More Miraculous than You Think
Pentecost is an important festival in the church. Already in 217 A.D. the church father Hippolytus knew of it. Historically it ranked right up there with Easter. As the Church Year calendar has a service for Easter Monday, so it has one for Pentecost Monday. Now, however, most of the pomp and pageantry, solemnity and ceremony to mark what happened on this day have faded. To recapture it churches resort to whooshing wind machines, live doves, and reading the Acts accounts in different languages simultaneously. They miss miraculous and hit silliness. Only by returning to the text will the miraculous find us again and more than we think.
Pentecost announces that the Last Days are now. Peter plainly says so. He says of the violent wind, the tongues of fire, and the undoing of the Tower of Babel, "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: In the Last Days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit .'" So much for the predictors, calculators, and doomsday forecasters of when the world will end. These are the Last Days; these are the end times, and they've been here ever since the Day of Pentecost.
The last days of the world were ushered in on Pentecost because there was nothing to keep the world from ending. In the beginning, God had promised to send the Seed of the Women to redeem the fallen seed of mankind. In the beginning, God had promised to crush the head of the Devil who had ruined His good creation. In the beginning, God promised to send a Man who would be more than a man to do what men couldn't do.
Jesus, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary is that Man. Paul tells us, "All the promises of God are yes' and amen' in Him." The promise of redemption and salvation from the sin and death that the Devil brought into this world are fulfilled in Jesus. Perfect Adam and Eve, let alone imperfect you, couldn't keep the law and not sin. Jesus could and did. Adam and Eve, and you too, can suffer and die for your sins, but no matter how much you suffer or how badly you die, you still can't pay for your sins and so you go to hell to die forever, ever making payments on your debt of sins but never able to pay in full. Because the Man Jesus is God in flesh and blood His suffering and death could pay for sins.
With the Law kept by Jesus' in our place, the Devil has no basis to accuse us of anything. With the punishment the Law demands sinners pay paid by Jesus, the Devil can't demand we pay anything. So God's promises to Adam and Eve have been kept, and the world can end any day now. That's why we constantly pray "Come, Lord Jesus," and "Thy kingdom come!" These are the Last Days and anyone might be the Last. Any day now the Lord could reveal His new heavens and new earth where there is no more crying, dying, hurting, or despairing only believing, hoping, loving, and living.
These being the Last Days is a miracle to be comforted by when your days are dark, endless, hopeless, but another miracle happened on Pentecost that hits home every day for church going people. The New Testament worship was kindled on earth today even as the Old Testament worship had been. Leviticus 9 reports the kindling of the fire needed for Old Testament worship in the tabernacle: "Fire came out from the presence of the Lord, and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown." 2 Chronicles reports the fire kindled in Solomon's Temple: "Fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple...When all the Israelites saw the firethey knelt on the pavement and they worshiped and gave thanks saying, "He is good; His love endures forever."
Jesus in Luke 12:49 said, "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" The fire of God shot forth from heaven to earth to accept sacrifices placed on His altar. These had to be animals without stain or blemish, but these all pointed to the true unspotted Lamb of God, Jesus, who really was without sin or impurity of any kind. He kindled the New Testament fire on earth when He offered Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. God's holy wrath flashed from heaven, and it was all focused on Jesus, till He cried, "It is finished!"
And finished it was. The Father accepted the sacrifice of the Son declaring so on Easter by raising Jesus from the dead. Jesus succeeded in appeasing God's wrath against sinners. Jesus won the right for the proclamation to go out that in Jesus God is not angry with sinners but forgives and loves them. New Testament worship was kindled on earth by Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit as fire just as John the Baptist said He would. On Pentecost fire came from heaven for the last time and rested on the heads of the apostles. This fire is the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. Paul, an apostle, tells Timothy a pastor, that he gave him this Spirit when he ordained him. He tells Timothy that he gave him not the Spirit of fear but of power, love, and sound judgment. He reminds Pastor Timothy, "Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands."
Here's the miracle that goes beyond what you think or can even imagine. The Holy Spirit that Jesus placed in the Church in the apostolic ministry on Pentecost is still here for you today. Older German Lutheran churches had a large wooden dove hanging over the pulpit to symbolize that the preacher's words were those of the Holy Spirit. In the 17th century when Reformed rulers took over and made those churches Reformed, what did they do? They removed those wooden doves.
This shows a key difference between Lutheran and Protestant theology. Lutherans tie, anchor, fix the Holy Spirit to the preaching of God's Word coming from the pastor's mouth. The Protestants do not. The Spirit is not in their words. That is why they emphasize practical, relevant teaching. Their sermons are not a giving of the Holy Spirit but of information. When you go away from a Lutheran sermon where the Law and Gospel are actually preached and you think, "I didn't get anything out of it," you've just exposed yourself to be a Protestant Christian. Lutherans confess that God's Words in the pastor's mouth are Spirit and life not mere information or instruction. Lutherans confess that whoever has ears to hear the pastor's words gets the Holy Spirit, and that is not "nothing" but everything.
Still there's a bigger miracle on Pentecost than the Spirit being put in the apostolic ministry of Words and Sacraments. Through this ministry the Holy Spirit is poured out on every person regardless of class, gender or age. So that they all prophesy, have visions, and dreams as Joel plainly said they would. And here's where we are exposed as not only Protestants but Pentecostals. We hear our Lord promising His people the ability to predict the future, have visions like Paul had, and dreams like Daniel. That would be miraculous; that would be something to build a church around; and that would be completely missing the bigger miracles.
What could be more prophetic than to predict that every child baptized was born again, received the Holy Spirit, and was eternally saved? What greater vision could a man, woman, boy, or girl have than to see thick, black, serious sins being lifted off a person's back by the Words of absolution coming from a pastor's mouth? What more glorious dream could a person have than the Lord of all creation coming down to our altar with His Body and Blood?
You think it would be a miracle if I could tell you what will happen to you in the future. I make a greater more accurate prediction than this. The Words of Jesus you hear will become a spring of water in you welling up into eternal life. You think it would be a miracle if I had a vision of heaven. I have a grander vision than that. I see Jesus Christ on this altar arms spread wide inviting sinners not just to eat and drink Him but to eat and drink forgiveness, life, and salvation. You would be impressed if I dreamed of one of our dead members rising. I have more impressive dreams than that. I see the Spirit in the Waters of Baptism raising dead sinners to everlasting life, and I dream of a time when all the graves will open and give up their dead.
Prophesies of what Holy Baptism certainly will do; visions of the power of Holy Absolution; dreams of the wonders worked by Holy Communion, are the miracles of the Holy Spirit in these Last Days. And the Holy Spirit shows these to every person regardless of class, gender, or age, but there is still something even more miraculous than this here.
Every comet streaking across the night sky, every shooting star, every wonder in heaven, every volcano belching fire and smoke, every eclipse and blood red moon signals the arrival of the miracle of miracles that we in our sinfulness dismiss, disregard, yawn at. It is this: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." But comets, falling stars, erupting volcanoes, solar and lunar eclipses, have been going on since the Fall. Yes, but in the Prophet Joel the Lord at last reveals what they mean.
"Everyone" regardless of what they've done, regardless how unforgivable, unsaveable, unredeemable the rest of the world regards them, "everyone" not some, not most, not many, but "everyone" who calls on the name of the Lord "shall be" not might be, may be, could be, but "shall" be saved. "Saved" not made rich, not physically healed, not delivered from all problems on earth, but saved' from death and hell forever.
Make all the predictions you want, see all the visions you can, dream what impossible dreams you will, and still you will never predict, see, or dream anything more miraculous than this. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Day of Pentecost(20080511); Joel 2: 16-21