Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
The Gift of the Holy Spirit - May 15, 2016 - The Day of Pentecost - Text: Acts 2:1-21
Not too long after the flood waters had subsided, Noah and his family, his three sons and their wives began populating the earth. By the time we get to the chapter eleven of Genesis, just two chapters after the flood, the world has already begun crumbling back to its old sinful self. And then we get to the historical account of the tower of Babel. Remember the Tower of Babel? The people of the world were working to make a name for themselves. That is a nice way of saying they were perceiving themselves as being their own gods and goddesses. Instead of spreading out and filling the world, instead of subduing the earth, as the Lord had commanded, they stayed in one place, looking to make a name for themselves. The Lord’s response was quick and sure. He came down and He confused their languages and from that point the people were scattered, as He told them to do in the first place, and from that point we have the initiation of the various culture and people groups which are present in our world today. The religion of evolution, as I call it, teaches that over millions of years human beings evolved from apes and then if you “google” the old evolutionary charts you will see the teaching is then to pygmies which evolved from apes, then came aborigines, then lighter and lighter skinned people. And that is how we get the term “races” and were racism developed. As we look at the Bible and understand that at the Tower of Babel, when God confused the languages of the people, as the various language groups spread throughout the world they took certain dominant DNA, genetic information with them, so that we have in the various language groups around the world, people of various cultures, yet all related to Noah and his family. Indeed, there is only one race of people, humans and many languages and cultures, which makes a whole lot more sense.
Today we celebrate the Day of Pentecost. The day of Pentecost was fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection and ten days after His ascension. Also, in the year of Jesus’ death and resurrection, this day coincided with the Jewish festival of Pentecost which was not unlike our Thanksgiving celebration. This day, that is the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit, is called, by some, the undoing of the day of the confusing of the tongues at the tower of Babel. For the children of Israel, the day of Pentecost was given as a day to celebrated the harvest festival. This was the second great Jewish festival, after the Passover celebration.
Because this was an important festival, Jews came to Jerusalem on pilgrimage from around the world to celebrate. Now, did you catch that, Jews from the various language and culture groups from around the world came to celebrate, in other words there were those of the Jewish faith who were not necessarily of genetic Jewish descent around the world. I certainly believe that this, too, was a part of God’s plan, that His death and resurrection corresponded to this day, which He has now given to us as a day of celebration of the sending of the Holy Spirit. As we are told by our Lord, at just the right time, Jesus came into the world. Because this was an important Israelite holiday, there were many Jews in Jerusalem and many who spoke different languages.
So, what happened at the giving of the Holy Spirit? Luke outlines the visible phenomena. He says that they heard a great wind. I guess that makes sense, because you cannot see wind, but we certainly know how, when a big storm arises, we can hear the wind and we can see the branches and bushes as the wind blows them. Luke describes the wind as a “mighty rush of wind.” And he says, “it filled the entire house where they were sitting” (v. 2). So, this was not some natural phenomena that was occurring outside, but this was a supernatural phenomena that was happening in the house where they had gathered.
Next Luke tells “divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them” (v. 3). This fire is an image of divine presence, thus they knew that this was something from the Lord. The tongues appeared, certainly as a metaphor, symbolizing what was about to happen next, namely the speaking in tongues, or the languages of the people who had gathered and were present in Jerusalem from the various parts of the world.
Which brings us to Luke telling us that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v. 4). This gift of tongues was not simply a babbling as some would think of speaking in tongues in our modern world. This gift of tongues was indeed the gift of languages, that is these disciples, these uneducated men were now, without any formal training, able to speak in languages or literally in the dialects of which they were not able to speak in before. Thus, at the tower of Babel the languages of the people were confused, so now the Lord gives the ability to speak in the languages of all the people.
Luke outlines the visible phenomena and then he explains the invisible phenomena. How is all this happening? All of this is happening as a gift of the Holy Spirit. God is directing these doing. God is giving the gifts and the disciples and the people are being given to. This is what Jesus promised to His disciples just ten days earlier at His ascension when He told them to wait in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Why is this important? Why is the ability to speak in other languages important? Because all these pilgrims to Jerusalem would be able to hear the Gospel message, the message of the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scriptures, the message of Jesus’ life, His suffering, His death and resurrection and then they would be able to take that message back to the people of their homes and countries and share the message with them. It is the same in our churches each and every Sunday. It is so important that we rightly hear the message of law, of our sins, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission, not doing what we are supposed to be doing and our sins of commission, doing what we are not supposed to be doing. It is so important that we understand our role, our part in putting Jesus on the cross, that is that He died for you and for me. It is so important that we hear the law so that we might hear the Gospel, the Good news of Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection for us, in our place so that we are assured of our own forgiveness and our eternal salvation. The sending of the Holy Spirit today is just as important as at the first Pentecost.
Again, the first Pentecost is what some refer to as the reversal of the tower of Babel. At the tower of Babel the languages were confused and people moved to the various places around the world. Unfortunately many of the fathers failed to share the message with their children and so many were lost because they no longer had the message or heard the message. And that is why, today, we have so many people groups and cultures who do not know Jesus, because their fathers failed to share the message with them. Now, today, there is a new opportunity for the message to be heard.
The day of Pentecost is also important, especially for the Apostles and disciples of Jesus, because at the giving of the Holy Spirit, God now gives a complete understanding of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Remember, before Jesus’ death, whenever Jesus spoke about death and dying, His disciples did not understand. Now they have a complete understanding.
And so, they are also given boldness. Now that they understand the purpose of Jesus’ life, that is that He lived for them and for us. Now that they understand the purpose of Jesus’ death, that He died for them and for us. Now that they understand His resurrection, that He is and remains a living God, watching over, ruling over, and interceding for them and us. Now that they understand that He has sent the Holy Spirit so that He is with them and us, even to the end of the world. Now they no longer need to fear. They no longer need to be afraid of the Pharisees, or the teachers of the law, or the Romans, or anyone. Now they may freely, with all boldness and confidence, go out and proclaim the message of salvation, by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone.
What does this mean for us today? Today we continue to celebrate Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit continues to come to us today. Today He comes to us through means and in particular through the means of grace, the Word, that is the Bible and the Sacraments, that is, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and through Confession and Absolution. Through these means our Lord comes to us to give us the good gifts and blessings He has to give.
And what are those good gifts and blessings our Lord has to give to us? Through these means of grace the Holy Spirit gives, strengthens and keeps in faith. Through these means of grace the Holy Spirit gives forgiveness, life and salvation. Our Lord’s usual way of coming to us today is not to come to us directly. In other words, in Jesus’ day and immediately following His resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continued for a short time, coming directly through His apostles and disciples so that His Word through them might be confirmed as just and right and true. As time moved on and the days of the apostles ended, our Lord decreased His immediate activity among us. Even though our Lord may choose to come to us directly today, that is not His usual way of coming to us. Today His usual way of coming to us is to come through means namely through the means of grace. Thus, we see the importance of making regular and diligent use of these means. In other words, to make regular use of the means of grace means to be in Divine Service as often as it is offered. To be diligent in our use of the means of grace means to pay attention to the proclamation of the Gospel. To make regular use of the means of grace means to personally, daily, read the word of God or hear it read, to have personal and family devotions. To be diligent about these means of grace means, again, to pay attention to that Word. To make regular use of the means of grace means to daily remember your baptism and how at your baptism the Lord washed you and put His name on you. He forgave you, He wrote your name in the book of Life. To make regular use of the means of grace means to hunger and thirst for the Lord and to come to His Table to eat and drink His body and blood at His holy supper. For, to absent ourselves from these means takes away the means through which our Lord comes to gives us His good gifts and blessings. To absent ourselves from these means would be like refusing gifts at your birthday or at Christmas, or to refuse to eat at your daily meals. Thus, we certainly see the importance of these means of grace.
But, not only does the Holy Spirit give us individual gifts, faith, forgiveness, earned by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, life and salvation. The Holy Spirit also gives gifts to the Church, that is, the Holy Spirit gives the Church, His Holy Christian Church, all that it needs to be His Church here on this earth. Yes, believe it or not, He does give us everything we need to be His church, His congregation here in this place.
And finally, the Holy Spirit also continues to give us boldness. Our nature is certainly not the nature of our Lord. Our nature is to sin. Our nature is not to make use of the means of grace. Our nature is not to acknowledge our Lord. And so, our Lord takes care of this weakness in us as well. For the Holy Spirit works in us and through us to, with all boldness and confidence, respond to all our Lord has done, all He does and all He will continue to do for us, by living lives of faith as He would have us to live. And yet, even here we fail and so He must continue working in and through us. Notice again, our focus is always back on our Lord who gives all and does all.
Today we celebrate Pentecost. We celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus continues to send today. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit always points to Christ, who has taken care of everything for us, namely our forgiveness, life and salvation. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit works in us to give us, strengthen us and keep us in faith. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit works in us to respond to the faith given by moving in us, stirring in us, working in and through us to believe the message of Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, to live that message in our lives, and to speak works of thanks and praise to our Lord for all that He does for us. Yes, to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.