SCRIPTURES – Psalm 104; Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31
“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.” John 14:23
Here we are, Pentecost; fifty days after Easter. Ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven. You know, it’s a good thing Jesus wasn’t in Hawaii, for He may never have wanted to leave! Yea, right. Jesus ascended because He had a far greater beauty in mind than any this world can offer. He ascended to give to us a beauty and blessing that this world cannot give.
What happened on Pentecost? Did Jesus correct a mistake? Did God change His heart?
We heard in Genesis 11 of how God had come down to see the great tower the world’s people were building and responded by confusing their language, so that we now speak many different languages and are scattered throughout the world.
Is Pentecost the work of a friendlier God, whose attitude has changed since those days of old? It can seem this way when you compare how God worked in the Old Testament with how He works in the New Testament.
Pentecost inaugurates and celebrates a new day, but not a new or different God. It creates and blesses a new people. Pentecost, you see, is not the reversal of Babel; it is the remaking of it. On Pentecost God does not reverse Babel and cause all the people of the world to again speak one language so that they can better work together and improve themselves. Instead, He gives Christ’s disciples the ability to proclaim the good news of Jesus in any language. Instead of people seeking to exalt themselves by their own efforts, the Holy Spirit unites people to Christ and His works and exalts them in Him.
This is Pentecost. This is all the work of a God who has not changed in His love for us and His desire to bless us. Now, sure, Genesis 11 sounds a bit strange: “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.” What, He couldn’t see it from heaven? Of course He could. He’s God! He sees and knows everything! The point of Genesis 11 is that God is not just up in heaven. He’s also down here among us on this earth, working indirectly and quietly to shape and direct our lives.
This has not changed. Despite the sound of a mighty rushing wind and the tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost, God was still hidden in the background. He filled Christ’s disciples – people just like us – and sent them out with His words. Common people, blessed and exalted by Jesus and His words: this is what Pentecost is all about. This is a day of and for blessing sinners with the words of Jesus Christ!
Pentecost: a day of blessing with words? Really? Words are so weak, after all. They’re so often poorly chosen and poorly understood. Can we feel good about ourselves and our faith, and feel confident in our God, on this day of words? You can if Jesus is true and trustworthy. “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,” our Lord says. He sent His Holy Spirit to direct His disciples both in what they preached and taught and also in what they later wrote down, what we now call the books of the New Testament. And so, in the Bible we have true words, eternal words, Jesus’ saving words! “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” As you hold to Christ’s words you will find His promise to be true.
Consider how even our own words can change lives. Paul Rikkonen, a widower, and Alicia Lewis, a widow, were two people who had never met and had never even heard of each other; until they met on the internet. They met through words, and with words arranged a meeting. Nine days ago they spoke before me words of promise to God and to one another, and I, with the authority granted to me by the state of Hawaii, united them as husband and wife. That’s a big change!
With His Spirit-inspired words God creates a much bigger and much longer lasting change. Jesus says: “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.” Wow! Through His Spirit-inspired words God loves us, dwells within us sinners, and fills us with His eternal life! This is what Pentecost is all about.
Think of the blessing of Pentecost in this way: in this world there are always distinctions. There are have and have nots; rulers and ruled; those with position and influence and those with none.
Almost every day in Hawaii I walked past the Trump Hotel on my way to the beach. What a place! There’s no way I could ever stay there.
On the day of Pentecost Jesus pours out the blessing of the Holy Spirit on each of His disciples without distinction, and by His Word and Sacraments He continues to do so. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor; male or female; pastor or parishioner; a newly baptized infant or a follower of Christ for ninety years. God declares, “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; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit… everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Because of Jesus and His wonderful words and works, which the Holy Spirit brings to us, you, Christ’s follower, can now say what Martin Luther once said:
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, who makes me and all believers holy. Therefore I am a member of a holy order, not that of [any monks] but that of Christ, who makes me holy through His Word and sacraments… I am not holy through myself but through Christ’s blood, with which I have been sprinkled, yes, washed in Baptism, and also through His Gospel, which is spoken over me daily.”
Because of Christ’s death for you and His Holy Spirit given to you, you are holy. It is only a false and harmful humility which makes you fear that your sins prevent you from being holy. That would be a denial of Christ’s blood and Baptism; that would deny that you have the Holy Spirit and are a member of the Christian Church, in which we receive Christ’s Gospel, His Baptism, and His body and blood.
Because of Christ’s coming in the flesh to shed His blood for you on the cross, rise from the dead, and ascend into heaven for you; because God the Father sent Him to do this for you; and, because the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, every Christian can say with Martin Luther:
“We are members of a holy fraternity in Wittenberg, in Rome, in Jerusalem – (in Norwalk, CT!) – and wherever holy Baptism and the Gospel are. And we do not regard one another otherwise than as saints of God. Even though we are still sinners and many failings always remain in our flesh and blood, He covers up our sins and impurities. Thus we are accounted entirely pure and holy before God, as long as we cling to Christ and His Baptism and rely on His blood.”
It is a new day, and we are a new people, Christ’s holy people by the work of His Holy Spirit. This is the gift and blessing of Pentecost. Thanks be to God!