By Paul Koch –
Today is Pentecost. Perhaps you didn’t hear me; it is Pentecost! Aren’t you excited? Haven’t you been looking forward to this day ever since the celebration of Easter? The church marks this day on its calendar every year. It is the day we get out the red colors and tell the story of the tongues of fire and rushing wind as the Apostles began to preach in different languages to those in Jerusalem. It is a big celebration in the church. In fact, historically there were services for Pentecost Eve, Pentecost Day, Pentecost Monday and Pentecost Tuesday. It’s almost like another Christmas! But if you’re like me, you probably don’t see what the big deal is. I mean, you may know the story but why is Pentecost such a celebration? Or at least, why should it be?
Imagine for a moment, if this celebration of Pentecost didn’t come on some Sunday 50 days after Easter. Imagine, instead, that this celebration came 50 days after the angel of death passed over the land of Egypt, killing the first born of the land. Imagine, you had just walked through the Red Sea on dry land and witness the waters consume the whole host of Pharaoh’s army. And then ultimately, you and your family arrived at the foot of a great mountain. The God who delivered you from slavery appeared on that mountain, covering it in a cloud full of lightning and thunder. But your leader went up to meet God to intercede there on your behalf. And 50 days after your deliverance, Moses came out of the presence of the Lord and brought with him two tablets of stone: the 10 commandments. These commandments aren’t like any other rules of man. They are more than a list of do’s and don’ts. These commandments separate and establish you as the people of God.
And so, from that day forward, you and your children and grandchildren celebrate the great festival of Pentecost. You celebrate and remember not only the deliverance given by your God but that He established you as His own possession by the giving of His Word on Mount Sinai. Here, then, you were separated from the world of unbelievers and made heirs of all the blessings of the Father. And so, every year you gather together. Every year throughout your time of wandering in the wilderness, every year once you’ve made the great conquest of the Promised Land, every year after you’ve settled in Jerusalem. Every year from the Tabernacle to the Temple, you’ve made your offerings and celebrated the great feast of Pentecost.
This is why all the pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost in Acts, Chapter 2. This also is why today matters to us even now. To gather for the festival was a remembrance of how God’s people were made His people. It was when the Word was given and a new community was established at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It was a celebration of the holiness and mercy of God. But in Acts 2, everything is amplified. It begins with those who had been called and set aside by our Lord Jesus Christ to carry on His great work. For “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were siting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4) So what do they do with this gift of the Spirit? Why, they begin to proclaim the mighty works of God to all those gathered in Jerusalem. This wide variation of people of different languages and nationalities heard the Word in their own native tongue.
This is truly amazing. Here in Jerusalem, on a day that remembers how God’s Word came down engraved upon stone tablets to make for Himself a people of His own possession, God comes down again. Not by Moses going up the mountain, not in thunder and lighting and cloud. No, God comes by sending His Spirit and filling His chosen ones with His Words. The Word of God is not contained on the tablets of stone, but is spoken from one to another declaring the mighty works of God. That He would become a man so that He might walk along side of you. That he might live the perfect life of love. And as a man, He might take your sins upon Himself and so suffer and die in your place. Oh, the mighty wonders of our God, that the perfect man would become the perfect sinner and die the perfect death. But God’s mighty wonders would not end there. No, He would raise Him up again so that victory, life, and salvation might be yours this day.
And so, just as God’s Word came down from Sinai and created a people, so His Word continues to go forth creating and sustaining His holy people. Pentecost is the reminder of the active and living work of God’s holy Word. A Word that still thrives in our midst this very day. On Pentecost, the Word brought the people together, and today we are brought together by the same Word. Just look around you, my friends, look around at those who sit beside you. Those who sing along side of you, who call upon the same God and eat at the same table. God is still creating a people, and you are it.
As Peter stands up and begins to address the crowd that forms because of the Spirit filled preaching of the apostles, he begins by quoting the prophet Joel. And he says, “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17) Peter is declaring to them and to you that these days, the days we now live in, are the last days. In the last days God’s Word goes far beyond the camp of Israel out into the land of the Gentiles. It finds its way into your homes and into your hearts and makes a people out of you.
What is it that makes these the last days? Is it the wars and rumors of wars? Is it the false teaching and the persecution? Is it the rise of the Islamic state or the demise of American liberty? No. The reason the spirit is poured out on Pentecost, the reason that all this has taken place, is that our Lord has completed His work. On the cross of Calvary after enduring the brutality of wicked men, after they cast lots for His garments and mocked Him from afar. The Son of God weighed down under your sins says quite simply, “It is finished.” Finished, complete, done.
He didn’t leave some small morsel for you to do. Salvation isn’t contingent upon your work or your heart’s desire. It is finished in Christ, finished on the cross, finished for you. And so, from that day till now, from that day until the resurrection of all the dead, we live in the last days.
The Spirit goes forth, still making a people of God, still gathering us together. The Spirit brings you to your knees in repentance as you are shown again and again how you have failed to live as you ought, failed to honor your God, and your brothers and sisters in Christ. But the Spirit speaks life and hope into your sorrow. You hear the Spirit boldly say to you, “In the name of Christ I forgive you all your sins.” You hear Him invite you to the table saying, “Take eat, this is my body. Take drink, this is my blood given and shed for you.”
Pentecost reminds us of what we confessed years ago in the catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way he calls, gather, enlightens, and sanctifies, the whole Christian Church on earth…” (SC, 3rd Art.)
This, you see, is why Pentecost matters. It is where we confess the ongoing work of the Spirit. The comforter who guides us in these last days so that we might endure until the return of our Lord. Just as you have been called by the proclamation of the Gospel so you have been called alongside of one another. Go ahead and look around. God still makes a people for His own possession, for He has made you.