Sermon: Acts 2:1021
Pentecost - June 4, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
If I asked you what is the most important Christian holiday to you what would you say? What holiday on the church calendar stirs the most emotions in you? I’m guessing that most of us would say Christmas. Christmas is probably the holiday that we have the most sentimental memories of. And of course we would all add that it’s the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the virgin-born Son of God, our Savior.
Some of you might say Easter is the most important Christian holiday to you. And the truth is that in some ways it is the most important holiday to us as Christians. It’s the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And without Jesus’ resurrection then nothing else in the Bible, all of the other festivals, would mean nothing.
But I would guess that not too many of you would say Pentecost is the most important Christian holiday or that it touches your heart like Christmas does. I doubt that any of you are going to have Pentecost breakfast or family dinner today. And our secular world has not found a way to exploit this holiday to get consumers to buy gifts, new clothes, and candy.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, and it’s really important. The first New Testament Pentecost was crucial for the young, struggling Christian church. Pentecost continues to be important for the Christian church and will be important until Jesus comes again. And Pentecost plays a very vital role in each one of our lives whether we realize it or not.
Today we’re going to ask this question:
WHAT IS PENTECOST REALLY ALL ABOUT?
Pentecost is really the only New Testament festival that reaches all the way back into the Old Testament, to the Law of Moses. It was one of three annual festivals that all adult male Israelites were to celebrate in Jerusalem. It gained the name Pentecost because it was celebrated about fifty days after Passover, another of the three special festivals.
It was Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem in our text. Jesus had been arrested, put on trial and crucified fifty days earlier on Passover. He rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples over a period of forty days. Then he ascended back into heaven. Ten days had passed since the ascension bringing us to the celebration of Pentecost. And because it was Pentecost there were crowds of Jewish people scattered throughout many nations in the Mediterranean area who had returned to Jerusalem for the celebration.
The twelve disciples and the others who had witnessed Jesus risen from the dead were not exactly in a celebrating mood. They most definitely knew that Jesus had risen from the dead, and they knew that Jesus had commanded them to preach the gospel to the world. But they were hiding. There was not a lot of courage in their hearts to be out in the streets of Jerusalem where the enemies of Jesus were still just as vicious as they had been fifty days earlier.
And then Pentecost happened - the New Testament Pentecost that we know so well with many extraordinary miracles from the Holy Spirit. The timid followers of Jesus first of all heard the sound of a rushing wind. Those who have ever heard the sound of an approaching tornado or a straight line wind might have a good idea what the disciples heard. And then something even stranger happened. Little tongues of fire separated and settled on the heads of the disciples. And that resulted in probably the most unusual, most miraculous, and important miracle of the Holy Spirit. The disciples were able to speak in different languages that they had not known before. Encouraged by the power of the Holy Spirit they went out into the streets of Jerusalem and began to proclaim the praises of God to the many foreign speaking Jewish visitors.
Do you ever wonder why Pentecost miracles don’t happen today? Why don’t we hear a mighty rushing wind when we sit down to worship on Sunday morning? Why don’t tongues of fire appear on our heads? And why can’t we suddenly speak in foreign languages? What a blessing it would be just to turn on from our minds and mouths any language that we wanted to speak especially here in Waukegan and the Gurnee area. We of course could make use of the Spanish language, but this area has many people who speak Asian languages as well as Eastern European languages or Russian. What a blessing a real Pentecost miracle would be.
As most of you know our congregation has called a Spanish-speaking pastor to work in this community. He and his wife learned their Spanish working in Latin American mission fields. They’re ability to speak Spanish is a gift of God, but no sudden Pentecost miracle.
Some people claim to speak in tongues in their churches and perhaps they do. But I’ve never heard of a preacher, Pentecostal or otherwise, who has been able to stand up in front of a large group of foreign speaking people and just suddenly begin to speak their language and proclaim the gospel to them. I can pretty much guarantee you that I’m not going to burst in Spanish today. If I did speak any of the Spanish I do know today, any Spanish-speaking person could politely assure me, “That’s not a miracle.”
There are some Christians who claim that Pentecost miracles of healing are still happening. But many of the miraculous healings of miracle healers of the past have been proved to be fraudulent. I have prayed and I know many of you have prayed for a miraculous healing for my lymphoma or for the cancer of many of people, but it hasn’t happened. I’m going to have to go through the rest of the chemo treatments, and in September I’ll be healed. That’s how God will heal me and answer our prayers. And we are most definitely thankful to God for those healing blessings.
So why don’t these dramatic Pentecost miracles happen today? Human reason would say the Christian church would grow so much faster. We really need to go back and consider what the purpose of those Pentecost miracles were 2000 years ago. At that time the Christians were a small group of believers, maybe a few hundred, most located in Jerusalem, many eyewitnesses of Jesus risen from the dead. They were largely frightened and timid because of the enemies of Jesus. There were no New Testament scriptures written down telling the story of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Humanly speaking the Christian church was going nowhere fast. And if Jesus’ enemies had anything to say about it they would bring the movement to a quick and violent end. That’s why this Pentecost was such a miraculous one. God knew his New Testament church and the gospel message needed a kind of jump start. It needed some miracles to give courage to the believers so they would come out from behind locked doors into the streets to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead. And the miracles would also lend credibility to the truth of the message of the gospel. When people saw miracles they would believe.
And that’s exactly what the Holy Spirit did on that day. The disciple Peter got the courage to stand up among the crowd in Jerusalem to proclaim that he and his fellow disciples were not crazy or drunk. The Spirit had been poured out on them to have the courage to stand in the street, in danger of persecution, to proclaim the gospel. And what Peter most clearly proclaimed was that Jesus had risen from the dead. His enemies had handed him over to be crucified, but God raised him three days later. Peter called upon the people to repent of their sins. And around 3000 people did repent, were baptized, and were saved.
Little examples of Pentecost miracles would happen to a Roman centurion named Cornelius some time later to prove to him and to the Apostle Peter that the gospel was meant for the Gentiles too. The same little Pentecost experiences would also happen in Samaria and in Ephesus to prove that these non-Jews could be believers in the Lord God of Israel too.
From that point on the disciples and new converts boldly proclaimed the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Galilee and way beyond the borders of the old nation of Israel. The Apostle Paul would bring the gospel into Turkey and Greece. And in 2000 years every nation on earth has heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So why don’t such dramatic Pentecost miracle happen today? Well, the first answer to that question is that we don’t need them to happen, unless God chooses to make them happen for one particular reason. Today we have the testimony of the New Testament scriptures. We know exactly who Jesus Christ is and what he did to save us from our sins. We know that he has risen from the dead and ascended back into heaven. We have the accounts of Pentecost miracles in the Bible to prove to us that the gospel message is true.
But don’t imagine that there are no Pentecost miracles happening today. The most fundamental miracles of the Holy Spirit are happening every day. In his Pentecost sermon Peter quoted from our Old Testament reading from Joel. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.” Peter was saying that in the New Testament times the Holy Spirit would be poured out far more abundantly, all around the world, on all kinds of people to help proclaim the gospel message, far more abundantly than at any time in history.
You and I sit here today 2000 years removed from that special Pentecost, more than 2000 miles removed from Jerusalem, but we are here today to worship because the Holy Spirit has done his most fundamental miracle in us. He has taught us about Jesus from the Bible. He has caused our unbelieving hearts to believe that Jesus really did die on a cross to atone for our sins. He has caused us to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And he has caused us to believe that Jesus will come again to take us to be in heaven with him. Those are better miracles than miraculous healings or speaking in tongues. They are the miracles that give us eternal salvation.
Without the Holy Spirit’s work in us, without his continued work in us to cause us to grow as Christians, we would have no hope. Keep yourself connected to the word of God and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. They are the means the Holy Spirit uses to keep you walking the road to heaven.
Pentecost continues to go on every day in the lives of millions. That’s what Pentecost is really all about. Amen.