The Holy Spirit Is Poured Out to Lead You to Christ
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The text for today is Acts 2:1-21.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Moses had had enough. His patience was about as thin as the flakes of manna left with the dew each morning. These ungrateful people! Nothing was ever good enough for this rowdy rabble. God had delivered them from the bondage of Egypt and was on the verge of bringing them into the Promised Land. But then the grumbling had started, and Moses was taking the brunt of their criticism. They were tired of manna; they wanted meat to eat. They were tired of following Moses, and longed to return to the heavy yoke of Pharaoh.
Frustrated, Moses cried out to the Lord. At first, it seems that his complaining was much like Israel’s, but it was different in an important way: Moses turned to the Lord in his feelings of insufficiency and frustration, so his complaint did not degenerate into rebellion. Moses cast his cares upon the Lord and the Lord came to the aid of His weak and distraught servant. He provided a steady supply of meat for the people and then He provided help for His servant. Moses was to select seventy elders upon whom the Lord would put His Spirit.
The next morning they presented themselves at the Tent of Meeting. The presence of the Lord in the cloud of fire settled over the tabernacle. As promised, the Spirit was poured out upon the elders. They began to proclaim God’s Word. This extraordinary manifestation of divine power was only temporary, but it served to validate the authority of the 70 men. This outpouring was an extension of the work of the Spirit, rather than a partitioning. One Bible scholar has said that it was like lighting 70 candles from one candle. In such a procedure, an extension of the fire and light is accomplished without diminishing the light of the first candle. The Holy Spirit and His gifts are not divided but multiplied when shared.
For some unknown reason, Eldad and Medad, two of the men selected, had not presented themselves at the Tabernacle. They, however, began prophesying in the camp. Some, including Joshua, felt the two men should be stopped. Moses, however, assured him that the Lord gives His Spirit under various conditions for the same purpose. He wished all of the people would receive the Spirit.
Fast forward nearly 1,500 years. Since the days of Moses, the Jewish people had gathered annually to observe the Feast of Harvest. We know it as Pentecost, a word that comes from the Greek meaning “fiftieth,” for the feast took place 50 days after the Passover Sabbath. Singing psalms to the music of a flute, the farmers would process to the temple, bringing their baskets of food from the barley harvest to present to the priests as a wave offering. This was followed by a time for worship and prayer in a ceremony of renewal, where the people promised to follow the teachings of God’s covenant.
But God had special events in mind for His people on this Pentecost at Jerusalem in A.D. 33. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
The “all” who were “together” most likely included the entire group of Jesus’ disciples mentioned in Acts 1:13-15: the Twelve apostles, the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, the Lord’s brothers, and the rest of the company of persons, in all about 120. They may have been gathered in the house where the upper room was located, in one of the meeting rooms in the temple area, or in another place. They were gathered for worship and prayer, no doubt. Since they were sitting, they were most likely listening to one of the apostles speak.
The sound that filled the whole room did not merely come from the sky. It came from the dwelling place of the Most High. It came from God. Here was the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prediction: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16) and Jesus’ promise: “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). The baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire was occurring there in that place on that day.
The tongues of fire came to rest on each person present. They all received the baptism of the Spirit, for each would have work to do in carrying out the Great Commission. Loudly and clearly all of them spoke in languages other than the language they normally spoke. They did not speak all at once, but each spoke as the ability was given. This was not babbling or incoherent speech; it was perfectly understandable to those who knew the languages.
The believers were now equipped and prepared to begin to carry out the assignment that the Lord had given to His Church. The dramatic signs—the sound, the fire, the ability to speak in other tongues—were signs for that particular time. Such signs did not always accompany the preaching of the apostles or the testimony of other believers, so we need not expect them today. However, the Spirit sent by Jesus is always present and active when the Gospel is spoken. He gives the Word its power, and He gives believers the power to speak the Word.
Because of wars and persecutions, also because of their business activities, Jews had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire and beyond it. They were known as Jews of the Diaspora, the “dispersion.” For various reasons they were in Jerusalem on this special day. Some of them had come just for the feast and would go back to their adopted nation once it was over. Others had come to live out their golden years back in their ancient homeland. All of them were “God-fearing”; that is, they tried to live in faithfulness to the God of Israel and in compliance with the Law of Moses.
When they heard the sound “like the blowing of a violent wind,” a large number of them came together to check it out. Each person in the crowd heard and understood one of the apostles speaking the language of his adopted homeland. It was not the Aramaic of Judea, which most of them understood, or the Greek of the Roman Empire, which virtually all of them would have understood. Nor did they hear the dialect of Galilee, which they might have expected the apostles to speak.
It was natural for everyone who heard to inquire about the significance of such activity. But some of them refused to believe either the message or the miracle. They preferred to discredit both by an “explanation” that slandered the Lord’s spokesmen. They accused them of drunkenness.
“Nonsense!” declared Peter. “We never drink this early in the day. You’re missing the big picture here. The noise like a violent, rushing wind… the tongues of fire… and the various languages we speak… these all fulfill Joel’s prophecy about the coming of the last days. The last days are upon you!
“But here’s an even bigger surprise: the gift of the Holy Spirit is for you, too! For you men and women gathered here. For your sons and daughters, grandparents and grandchildren, and anyone else you can name. For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.”
With that last statement, Peter gets to the heart of it all, doesn’t he? “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That’s what this Pentecost outpouring is all about.
So the Lord equips the apostles with the Spirit. The Spirit will use their sermons to kill sinners in order to raise them from the dead. The Holy Spirit will give them the words to write down in Holy Scripture of their testimonial witness to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ for a world of sinners. Words of Law and Gospel. Words of God’s wrath and God’s promises. Words of the Holy Spirit poured out for the apostolic ministry of His Church.
Are you jealous? Wouldn’t you like to see the Lord come down in a cloud and pour out His Spirit like He did for the 70 elders of Israel? Do you wish you had something like this first Pentecost outpouring? Wouldn’t it be cool to hear a noise like a violent wind rush through this house? See tongues of fire on the preacher? And hear all kinds of different languages? Wouldn’t you like to be there when God adds 3,000 to the number of His Church in one day?
Well, surprise, surprise! You have the gifts, too. The Holy Spirit and all His gifts have been poured out on you--through the language you hear today. I dare say there are not too many Aramaic, Hebrew, or Koine Greek speakers among us today. You hear this message in English. If you were in Germany, you could hear it in German. If you were in Mexico or one of our Hispanic mission congregations, you could hear it in Spanish. By God’s grace, the Gospel has been translated and is preached in almost every language around the world.
In fact, the Holy Spirit still works through St. Peter’s words, even though he was martyred about 1,950 years ago. The rest of his sermon is not in our text for today, but I can tell you this: he’s just getting warmed up! Peter continues to preach about Jesus, the Christ crucified for sinners, and everyone starts to realize he is talking about them and their sin. Of course, he’s talking about you, too! So feel free, in your mind, to put yourself among the crowd in Jerusalem on that Pentecost morning.
The work of the Holy Spirit (and the Lord’s preacher) is not to draw attention to Himself, but always to point to Christ. And so Peter does: “Jesus of Nazareth did many mighty works and wonders and signs to prove to you that He was sent from God. According to God’s definite plan and foreknowledge, you crucified and killed Jesus by the hands of lawless men! But God has raised Him up from the dead, like David prophesied: ‘You will not leave My soul in Hades, nor will You let Your Holy One see corruption.’
“Now, David is dead and buried. His tomb is down the street. But he trusted that God would keep His promises that the Messiah would be one of his descendants. Led by the Holy Spirit, David foresaw the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. And we have seen it too! We are all witnesses!”
And as you listen to Peter preaching about this man Jesus, and His death, and His resurrection, and all the promises of the prophet, it begins to click. You must have sung those psalms a thousand times, but never knew what they were talking about. Now you understand—they’re about the Messiah, dead, raised, ascended to God’s right hand. It all makes sense now. This Jesus was the One, the long-promised, the long-expected. The Messiah has come!
And then the sermon gets very personal. Peter says: “This Jesus whom you crucified.” And though your mind and memory tells you that you didn’t have anything to do with His death, your conscience declares differently. Oh, you may have not shouted, “Crucify Him!” You may have not driven any of the nails into His hands and feet. But your sin did! The wickedness in which you were conceived and born did! The evil you’ve done did! The good you’ve failed to do did! The Righteous One was placed on that cross for your sins. He was wounded for your transgressions. He was crushed for your iniquities.
The realization hits you like a ton of bricks. “That was the Messiah, promised and sent by the Lord God. I’ve killed Him! It was my sin that put Him there on that cursed tree. It was me that deserved to die such a shameful death. What can I do? Is there any hope for me? Can I be saved?”
And at that point, the preacher throws you lifeline with some of the sweetest words that you’ve ever heard: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”
It is such Good News, you rush home for your family and friends. You tell them about Jesus. About the promise of David. About death and resurrection and ascension, and about the Holy Spirit and baptism and the forgiveness of sins. And through your testimony of the Word, the Holy Spirit is poured out on them, too!
So it is, dear saints, that the Holy Spirit worked on the first Pentecost, and continues to work until this day. No, there generally aren’t the miraculous outward signs of the Holy Spirit’s activity, but He is alive and well. Every Sunday is a little Pentecost! The Holy Spirit is poured out on you in the Word read and preached, the Sacrament administered and received.
The only wind you hear today is the air that comes from my lungs as I read and preach. But in that hot air, the Spirit is at work, sustaining and strengthening you to trust in Jesus only. And in the everyday language of American English the sermon pours out the Holy Spirit upon you. He kills you in your sins, raises you from the dead just as Christ is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
At the baptismal font, the Spirit was poured out upon you with the water and Word that you might be Christ’s own and live with Him in His kingdom forever. In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies, the whole Christian Church and keeps it united in the one true faith.
While it may not be as dramatic or flashy as the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is still at work in a mighty way! He will add many more than 3,000 to the number of Christ’s Church today. While only God knows the actual number, reasonable estimates place the number baptized into the kingdom of God on a daily basis between 100,000 to 150,000 souls!
And with the Holy Spirit-filled Gospel there is always more. Jesus serves up Himself and gives you the privilege of sharing your faith. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink,” He offers. “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
The real miracle of Pentecost is repeated again and again and again. The Holy Spirit is poured out to lead God’s people to Christ. Every time a baby is baptized. Every time you hear a sermon proclaiming Christ crucified for a world of sinners like you and me. Every time you receive Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Every time you confess your sins and hear His Absolution: You are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.