prior to Pentecost. He had worked in
Creation, moving over the face of the waters on the unformed earth (Gen.
1:1–2). The Spirit had acted in Old Testament history, moving Gideon to lead
the Israelites to victory (Judges 6:34) and coming upon David when he was
anointed to be king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:13).
Spirit was present and active in the life and ministry of Jesus, too: In His
conception (Luke 1:30–37), at His baptism, in leading Him into the desert and
supporting Him in His temptation (Luke 4:1, 14), and in His preaching and His
at this Pentecost there would be two significant changes in how the Spirit
would be manifest in God’s people: the Spirit would dwell within people and not
just come on them, and His presence would remain with those who believe (John 14:16–17). The Spirit could not have come any sooner than Pentecost, for it was essential
that Jesus die, be raised from the dead, and return to heaven before the Spirit
could be given (John 7:37–39; 16:7ff). Remember that Jewish calendar in
Leviticus 23: First comes the Passover, then Firstfruits, and then Pentecost.
were three startling signs that accompanied the coming of the Spirit: the sound
of a rushing wind, tongues of fire, and the believers praising God in various
languages. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that the believers were on
the grounds of the temple when this event occurred, since they spent much of
their waking time there following Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:53). The word house
which is used here in Acts 2 can refer to the temple, as it does in Acts 7. It
is certainly more likely that they would have attracted the attention of the
large throng of Pentecost pilgrims there than if they were isolated in a
private dwelling on a narrow side street of Jerusalem.
sound and these tongues were indications of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the
baptizing of the Spirit which Jesus had promised before His ascension. The
Greek word baptizo has two meanings, one literal and the other
figurative. The word literally means “to submerge,” but the figurative meaning
is “to be identified with.”
baptism of the Spirit on that Pentecost is that act of God by which He
identified those believers with the exalted Head of the church, Jesus Christ.
Being identified with Him, they were formed into the spiritual body of Christ
filling of believers with the Holy Spirit, whether this comes as it did on
Pentecost or as it comes to us today through Word and Sacrament, is always both
miraculous and God-given. This filling provides us with faith, and it gives us
power for witness and service (Acts 1:8), just as it did the apostles and other
early believers. We are not exhorted to be baptized by the Spirit, for
this is something God does once and for all when we are first brought to faith
through the means He has given us.
we are certainly commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), for we need His power constantly if we are to serve God effectively. These
Christians experienced the baptism of the Spirit, and were filled with the
that day, they experienced no more baptisms, but they received many other
fillings which enabled them to serve Christ from that day forward (Acts 4:8,
31; 9:17; 13:9).
baptism of water and the Spirit which you received at the font means that you
also now belong to His body. Likewise, the fullness of the Spirit dwelling
within you means that as His child, your newborn body and soul now belong to
Him and to His Bride, your Holy Mother, the Church. Your baptism is a one-time
thing, but its fullness is repeated each time you remember it, turning in
repentance to Christ’s throne of grace, and trusting God once again for new
power to be His faithful witness.
baptism into the Holy Spirit, by necessity, is both individual and communal.
It certainly is applied to each of us as God’s gift. Yet it involves all other
believers, for it unites us as one in the body of Christ (Eph. 4:1–6).
fullness of the Spirit is personal and individual, too, yet it enables us to work
together with Christ and His Church for the furtherance of His kingdom.
you ever noticed that what the Jews from these many lands heard the believers
speaking initially was not the proclamation of the Gospel, but the praises of
God? More importantly, and contrary to the experience that many insist is
necessary to demonstrate that one has faith and the gifts of the Spirit, these
believers used known languages, not some “unknown tongue” (Acts 2:6, 8).
Luke names fifteen different geographical locations, and he clearly stated that
the citizens of those places heard Peter and the others declare God’s wonderful
works in languages they could understand. The Greek word translated
“language” in Acts 2:6 and “tongue” in Acts 2:8 is dialektos and refers
to a language or dialect of some country or district (Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14).
wasn’t some gibberish or a strange, special spirit-language—it was meant by God
to be understood by those to whom His message would be revealed, just as He has
revealed His Word to us in human language. The means by which the apostles
spoke the languages was extraordinary, but the languages themselves were
familiar to their hearers.
did God do this? For one thing, Pentecost was a reversal of the judgment at the
Tower of Babel, where God confused man’s language (Gen. 11:1–9). God’s
judgment at Babel scattered the people, but God’s blessing at Pentecost united
the believers in the Spirit. At Babel, the people were unable to understand
each other; but at Pentecost, men heard God’s praises and understood what was
said. The Tower of Babel was a human scheme, designed to glorify men, but
Pentecost brought praise to God. The building of Babel was an act of rebellion,
but Pentecost was a ministry of humble submission to God. What a contrast!
reason for this gift of tongues was to let the people know that the Gospel was
for the whole world. God wants to speak to every person in his or her own
language and give the saving message of salvation in Jesus Christ. The emphasis
in the Book of Acts is on worldwide evangelization—“to the ends of the earth,”
as Jesus had instructed many of these same believers ten days earlier (Acts
the sound of the wind drew the people to where the believers were gathered, but
it was the praise by the believers that really captured their attention. The
careless listeners mocked and accused the believers of being drunk, but others
were sincerely concerned to find out what was going on. The people were
perplexed (Acts 2:6), amazed (Acts 2:7, 12), and they marveled (Acts 2:7).
What’s more, it seems that there were a few Lutherans among the crowd, for in
their amazement, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
then got up and addressed the crowd. Whether his sermon to the crowd was given
in a single language that many would understand, such as Greek or Aramaic, or
if his speech, too, miraculously was heard by everyone in their native
language, we do not know. What’s important in understanding Pentecost is not
the means, but the message, faithfully preserved and accurately communicated,
just as we have received it in the Scriptures. This was a message given by a
Jew, to Jews (Acts 2:14, 22, 29, 36), on a Jewish holy day, about the
resurrection of the Jewish Messiah whom their nation had crucified.
those who were there, and who would listen, Peter explains the significance of
what they were seeing and hearing. The joyful worship of the believers was not
the result of too much wine; it was the evidence of the arrival of God’s Holy
Spirit to dwell in His people.
points the Jews to the prophecy of Joel, who had written of some of the signs
and wonders that would be seen as the end times approached. Peter did not say
that Pentecost was the fulfillment of the prophecy, because all the
signs and wonders Joel predicted had not yet occurred.
it was known to these Jews that the “Day of the Lord” would indeed one day
come, and that only those who called on the name of the Lord would be saved.
Peter was led by the Spirit to see in the prophecy of Joel an application to
the church. He was saying, in essence, “This is that same Holy Spirit that Joel
wrote about. The Spirit is here!”
an announcement would seem incredible at first to the Jews, because they
thought God’s Spirit was given only to a few select people (see Num. 11:28–29). But here were 120 of their fellow Jews, men and women, enjoying the blessing of
the same Holy Spirit that had empowered Moses, David, and the prophets.
would only be after Peter went on to give the account of the life, death,
resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ that many were convicted by the
Law, and received the Gospel to their salvation.
Pentecost was indeed the dawning of a new age, the “last days” in which God
would bring to completion His plan of salvation for mankind. Jesus had finished
the great work of redemption and nothing more had to be done except to share
the Good News with the world, beginning with the nation of Israel. The invitation with which Peter concludes this first portion of the Pentecost
account is, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of
the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
this festive day, for God has spoken to you in language you can understand. He
has baptized you with the Spirit—in water and Word—and united you in the body
of Christ, in this Holy Mother, His Bride, the Church. Though you, too, had
your sinful role in handing over Jesus to be crucified, the Holy Spirit has
convicted you of your offenses with God’s Word of Law. You have repented, and
His Gospel promise that is for you and for your children has been offered and
then. Be filled not with leavened bread and new wine, but with the bread and
wine that bestow to you the body and blood of your Savior. Call upon the name
of the Lord, and be saved. In that Holy Name (+) of Jesus, Amen.