You wouldn't know it today, but Pentecost was once a huge holy day. Services were held on Pentecost Eve, Pentecost Day, and the Monday and Tuesday following. Even in the 40s Lutherans still held services on the Monday after. But now Pentecost amounts to little more than one of the few services where we use red paraments. I'd like to change that. I'd like to show you the importance of Pentecost by showing you how it's linked to other things. Imagine a computer screen before you with Pentecost in bold red letters on it; tongues of fire and a diving dove are in the back ground. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen, and there see Pentecost Links.
One of the links is an icon of an open tomb. Click on it, and you're at another page labeled EASTER. The Holy Spirit wants you to link the events in our text with Easter Sunday. You can see this from the fact that the account begins literally, "And when the day of Pentecost was filled up." Pentecost literally means 50th. It was the 50th day from the Sunday after Passover. The Sunday after the last Passover was Easter Sunday. The Holy Spirit takes us back to that Sunday by not just saying, "When the day of Pentecost came," but "When the day of Pentecost was filled up."
Why did the Jews count those 50 days? Well, the Sunday after Passover on their calendar was when they offered the first sheaf of the barely harvest. Pentecost, the 50th day after this was by Old Testament Law the day they celebrated the wheat harvest. So Easter Sunday was a Jewish celebration of the firstfruits and Pentecost was the celebration of the whole harvest.
Pentecost is linked to Easter Sunday, but you don't see how significant this is till you recall that St. Paul calls Jesus, "The firstfruits of the resurrection." His resurrection is the sign that all those in Him would rise. Easter Sunday was a prelude to the events of Pentecost. Jesus' rising victorious over sin, death and the devil meant these unholy three couldn't stop the rest of the harvest.
There's even significance in the fact that on Easter Sunday a barely sheaf was offered while on Pentecost Sunday it was a sheaf of wheat. Barely was the poorest of grains. It made black bread. It was the ration of the soldiers and the daily bread of the poor. Wheat was the best of grains. So the resurrection of Jesus, who called Himself the least in the kingdom of heaven, a worm and no man, a servant of all is prefigured by a poor barely sheaf. While the resurrection of sinners from the unbelief of sin, death and the devil is prefigured by a beautiful, golden sheaf of wheat.
So, as St. Luke takes us to the first Pentecost he wants us linked to the events of Easter Sunday 50 days earlier. What's happening in our text is linked to what happened then. If the resurrection of Jesus hadn't happened, then the outpouring of the Holy Spirit couldn't have happened even as if the barely harvest failed so would the wheat.
There's another link at the bottom of the Pentecost page. There's an icon, a picture, of Jesus in the sky. Click on that. Immediately you go to a page with the banner ASCENSION scrawled across it. The Holy Spirit through St. Luke wants us to link Pentecost with Ascension. There are only 2 places in the New Testament where this strange Greek phrase occurs referring to days being filled up for something to happen. Both of them are from the pen of St. Luke. In his Gospel he uses the expression in 9:51 to refer to Ascension and here in Acts he uses it to refer to Pentecost.
St. Luke wants us to link the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from heaven and the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. You can know that from the Gospel reading as well, can't you? John 16 records Jesus' words in the upper room on the night He was betrayed, Maundy Thursday. There He says to the apostles, "It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you." If Jesus doesn't ascend, the Holy Spirit doesn't descend.
I can give you a visual of this. You've all seen fireworks. There's a muffled explosion and then a light trail streaks into the night sky. Then a bigger explosion happens and sparks pour down out of the sky. The Ascension of Jesus into heaven is like the firecracker streaking up into the sky. It's just a thin little light trail. Many people on the ground might not notice it even as just a few saw Jesus ascend. The firecracker exploding is Pentecost which all of Jerusalem saw. Pentecost happens because Jesus ascended. He brought His Body and Blood into heaven, the same Body He had carried away our sins on is now before the Father testifying that our sins are no longer on us. The same Blood Jesus shed to cover our sins is now before the Father hiding our sinfulness from His view.
Remember how at the Baptism of Jesus, the only person the Holy Spirit coming out of heaven could land on was the holy Jesus? Once Jesus, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world had ascended into heaven, there is no reason the Holy Spirit could not be poured out on all humanity. But how is the Holy Spirit poured out on humanity? By a direct zapping? By zooming down and taking possession of people by force like the evil spirits do? No, the Holy Spirit is poured out by the preaching of the free forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus.
Let me see if I can prove this to you from the text. The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples. The crowd says, "We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues...Then Peters stood up with the 11...and addressed the crowd: 'These men are not drunk as you suppose...No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people.'" Peter says that the disciples speaking of the wonders of God is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all people that the prophet Joel had predicted.
Before the Lord completed His work of redeeming the world the devil held the nations captive. The Gospel was mainly in the Jewish nation. In order to get the Gospel you had to be connected to the Jewish nation. But once Jesus rises from the dead, what does He do? Where before Jesus had sent His disciples only to the lost sheep of Israel, now He sends them into the nations. In Matthew He says, "Make disciples of all nations." In Mark He says, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation." In Luke He says that forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations. John in Revelation 20 shows this in beautiful pictures: The death of Christ binds Satan with a huge chain "so that he should not deceive the nations any longer."
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all nations doesn't happen by means of signs and wonders. We know from the Books of Exodus, Daniel, and Acts, that the nations had signs and wonders already without the Gospel. What they didn't have was the preaching of the Gospel. The preaching of the Gospel to them says Peter was the fulfillment of Joel's prophesy that God would pour out His Spirit on all people in the last days. It's true the crowd was brought to the disciples by the sound of a blowing wind, but they don't mention that or even the tongues of fire but only that they heard, literally, the mighty deeds of God. There are no mightier deeds of God than what He did through Jesus Christ.
There's one more link on the Pentecost page. It's an icon showing a burning world. Click on that and you come to a page that says, "The End of the World." Pentecost, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all the world is the last great act of God. It ushers in the Last Days. Peter tells you that by quoting Joel's prophesy about the Last Days and saying that what the crowd saw happening was the fulfillment of those words Every wonder in heaven like eclipses that turn the sun into darkness and the moon blood red; every sign on earth like volcanoes erupting, the ground quaking, and fire and smoke billowing into the air is now to point you to the fact that the Last Day could come at any time.
But didn't these things exist before Pentecost? Yes, even as the rainbow probably existed before the Flood, but until God told Noah that the rainbow was a sign of grace, he couldn't have known that's what it meant. Likewise, Peter tell us that God through the prophet Joel wants us to take ordinary things like eclipses as signs that the Last Days have arrived. The Last Days, however, aren't marked just by eclipses and volcanoes but especially by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all people through the preaching of the Gospel.
The Gospel is for all people. That's why Baptism is for all nations. That's why Peter goes on in this sermon to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Jesus name to every single one of his hearers. The Spirit in the Gospel is for young, old, male and female of every tribe, tongue, people and nation. The Spirit is not just for a particular people distinguished from others by special laws, ceremonies, and government. No, the Spirit is for all.
So do our sons and daughters prophesy, our young men see visions, and our old men dream dreams? Are our Pentecostal and Charismatic friends right who tell us that the Spirit communicates to them in visions about what home to buy, what person to marry, or what job to take? Are they right when they tell us the Holy Spirit tells them what will happen next in the Middle East or in the war on terrorism? Are they right when they tell us that the Holy Spirit tells them what to do and think in dreams?
What do we find in the rest of the Book of Acts? We find that as a result of the Gospel going out there were a few people who actually prophesied, Agabus correctly foretold a famine and the imprisonment of Paul. Four daughters of Philip are called prophetesses, but no prophesy of there's is recorded. In fact, the Holy Spirit doesn't tell them about Paul's arrest; Agabus must come where they are and foretell it. We only read of 2 fore-tellings by 1 prophet. But we do read of a lot of forth-telling of God's Word. The disciples go out and preach the Gospel and others like Aquilla, Priscilla, Phoebe, and Apollos are moved to speak God's Word to others.
Moreover, there are visions or dreams in Acts. Coreneillus is led by one to send for Peter so Peter can preach the Gospel to his household. Annias is given a vision to go and baptize Saul, the killer of Christians. These visions or dreams are remarkable, but they are all centered on the forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake. They don't call Christians to give more money to the Church, to finish paving a parking lot, or lead them to move here or take this job. They all serve the preaching of the Gospel. Even in our text, Peter says that what the crowd witnessed was the fulfilling of Joel's prophesy about young, old, men and women prophesying, dreaming, and having visions. Yet no mention is made of any dreams or visions or predictive prophesy.. All we are told is that the crowd heard them declaring of God's mighty deeds in their own languages.
Pentecost is so important because it is the day the Easter Gospel goes into all the world as a result of Jesus ascending into heaven and pouring out the Holy Spirit on all people by means of the preaching of the Word. These are the Last Days the prophet Joel spoke of in which everyone of any nation who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Day of Pentecose (5-19-02), Acts 2:1-21