Pastor Walther / Pentecost / Acts 2:1-21 / May 20, 2018
Pentecost was an important day for the Christian church. God in his marvelous wisdom and creativity guided history to connect what came before in the Old Testament with the New Testament fulfillment of Pentecost. But, Pentecost was not the first time that this fulfillment had happened. Think of the Passover. Passover was the Jewish celebration of the time when the Israelite nation was enslaved in Egypt. God had Moses go before pharaoh and ask for the Israelites to be released. Whenever Pharaoh would say no, God would send a plague. After numerous attempts with Moses going to Pharaoh, God conveyed to his people that they were going to leave after this next one, and leave soon. They were to celebrate the Passover meal, where they would slaughter a perfect lamb. They would eat that lamb and take the blood from that lamb and paint it on the door frames of their house. When the angel of the lord “passed over” their house, the Lord would not kill their first born. It was because of that lamb, that the people would be saved. Jesus was fulfillment of Passover as he was the Passover lamb when he died on the cross. It was because of Jesus, that we are saved.
We know that Passover and also the fulfillment of Passover, which is Good Friday and Easter are spring holidays, usually around April or so. Well, for the Jewish people, Passover was not the only spring festival that they celebrated. The Israelites also commemorated the Feast of First-fruits. The Feast of First-fruits took place during the week-long Passover celebration. The feast of first fruits occurred on the first day after the Sabbath of that Passover week. In other words, the festival was on Sunday at the close of Passover. That week would have been a very busy week for faithful Jewish people with the celebration of basically two holidays.
As its name indicates, the Feast of First-fruits marked thanksgiving to God for the first-fruits of the harvest. At this festival, the Israelites offered the very first grain bundle of the harvest and were not allowed to eat anything from the crop until they gave its initial portion to the Lord. This required a great deal of faith on the part of the Israelites, as they would be giving the offering of first-fruits at a time when not much was ready to be harvested. They were giving away the first bites of food. That concept was something that was strange to human perspective, which is the reason why God gave this festival, because it was to remind his people to trust that God will bless them later on.
Somewhere around the year 30 AD, the first-fruits of an even greater harvest were brought forth. It was on this day of First fruits that Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled the Feast of First-fruits on Easter Sunday. The apostle Paul tells us explicitly that Christ is the first-fruits of those who will be raised from the dead. Just as the first-fruits offered to God under the old covenant anticipated and trusted that God would bless them with the full harvest to come, the resurrection of Jesus anticipates the bodily resurrection of His people first promised under the old covenant. Isn’t it amazing to see Christ’s fulfillment even in these festivals? Isn't it amazing to see the connections that God made between the Old and New Testaments.
Fifty days after the Feast of First-fruits, after the presentation of the first bundle of grain was the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. So although Pentecost is a Christian holiday, it was actually a Jewish holiday first. The word Pentecost comes from the Greek term for fiftieth. It was the grand celebration at the end of the grain harvest. The feast of first fruits started the celebration and the feast of weeks or Pentecost concluded the celebration. In practice, it was similar to our Thanksgiving Day. All Jewish males were to bring their gifts to the temple. The offerings of food and animals to the Lord were a little bit more lavish than the one bundle of grain at the beginning of the harvest. It was an appropriate way to thank God for the tremendous bounty He had provided.
At this moment in our text, Jewish people from all over the world were coming to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost and the end of the grain harvest festival. And on a day when Israelites from all over the world were bringing the bounty of their grain harvest to the Lord on Pentecost, the disciples were also there. They were there among the congregation of people ripe for the building of God’s church, they just didn’t know it yet! The events that transpired on that day of Pentecost were truly out of this world. On that day, God got the attention of his people. The sound of wind, but no wind. Tongues of fire, but nothing there that would create fire. The Holy Spirit equipped the believers there that day to speak in all different kinds of languages. These were actual languages that people spoke, not some gibberish, but people from all over the world could hear the disciples preaching the good news in their own language. These signs demonstrated that the Holy Spirit had arrived, as Jesus had promised.
These incredible signs, like the sound of the wind and the tongues of flames, and the disciples preaching in different languages…these signs were meant to be like a beam. God used these signs to attract people and they worked quite well! These signs grabbed everyone’s attention and brought together a huge and curious crowd of people, eager to hear what these disciples were saying. Some were amazed that all of this was happening. Others, made fun of them.
Either way, the apostle Peter used that as an opportunity to speak. No doubt this was the same Peter who had denied the Christ, and made so many mistakes as a disciple. But gifted with the confidence to preach God’s word, he couldn’t let this moment go by. Just like so many of the people he was speaking to, Peter had also struggled with the idea of Jesus being the Christ, and being the promised Messiah. Like so many people around him, they all wanted the Messiah to be the one who would make Israel like it used to be during King David’s time. King David was the one who conquered all the nations around. They didn’t have to deal with the Roman empire breathing down their neck and paying taxes to Caesar. Not during king David’s time! The Israel during Jesus’ time wanted to be just like the Israel during David’s time. Peter understood that because that’s what he wanted too. That’s what he originally expected of Jesus. Little did he know that his mindset on the messiah would change. Little did he know that the messiah that he was expecting had so much bigger and better plans than being an earthly king.
Jesus would be the one to bring us back to God. Jesus would give peace to humanity. These Jewish people were unable to see the bigger picture that God had in mind and they had never really heard the messiah described this way. And with Peter and the disciples, they were finally revealing to people that big picture. They were revealing God’s plan for the world, and the people were finally understanding.
I think that’s something that we overlook in our spiritual conversations with people. We may look at their spiritual background and think that they're not going to understand some of the truths about Jesus and then, we end up not preaching God’s word at all to them. We need to remember that the gift of faith is a miracle. It’s miraculous that anyone would come to faith. In our spiritual pride, we assume Jesus to be something that he isn’t. We assume God to be something he isn’t, just like the Jewish people struggled with when looking at Jesus. We make so many assumptions about Jesus, or about the people around us. It’s only when we begin to see all of the truths of God’s word that we can finally take a step back and see the big picture of God’s plan for our lives. That’s why we need to share the big picture of God’s plan with the people around us that still focus on what they can get out of God. That why we need to build relationships with people to understand where they are coming from so that we can naturally bridge the gap to the bigger spiritual picture, just like Peter did.
Peter knew his audience and what they wanted in the deepest parts of their souls and he effectively preached towards that. He basically answers the age old Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” Your homework for today is go home and read the rest of Peter’s sermon. It will take you literally five minutes. You will be amazed at how beautiful and yet simple his words are. He preaches the law and the gospel, and boldly proclaims that Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Peter was not ashamed to say that. The disciples weren’t scared or embarrassment for what they were saying, simply because what they were saying was the truth. In fact, it would have been unloving for them not to tell people and to let them live their lives delusional of what God really gave them.
God has given to us the same gift of the Holy Spirit. Now the gift of the Holy Spirit of being able to speak in different languages, that was a special gift given at Pentecost. I can’t speak in languages that I’ve never learned. But, if that’s all you see in this account, you’re missing the point. The point is that the gospel, the good news about Jesus, was spread. The Holy Spirit worked double time that day bringing faith to so many different people and it came about simply by people preaching the gospel.
Peter quotes the prophet Joel to show the fulfillment of the gospel being spread. Joel says that the Spirit will lead God’s people to “prophesy.” The basic meaning of the word “prophesy” is “to speak to another.” The thought here is that God’s people, through the Spirit, will speak for God. We’re not talking about different languages here, but that they will share his message to other people. This passage isn’t only talking about pastors and teachers in particular, but of the activity of God’s people in general. God’s word was spread through people who come from all different backgrounds and all different races. I can’t help but think of the band Sly and the Family Stone who sang: “I am every day people!” That’s the beauty of God’s message! It doesn’t have to come from THE apostle Peter or come from a called worker like a pastor, but that message most often is spread by every day people. Never short change yourself saying, “I don’t know that much about the Bible, so I don’t know what to say to people,” because a lot of these people that Peter was preaching to barely knew who Jesus was except from Peter’s message and they began sharing the gospel immediately! They went home to their distant lands and shared the gospel.
Called workers have the opportunity to share God’s word on a daily basis in a very official way. To Lorry and the Fishers who are retiring, you’ve gotten to do this in an official manner for some time! Retirement doesn’t necessarily mean that your job is done, because as Christians we have so much work to do in spreading the gospel. Now, as you transition into retirement, you get to share the gospel in a little more unofficial way. How cool is that! Where before you systematically taught God’s Word, now you get to take that experience and essentially take it to the streets. But no matter what job you have in your life, we have the most amazing message to share. Peter and the disciples spoke so boldly because they had the Holy Spirit and they finally understood who Jesus was and what he came to do. They wanted people to know the truth sooner than later.
I want you to think about how we, at St. Paul, can share the truth with people sooner than later. How can we share the truth of the gospel with the families of our childcare or school that feel disconnected and don’t understand the bible? How can we as individual Christians share the truth of the gospel with the people in our social groups, sooner than later?
It’s interesting looking at this context and seeing how God provides the disciples with the perfect opportunity to bring people in and reach out at the same time. That’s the balance we could strive for as St. Paul ministry, not just waiting for them to come to us, but to reach out to the people in our lives and in our neighborhood and to share the message about Jesus! Yes, Pentecost was an important day for the early Christian church but it didn’t stop there. We continue to live it each and every day. Just like the day of Pentecost was a day of thanksgiving in the Old Testament, we thank God for the New Testament Pentecost where God gave the truth and the confidence to share the message about Jesus. Fueled by the Holy Spirit, we get to share the big picture about Jesus, just like Peter and just like the disciples, because God has given to us something worth remembering and something worth telling. Amen.