Monday, June 05, 2006

Sermon for Pentecost Sunday: Acts 2:22-36

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. The text for this Pentecost Sunday is the reading from Acts. Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Today in the Church Year is Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection. Pentecost means “fiftieth,” and was originally an Old Testament festival. It was transformed into a Christian festival when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the 12 disciples, and they spoke the Gospel in so many different languages. For the Old Testament Israelites, Pentecost was called the “Feast of Weeks” and was a harvest festival, where they offered the firstfruits of their grain harvest as offerings to God. Now, the 50th day after Jesus’ Resurrection, and 10 days after His ascension into heaven, the day of Pentecost would take on a whole new meaning. Instead of being a festival of harvest for grain, it would now become a harvest of souls! That day a large number of faithful Jews had gathered for this holiday, from Jewish communities all around the Mediterranean Sea, and they had not yet realized the import of these events that had taken place in Jerusalem. They had heard of these events, and knew of this great miracle worker and his signs and wonders, but they did not yet know who he was or what was the significance of His death and resurrection. So they were ripe for the harvest! Just as there are many today that have perhaps heard of Jesus, and have some vague idea of what He did, but don’t understand the significance of His death and resurrection. These are people who are ripe for evangelism, to hear the good news of who Jesus is, and what He did—to hear it from you and me! And that first Pentecost, God blessed the church with a harvest of 3,000 souls!

Lest we forget, it was the Holy Spirit who accomplished this great conversion, and He is always the one responsible for the results—we are simply to be bearers of the message. Sometimes we feel as if we have failed if we don’t see visible results immediately—but here we must realize that the Holy Spirit assures the harvest. We may not always see the harvest, but that should never stop us from planting seeds or watering. The ones who plant or water are nothing, but only God who gives the growth.

So when the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost, what was the message that he brought through the disciples? We might expect perhaps, that the Holy Spirit would come to give an autobiography of the 3rd person of the Trinity. We don’t know very much about the Holy Spirit after all. He has sometimes been called the “shy” member of the Holy Trinity. But why is it that the Holy Spirit didn’t give such a self-revelation or autobiography on Pentecost? Are we wrong to give special remembrance to the sending and work of the Holy Spirit this day of Pentecost? Not at all! When Peter addressed the crowd in this sermon, he said the promise of the Holy Spirit had been poured out “this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” And what had they been seeing and hearing? The preaching of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection! This was the content of the Holy Spirit’s message. The Spirit did not come to speak of Himself, but of Christ, who reveals the Godhead! Just as Jesus promised, when He sent the Holy Spirit, the Spirit would glorify Jesus by teaching the disciples all the things of Jesus, and bring His teachings to their remembrance (John 14; 16).

So what was so life changing about the Spirit’s message that the apostle’s spoke, that it brought about the conversion of so many? Peter sharply addressed the crowd with the bold charge that: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). You can tell that Peter was no crowd-pleaser! He wasn’t likely to win much favor by telling the crowd that they were complicit in the death of Jesus! People aren’t any more receptive to hearing this today, than they were then. We don’t want to hear that our sins also helped nail Jesus to that wretched tree. Blame-shifting is a popular way of escape. There are plenty of “other” sinners we would rather point the finger at than hear the law directed at us. But we cannot hide from the charge that our sins made Jesus suffer—that the spiritual suffering from our sins weighed far greater on Him than the physical torture He endured.

Yet what is so surprising is not that Peter said that they shared in Jesus’ death, but that this happened “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God!” You see, Jesus death wasn’t accidental in any way. His death wasn’t some unfortunate consequence of backlash against a mere teacher of morals, or a more enlightened way of life. Some people, who would intentionally like to confuse Jesus with other religious teachers like Buddha, Confucius, Ghandi, or Mohammed—mere men, would like you to believe that Jesus death was nothing more than such an accident. But Jesus wasn’t just one who was made a martyr for promoting peace and love. No, His death had a much greater significance and purpose, because He was not just an ordinary man. Rather, His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion at the hands of lawless men was part of God’s predetermined plan—the crucial event that became the turning point of human history as God’s plan to save mankind was fulfilled.

King David foresaw Jesus’ coming, and spoke prophesies of Christ in his Psalms. He spoke these words in Psalm 16, quoted in today’s text:

I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.

David knew that in all things, the Lord was at his right hand, and therefore he had nothing to fear. He wouldn’t be shaken. David’s heart was glad, his tongue rejoiced, and his flesh dwelled in hope. How was such gladness and joy possible? How could a king who faced warring enemies all the time dwell in hope? David speaks to God of Jesus, whom he refers to as “your Holy One.” So David’s hope rested in these words: “You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life…” Though David spoke these words, Peter informed us and the crowd at Pentecost that they were not fulfilled by David himself, for he indeed died and was buried. His tomb was still among them for investigation, should they wonder if his body “saw corruption” or decayed.

Rather, Peter, speaking by the Holy Spirit affirms that we can say with all boldness and certainty that this does not speak about King David, but rather of the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Jesus was the one who was not abandoned to the grave nor did His flesh see corruption. And His tomb was still among them for investigation also! They could go investigate His three-day tomb and see that it was empty, for Peter and all of the disciples were eyewitnesses of this miraculous resurrection. Here is one of the most remarkable things about it: as Peter said, “God raised Him up, loosing the pain of death!” What tremendous news this is! We don’t have to look far to see how great the pains of death are. Right among us at Resurrection we know those who are suffering from those pains even now. Almost all have grieved the loss of a loved one, and some even now look with fear at the possibility of their own death. So to hear news that we have one who has loosed the pains of death is joyous news indeed! The kind of news that can win 3,000 souls to Christ!

So what does it mean for us that Jesus loosed the pains of death? After all, we still die. What it means is that Christ’s resurrection has broken the icy grip that death had on mankind. The sting of death is sin, but Christ defeated sin when He died on the cross according to God’s determined plan. Death no longer has any permanence over us, since by baptism we have been joined to Jesus’ resurrection. So now, even though we die, it is but a temporary sleep, because our life continues beyond the grave with Christ. The other side of death for us is eternal life! And because Christ rose in the flesh, so also will we be raised in the flesh on the Day of Judgment. So now we can understand how David could be glad at heart, rejoice with his tongue, and that his flesh would dwell in hope! For there is indeed hope for our mortal flesh. Being redeemed by Christ it will rise in the Resurrection of the Dead! After that resurrection, our flesh will never again see corruption or decay! We can share in that joy and hope, knowing that our greatest enemy, Death, has been defeated by our Mightier Savior!

We glorify God and marvel at His strength, that even the pains of death could not hold Him. When death comes to us or those we love, there will certainly be mourning and sadness. It is right to mourn death, because it is an invader in God’s creation. We were not meant for death. But because of Christ’s resurrection, His breaking those bonds of death, we do not mourn as those who have no hope! Rather we can with all boldness and confidence know that death will not be the end of us, for Christ has made known to us the paths of life. And He is that path, for He leads us on paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, as Psalm 23 puts it. When death draws near, we turn our full confidence to Jesus, for He has gone before us, and with such a Savior at our right hand, we have nothing to fear.

And this is the amazing news that we are privileged to share with others! Telling that good news to another person does not have to be a difficult or intimidating thing at all. Evangelizing all begins with this fundamental question that Peter addressed on Pentecost, namely, “Who is this Jesus?” If we pray for opportunities to share the Gospel, God will provide them. This Pentecost is a reminder that there is a harvest of souls ripe and waiting! Ask that person who they say that Jesus is, and you have the starting point for a conversation to explain just who Jesus is and what He has done for us in His death and resurrection! And the same Spirit that told Peter that God had made Jesus both Lord and Christ, will speak through us to bring about the conversion of those who do not yet know this truth about Jesus. Pentecost is not just about how God moved through His Holy Spirit 2,000 years ago, but it is a reminder that even today, the Spirit is here and working among us, building up and establishing our faith, and sanctifying us in Christ. Every day we go forth with the Spirit of Christ, with the hope of the resurrection filling us with a joy and gladness that the world cannot grasp apart from Christ. And so we pray that the Holy Spirit would ever bring to our remembrance the faith and knowledge of Christ who is our Lord, and give us the joy of His resurrection in the face of all fear. In Jesus’ name we pray it. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

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