“No One Can Say ‘Jesus is Lord’…EXCEPT”
Acts 2:1-21 and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Rev. Michael J. Zehnder
Ascension Lutheran Church, Littleton, CO
May 22 & 23, 2021
One thing I’ve noticed about social media today. People are rip, roaring, ready to be offended at nearly anything and everything. They are ready to loudly denounce anyone who has a difference of opinion. Just last week, Henry (the Fonz) Winkler of the hit TV show “Happy Days,” posted a picture of himself on Twitter in the great outdoors with a beautiful rainbow trout he had just caught. He captioned it, “I just can’t express the beauty everywhere on our planet.” While many nature enthusiasts and fishermen agreed, his innocent little picture of a smiling Fonz with his fish also created a backlash of offended people who made comments like, “I hope you put that beautiful fish back in the beautiful water to continue to live a beautiful peaceful life.” Another wrote. “Death to any animal is not beautiful.” A third wrote, “Take a photo. But don’t rip an animal out of its natural environment with a hook through its face so you can feel something. #fishfeelpain”
Now I’m not going to take a show of hands but I’ll bet most of you have eaten a fish before and maybe even a majority of you have gone fishing at least once and probably in your family picture albums there are photos of your kids or grandkids proudly holding a fish they caught. I used to take my kids to the trout farm in Estes Park where it was easy for a kid to land a fish on their hook and I have more than one picture of a happy kid holding a fish.
But no longer can one person’s happy moment stand without someone ready to take offense and denounce you. In fact, that’s just what happened in our reading today from the book of Acts. Acts chapter two describes one of the happiest moments in Christian history when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and they began to speak the Gospel in other languages they had never studied so everybody gathered from many countries could understand the Good News about Jesus Christ taking away our sins through the cross and His resurrection. What could be greater news than sins forgiven and peace with God? It was a moment in time that had been predicted by Jesus in our Gospel reading. He said, “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…He will guide you into all truth.”
And that’s just what happened. A little beyond our reading today, in verse 41 of Acts 2 it says that over 3,000 people believed the message and were baptized and saved when the Holy Spirit called, enlightened and convinced them that Jesus was their Savior from sin when they heard the Gospel in their own language. Did you realize that up until then there were only 120 believers? When Jesus ascended into heaven (which we celebrated last week) there were only 120 converts who believed in Him. On one day, Pentecost – that word comes from the Greek, pentecoste, meaning 50 days (after Easter) — they went from 120 believers to 3,000 with one sermon or maybe that’s 12 sermons because there were 12 disciples preaching in at least 12 languages. I’d like to preach one sermon like that or be present for one! I’d be happy if 3 people or 2 or even 1 person came up to me today and said, “I want Jesus in my life.” And if you do, let me know and today will be your own Pentecost!
Now that first Pentecost day was so special it’s a major festival in the Church’s life along with Christmas and Easter. Pentecost marks the completion of Christ’s redemptive work and the fulfillment of His promise to send the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost has been called the birthday of the Church and it initiates the second half of the church Year. The first half began with Advent and closed with the Ascension. We celebrated that last week and this church is named after the Ascension. Pentecost begins the longest season of the church year with as many as 27 Sundays. While the first half of the year observes the life of Christ, the second half deals with the life of the Church through the work, gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. So important was Pentecost to the early church that the council of Nicea in 325 A.D., the same council that gave us and approved the Nicene Creed which all Christian churches on earth of every denomination adhere to, that they banned fasting and kneeling on Pentecost. That was just too somber for a day of joy such as Pentecost. Often churches have confirmation celebrations on Pentecost. Pentecost has the joy of new members received, people coming to faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, sinners coming to repentance and starting new life in Christ. It is the joy of a birthday party. It is the birthday of the Church. Pentecost is about gratitude for the Spirit and His gifts. The Spirit brings life; He calls, gathers and enlightens believers into the Church. Since the Church is the product of the Spirit, Christians are grateful on Pentecost for the Church as the mother of their faith. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul explains there is one Holy Spirit but He gives many different gifts according to the needs of the Church. Each believer has at least one gift, none better than another and all have the Spirit which makes each person a necessary member of the Body of Christ.
Wow, that all sounds GREAT, right? Let’s celebrate! Let’s be happy about what God has done on Pentecost and throughout the centuries as He brings people to faith and gives them gifts to mature in faith and produce the fruit of faith!
But no, here come the kill-joys. Just like Henry Winkler couldn’t celebrate a beautiful day outside with a beautiful fish, Christians can’t celebrate the joy of the Holy Spirit without someone getting offended and dissing what God has done.
“Why…why…why they’re just a bunch of drunks! They’ve had too much wine,” they said and they made fun of them. If Twitter had been around in Jesus’ day they would have mocked everything He said and did. Oh wait, they didn’t need Twitter. This spirit of offense has been around to mock the truth since time began. Remember the nasty things they spread around about Jesus? Oh, they called him a wine-bibber and a drunk. They criticized him for hanging around sinners even though His intention was to save them. When He did miracles they had the nerve to say he was doing it by the power of Beel-ze-bub, the devil. When He raised Lazarus from the dead, an obvious miracle, they didn’t put their faith in Him, though some did. Instead, those in power, as a reaction to this great miracle, plotted to kill Jesus because so many were following Him. His own brothers and sisters didn’t believe in Him while He was alive and mocked Him.
No, seeing a miracle, is not enough to bring faith to every person who sees it. Some refuse. Some did refuse on Pentecost. And you can refuse. And here’s the enigma about the Holy Spirit. He is a Gentleman. He doesn’t force anyone to believe in Jesus. He calls, He invites, He enlightens, but if you, by your own willful ignorance (and Scripture calls it disobedience) refuse to believe He does not force it on you. In that sense, God is truly the greatest Lover in the world. He woos us with loving words and deeds, He calls, He invites, He gathers, He enlightens, but He never forces. God wields two kinds of power. There is the power of the empty tomb and there is the power of the cross. When God speaks in His raw power, “Let there be Light,” there is Light. When He raised Jesus from the dead He used raw power – there was an earthquake, angels rolled the stone away – and God’s Son was raised on the 3rd day. But when God speaks through His Word and through His Holy Spirit – the power of the cross – it is a special personal Invitation and it is resistible. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus puts it this way: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and lets me in, my Father and I will come to him and live with him and be with him.”
The power of the cross is the power to willingly release heavenly status and privileges, to live and die amongst His creatures, emptying Himself, becoming nothing, giving up riches and becoming poor so that His creatures could become rich through His poverty (2 Cor. 8:9, Phil. 2:7-8). It is the kind of power which turns the world and all our assumptions on its head, saying “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16; cf. Matt. 19:30, Mk. 10:31, Lk. 13:30). It teaches that the one who deserves the most praise and honor is not the one who conquers or possesses the greatest brute force or political might; rather, it is the one who makes himself nothing, who becomes the lowliest servant, who sacrifices himself in life and death, who will be the most highly exalted (Phil. 2:8-11).
God’s power on the cross is an invitation to believe what He has done for you and trust in His Name. “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) The power of the cross is spoken in the last sentence of our reading from Acts, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It doesn’t say everyone who teaches Sunday School or sings in the choir or attends worship regularly and gives generously will be saved, although these are all good things and they are all faith building and are fruits of faith. But it says, “Call on Jesus.” Believe on Jesus who stands at the door of your heart and knocks and you will be saved.
There’s a certain kind of Bible-teaching I think is very unfortunate. It’s the kind when we are directed to look at things that have happened in the past, in Scripture, as though they are simply nice, unrepeatable stories, “good to know” information. Good stuff for me to know and check off the list of things that are good to know. To be sure, some things that happened in Scripture are unrepeatable, like the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. After His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus said “It is finished.” And it was. His death and resurrection were one-time events, good for all time.
But Pentecost? Oh no, this is a repeatable event. Maybe not in scope or impact – I mean, that day was pretty special with more than 3,000 believing and being baptized, tongues of fire, mighty rushing wind, languages spoken that were never studied. But the main ingredients of Pentecost happen every day. People who are lost and condemned creatures hear the Good News that in spite of their sin, God loves them and has paid for their sin on the cross. Then by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word instead of scoffing at it and saying the messenger must be drunk or mad or something, they believe the Good News and put their trust in Jesus. This happens every day around the world. Why just last week, in their confirmation testimonies at the 10:30 service here at Ascension, I heard at least two of our young confirmands admit to times in their lives when they lost their faith in Christ because of some tough times. But by the grace of God they came back to faith and I was glad they had the courage to admit falling away by their own fault and also share the thrilling news of how God brought them back to faith and life in Christ. We should never assume that children growing up in a Christian house-hold are Christians. When I was a full-time pastor I sometimes used some confirmation materials that were written by our own Pastor Don Ginkel called “Getting Closer to God.” One of the things I liked about these materials is that they did not assume every 12 or 13 year old student was a believer just because he or she grew up in a Christian home or attended church with parents. Being inside a church does not make you a Christian any more than being inside a garage makes you a car. His materials started with the basics, that we are all sinners in need of a Savior and asked the questions, “Do you believe it? Do you want to believe it?
I’ve experienced that same transition myself. I’ve had my own Pentecost Sunday. I was brought up in a Christian home, my father was a Lutheran pastor, my mother a Christian school teacher. But like the fools on Pentecost Sunday at some point I scoffed at the message and stopped believing for a number of years. And when I came back to faith at age 17 in my first year of college it was in the middle of a tirade while I was yelling at God. I went into a chapel at the college, pointed my finger in the air and actually had the nerve to say, “Now hear this” and I told God with curses what a lousy job I thought He was doing running the universe. “Why did you let six million Jews – your people – die in the Holocaust?” I shouted. “Why do you let innocent babies be born with horrible diseases like cerebral palsy?” I yelled. If you’re such a loving God why do you let children around the world starve to death or be sold into slavery? And on and on I shouted angrily at God for a good half hour when it suddenly dawned on me, “If I don’t believe in God, then who on earth am I shouting at about all this?” For one split second I became afraid because I realized I had just cursed big time at the God of the universe. And in the next split second I burst into tears of Pentecost joy as the Holy Spirit reminded me of all I had learned about Jesus as a boy. That He didn’t come to save saints but sinners and call sinners to repentance. That whoever called on the Name of Jesus He would in no wise cast out and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord would be saved. And so I did. I asked Him to forgive me and help me trust in Him. And now here I am like Paul of Tarsus who formerly put Christians to death, now preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and calling on people to believe on Him and put their trust in a forgiving, merciful, loving God.
The Bible says in 1 Cor 12 that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” EXCEPT. Do you know what that exception is? It says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” Of our own desire and strength, we cannot come to or decide for or believe in Jesus as Lord. We do not choose Jesus but through His Word and Spirit He chooses us, convicts us of sin and need for a Savior. To say “Jesus is Lord” is too difficult for human achievement.
I realize that right now I am talking to two kinds of people: those who believe (and maybe that’s most of you) but I also realize I may be speaking to some who do not believe or are unsure, just like I didn’t even though I was raised in a Christian home.
Let me first say something to those who do not believe or who wonder if their faith is too small or who have many questions or who worry about things they have done in the past might make them unforgivable or ineligible for salvation. No such thing! The Scripture we have been looking at today does not say “Everyone who never doubts will be saved.” It doesn’t say, “Whoever has no questions will be saved.” It doesn’t say, “Whoever has cleaned up his life and led a pretty good life will be saved.” It says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” will be saved. What? That’s unbelievable Good News. No wonder there was mocking on that first Pentecost. No preconditions? No “first do this or first do that, like is taught in every false religion?” That’s right. Like those on Pentecost morning, you are hearing the wonders of God in your own language. The Holy Spirit is inviting you and calling on you to believe! Like those first hearers you may be amazed and perplexed at such generosity but don’t close your heart to the invitation and free gift of the Holy Spirit. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
Now to those who believe already, maybe with some ups and downs in fervor sometimes, but in your heart you trust that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, today is a day to celebrate your birthday of faith in Jesus Christ whether that happened later in life or whether you were a wee little one. Celebrate by thanking God for His Holy Spirit who brought you to faith and has kept you in faith. Pentecost was the start of it all and today is a good day to say: “Thank you Jesus for what you have done for me. Thank you, Holy Spirit for bringing me to faith and keeping me in faith.”
And the best way ever to give thanks? Don’t keep it to yourself. “Hide it under a bushel, NO!” Tell others what God has done for you so that the Holy Spirit can use your words of faith to help another person come to faith because Scripture says in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” You be someone’s Pentecost Sunday. Tell them what Jesus has done for you, and them in plain, simple language and with heartfelt words of invitation to believe and call on the Name of Jesus. Amen.
And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in faith and peace through Christ Jesus our Lord.