May 24 2015 Sermon
Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians– we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Even as we celebrate Pentecost today, and even though we believe in the triune God, some Christians—maybe some of us—are afraid of the Holy Spirit. We’re afraid perhaps because we’re uncertain of who the Holy Spirit is and what exactly he does and how he behaves. But Pentecost, the day on which we celebrate Christ sending the Holy Spirit, reminds us that
We Don’t Need to Fear the Holy Spirit.
The three thousand believers on the first Pentecost didn’t fear what they were witnessing, and neither should we.
I think we sometimes fear the Holy Spirit because we don’t know that much about him. We know a great deal about the Father and the Son, but we’re almost ignorant of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, the Spirit is called the “unknown member of the Trinity.”
Many Christians today are a little bit like that small band of isolated believers whom Paul found in Ephesus and asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2). Even today, many Christians simply do not understand the role of the Holy Spirit in their faith and life.
The very name “Spirit” or “Ghost” suggests something eerie and spooky. Adding to our fear are the ways certain people act and speak when they claim to be under the influence of the Spirit. We can all see on TV such services where people are screaming, waving their hands, or passing out. We fear that the Spirit might cause us to act in these strange ways.
Out of such false fear, we at times may wish to ignore the Spirit or downplay his significance in our lives. Ignoring the Spirit would be tragic, because the Church needs the Holy Spirit as much today as it did on that first Pentecost. Each of us needs his power and work in our lives.
If we look at who the Holy Spirit really is and what he does for us, we’ll no longer fear him.
The way the Holy Spirit worked on that first Pentecost is the same way he’s working today. On that first Pentecost, “[t]hey were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:4–6).
The disciples, when they were filled with the Spirit, were not babbling incoherently. They were speaking sensibly in recognizable languages. The Holy Spirit did not cause them to lose control or to hop about. Rather, he filled them with courage, conviction, and joy, empowering these formerly fearful men, who hid in locked rooms, to stand up and tell the crowds about Jesus—to announce that Jesus, whom they had killed, was risen and forgave them unto eternal life. Three thousand heard, believed, and were baptized.
The Holy Spirit does the same thing for us today. We don’t have to be afraid he’ll cause us to weep uncontrollably, babble incoherently, or lose bodily control. Emotionalism isn’t the work of the Spirit. The Spirit won’t embarrass us or cause us to do something silly or obnoxious. The Spirit simply tells people about Jesus. Talks about Jesus. Tells us and tells others through us. About Jesus.
There is an old country song by Ronnie Milsap, “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life.” I don’t know who the song is about, but what a difference the Holy Spirit makes in the life of a Christian. It’s the Holy Spirit who brings us to faith in Jesus and gives us an understanding of all that he’s done for us. Jesus has died for our sins, risen from the grave, and now lives eternally. He loves us, forgives us our sins, and has prepared an eternal home for us in heaven. But were it not for the work of the Spirit, we would not believe, be saved, or see heaven.
Often times, we are astonished at how people in our world don’t seem to understand Christ or pay attention to his Word. It is hard for us to comprehend why people don’t have faith in Jesus and follow him. But the fact of the matter is, people cannot believe in him, cannot understand the things of God, cannot understand the Holy Scriptures without the Holy Spirit living in them. All of us were by nature dead in our sins and trespasses. All of us at one time lived in the passions of our flesh and were by nature children of wrath, just like the rest of mankind (Eph 2:3). But God being rich in mercy, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him (Eph 2:4-6), through Baptism when the Holy Spirit came into us and began living in us.
If we ignore the Spirit by staying away from God’s Word and Sacraments, there’s a detrimental ripple effect. We weaken our own faith for without the Spirit who works in us through the Word we soon fall into sin and turn our backs on God and reject the Spirit so that he departs from us. Rather, we should invite the Spirit into our hearts, homes, and churches, hearing and learning the word and receiving the sacrament.
Luke, the author of Acts, in later verses of ch 2, describes the work of the Spirit in the church. First, the Spirit-filled church is dedicated to the study of God’s Word. Luke wrote, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (2:42). These early Christians devoted themselves to the apostles’, or biblical, teaching—the Word about Jesus’ saving work. This was a learning and studying church. People of God today should likewise be in the Word. Each Christian needs to study the Word alone and in the company of other Christians, and at the feet of those whom God has placed here to be teachers.
The second mark of the Spirit-filled church mentioned in Acts 2 is fellowship. Our word “fellowship” translates the Greek word koin?nia, based on the word for common. What we share in common is our faith in the one true and triune God. We have the same God as our Father, the same Jesus as our Savior, and the same Spirit as our Teacher and Comforter. Our common faith brings us together in mutual concern and care for one another.
The third mark of the Spirit’s presence is worship. The early believers were devoted “to the breaking of bread [that is, the Lord’s Supper] and the prayers” (2:42). The spirit-filled church is a worshiping, praying church. I picture that in worship, the people smiled, sang out, listened attentively, and participated actively. They were happy to be there to hear the Word and receive the Sacraments.
A final mark of the Spirit’s presence in that Acts 2 early church was evangelism, or outreach. Acts 2:47: “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Since God desires all people to be saved, we are commanded to go into all the world with the Gospel message. The Spirit empowers us for witness. Yes, you have the power of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised to send before his ascension. You have the power of the Spirit to be his witnesses even in the face of opposition, rejection, and hatred. And you have the assurance of resurrection so that even those most hostile to Christ can do you no harm. Not even by taking your goods or possessions or even your life can they take away your salvation and eternal life.
Therefore, you and I don’t have to be afraid of the Holy Spirit. He will not embarrass us or cause us to do anything outrageous or shocking. Rather, he will lead us to apostolic doctrine—the teaching of our Savior Jesus Christ, his cross and resurrection—to loving fellowship, to authentic worship, and to compassionate outreach. We pray for the Spirit to come to us now and make us into that kind of a Christian and that kind of a church, and in a few minutes he will answer that prayer in the Holy Sacrament where the Holy Spirit does come to us and makes us into that kind of a Christian. Amen.