Beloved. Last week we celebrated our Lord’s glorious ascension into heaven. And there we remembered that Jesus’ ascension does not mean that He is locked away in some corner of heaven. Instead, Jesus ascended into heaven precisely so that He could be with His Church, with each of His dear Christians. Remember, there is the One Person of Jesus, who is God and man. That means that where He is spiritually, He is also there bodily. St. Paul put it this way [Eph. 4.10]: Jesus ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. Because Jesus fills all things, He, then, is present everywhere, also as man. To confess, as we do in the creed, that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, means He is in a position of power and authority, ruling all things for the good of His Church and for each of His dear Christians.
What was it that Jesus told His disciples before His ascension? St. Luke records [Acts 1.5-6]: And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Ten days passed from the time of Jesus’ ascension to the day of Pentecost, until the disciples were baptized with the Holy Spirit. That’s what we celebrate today. On that first Christian Pentecost day—50 days after Easter, the crucified but risen and now ascended Lord poured out/ baptized His disciples with the Holy Spirit and He continues to pour out the Holy Spirit on us today by His Holy Word and Sacrament. Think of the richness and abundance of the water being used/ poured out at Christian baptism—a glorious image!—so also now Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit in rich abundant measure on us/ His Church.
But what is it that we read about that happened that first Pentecost? Suddenly a sound like the rushing of a violent wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw divided tongues that were like fire resting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, since the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak fluently. These are great and mighty signs that marked the arrival of the Holy Spirit. There was that sound of a mighty wind—a sign of the Holy Spirit. It certainly gathered a crowd around the disciples to see and hear them. Then there were those divided tongues that were like fire resting on each one of them. By this the Holy Spirit marked the apostles as ones that should be listened to. And the tongues like fire are a beautiful image of the Holy Spirit because the fire on one candle that lights a fire on another candle does not get smaller but both flames are the same size. A glorious image of the Holy Spirit giving His gifts to Christians—by giving His gifts the Holy Spirit isn’t lessened; nor are the gifts to the Church lessened over the course of time. It is the same Holy Spirit with the same rich and abundant gifts!
But some may object here. They will point out the great and mighty signs of that first Pentecost—the sound like the rushing of a violent wind came from heaven, the divided tongues that were like fire resting on each one of them, and the speaking in other languages without having studied them—and then ask: where are they today? If the Church would have such great signs today, we would all be bursting at the seams. But in our day, we do, in fact, have great signs and evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work. As great as these signs are that are in our text marking the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they are precisely that: signs marking the coming of the Holy Spirit so that the disciples would know that Jesus’ promise was fulfilled: but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. But in fact the greatest miracle of Pentecost we find recorded at the end of the Pentecost account: Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about 3000 souls were added. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. That is the great Pentecost miracle happening among us and in us today—the Holy Spirit creating faith in Jesus in the hearts of people and keeping them in that faith. To help us grasp this, let us look at an Old Testament prophecy from St. Zephaniah in which he prophesies of the time of the NT Church, of the “happy and blessed kingdom of Christ spread abroad in the world.” Our text: For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve Him with one accord.
As we so often see in these OT prophecies the phrase “at that time” points ahead to the time of the NT Church. The simple fact remains, Pentecost’s miracle is still happening in us and among us today because it is God’s work. Notice: who is doing the work—God is; I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech. By the work of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent to His Church and to work mightily in the hearts of people, God is creating a holy people. I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech. The Church is a divine creation. The Church is not simply a bunch of like-minded people getting together like the garden club. Instead, the Church is God’s creation as by the Holy Spirit He creates true faith, a oneness of faith and heart and brings together people into His Church that normally would have nothing in common. What do we have at the first Pentecost—people from all over the world Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, and of Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya around Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Cretans and Arabs–people who would have nothing in common except for their Spirit-worked faith in Jesus. That’s the one holy Christian Church throughout the world. And then there’s the Christian Church at a particular location—the local congregation. As different as we all are, we have been brought together here by the Lord—He gave us the gift of faith; He made us a holy people; and by gathering us around His holy word and Sacrament He is preserving and strengthening our faith. Even when we see or think we see all sorts of dysfunction in the Church and in the congregation, we need to keep in mind that the Church and even our own congregation is God’s work, the continuation of Pentecost. He has brought us together; He has created us a holy people—though we may seem to be one large dysfunctional family. The glorious words of Jesus [Mt. 16.18]: I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
In fact, God has to be the one who creates us a holy people; there has to be a Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit to us because we can’t do it ourselves. Coming to faith is not a DIY project. Remember the Lord’s words in our text: I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech. We can’t change our speech; God has to. But what is the deal with speech? Why does the Lord bring that out? Jesus tells us [Mt. 12.34]: For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The first thing that shows what’s in our heart is what we say; we speak what’s in our heart. And what is it that is in our heart? Again Jesus says [Mk. 7.21]: Out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. And as He said through St. Jeremiah [17.9]: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. There is no way we, left to our own devices, can make ourselves holy. It’s not because of something in us, not because of any self-preparation but simply out of the pure grace of God that the Holy Spirit comes to us, that He will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech. Keeping with the imagery of our text—to change the speech of a person means to change the heart of the person. That’s exactly what the Lord does! In grace He creates in us a new heart—a heart full of faith in Him, a heart that knows Him rightly as our Savior, a heart that then recognizes and sorrows over sin and clings to Jesus for forgiveness of sin, a heart that wants to do the Lord’s will. He does that precisely by the work of the Holy Spirit. And this is the continuation of the Pentecost miracle. It has happened in us, dear Christian. This is a great, mighty and powerful action/ miracle. By the work of the Holy Spirit—for most of us, it was in the waters of Holy Baptism—we have been completely changed. I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech. And why? –that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve Him with one accord.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit marked His arrival in grand fashion with the sound of a mighty, rushing wind and with divided tongues like fire. Among us, the Holy Spirit’s entrance may not be seemingly so outwardly grand but He comes in the simple word of Scripture; He comes in the simple water and word of Holy Baptism. But the effect is the same and just as powerful—we are changed, our hearts are changed, we have been given the gift of faith and the right and saving knowledge of God. When the Holy Spirit comes to us and creates this faith and love of the Lord in us, He does not come alone. Listen to Jesus in today’s Gospel: “If anyone loves me, he will hold on to my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” We can only love Jesus and cling to His word if the Holy Spirit has come to us first and worked faith in Jesus in us. So where there is faith, there the Holy Spirit is not alone but the Triune God is there, dwelling within us. What a great miracle and what a great mystery.
Can the holy God dwell within this sinful flesh of ours? Yes! The Son, Jesus, came and lived in this sinful world why couldn’t He dwell within us? But it goes beyond that. Where there is Spirit-worked faith, that faith is clinging to Jesus, to His perfect holiness, to the forgiveness He won for us by His life, suffering and death. In other words, we are forgiven our sins and clothed with the perfect holiness of Jesus; we are declared righteous by God; in this forgiven, cleansed heart of His dear Christians, God dwells. And where He dwells He changes things. Now our Lord fills our hearts and thoughts with His good things. He fills us with love of Him and the desire to do His will. There is a huge difference between the before and after the coming of the Holy Spirit. Whereas before or without the Holy Spirit, people would ignore God’s will, resist His calls to repent, live only for self. But now the Christian, with the indwelling Triune God, having been cleansed and purified, has a life marked by holiness because the Lord is in us, leading and strengthening us into every good work. He fills our lips with a new song and makes us willing and able to use our body and energy to serve God and others.
Our text: For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve Him with one accord. The great Pentecost miracle continues today in us when God creates that new heart in us. Our speech is different/ pure because our heart is new. And the Lord gives us this pure speech, flowing from that new, pure, Christian heart, so that we may, in faith, call upon His name in prayer, praise, thanksgiving and in every trouble; He has given us a pure speech so that we can teach others His word so that He can continue the Pentecost miracle in them by creating in them a clean heart and pure speech, so that we, with them, may call upon the name of the Lord in the true unity.
Rejoice on this day of Pentecost. We have not missed out on any Pentecost miracle. Although the Holy Spirit’s coming today in the word and baptism is not as dramatic, the Pentecost miracle is still happening today because it is God’s work for us and in us. For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve Him with one accord. INJ Amen