The Day of Pentecost
June 4, 2017
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Forty-two years ago, in 100 degree heat, I walked across a stage with 763 others at Alhambra High School in Phoenix, Arizona to receive my diploma of graduation. Do you know what I felt as I walked across that stage (other than being hot and sweaty)? I felt fear. This was graduation day, the Superintendent of Schools had stamped his name of my certificate, and when they handed me that piece of paper and shook my hand, I was afraid.
To this point I always knew what was next in my life. When I got done with kindergarten they said I could go to the first grade. And after eighth grade they directed me to high school. But no one told me what I had to do once they said I had graduated, but they did tell me that I couldn’t come back to high school for 13th grade. That made me afraid. Now, I had already signed up to go to college and I knew where my next stop was, but I feared the unknown and I feared the thought of failing. It wasn’t joy but fear that made up that day some 42 years ago for me.
Today is Pentecost, a great day in the history of God’s salvation for mankind. But it was fear that led to that day. Pentecost is 50 days after Easter, 10 days following the Ascension. Last Sunday we had the readings for the Ascension. “After He had said this, He was taken up from their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight…Two men dressed in white said to them, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky.’” (Acts 1:9,11a) Why? When is the last time when you saw someone defy the laws of gravity? Why keep looking into the sky? They probably were waiting for Him to return. He had left them before when He died, but three days later He had come back to them. Maybe he would come back, quickly.
But this is what I think – They didn’t know what to do next!! For three years they had seen His miracles, listened to His sermons, believed that God had sent the Savior of the world here in Him, and now He left. What would they do? How would they handle life?
Having the feeling of fear or having the knowledge that we are insufficient, or incapable, is a hard reality. The word “can’t”, or the reality that something is too hard or impossible is something that we don’t readily accept. But Pentecost shows us our weakness and our strength at the same time. It will show us our failing and give us our answer.
Here’s the word for today, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” (II Corinthians 3:5 ESV) We, we are insufficient for faith and living the faith by ourselves. By ourselves we will fail. We will simply sit there, gazing into the sky, unable to take the step forward for faith and life.
We actually will say that very truth today when we confess what we believe about the Holy Spirit, God’s gift on Pentecost, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason of strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” (Martin Luther, Small Catechism, Explanation of the Third Article) We are dead in transgressions and sins. (Ephesians 2:1) Insufficient. How about the word that compares the life of the Spirit and the life of the flesh? How often do we live in that miserable flesh? “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) I know there are some sins listed that don’t touch many of us – witchcraft and orgies – at least I hope not. But there are some that are all too common – hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, envy – and they carry the same consequence – hell!!
When I got done with high school they wouldn’t take me back. Though I had some fear and insecurity I had to go forward. For every person who faces fear and insecurity considering matters of soul and life we are given the greatest security and sufficiency – God’s Holy Spirit.
Before the Ascension Jesus addressed their needs, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-5, 8)
On that day of Pentecost, when the work of the Holy Spirit became evident, it was Peter who God used as His messenger. If anyone can tell us about being insufficient by their own strength it is Peter. On the Thursday of Jesus’ arrest, the day before His crucifixion, Jesus tried to warn His followers. “This very night you will all fall away on account of me….” (But) Peter replied, ‘Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.’ But Jesus responded, ‘I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ (Matthew 26:31,33-35a) Secure Peter!! Strong Peter!! Peter, the Rock!! But that solid disposition didn’t last too long!!
Peter, of all the others, is chosen to be the spokesman on that day. If anyone could tell us about being insufficient by self, it’s him. You might know why pastor’s wear robes (it’s to cover up our crummy suits, right?). It’s to cover us. By our self we could not speak of the things that we speak – both of sin and forgiveness. We could not give such gifts from self – gifts like Baptism or Holy Communion or Absolution – so we cover up our insufficiency and let God be sufficient in what He wants to do here. (I read a short bit about judges and the robes that they wear. They didn’t always wear robes, but in the 1800’s they again wore them as they made pronouncements of justice. One judge said of this, “When you are going to stand in judgment on somebody’s life, you need all the help you can get. That robe helps you get the words out of your mouth.” [Pulpit Resource, April, May, June, 2002, Page 31])
On that day, a day when thousands of people from all over the world would be in Jerusalem for a Jewish feast called Pentecost, God got the words out. The sound of a mighty wind filled the house where the followers of Jesus were. What looked like tongues of fire came and rested over the heads of those believers. And the Holy Spirit came on them. They spoke in a language that they didn’t even know – but it was a language that others in the crowd, people who didn’t know of Jesus, knew. Those miracles were quite amazing, huh? Wind blowing violently – inside, tongues of fire over their head, unknown languages spoken. You know what? That was nothing!! The outer miracles were nothing if an inner miracle didn’t occur. It would have been just a big show if it didn’t change the lives of those who hadn’t heard of Jesus.
They didn’t just speak in a language that was new to them. They spoke about a person who was new to their listeners. They spoke about Jesus!! They spoke about Jesus – the one who is fully sufficient to be the Savior of all. “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11) When Peter answers the Lutheran question, ‘What does this mean?” he says, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the agony of death, because it is impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:22-24)
And now the real big deal happened. It says of the listeners – “They were cut to the heart.” (Acts 2:37) They repented, they believed, they were baptized. Insufficient? Incomplete? Failed and fearful? No!! “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41) They came to faith. They knew the work that Jesus did for them. They were saved.
Can such things happen yet today? They have to. Do you have any idea how many thousands, or millions, or billions of people, don’t confess Jesus? They won’t be in heaven. They’ll be in hell. Forever. God’s Spirit has to work still. He alone can take people, take us, from being fully insufficient without him, to being fully complete through Him. We find ourselves through Jesus to be sufficient with eternal salvation and the hope to live every day in the Spirit’s strength.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love.” Amen!!