St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

The Spirit’s Gifts On Pentecost

Sermon on Acts 2:1-21

Text: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Today we celebrate the Festival of Pentecost. You may not be aware that this was also celebrated in the Old Testament. It was a Festival when the people gave thanks to God for the wheat harvest. It was one of the festivals that Jewish males were to go to Jerusalem to give a sacrifice of thanksgiving. That is why there were so many different countries listed in our text. Today, we celebrate the Festival of Pentecost by concentrating on the work of the Holy Spirit. As we study our text, we are going to focus our attention on THE SPIRIT’S GIFTS ON PENTECOST. We are going to look at 1. Special Signs, 2. An Understanding Of The Truth, and 3. Boldness.

The special signs that the Holy Spirit gave the early church were in very clear display. At the sound of the violent wind, tongues of fire came to rest on the heads of the disciples. As fantastic as that sight must have been, what caught the people’s attention was what they heard. They heard their native language being spoken by these men. What made this even more astounding were the people who spoke these languages. The people asked, “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” (Verses 7&8) They knew that these men were not linguistic scholars. The majority of them had been fishermen before this. Yet, to their amazement, they heard the wonders of God being spoken of in the native language.

Peter, acting as the spokesman for the group, addressed the crowd, explaining what was going on. He said, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” (Verse 16) This was the fulfillment of a prophecy that God had given his people. This was a sign to mark that the last days were here. The Messiah had come and the people were to get ready for the Lord’s return at any time. Peter, in quoting from the prophet Joel stated, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Verses 17&18) When you read through the rest of the book of Acts, you see these special gifts given by the Holy Spirit on display. Paul was given a vision by God so that he would know where he was to go to carry out his mission work. A man by the name of Agabus came to Paul and prophesied that he would be arrested when he returned to Jerusalem. We think of the vision that the Lord gave to John, which we call the book of Revelation. The day of Pentecost marked the time when these special signs were given to the church.

You might wonder, ‘Why, then, don’t we see these gifts today?’ Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:8, “Where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” There would come a time when these gifts would not be seen. The reason for this is that the reason that God gave them has come to an end. God gave these gifts to call attention to and validate the message of the church. They didn’t have the Bible to point to and say, “This is what God says.” God gave these special signs so that the people who heard the message could be sure that these words had come from God himself. We note these special signs that the Spirit gave to the early church and acknowledge that their need has come to an end.

This is not to say that the Holy Spirit has ceased giving gifts to the church. We see two of these gifts in Peter’s sermon that he gave on the day. To fully appreciate one of these gifts, we need to go back ten days. Jesus has risen from the dead. He had appeared to his disciples for forty days, explaining to them that everything that had happened to him, his death and resurrection, was for the salvation of all people. Yet, in spite of this, we hear the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) They were asking Jesus if he was going to bring the nation of Israel back to its prominence that it enjoyed during the days of David and Solomon. They still didn’t get it. Now, after the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they got it. As you read the rest of Peter’s sermon on that day, you hear recounting the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection at the hands of the Jewish leaders. He, then, concludes with this statement, “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36) Peter now completely understood Jesus’ mission on this earth. The Holy Spirit gave him and the other disciples an understanding of the truths that Jesus had taught them. This understanding leads to the truth that is found in Joel’s prophecy, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Joel 2:32)

The Holy Spirit gives this understanding to the church today. He does this in the Bible, which he inspired the prophets and apostles to write. The first part of this understanding is found in the biblical teaching of the law. In this teaching, we see the absolute standards that God has set for all people. For example, he tells us that we are to always be loving toward all people, regardless of how they treat us. This goes completely against what is natural for us. Our first inclination is to get back at people who hurt us. We say or do something that is mean. At the very least, we feel justified in holding a grudge against them. However, the Holy Spirit reveals to us that this is not what God wants. He, also, tells us the penalty for disobeying God. It is trouble while we are here on this earth and eternal punishment in the fires of hell.

We need to Holy Spirit to show us this, so that we realize that we cannot, on our own, get right with God. After he does this, he then points us to Jesus Christ as our Savior. He shows us the perfect life that Jesus lived in our place. He takes us to the cross and shows us the blood running from our Savior. He tells us that while on the cross, Jesus paid for every one of our sins by suffering the full punishment that we deserved. The Holy Spirit then shows us the empty tomb. He opens our ears to hear the angel’s message that Jesus has risen. The Holy Spirit creates the faith in our hearts that makes what Jesus has done our own. This is not something that we could figure out by ourselves. We read in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Furthermore, the Holy Spirit now opens the Scriptures so that we see what God has done for us and what we can do to thank him for all that he has done for us. Through the working of the Holy Spirit we can say, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” The Holy Spirit continues to give the gift of understanding to his church today.

There is one other gift that I would call to your attention. Again, to fully appreciate this gift, we need to go back in time. Jesus was on trial before the high priest. Peter was in the courtyard of the High priest when, on three separate occasions, he was accused of being one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter strongly denied even knowing who Jesus was. You might also think of that first Easter evening. Where do we find the disciples? They are hiding in a locked room for fear of the Jewish leaders. Where do we find them on this occasion? They are there publicly proclaiming to the Jews that Jesus is the Savior of all. This is not to say that they weren’t facing opposition. Some of the people in the crowd were making fun of them, “They have had too much wine.” You might expect the disciples to become quiet and try to melt into the crowd, looking for a place of safety. Instead, they not only publicly proclaimed Jesus as the Savior of all; they also spent the rest of their lives going from place to place with the good news. They did this, in spite of the fact, that many of them would die a martyr’s death. The Holy Spirit gave them the boldness to tell others about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit gives us the same boldness, as well. It can be a very intimidating thing for us to tell others about Jesus. I’m not even talking about going up to a stranger and talking with them. I’m talking about people that we know very well. It might be a family member or a good friend or a co-worker. They may be undergoing a tough time in their life, and you know that a trust in Jesus would make all the difference in their lives. You care about this person and you want them to have a better life. However, when we think about talking to them about Jesus, we hear a little voice in the back of our heads. It says, ‘What if they make fun of me for talking about Jesus? What if they reject what I have to say? What if they get angry with me and stop being my friend?’ These are all words that come from the devil because he doesn’t want you to tell others about Jesus. He doesn’t want any more people to come to faith in Jesus and be saved. So, he tries to make us afraid to say anything.

We have this assurance from Jesus that the Holy Spirit will give us the boldness to speak up. In speaking of persecution for his sake, Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19&20) The Holy Spirit promises to be right there with us when we tell others about Jesus. He gives us the boldness to proclaim to others about what Jesus has done for us and what he has done for them. May the Lord open our eyes to see the opportunities that he places in front of us. May he open our mouths to witness to him. May we make the words of the apostles, even as they were being told not to tell others about Jesus, our motto, as well: “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20) We can do so with the boldness that comes from the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is, at times, called the birthday of the Christian church. After all, it was on this day that the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son to the church in a dramatic fashion. We also note the effect of the apostles’ preaching as 3,000 people were baptized on that day. Normally, when there is a birthday, gifts are given. We thank the Holy Spirit for the gifts that he has given to the church. We thank him for those special signs that he gave to the early church so that his Word would be established among the people. We thank him for the clear understanding of his plan of salvation that he has given to us. We ask him that he would continue to give us the boldness to tell others the good news about Jesus, as well. We thank the Holy Spirit for these wondrous gifts. Amen.