The Day of Pentecost
June 8, 1014
Text: Acts 2:1-21
Message: “What Difference Does Pentecost Make?”
Pastor Paul Clark
So here we are. This is Pentecost.
What difference does it make?
Much of today’s contemporary church has trivialized or even ignored the Festival of Pentecost. Even the culture ignores it. Our culture has sought to secularize and commercialize both Christmas, by emphasizing Santa Claus, Frosty, Rudolph, and holiday shopping; and Easter, with some giant mutant bunny that apparently lays or hide eggs and fills baskets with chocolates; but the world knows nothing of Pentecost.
Considering the way the world views Christmas and Easter, that’s probably a good thing that the world ignores Pentecost.
But the Christian Church? Sad to say, many Christians make it a point to be in church on Christmas and Easter, even if they, sadly, are not regular churchgoers, but Pentecost? Very few people are intentional about coming to church on Pentecost. Very few look at their calendars and plan ahead for the celebration, even reading the hymns and readings ahead of time to prepare. Why is that? Are we that lazy? Are we that neglectful? Well, yes, we are, because we are sinners, and that seems to be part and parcel of the problem, to place more importance of secular things such as work and sports and vacation than on holy things such as the celebration of Pentecost. So yes, we are all guilty of that to some degree, but thanks be to God, He forgives us all our sins, and calls us back to where we are this day.
So then, “What difference does it make?” We must be clear and concise here and answer the question, “What difference does Pentecost make?”
Well, apparently for the early Christians, it made a huge difference. The word Pentecost means fiftieth, and described the fiftieth day following Easter, when the disciples of Jesus were gathered in Jerusalem as Jesus had commanded them before His Ascension into heaven. They suddenly heard a sound like the wind, and flames of fire appeared over their heads, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. The promised Comforter had come.
The early church placed great emphasis on the Feast of Pentecost. Even in the fourth century, Easter and Pentecost had become huge festivals. This continued throughout the centuries, and certainly continued during the time of the Reformation, as Luther understood the great importance of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to faith in Jesus.
But something has happened in our day and age. Probably partly to blame is that secular influence that gives more attention to Christmas and Easter. But the Church should know better. If it were not for Pentecost, there would be no New Testament Church. The Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church. The Holy Spirit keeps the Church going, keeps it faithful to Christ, brings new people into the Church through baptism and the preached Word.
What difference does Pentecost make?
First Corinthians 12:3 reminds us that “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” If it were not for the Spirit, we would not be able to call upon God as our Father in heaven. We would be estranged from Him and only subject to His wrath. We would not know Jesus. We would not know of His love, His grace, His sacrifice. We would, in fact, despise and ridicule the Lord Jesus and the Bible and the Church, if it were not for the Holy Spirit who has brought us to true faith and keeps us steadfast in that faith unto the end.
That’s what difference Pentecost makes.
In the mountains of North Carolina, less than five miles apart, are two tiny towns. One is named Trust and the other is named Luck. In one sense everyone lives in one of these two towns. We either live by luck or we live by trust. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh lead us to live by luck. But only Pentecost, only the Holy Spirit, can cause us to live by trust in God.
Now, it is true, some things happened on that Day of Pentecost that do not happen regularly since. The so-called speaking in tongues, for example. But it is important to make something very clear here. The tongues heard were those of existing languages. It says so very clearly, right in verse 6: “Each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear, each of us in our native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, Jews and Cretans and Arabians?”
God is not a God of confusion. He is a God of order. He wants people to understand what they are hearing. His desire is for clear communication. This is very different from much of what passes as “speaking in tongues” in today’s Pentecostal or charismatic churches. And what is it that they all heard in their own language? Verse 11 tells us: “They heard them telling in their own language the mighty works of God.”
This is what the Holy Spirit does. He takes the Word of God and plants it deep within our heart. He enables us to grasp onto and believe in the Good News, the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Christ. He shows us that the power to save is not in ourselves, not in man, not in nature, but in God, in the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all sin and restores to us what was lost in Eden – our inheritance of a new world that God will give to all those who are His.
The Holy Spirit cannot be controlled. We cannot pull this lever or push that button and make things happen. Some Christians are told that if you use this gimmick or a certain type of worship or music, the church will grow. But that is absolutely false. The Church grows in one way – by the power of the unadulterated Word of God, taught in its truth and purity. Then the Holy Spirit works in His own way through the Word, but where and when He wills, and not according to our ways and our will.
Very important distinction!
But you and I can truly celebrate Pentecost, because even though we may not speak in languages that we have not learned, we have each been made witnesses of Christ and of the truth of His Word. The Spirit leads me to know that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and that He rose again from the dead. He did this to give me – and you – and all of us – life everlasting in His name. And He brings us daily strength, comfort, help in trial, through the days of this life, through the often dismal fogginess of what passes for everyday life in 21st century America.
He guides us along the pathways of truth, according to God’s Word, which is truth, and He leads us to take a stand on issues of the day based not on the wisdom of men, but the power of the eternal Word of God. He gives us courage, as He gave the apostles courage, to speak the truth, to witness to salvation in Jesus Christ alone, and to expose the many idols and false gods that abound in this fallen world. In other words, the Holy Spirit makes us Christians and enables us to speak boldly like Christians, and to NOT be ashamed of our faith, whether at work, or with relatives, or in school or college, or on the sports field, or in the Congress of the United States. You are a representative of Christ. Stay true to Christ and the Bible. Stay true to what we believe and confess by the power of the Holy Spirit.
70 years ago this week, the swastika waved over the English Channel and flew over the vineyards and orchards of the French countryside. That swastika represented the evil power of a ruthless madman, who believed that his empire – the Third Reich – was destined to rule the world. But on June 6, 1944, that began to change. The beaches at a place called Normandy turned red with the blood of those who gave up their lives to turn back evil, and to stand for what is good and right and true. If you walk now through those fields at Normandy, you may not know the names of all those who lie buried there, but the men who are under those white stones are heroic in this one thing: They paid the price.
Jesus paid the ultimate price for our freedom from the most ruthless, most evil dictator of all time – Satan. He paid the price to give us life that would go beyond death, life that would be blessed forever. That payment was the suffering, the blood, the life of God’s only Son Jesus, given now for you and for me in, with, and under that bread and wine that you receive today in Holy Communion. But unlike those bodies that lay at rest at that field in Normandy, and for that matter in cemeteries everywhere, the body of Jesus is not to be found, for it lies in no tomb. Christ is alive, risen from the dead, and one day the bodies of all believers will likewise rise and live again. The soldiers at Normandy heard the call, when General Eisenhower said, “Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade…the eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you….You will bring about the destruction of the German War Machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle hardened, and he will fight savagely.” But then Eisenhower went on to say, “The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory!” He concluded, “And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Normandy taught us something that has been taught in every just war before and since – there is no victory without great cost, and that cost is the death of soldiers in the battle.
This is Pentecost. What difference does it make? It makes a difference because the Holy Spirit brings to you salvation in Jesus, and through the knowledge of the Gospel, He makes you aware of the cost of this salvation. There is no victory without dying. Jesus died on the greatest battlefield of all time – so that we could have life, and have it abundantly. None of this would be possible without the work of the Holy Spirit. Yes, it makes a difference. It makes a difference in how we view trial in our life, cancer, disease, disability, even death. It makes a difference when we mourn the loss of a loved one. It makes a difference when we see evil apparently triumph in the world and we wonder, “How long, O Lord? How long?” It makes a difference when we may need to risk all for the faith, like Christians even now being persecuted in many lands, and know that the Holy Spirit will give us power and the words to make our stand. It makes a difference because no matter what happens we are never alone, that He comforts us and counsels us and draws alongside us as the Paraclete, that we might continue to trust in Jesus, that we might march forth to join the battle for the faith that has been handed down to us. It makes a difference, and do not ever doubt that. For the Holy Spirit given on Pentecost, and poured out on you in your baptism, gives us courage and boldness, places the name of Jesus on our lips, and fills our hearts with Christian hope, so that we can navigate day by day the road ahead, even when that road enters the valley of the shadow of death. For believe me, then Pentecost will most certainly matter, for when the smoke finally clears and the trumpet sounds, we shall join with the fallen believers buried at Normandy and all other cemeteries and obscure places of the earth, and we shall go to meet the Lion from the tribe of Judah – our great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… the One who has conquered in the fight… The One who gives us victory through the Cross…The One into whom you are baptiuzed…in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen!