“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
This was John the Baptist’s preaching as he was in the midst of his ministry. It was certainly a message that had a “fire and brimstone” feel. And this was for good reason, because John declared that the coming one would bring God’s end time judgment. However, he also proclaimed that this one would baptize with the Holy Spirit, and based on what the Old Testament prophets had said this could only mean the end time salvation from God.
John the Baptist was so right. But his location in time meant that he could not understand how he and why he was right. During the forty days that Jesus was with the apostles after his resurrection he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Jesus promised that they would be baptized by the Holy Spirit. He said this was important, for in this way they would be “clothed with power from on high.” And this power had a purpose. The Lord said in Acts chapter one before his ascension: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
It had been ten days since Jesus had spoken those words. For ten days the disciples had been waiting for this to happen. Then, when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues as of fire appeared and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them thte ability.
It was the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s words – just not in the way he expected. The Spirit was poured out and there were flames. But the flames were not a destroying fire of judgment. Instead they accompanied the outpouring of the Spirit who enabled the disciples to proclaim what God had done in Christ in many different languages.
There were faithful Jews from all over the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world living in Jerusalem. As they heard the sound of the apostles speaking they were drawn to the location. They were amazed that these Galileans, who as far as they were concerned were from a rather backward part of the world as far as they were concerned, were speaking in their own languages. It was such striking thing, that some mocked saying, “They are filled with new wine” … they are drunk.
But Peter addressed the crowd and brushed aside the accusation. It was absurd, since after all, it was only nine in the morning. Instead, something amazing was happening. He said, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘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; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.’”
Peter declared that God had poured out his Spirit in fulfillment of what he had said through the prophet Joel. This meant that they were living in the last days – the end times of God’s work to bring salvation and judgment. God had given his Spirit so that his people could prophesy – so that they could speak his word.
Today we are celebrating the Feast of Pentecost. Naturally Pentecost makes us think about God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet Peter’s sermon goes on to make it clear that the Spirit was given on Pentecost because of what God has done in Jesus Christ. His sermon goes right for the jugular as the apostle directs a nuclear strike of law. He said, "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
This law strikes us no less than they. We too crucified and killed the holy One by the hands of lawless men. It was our sin that caused Jesus to go to the cross. It was the Father’s plan to save us. But for our sins to be forgiven, Jesus the Son of God had to take our sins as his own. He had to take our place in receiving God’s judgment. That’s what happened on Good Friday as Jesus suffered and died for your every angry word; your every covetous thought; your every action that puts God second in your life.
On Good Friday, Jesus dead body was buried in a tomb. However the events of Pentecost were happening because Jesus did not stay there. Peter declared: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it,” and he added that he and the apostles were all witnesses that God had done this.
Ten days ago we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord. Peter referred to this event as he went on to say, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” Jesus Christ has not only been raised from the dead. He has been exalted to the right hand of God in the ascension, and as the exalted One he has poured out His Spirit upon the church.
Peter concluded his sermon by saying, “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 were cut to hear and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter told them, “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.”
Pentecost was an event that happened ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven. But its meaning did not stop there because the Spirit’s work did not stop that day. Instead, Pentecost was the beginning of the Spirit’s work in these last days that started in by the Son of God’s incarnation life, death and resurrection.
You have received the forgiveness of sins through Holy Baptism. And in that baptism you received the Holy Spirit. St. Paul wrote in Titus chapter three that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Paul says that God poured out the Spirit on us in baptism. In fact, he uses the exact same Greek verb found in the verse from the prophet Joel quoted by Peter: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”
You have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now the primary purpose of this, as described in the book of Acts, is to empower the speaking of the Gospel. Jesus told the disciples that through the Spirit they would receive power to be his witnesses.
This remains a central work of the Spirit in our lives, and we must ask whether we are embracing it. Do we see being a witness for Jesus Christ to be an important part of our life? If we don’t, then we need to ponder whether we are ignoring and squandering the Spirit’s work within us. After his resurrection Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” You have received the Holy Spirit to empower your part in this work as it now takes place in Marion, Carterville or wherever you live.
And at the same time, the gift of the Spirit is not only about the work of witnessing. Immediately after the Pentecost account, we hear a description of the early church in Jerusalem. Luke tells us: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This is a description of what it means for the Church to have received the Spirit.
We are to be people who are devoted to the apostles’ teaching. Those who have received the Spirit want to listen to what the Spirit says in the Scriptures. They want to study God’s Word for there we have the apostles’ teaching – a teaching that gives the blessing of salvation, and guides us as we live as the people of God.
We are to be committed to receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. The Spirit who has made us a new creation in Christ – who has created the new man within us – continues to feed the new man through food of the true body and blood of Christ.
As we each receive the body and blood of Christ, we are joined together as the Body of Christ. We are united in communion – in the fellowship of Christ’s body. But this fellowship is not something that merely exists at an altar in church. Jointed together as the Body of Christ, we are led by the Spirit to love and support one another out in the world. We care for each other; encourage each other; love each other because we have received the Holy Spirit.
And finally, the gift of the Spirit enables us to dedicate ourselves to prayer. If we are to pray, we need to know what to pray about. This again means that we see our lives as part of the fellowship created by the Spirit in Christ. We seek to know what is happening in the lives of our fellow believers – their struggles; their sorrows; their challenges; their joys. And we then take these up in prayer as we go to our heavenly Father in the name of his Son. Those who have received the gift of the Spirit are enabled to take up this Christian service on behalf of others.
At Pentecost, John the Baptist’s words were fulfilled in a way he did not expect. And yet at the same time, Pentecost reminds us that they will yet be fulfilled exactly as he expected. It is the ascended Lord who poured forth the Spirit. And the Lord who has ascended will return in glory.
The Lord Jesus is the coming One who will sit in judgment and unleash eternal punishment on those who have rejected him and his forgiveness as they remained in their own sin. And at the same time the Spirit he has given to believers is the means by which we will be raised and share in Christ’s resurrection. St. Paul told the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The Holy Spirit empowers and leads us to live as God’s people in these last days. We live in hope as we eagerly await the Lord’s return when by the Spirit he will raise us up on the Last Day.