The Feast of Pentecost 2019
The Holy Spirit’s role in human life is to cause us to do good works. Whether that good work is confessing Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God or serving our neighbor, none of it happens apart from His intervention in our lives. Apart from Him, we are hopeless and dead. Consider how Dr. Luther taught it in his Small Catechism but put everything in the negative. Without the Holy Spirit we do not have the Gospel, we sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, we have no good gifts, and we have no right belief in Jesus Christ who has won our salvation. Without the Holy Spirit, life is lacking all those things that make it good. Without the Holy Spirit, everything is hopeless. But because we have the Holy Spirit, we are able to rejoice, to have hope in the midst of this world’s sadness, and have comfort in what lies ahead, all because the Holy Spirit gives us Jesus.
Pentecost is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Feast of Weeks, which was also known as Pentecost, from the Greek word for fifty, because it was celebrated fifty days after Passover. While it was one of Israel’s agricultural feasts, thanking God for His provision in causing the earth to bring forth food, it was primarily celebrated as the day when God gave the Law to Israel. This word, Law, is much deeper than the Ten Commandments. The Hebrew word is Torah, which points to God’s full revelation of Himself. On Sinai, God did far more than give Moses the Ten Commandments. He gave him a full revelation of who He is, that He wants to dwell among His people—to be with them to bless them with His presence. Part of Moses’ time on Mount Sinai was receiving the plans for the Tabernacle, God’s first visible dwelling in the midst of His people. The people of Israel could look to the Tabernacle, see the smoke rising, and know that God was there, and that sacrifices were being made that cleansed them from their sin. The Tabernacle was God’s way of saying to His people, “I am present among you always, and I desire to be merciful.”
So on the very day that pilgrims were flooding Jerusalem, thanking God for revealing Himself to them, God does it once again. Only this time, there is no Messiah to wait for. The giving of Torah on Sinai had one huge caveat: the promised Redeemer is still coming. Now on this new and greater Pentecost, Peter and the other eleven disciples proclaim that the God who revealed Himself on Sinai has given us a perfect revelation of Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. This One who has come in the Name of the Lord was the perfect sacrifice that cancels sin. His Blood was offered to the Father; His Blood covers us and makes us clean to stand in God’s presence; His sacrifice is the sweet incense that arises and gives us access to the Father. No longer is Pentecost a looking back at the old Law, but a proclamation that the Triune God dwells among His people by way of Word and Sacrament, and that His dwelling among us is one of grace and mercy.
And no longer is God’s revelation of Himself and earthly dwelling only for the chosen people. At Pentecost people of every known language heard the wonderful works of God. Not only is this a reversal of Babel’s curse, but it is a continuation of the Epiphany’s revelation, that Jesus is the universal Savior. No longer is Jesus good news for the house of Israel, but He is the Redeemer of the multitude from east and west. Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, all are one in Christ Jesus. All are saved through His death and resurrection. That is the new revelation of God given by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Repent and be Baptized, confess your sins and receive the forgiveness accomplished for you on the cross. God Himself is among you to bless you and to give you every good gift in abundance.
The same Holy Spirit who caused the Twelve to confess the truth on Pentecost is still active today. We do not hear mighty rushing winds or see tongues of fire, but the Holy Spirit is still here with each of us. He comes through the Gospel and the Sacraments. He forgives us and He strengthens us. As we keep the Rite of Confirmation on this day, we acknowledge that the confession Wyatt is about to make, and the confession we all made at our own Confirmations, is possible only by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has given us a lively hope in Christ Jesus Our Lord. He has revealed Jesus as our Savior and our Brother. Because of Jesus we can call God our Father with delight. Because of the Holy Spirit we can make the promise to endure all, even death, rather than fall away from the Holy Christian Church and the faith we have confessed. We can make that solemn promise because we know the Holy Spirit will not leave us without His aid and strength. It’s a confession, not that we’re steadfast, but that God is. He will not let me fall away, because He will not fall away.
Because of that, we have relief in Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” We have no trouble and no fear with Jesus. That doesn’t mean smooth sailing, but it means that the trials that do come, the fears and troubles, they will not destroy us. We aren’t sandcastles trying to stand up to the rising tide. Because we have the Holy Spirit, we are built on the Rock, which is Christ, and we stand on the foundation of the prophets and apostles. The Holy Spirit speaks those Words of Jesus to us, reminds us of His forgiveness and His great love for us, and keeps us steadfast in the faith.
He does this by His permanent dwelling in our midst. We don’t have to seek out the Holy Spirit and His divine aid. We don’t have to speak in tongues to prove He’s here. We simply have to come to the place where He has promised to be. The Holy Spirit calls by the Gospel, enlightens and sanctifies with His gifts. And where else are the Gospel and the godly gifts found but here in the Holy Christian Church and in the Christian congregation?! Here, in Word and Sacrament, we have Jesus. In these means the Holy Spirit delivers Jesus to us, and where Jesus is, there is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Just like every Sunday is a mini Easter, a remembrance of the day Jesus overcame death and the grave, each day the Holy Word is read and the Sacraments administered is a mini Pentecost. We are reminded that God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and that He comes to dwell among us with His grace and His favor. All that the Old Testament Pentecost gave, the New Testament completes with Jesus at the center.
And because Jesus is at the center, because the Holy Spirit is present and active, we can do good works, both of confession and aid. Those good works are the result of a joy that cannot be contained, the fruit of thanksgiving. Because we have the Holy Spirit, we have the Gospel, the bright joy of Easter’s light, every good and perfect gift, and a lively hope in Jesus Christ who has won our salvation.
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.