The Feast of Pentecost
Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-27
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
I have often pointed out that the most important sense for you to have as a Christian is not sight but hearing. The church is the place not of the eyes but of the ears. Romans 10 says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. And 2 Corinthians 5 says that we walk by faith not by sight. To put it another way, church is not primarily about pictures and video but about words and speaking. Martin Luther called the church a mouth house. That’s why church often seems so different from the world where screens and images and visual advertising dominate our everyday life. Not here. We are about words and language and preaching which isn’t trying to sell you anything but to proclaim and give to you the saving gifts of Jesus.
This is especially important to note on this Confirmation Day/Pentecost Day, where all of the Scripture readings are about words and language and careful listening. In the Old Testament reading, we heard about mixed up words – folks babbling to each other – as God confused the language of the people to humble their self-exalting pride. To this day, language barriers are a check on the sinful, self-glorifying behavior we tend to fall into when we can communicate and combine forces too easily. Why are there all sorts of different languages? The Bible’s answer is to keep sin from becoming even more magnified in the world than it already is.
And words are big again in the Pentecost reading from Acts 2, as the events of the tower of Babel are stunningly and marvelously reversed. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit comes speaking. Tongues of flame divide and rest on each of the apostles, they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and they then begin to preach in other tongues. As the Spirit gives them utterance, they speak in the various languages of all the people who are gathered there from all over the world. For the Gospel is indeed for people of every tribe and race and people and language.
The Holy Spirit is a talker. And what He speaks about focuses on one primary thing: the mighty works of God that were accomplished in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit always wants to talk about Jesus, His death which paid for our sins, His resurrection which conquered Satan and the grave. If you’re listening to a spirit who wants to talk about something else, something supposedly more “relevant,” something that’s all about you, that is not the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is all about the words that give you Jesus, who is the Word made flesh.
Think about what the main thing was that happened on Pentecost. After the tongues of fire and the sound of the rushing wind of the Spirit, Peter preached a sermon to the crowd about Jesus. Some of the people tried to discredit what was happening by saying that the disciples were just drunk and babbling. And so Peter stood up to set things right. This same guy who had denied his Lord three times just a few weeks ago out of fear, now by the power of the Holy Spirit speaks boldly. “These men are not drunk as you suppose. This is what God spoke of through the prophet Joel. The Lord is pouring out His Spirit on one and all. Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. The promise is for you and your children and to all who are afar off. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!”
Words and talking, hearing and believing. Peter preaches, and the Holy Spirit is present in those words to do His work. Many of the people were cut to the heart and brought to repentance. Faith was given to them. Acts 2 later records that 3,000 people believed and were baptized that day, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. And then they became talkers, too, confessing their faith, speaking to others about Jesus and the great things God has done for us all in His Son.
You also have received the ministry of this same Holy Spirit in your life. You were baptized, born again of water and the Spirit; you’ve been taught the Word of Jesus; you regularly receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Now you make your own public confession of the faith. The Holy Spirit spoke the faith into you. And now you speak out that faith with your mouths. That, too, is the Spirit’s doing, that you confess that Jesus is your Lord and God and Savior. For it is written, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
And last but not least, there’s the Gospel reading, where we hear more about words! Jesus tells his disciples: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” To keep Jesus’ words means to hold on to them, to cling to them, to treasure them in our hearts. Jesus said in John 6, “My words are spirit and they are life.” By holding onto Jesus’ words and meditating on them, the Holy Spirit gives us the very life of Christ. Those who have no time for Jesus’ words and preaching are rejecting the Holy Spirit. They show that they have no love for Christ. But as we hear His words and treasure them up in our hearts, we are brought into fellowship with God. He actually makes His home with us–think of that!–and we find our home in Him.
Jesus said to the apostles, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” That means that whenever we hear from one of the Holy Gospels, we are hearing the fulfillment of that promise. The Holy Spirit brought Jesus’ words to the remembrance of the apostles and evangelists so that they could be written down and proclaimed. In this way we also know and remember Jesus’ words, and those words live inside of us and bring us life with God.
That is why we defend the inerrancy and the infallibility of the bible so strongly–because these words are not made up by men but are given by the very Holy Spirit of God. They are true; they are God’s own words. This is why in your Confirmation vows you are asked if you believe that all the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. “Inspired” is the word for “breath,” as in 1 Timothy 3, “All Scripture is breathed out by God. . .” That breath, that mighty wind of the Holy Spirit is what has given us God’s sure and trustworthy Word.
Here, then, is a final and faithful Word of God for you to hold onto from Jesus. He says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” The world may promise you peace. But it can’t deliver, at least not in any lasting way. As we see once again in today's headlines and in our cities, the world’s peace is inevitably broken by conflict and war and disease and death. Worldly “peace” can’t truly take away your fear and your anxiety. But the peace of the Lord can and does. Let His words live in you and you will see how true that is.
The peace Jesus brings is eternal and everlasting. For it is grounded in the love that the Father had for you before time began. It is grounded in the fact that when He saw you in your need, in your sin, in your failures and rebellions, He didn’t cast you off or give up on you. No. He sent His Son to bring you forgiveness, to carry your sins to death in His body on the tree so that you might die to sin and live for righteousness. And then, when His Son’s work of salvation was accomplished, He didn’t sit back and wait for you to make the first move. He poured out His Spirit, full of live-giving words, so that you would come to know firsthand the love that God has for you. You have peace with God now through Jesus. Your sins are forgiven. All has been put right again. The words of Jesus that the Holy Spirit brings to you actually accomplish what they say, “Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid.” And your heart is set at ease with the sure and unshakable peace of Jesus.
Jesus gives you to know that peace deeply here in His Supper. His Spirit-filled words joined to the bread and wine quite literally live in you as you eat and drink His true body and blood in faith. They impart His life and peace. So I urge and encourage all of you: Keep the words of Jesus; by the power of the Holy Spirit hold on to them. For they are your life. Let your prayer continually be, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
(With thanks to the Rev. William Weedon)