Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21)

“It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Pentecost day is the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago, the account of the first Christian Pentecost, Acts chapter two. Dear friends in Christ: everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. It doesn’t matter what nation, race, or country; everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. It doesn’t matter what language or dialect; everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Neither riches nor power, neither athletic ability nor beauty, make any difference at all; everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. This is not universalism, that everyone calls out to his own god (or gods) and is saved, but this is very specific. Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord, the one Name of the one and only true God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, will be saved. It is only by calling on that Name, to that God, that men are saved. Salvation is found in no one else than that God; salvation is given through no other name. All other names, every other path, is false, and leads only to damnation. Like those who sailed with Jonah, you can call out to other gods all you want, and the storm will keep on raging. But not so with the God of Israel. Everyone who calls on the Name of that Lord, the only true God, will be saved.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? There is one problem—one big problem—with these words of Joel, preached by Peter. No one can call on the Name of the Lord on his or her own. Sinful man cannot call on the Lord and be saved. The world and our sinful flesh consider the things of God to be foolishness. “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” The preaching of the Word of God is drunken stupidity to the world. The proclamation of the Gospel is the rambling of an idiot to our sinful flesh. You’ve heard their mocking, you know what they say, you may even agree. The Bible’s morality is repressive and outdated, the teaching of a six-day creation intellectually infantile, all those miracles ridiculous to even consider believing. And that doesn’t even touch on the greatest foolishness of all, the foolishness that the people reacted to on the day of Pentecost: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the proclamation that in His Name alone can salvation be found. This is the height of stupidity, the pinnacle of offense, to say that there is one path to heaven, that eternal life is found in only one place: the resurrected Jesus.

The sinful mind, the sinful world, wants nothing to do with the things of God; everything God says is simply the speech of a drunken fool. So the world responds with disdain, with mocking, with angry comedy, rather than calling on the Name of the Lord to be saved. No one can believe in God on their own, no one can call on the Name of the Lord on their own volition. Yes, they can call on plenty of other gods, but the Name of the true God is foolishness to the world. Why? Because they do not believe.

But how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? Faith can only come by hearing, and it is hearing that Pentecost is all about. The signs and wonders of Pentecost are not an end in themselves, but they are there so that the world will hear and believe. “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.” The rushing wind, the tongues of fire, even the speaking in other languages, all were to gather the nations to hear the Word. This is no surprise; every miracle performed by Jesus was for the sake of the Word. Not a single healing or act of mastery over nature was an end in itself; each and every sign and wonder was to gather people to hear the Word.

The signs and wonders declare that God is coming into their midst; as the Lord descended in fire and storm upon Mount Sinai, so in flame and wind He has come among His people again. As on Sinai He descended in power to give the Word to His people, the covenant, with the Ten Commandments at its center, so now He descends to bring His Word of Gospel to the nations. The disciples are not speaking gibberish, but are speaking what the Spirit has given them to say. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The Holy Spirit comes so that the Word will be preached, so that the world will hear what He has given the disciples to say. So the point of Pentecost is not a bunch of Hollywood special effects, but when Peter opened his mouth to speak.

How are they to hear without someone preaching? The Holy Spirit works through means, and the first miracle of this day is not that wind rushed in, nor that tongues of fire appeared, nor even that different languages were spoken. The first miracle of this day is that Peter, who denied our Lord three times less than two months before, stands up boldly and preaches the greatest sermon a pastor has ever preached. “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.” The hatred of this world for the Word of God has cowed many a Christian into silence, it has led many a preacher to talk about something else. The mockery of this world has kept you, time and again, in silence, refusing to speak of Jesus to friends and family when opportunities have been placed before you, it has kept you, time and again, from seeking opportunities to speak. But filled with the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, Peter—miracle of miracles!—lifted up his voice and spoke.

The second miracle of this day is that people hear and believe. It was not the signs and wonders—those simply gathered the people to hear—but the Word of God, preached by Peter with unexpected boldness, that created faith. The hatred of this world for the things of God has left many hearts in darkness. That was your state; conceived and born in sin, you were an enemy of God. You hated God, and everything associated with God; you thought it was all drunken foolishness. When you see and hear the hatred of this world for the things of God, know that this is the hatred that once filled you, the hatred that still dwells within you and all people. But on that first Pentecost—miracle of miracles!—Peter preached, and people believed.

We don’t hear about this in our text; we must look toward the end of Acts chapter two. Peter has proved throughout his great sermon that the Lord to whom we must call to be saved is the crucified and resurrected Jesus, and now he says, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” The people are cut to the heart by the preaching of the Law, and they cry out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s response is the same as Joel’s: everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Miracle of miracles—they did call on the Name of the Lord, and they were baptized.

Peter preached, and people called upon the Name of the Lord. Not on their own power, but by the faith worked in them by the Holy Spirit, using the means that God has appointed, the preached Word. How are they to preach unless they are sent? With this great miracle the Holy Spirit propels the disciples into the world, the many languages a prophecy of how the Gospel will go to every corner of our planet. Through the means of the Church, the Holy Spirit will call on the world to repent and believe, and it will come to pass that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Pentecost is a miracle repeated every Sunday, every time the Word is proclaimed, every time a sinner who hates God is made a believer who loves Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. Pentecost is your miracle; it is a miracle that someone preached the Gospel to you, that someone baptized you into Christ’s name, and it is a miracle that you believe.

“It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” You can only call on the Name of Jesus when God has called you and you believe, as Peter preaches, “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” You can only believe when you hear the Gospel proclaimed; there is no faith without hearing, the Holy Spirit doesn’t act directly, zapping faith into your heart apart from the Word. And you can only hear if someone preaches; the Word of God on occasion boomed forth from the sky, but no longer, now it comes through the mouths of men. And those men can only preach if they are sent, propelled forth from Jerusalem and Judea to the ends of the earth. This is the great order, filled with the Holy Spirit, that Jesus uses to bring His salvation to the world, and this is how He saved you.

The same Jesus who poured out His blood on Calvary as the sacrifice for the sin of the world pours out the Holy Spirit to give to you the benefits of that sacrifice: forgiveness, life, and salvation, won by His wounds, His innocent suffering and death, His victorious resurrection from the dead. The signs of Pentecost tell us that we are living in the last days: wind, fire, and the languages of the world proclaiming the glories of Christ, they tell us that the great harvest is being gathered in. Only one promise is yet to be fulfilled, and for that the Church waits, as she preaches, as she proclaims the Word so that many will hear and believe: Christ has promised to return, and He will, to take to Himself you, me, Peter and the eleven, along with all who have called on His Name. This Name we worship, this Name we praise, for salvation is found in no other Name but the Name of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord. Amen.

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