In his sermon on Pentecost, St. Peter told the crowd, “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.”
It is notable that Peter doesn’t just say that they killed Jesus. He says specifically that they crucified him. This matches the description that he uses twice in the Book of Acts when he describes how Jesus was killed “by hanging him on a tree.”
In the Judaism of the first century there was a very simple way to determine whether a person was the Messiah sent by God. You knew for sure that he was not the Messiah when the Romans killed him. The Romans had killed Jesus. But it hadn’t happened in a battle that was part of an uprising. Instead, the Romans had crucified Jesus – they had hung him on a tree.
This was a very important point, because Deuteronomy said: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” A Jew who had died by crucifixion wasn’t just a false Messiah. He had in fact been cursed by God.
What had happened to Jesus was widely known. And as people gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost two things would have been very apparent. First, Jesus was clearly not the Messiah. And second, he had been cursed by God. However, this was only half true. Jesus had indeed been cursed by God. But this had in fact been part of God’s saving plan. Paul told the Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” And it was as the Messiah – the Christ – that Jesus had carried out this saving work for us.
Jesus was the crucified Messiah. The disciples knew that this was the true because God had raised Jesus from the dead. The Messiah was expected to be the mighty and victorious One sent by God to deliver his people. God the Father had vindicated Jesus as the Messiah by raising him from the dead on Easter.
Jesus’ disciples had spent forty day with the risen Lord. They had been with him in Jerusalem and in Galilee. They ate and drank with him. Jesus had taught them about the kingdom of God. He had also given specific instructions as he “ordered them not to depart from 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.’”
Ten days earlier, Jesus had ascended into heaven. The disciples were now waiting for the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised. We learn in our text: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them 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 utterance.”
John the Baptist had said about the One coming after him, “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.” John had probably understood this fire to be the end time judgment of God. But on the day of Pentecost the Spirit was poured out accompanied by the sound of a rushing wind and tongues as of fire on each of the disciples.
The disciples began to speak in the languages of the many faithful Jews from all over the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world who had chosen to live in Jerusalem. The sound of the rushing wind and the speech of the disciples attracted a crowd who were amazed to find their own languages being spoken. But others were dismissive of the whole thing. They said the disciples were just drunk.
Peter stood up and began to preach. He noted first that it was too early in the day for anyone to be hammered. Instead, what was happening was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. 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.’”
On the Day of Pentecost, God had poured forth the Holy Spirit. This event itself was a sign that the last days had arrived. And in the sermon that Peter went on to preach, he announced that the outpouring of the Spirit was directly tied to the end time event – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We think of Pentecost as being all about the Holy Spirit. And while the dramatic events of that day were caused by the Spirit, Peter’s sermon is actually all about the resurrection of Jesus. As I noted at the beginning of this sermon, Peter began by saying, “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.”
However, God had raised Jesus from the dead. In fact, King David had prophesied that this would happen when we wrote in Psalm 16, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” Yes, Jesus had been killed. Yes, Jesus had been crucified – hung on a tree.
But Peter declared: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 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.” God had raised Jesus. He had vindicated Jesus as the Christ. And more than that, in his ascension he had been exalted to the right hand of God. It was in fact as the risen and exalted Lord that Jesus had poured forth the Holy Spirit. And so Peter announced: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Note how Peter says that they had crucified Jesus. Certainly, not all of those listening had been involved in the decisions that killed Jesus. Perhaps one could say that as Jews, they were responsible for what their leaders had done. But in a more profound way they had crucified Jesus, just as you crucified Jesus. It was your sin that caused the Father to send the incarnate Son to die on the cross. He died, cursed by God, because of all the ways you break God’s law. He died because you put God second. He died because you lust, covet and and are jealous. He died because you harm your neighbor’s reputation through gossip.
When those listening heard Peter they were cut to the heart, and said to him and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter declared: “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.” The same thing is true for us. We confess our sin and repent. And we return in faith to our baptism for through water and the Word we receive the forgiveness won by Jesus. Through baptism the risen and exalted Christ has given us the Spirit poured out on Pentecost.
Before his ascension, Jesus told the disciples, “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.” The Holy Spirit continues to play this role in our lives. It is the Spirit who enables us to speak about Jesus Christ to others. You are witnesses. You know that Jesus did not just die on the cross cursed by God. Instead, God raised Jesus from the dead as the One who has won forgiveness for us and has given us the assurance of resurrection and eternal life.
Jesus the risen Lord, has ascended and been exalted. But that does not mean he has left us. Instead, the Holy Spirit is the presence of the risen Christ with his disciples all over the world. The Spirit poured out on Christ’s Church now shapes and forms our life together.
Immediately after telling us about Pentecost, Luke provides an account of the early Church’s life in Jerusalem. He says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The Spirit leads us to learn the teaching of the apostles as we receive it in Scripture. He brings us together in the fellowship of the Sacrament of the Altar. He causes us to be fervent in prayer.
Luke tells of how the Church members cared for one another as they sold their possessions and distributied the proceeds to all, as any had need. And he tells us that day by day they attended the temple together, broke bread in their homes, and received their food with glad and generous hearts praising God and having favor with all the people.
The Spirit poured out by the risen and ascended Lord continues to do these things in our day. But of course, this also means that we must see them as goals in our life as Christians, and as a congregation. The Pentecost description of the Church provides a model for what we should seek to be, even as the Holy Spirit makes it possible.
Jesus Christ died on the cross. Hung on a tree, he was cursed by God in our place for all of the ways we break God’s law and sin. But God did not allow his Holy One to see corruption. Instead, on the third day he vindicated Jesus as the Messiah by raising him from the dead. More than that, he has exalted Jesus to his right hand in the ascension.
It is as the risen and exalted Lord that Jesus poured forth the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit carries forth Christ’s work into the world and into our lives. He provides strength to bear witness to our Lord who died and rose again as the Savior of all. He leads and enables us to receive Christ’s Means of Grace, to pray, and care for one another in the Church, the Body of Christ.