Americans are often criticized for not learning foreign languages. To be sure, Spanish, French and German are taught in many high schools, and people study foreign languages in college. But when compared to people from Europe, our population as a whole has far fewer individuals who can converse using languages other than the one in which they were raised.
Now certainly, it would be a good thing if more of us knew how to speak in other languages. But I am always struck by how this criticism fails to take into account the situation that exists here. The United States is a very large country. There are over a dozen states in this nation that I have never even been to during my life. It’s not like Europe where travel can quickly take you from one nation to another where a different language is used. Instead, I can drive farther than I ever want to drive and never need any other language than English. To be sure, there is a growing presence of Spanish in some areas. But that doesn’t change the fact for the majority of Americans, English is the only language they are ever going to need and with which they are going to interact on a regular basis.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost was an event that featured the use of many foreign languages. It was an occasion when the disciples of Jesus Christ spoke in foreign languages they had never studied and did not know. These foreign languages were made possible by the Holy Spirit whom the risen, ascended, and exalted Lord Jesus had poured out upon his church. As he promised, Christ has given the Spirit to the church, and the Spirit continues to be at work in our midst today.
During his ministry John the Baptist had said, “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 prepared the way for the coming One. This One would give the Holy Spirit. John also said that he was the One who would bring God’s end time judgment. John declared about him: “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.”
John was exactly right about Jesus Christ. But what he didn’t understand was that the Christ would suffer and die, and then be exalted in his ascension. He would be the coming One not once, but twice.
Jesus suffered and died on the cross on Good Friday. He was buried in a tomb. But then, on Easter, he rose from the dead just as he said he would. The Book of Acts tells us, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” There could be no doubt about Jesus’ resurrection as the disciples were taught by him, and ate and drank with him.
Act then tells us, “And while staying with them 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." Jesus said that they would receive the Holy Spirit – the promise of the Father.
Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven. He withdrew his visible presence, and the disciples remained in Jerusalem awaiting what the Lord had promised. They waited for ten days. You have to wonder what that was like for them. The most incredible thing in the world had happened. Jesus Christ had risen from the dead after winning forgiveness on the cross. He had fulfilled the Old Testament. They knew this yet now they were waiting because the Lord had told them, “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 disciples had to wait for ten days. Then on Pentecost, God acted in a dramatic way. We hear 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.”
A sound like a mighty rushing wind and the appearance of what looked like tongues of fire on the disciples announced that God was acting. Then they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in languages as the Spirit gave them ability.
Faithful Jews from many different areas had chosen to come and live in Jerusalem. The sound coming from the disciple’s location attracted attention and drew them to that place. What they found was astonishing because they heard the disciples telling the mighty works of God in their own languages. They recognized that these were not cultured and well traveled men. Instead they were from Galilee – men you never would expect to know these languages.
The crowd was amazed and asked “What does this mean?” But others mocked them saying that they were filled with new wine – that they were drunk. Peter stood up and declared that it was absurd to say they were drunk – it was too early in the day. Instead, what they were experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promise. 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 announced that Pentecost was the outpouring of the Spirit that was part of the last days. And this fact led him to proclaim Jesus Christ and what he had done. 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.”
Peter told the crowd “you crucified and killed” Jesus. Now they shared in corporate responsibility for the action of their leaders, and certainly some of them may have cheered for the death of Jesus. But ultimately, we cannot escape these words either. It was because of us that God delivered Jesus up to death. It was because of our sin that God sent the incarnate Son of God to be the sacrifice on the cross to win forgiveness.
In death, Jesus received the cup of God’s wrath against our sin. However, Jesus had not remained dead. Instead Peter declared, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Jesus had been the fulfillment of David’s prophecy in Psalm 16: “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”
Then Peter arrived at the central truth of what was happening. He said, “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.” The risen Lord, ascended and exalted to the right hand of God, had poured forth the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ has ascended and been exalted. But this doesn’t mean that he has left us. It doen’t mean that his power is no longer present among us. Instead, the Holy Spirit is the means by which he continues his work. Jesus had promised, “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.”
You have received the Spirit in the same way that the crowd did on Pentecost. We learn that the hearers were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter said to 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. For 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.”
Through baptism you have received the Holy Spirit. Through the work of the Spirit God has called you to himself. He has called you to faith in the crucified and risen Lord. You have received the forgiveness of sins, and that forgiveness continues to be true for you as you confess your sin, repent and return in faith to God’s promise about baptism.
In the last verse of our text, Peter completes his quotation of Joel with the words: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In its original Old Testament setting, “Lord” referred to Yahweh, the God of Isael. But now, Yawheh the Creator of heaven and earth has revealed himself as the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He has done this through the incarnation of the Son of God, as Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One is Lord. God has called to you to faith in him through the work of the Spirit. And as you continue to call upon the name of the Lord – as you continue to believe in Jesus – you have the assurance of salvation. You know that your sins are forgiven. You know that to die is to be with Christ. You know that the ascended Lord will return in glory on the Last Day to raise up your body.
The Book of Acts describes how the Spirit caused the church to proclaim the Gospel – to proclaim Jesus crucified and risen from the dead - in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. You believe because the Spirit caused the Gospel to come all the way to you.
But your reception of the Spirit and of this salvation does not end with you. The Spirit’s power that called you to faith now moves you to speak about Jesus Christ to others. You have a simple message to share: Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of all and then rose from the dead. The rest of the work is up to the Spirit who calls people to faith when and where he pleases. You are simply called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ – to pass on the witness about the crucified and risen Lord by which the Spirit has called you to faith and sustains you in that faith.
Jesus Christ died on the cross to win forgiveness for you. God raised him from the dead on Easter in order to defeat death. In his ascension he was exalted to the right hand of God. On Pentecost the exalted Lord Jesus poured forth the Holy Spirit upon his church. He did this so that we can call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. He did this so that we can share the crucified and risen Lord Jesus with others.