June 4/5, 2022 Acts 2:1-21
Rev. Michael J. Zehnder Ascension Lutheran Church
Happy birthday to you…
Happy birthday to you…
Happy birthday dear ____________ (church), Happy birthday to you…
Today (Pentecost Sunday) is known as the Birthday of the Church. On this day, 2,000 years ago, according to Acts 2, God poured out His Holy Spirit on the 12 fearful – hiding from the authorities – disciples and turned them into bold preachers of all that Jesus Christ had said and done and in one day over 3,000 people repented, were baptized and were saved. Within weeks, two chapters later, by Acts 4 the number of believers had grown to 5,000 men which may mean 10,000 people total counting the women, or 20,000 adding in for the children. Then they just stopped counting. Acts 5:14 simply says “more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” By Acts 6:1 there was cross-cultural growth and it mentions Grecian Jews and Hebraic Jews and by Acts 6:7 Christianity was spreading like wildfire and even the staunch orthodox Jewish priests were coming to faith in Jesus. It says, “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Our Acts 2 passage mentions that on the day of Pentecost people from every nation were present. Why? Because it was a required festival on the Jewish list of holidays to give thanks to the Lord. Pentecost literally means 50th day (after Passover – which is analogous to our Easter). It was when people from every nation came to thank God for the first harvest of the agricultural year, a little like our Thanksgiving holiday. On Pentecost Jews returned to Jerusalem to celebrate by making a sacrifice in the Temple of Solomon. That is why there were people there from Africa, Asia and Europe. That is why Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Persians all were present in one place at one time. God was doing two wonderful things at once: He was converting people and He was establishing a church that consisted of and welcomed people from every race and region of the world who would take the message back to their respective nations. Talk about God’s perfect timing!
By the way, How do we know the Apostles drove a Honda?
It says: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one Accord.”
OK, before we finish looking at this spectacular Pentecost event, let’s back up for a minute to our OT lesson for today from Genesis 11 about the tower of Babel. For this is where the different races, languages and nations were created in the first place. Up until then, since Adam and Eve, people spoke the same language and were of one race. The scene in Genesis 11 takes place sometime after the landing of Noah’s ark after there had been a great population explosion. The problem was that God had told them after getting off the ark to “go into the world, be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth.”
They were good at the fruitful part, which was fun, but they stayed in one big clump of people and wanted to build a great tower to make a name for themselves and never be spread out. And so God had to confuse their languages to get them to stop this project and to “go fill the earth.”
So there they are at the Tower of Babel Construction Site just working away with their Babelite Construction Power Tools.
They might have had a SAW – V-F
And a Drill – Z
Maybe a Hammer – P
Can you picture the construction site for the Tower of Babel? (V-F, Z, P) Billy’s on the 95th floor of the Tower and he yells down to Joey, “Hey Joe pass me up some mortar, will ya?” Right then, God changes the languages and Joe, now known as José says, “Que pasa, hombre? No entiendo! Mi nombre no es Joe. Creo que me estoy enfermando!”
Having no idea what Jose just said, Billy shouts down to Mike. “Hey Mike, would you check on Joe for me? I think he just called himself Jose and I think he might be having a stroke or something at this altitude on the 95th floor.”
And Mike shouts back “Was haben Sie gesacht? Was wünschen Sie? Ich verstehe nicht. Können Sie mir sagen wo kann ich meine hände gewaschen?”
And then Hiroshi gets involved, yelling, “Dong, gooree kohrah kohrah, oikame hata disatai hen” and suddenly no one is making sense to anyone else and it all sounds like BABBLE at the tower of BABEL and the whole construction project comes to an end and they all come back down to the 1st floor.
EXCEPT every now and then someone hears a familiar sound. Ever play Barnyard game in youth group? Everyone is assigned a different animal sound to make and on the count of three some people are going “woof, woof” others are going “quack, quack,” some are saying “meow, meow” and so forth and the idea is to find the others making the same sound as yours and get into a group huddle.
That’s how it was at the Tower of Babel. Every who said, “Yo quiero Taco Bell” went this way.
And everyone who said “Datsun, Nissan, Kawasaki or Honda” went that way. The Tower Project came to an end and the nations were scattered to the ends of the earth which was God’s purpose. So now there was French, Italian, Russian – and Thousand Island (ha- just checking to see if you’re still tracking with me).
The point is that God created the different languages and the various nations. Now, roughly 4,000 years later, God decides to bring all these people with various languages together in Jerusalem so they can all hear the Gospel. But He didn’t do the opposite of the tower of Babel and give back to everyone just one language. Instead, He did a different miracle. He kept all the languages and races he had created at the Tower of Babel but instead he gave to the 12 apostles the gift of being able to speak in the various main languages of the people who had been gathered for Pentecost, the harvest festival of thanksgiving.
To start, there was the sound of a mighty rushing wind. Actually, scripture says it was a VIOLENT wind and interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for spirit (Ruach) and the Greek word for spirit (pneuma) can both also be translated “wind.” That’s where we get the image of the Spirit being the wind of God and the scripture even uses this metaphor and says, “The Spirit blows as it will, like the wind. You can’t see where it’s coming from or where it is going.” On top of each of the apostles’ heads there appeared something like a flame or tongue of fire. So If you suddenly find yourself caught in an indoor tornado and your scalp on fire, it might be …Pentecost.
For Christians, Pentecost marks the birthday of the Christian church, the day when Peter preached and in response to that sermon there was a harvest of 3,000 souls converted. Wow, who wouldn’t love to preach a sermon with that kind of effect? I’ve read the ingredients of that sermon over and over to understand what it was that Peter said – he explained that Jesus died for their sins and rose again and told them they had crucified Jesus, who was both Lord and Christ – and when they said “what shall we do,” he said, “Repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The bottom line is that Peter simply preached the basic facts and the Holy Spirit was mighty to save on that day and opened many hearts. It was the Holy Spirit that did the convincing and Peter’s words went out on the wings of the Holy Spirit. After this message we’re going to recite the explanation of the third article of the Creed which is the best thing I ever had to memorize from the catechism as a child. It explains the role of the Holy Spirit in conversion.
“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
Remember I said Peter preached the first sermon about Jesus to a large crowd, gathered for their Festival of the Harvest? This is the same Peter who 53 days earlier had said about Jesus; “I never knew Him.” This is the same Peter who had nothing good to say about Jesus when someone asked him directly if he was one of the followers of Jesus. But on the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood before a crowd of the same people he once feared, yet he boldly declared the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Amazingly, Peter stood before many of the same people who had shouted, “Crucify Him,” on the day Jesus stood trial before Pontius Pilate in the city of Jerusalem. Now Peter declared in no uncertain terms the Man they had ordered to be crucified was, in fact, the Son of God. How did Peter go from being Frightened to being Fearless? How did Peter go from being Cowardly to being Courageous? How did Peter go from Denying Jesus to Defending Jesus before the very same people in the very same place?
Peter did not simply change his mind; Peter himself was changed. Something happened to Peter and to the other 11 apostles to set them on fire for Jesus Christ to such a degree that it was soon said about them, “Here are those who are turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). What happened to them, and what needs to happen to everyone who calls him or herself a disciple of Jesus Christ is what Pentecost is all about.
Pentecost marks the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by which human beings are equipped to do the work of God. We are not by our own natural resources going to save the world, establish God’s kingdom or usher in an era of “Peace on Earth.” If any of these things does happen, it will be because we have acknowledged, embraced and been moved under the power and conviction of Pentecost and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost marks the day when that message about Jesus began to make its way to people and places all over the world. Of course, the world does not treat Pentecost as it does Christmas and Easter. There is no Pentecost season at the shopping mall like our Christmas season, no Pentecostal costumes like Halloween costumes. There are no Pentecost sales, no lighting of the Pentecost tree, no Pentecost pageant or concert; and I have never heard of the Pentecost Bunny.
The fact that we have failed to understand or observe this day on the calendar does not change the basic truth this day holds for every believer. Unless you make room for Pentecost in your understanding of what it means to be a Christian, you will never fully understand your faith or how to lead someone to Christ. Remember that in Acts 1:6-8 Jesus tells the apostles to remain in the city of Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them. He was not sending them out to evangelize on the basis of their life experiences or their understanding of religious laws and teachings. He was not suggesting that spending three years in His presence had resulted in them being equipped for the work that lay ahead. Instead, He told them to wait for the power, wait for the anointing, wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Once they had THAT power, they would be ready to go. Until that happened—wait! “Wait – Then Go!”
It was immediately after the miracle of Pentecost that something else of equal importance took place: The work of the church in the world as an agent of reconciliation and evangelism began. I invite you to think about Easter and Christmas as events that involve Jesus as the primary actor. On Christmas, Jesus was born into the world and laid in a manger. There were no disciples present for that event. What do you and I do on Christmas that is central to the story? Nothing! On Easter, Jesus was raised from the dead with all power in His hands. Once again, there were no disciples involved in bringing the resurrrection to pass. There is nothing for us to do on Easter except celebrate and give thanks for the work Christ has done on our behalf.
On Pentecost, though, all of that changes—you and I are called away from our roles as spectators into the role of central characters in God’s work of redemption and salvation. As a result of Pentecost, we do not watch what somebody else is doing for God, but are being equipped by the power of the Holy Spirit so we can become actively involved in the work of salvation and redemption. That is what Pentecost is all about; it is the day Jesus officially transfers to His disciples the responsibility of spreading the message of salvation.
Pentecost is the day when God begins the process of converting the world to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pentecost is the day when God demonstrated the WAY the world would be evangelized was not by the singular ministry of His Son, Jesus Christ, but by the anointed and empowered efforts of every single person who calls him or herself a Christian.
I want to encourage you to pray for, expect and ask for God’s anointing in the Holy Spirit to help you when you tell others about Jesus. Ask Him to bring people into your lives to tell and then open doors for you be able to tell it. Ask Him to empower your message with the conviction of the Holy Spirit that you might be God’s witness that God has raised Jesus to life, that he was exalted to the right hand of the Father at His ascension and that the Holy Spirit is available also them to believe because God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). God wants “none to perish” (Ez. 33:11). And it’s your job to make sure everyone hears this message.by your mouth, your gifts and your participation in the Body of Christ.
And keep this in mind as you tell the story and facts about Jesus Christ: Christianity is not a Religion
Religion is all about us trying to reach up to God.
Christianity is all about God reaching down to us.
Religion is all about trying to reach up to God with clean, successful lives. Well, good luck with that. I’ve already fallen through that broken ladder, how about you?
By massive contrast, Christianity is all about God reaching down and reaching out to fragile, flawed people like you and me through Jesus, and through the Spirit of Jesus, to do for us and for the world what we could never do for ourselves.
Come Holy Spirit, have your way with us and with your world. “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done…For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Sing “Spirit of the Living God”