The Feast of Pentecost, 31 May 2020
A Sermon on Acts 2:1-21 by Samuel David Zumwalt
Acts 2:1-21 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that 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;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
DYING TO RISE: GENEROUSLY
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Fiery Reign of Hell
“My Lord, what a morning. My Lord, what a morning. Oh, my Lord, what a morning when the stars begin to fall. You’ll hear the trumpet sound to wake the nations underground, looking to my God’s right hand when the stars begin to fall” (With One Voice #627, African American spiritual).
Only those in a coma, or perhaps in a memory unit, are unaware that we are living in days some of us thought we would never see. A booming economy was overnight turned off like a water faucet, and millions were thrown out of work. Most churches failed to keep the rhythm of their regular worship life, and almost all were limited to a handful of the faithful gathered in person while the rest had to worship online. Abortion clinics, liquor stores, and marijuana dispensaries were declared essential by the various little Caesars, and even now the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote sided with the little Caesar of California against a church and effectively said it was legal to restrict their freedom to worship. At the same time, for three nights in a row, anger against the inexplicable murder of a black man by a white policeman in Minneapolis has boiled over into blind rage in city streets. The many are filled not with the fire and violent wind of the Holy Spirit but with the malevolent spirit that sets fire to minority-owned businesses. The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). This old creation is passing away. Can you see it?
Most Christians here have lived so comfortably coexisting with evil that we seem surprised by all this. But Christ’s Church has lived through worse especially when it was not protected by the laws of men. Read the stories of saints killed and eaten by lions, burned to death, maimed and blinded by Caesar’s minions. Read the stories of saints forced by Muslim soldiers to renounce the faith or die, their churches burned or, like Hagia Sophia, turned into a mosque, their wives and daughters sold into sexual slavery. Read the stories of saints forced by the shoguns in Japan to grind their feet into the face of Christ on a crucifix and renounce Him or die. Read the stories of bishops and priests beheaded by the mob of the French Revolution. Read the stories of the bishops and priests murdered by Bolsheviks, churches and properties seized for the use of the godless state, and sex and violence reigning in the streets. Read the stories of the priests, pastors, and bishops imprisoned and killed by godless Chinese, North Korean, and Vietnamese rulers. And still in our day foolish Christians-in-name-only clamor for socialism. Read the stories of Christians in our day still persecuted, imprisoned, and killed by mobs. Deliver us, good Lord.
By Which Spirit Are You Possessed?
Having been instructed by the Lord Jesus before His ascension that they should wait in the city until they were clothed with power from on high, the newly reconstituted twelve apostles were gathered with their brothers and sisters in the faith including the Blessed Virgin Mary. Luke tells us in chapter 1 their number was in all about 120. “And there was suddenly out of heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” (2:2). The Greek word translated “mighty” is “biaios” (bee-ah-yos). The literal translation is “violent.”
A contemporary hymn beloved by feminists is entitled, “Spirit of Gentleness.” But, the Scriptures describe the coming of the Holy Spirit much differently. At Jesus’ Baptism in Mark, the skies are torn open and the Holy Spirit descends (1:10). Here, there is the sound of a violent wind that accompanies the Holy Spirit’s descent. We have seen the evil spirit’s destructive force in recent days both in the murder of George Floyd and in the mindless carnage night after night.
The question is not whether the Holy Spirit is a pacifist. The question is which Spirit guides us?
The apostles and the rest of the about 120 of Jesus’ disciples were gathered in one place and with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer. When they had prayerfully called upon the Lord to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot, the lot had fallen on Matthias, a disciple from the beginning of our Lord’s ministry and an eyewitness of His death and resurrection. When the Jewish feast of Pentecost arrived fifty days after Passover, the Holy Spirit forcefully filled them.
On the day of your Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit expelled the old evil spirit from your life. If you were an infant like I when that happened, you probably don’t remember that moment. I do remember my Confirmation Day when Pr. George Luecke placed his hand on my head. I do remember the night when the Holy Spirit filled me with the joy of Christ’s death and resurrection for my sins. I do remember that late afternoon thirty-nine years ago when I lay on the floor in cruciform position, while the congregation sang “Holy Spirit, Ever Dwelling,” just before the laying on of hands at my ordination. I do remember that morning a couple of years later when I lay on the floor of my first congregation, crying before the altar that this work was too hard for me, and the Holy Spirit moved me to say, “But I love being a pastor.”
Dear ones, this Christian life is not meant to be easy. It’s meant to be joyful, and that is so very different from being happy, pleased, or at peace with this world. As our confirmands are being confirmed in this faith, I will ask them: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” And they will answer, “I do, by the grace of God” without about as much understanding of what they are saying as that new groom and bride have when they pledge their faithfulness until death with, “I do.”
Hear what the Spirit of God says through St. Paul in Romans 8: “… To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (8:6-8). When we are possessed by the Holy Spirit, we cannot be at peace with the world that is hostile to God. Either we are at peace with God or with the world!
The New Language of the Holy Spirit
For almost 2,000 years, the one Body of Christ in the world has been declaring the mighty works of God in Christ Jesus using intelligible words in many languages. In other words, when the Holy Spirit filled the about 120 apostles and disciples, the new language of the Holy Spirit was not the glossolalia that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12-14. There, he speaks of their need for an interpreter of their ecstatic speech. Here, on Pentecost there was no need for an interpreter, because the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection was made known in the native tongue of every Jew who heard the Good News proclaimed. About 3,000 of the about 165,000 Jews in Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost repented and were baptized (2:41). That’s only 2.4%!
It is our local tradition to hear the Word of God in several languages at the Feast of Pentecost to remind ourselves that the Good News must be proclaimed in every tongue that none may be lost and all may receive Holy Baptism and live new lives of repentance and trust in Christ alone. But while we live in the world, dear ones, we cannot be at peace with a world that is hostile to God. Yes, Christians are also angry in the face of injustice, but we do not participate in or condone acts that reflect by their very nature that evil spirit who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.
This old creation is passing away. Can you not see it? Can you not hear it? We pray for those in authority and for the well-being of this earthly city, but all of this will come to end because it must. Just as those filled with the Holy Spirit were mocked as drunk with new wine, so those who declare salvation is only found in Jesus Christ will be laughed at and hated by this world.
We speak a different language than the world. The new language of the Holy Spirit is the story of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation only through Jesus Christ. The language of a world hostile to God is me-centered. It is the language of hell. You know it by its fruits: stealing, killing, and destroying. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it remains a pig. Lies obscure, but they are always revealed by the brilliance of Christ’s Light that the darkness can never overcome.
Those possessed by the evil spirit will be known by their works. They lie, steal, kill, and destroy in pursuit of power they cannot control, because it is from the pit of hell. Pray for their souls. Pray for their conversion, for you can’t save anyone. Yes, speak to the Lord on their behalf.
Baptized into Christ, you are no longer your own. Nothing about you is yours. It cannot be, for you have been crucified with Christ. Those who have died and been raised with Him will lead generous lives, because the Holy Spirit has filled us. We are for life, because the new life in Christ does not end with death or the end of everything as we know it. The old is passing away.
Do not be afraid! Keep your eyes on Jesus given to you in His meal. Keep your ears tuned to Jesus who speaks to you in His Word that you may know who and Whose you are and will be. Do not be seduced by the devil, his works, and his ways. That is not your story. Rather, your story, given to you in your Baptism, is the story of Christ making all things new in Him.
So… “My Lord, what a morning. My Lord, what a morning. Oh, my Lord what a morning when the stars begin to fall!”
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Dying to Rise: Generously
“O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1342).
Acts 2:1 “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”
St. Leo the Great [Mid-5th century Bishop of Rome, Italy]: “To the Hebrew people now freed from Egypt, the law was given on Mt. Sinai fifty days after the immolation of the paschal lamb. Similarly, after the passion of Christ in which the true Lamb of God was killed, just fifty days after his resurrection the Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles and the whole group of believers. Thus the earnest Christian may easily perceive that the beginnings of the Old Covenant were at the service of the beginnings of the gospel and that the same Spirit who instituted the first established the Second Covenant” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Acts, 20).
Acts 2:2 “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind ...”
St. Cyril [4th century Bishop of Jerusalem, Israel]: “And it filled all the house where they were sitting; for the house became the vessel of the spiritual water; as the disciples sat within, the whole house was filled. Thus they were entirely baptized according to the promise and invested soul and body with a divine garment of salvation” (22).
Acts 2:3 “And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.”
St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius, Algeria]: “The dove shows that those who are sanctified by the Spirit should be without guile. That their simplicity should not continue cold is shown us by the fire… There is a diversity of tongues, but the diversity of tongues does not imply schisms. Do not be afraid of separation in the cloven tongues, but in the dove recognize unity” (22).
Acts 2:4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues….”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem: “What a contrast between their long ignorance in the past and this sudden, comprehensive, varied and unaccustomed use of languages. The multitude of those listening was confounded; it was a second confusion, in contrast to the first evil confusion at Babylon. In that former confusion of tongues there was a division of purpose for the intention was impious. Here there was a restoration and union of minds, since the object of their zeal was righteous. Through what occasioned the fall came the recovery” (24).
- Do I understand what a miracle it is to be able to hear the Gospel of our Lord in our language?
- Do I understand that the Lord God sent His Son to die because He desires all to be saved?
Table of Duties
Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service
What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors
“In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).
“One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17) (Luther’s Small Catechism).
- Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the responsibilities of the laypersons to their pastor(s). Pay attention to the particulars of Paul’s instruction to Timothy and the Church in Corinth and Galatia, and to the anonymous sermon to the Hebrews. Discuss not only the importance of financial support but also of receiving the care of souls. This discussion could take place at mealtime over several days. Be sure to pray for the pastors who serve this congregation.
- Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. If you haven’t previously done so, please ask for a devotional booklet when you drive through to receive the Body and Blood of Christ this weekend. Daily lectionary readings are on p.189 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year Two and Week of Pentecost).
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”