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I. When the day of Pentecost arrived.
In the book of Leviticus, the 23rd chapter, Moses is told to establish a national holiday to celebrate the gathering of the harvest into the barn. It was something like our Thanksgiving, only it lasted a week and there was no college football or black Friday.
“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the [first-fruits]. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath.” (Lev. 23:15-16).
At first it was called ‘THE FEAST OF WEEKS,’ based on the fact that it was always scheduled for “seven full weeks” after the Firstfruits of the harvest were cut.
Later it became known as ‘THE FEAST OF PENTECOST,’ based on the “fifty days to the day” after the Firstfruits. The word ‘PENTECOST’ literally means, ‘Fiftieth.’
On the 50th day after the first-fruits were harvested, Israel would waive sheaves of wheat and barley before the Lord as a thank-offering for His love and care for His people.
The Feast of Pentecost, like all of the Old Testament Feasts, like the whole Old Testament for that matter, was a sign pointing to something greater than itself. The Pentecost of the Old Testament consisted of the celebration of the harvest of wheat and barley. The seed that had been planted had produced its crop and the people of God give thanks to God for it.
But God had a much different crop than wheat and barley in mind when He planted the holy seed of the woman in the ground. The Pentecost of the New Testament, that we celebrate today, is the celebration of the harvest of men and women, boys and girls who have been and continue to be created in the likeness of Jesus Christ and who grow in faith. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
On Good Friday, the HOLY SEED fell to the earth and died. And a short three days later, the ‘FIRSTFUITS’ appeared. On Easter Sunday, God waived the HOLY SHEAF of His only-begotten Son. Easter is the celebration of the FIRSTFRUITS. And wait until you see the HARVEST that follows.
50 days later, Luke writes, “When the day of Pentecost arrived they were all together in one place…” The 12 Apostles now back to full strength with the addition Matthias to take the place of Judas. Who knows how many other disciples were also with them. All together in one place.
II. A Sound like a mighty rushing wind.
“And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”
On Easter Sunday, they had all been together in the same place, “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” And the crucified and resurrected Lord “came and stood among them… and He breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22). That was His little Pentecost – a ‘still, small voice’ like Elijah had heard in the cleft of the rock.
Now, 50 days later, the ascended Lord bends down and breathes His Holy Breath again. This was His big Pentecost – a ‘sound like a mighty rushing wind…” And everyone heard it, apostles and disciples, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, locals and foreigners, believers and unbelievers… no exceptions. God on His throne and the Son, seated at His right hand, and all the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, ready to celebrate the harvest of souls raised up from the Holy Seed.
III. Fiery Tongues
“And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each on of them.”
It was a scene reminiscent of the time that Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the 10 Commandments. “And his face shone because he had been talking with God.” (Ex.34:29). “Fire” is a sign of the presence of God. When Moses saw the burning bush in the desert, it was God who was present in the fire.
So, when “tongues of fire” appeared on the Apostles, they were like BURNING BUSHES – God was present in them and He spoke from within them.
But the Apostles had a better word to speak than that of Moses. As much better as the New Covenant is better than the Old. All that Moses had to say was – OBEY THE LAW if you want to be saved. OBEY THE LAW or you will die.
But the Apostles, with faces all aglow just like Moses, spoke a word of forgiveness and life salvation by grace alone – because Jesus Christ has kept the Law for us, on our behalf, in our place. Salvation is not the wages of a good life lived. Salvation is the gift of a loving God to His beloved children solely because He loves you.
On Easter Sunday, when Jesus breathed His LITTLE PENTECOST on His apostles, He equipped them to be His witnesses. “When the Paraclete comes whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And YOU ALSO WILL BEAR WITNESS because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 20:26-27).
How many times had Jesus told them NOT TO TELL ANYONE? “Don’t say anything.” All the speaking and witnessing in the world would do no good until the Holy Spirit was given.
So Pentecost is not the “birthday of the church.” The born when Jesus called His 12 Apostles to “come, follow me,” and they did. And He spent three years teaching them and preparing them. Pentecost is the Church’s GRAND OPENING. “The harvest is plentiful.” And the time had come for the Lord of the Harvest to send out His harvesters into the fields.
And how is the harvest gathered? By speaking and witnessing to all that God the Father has done through Jesus Christ His Son.
IV. They began to speak…
So, right on que, just as He promised, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit AND BEGAN TO SPEAK in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
English, German, French, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, … You get the idea. Everyone able to understand what was being said.
The confusion of languages that separated people at Babel was being overcome. Not with one, common language for all, but with the translation of the gospel is every language. And men and women, boys and girls from one end of the world to the other were, and are to this day, united together with one another by the gospel life and salvation in Jesus Christ.
What a harvest!
“And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another what does this mean?”
And Peter did just what Jesus said he and all the others would do. He began to bear witness to Jesus. And by the end of the day, the harvest numbered 3,000 souls. What a harvest!
3000 dead in their sins came to life.
3000 baptized into the name Triune God.
3000 believed that Jesus died and rose for them.
3000 received the forgiveness of their sins.
3000 went back to their homes, telling their children and coworkers and neighbors what happened to them in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.
It was like a field of ripe dandelions. The wind blew upon them and they were scattered. And as they returned home, new fields were sown, new crops began to grow, new harvests were celebrated.
And just like real dandelions, many have tried to uproot it and keep it from spreading. But the harder they try, the more it is scattered and the more it grows.
VI. Others mocked
I wonder sometimes what is more remarkable about the day of Pentecost, that so many were converted in one day by the preaching, or that so many were not. “But others mocking said, ‘they are filled with new wine.”
I know that 3,000 seems like a large number, and it is. But, it was really only a very small percentage of those who were there. Estimates are that between 150,000 and 250,000 foreigners came to Jerusalem for these religious festivals. Of that number, 3,000 believed and were baptized.
I don’t know why, but for some, the seed doesn’t take root and grow. No crop comes from it. Jesus spoke to this in His parable of the seed and the sower. The seed is sown but it doesn’t always work.
Some seed falls on hard soil and it never sinks in and so never takes root.
Some seed falls on rocky soil and grows for a while but then withers and dies.
Some seed falls among the thorns and although it spouts begins to grow it gets choked by all of the cares and pleasures of this world.
Like it or not, the Holy Spirit works ‘WHEN AND WHERE HE PLEASES.” Jesus describes the Spirit to Nicodemus as “wind that blows WHERE IT WISHES…” (John 3:8).
And that can be frustrating for us. And some of you know that frustration very personally because it applies to friends and loved ones. We want the Holy Spirit to be more predictable, more manageable, more controllable.
And sometimes, in our frustration with the Spirit to work faith in everyone on whom we carefully drop the Word like a the precious seed that it is, we may be tempted to think that maybe there’s something wrong with the Word, because it didn’t ‘work’ with our friend or loved one. And so maybe we quit witnessing and go covert and our faith becomes a ‘private matter.’
Or maybe we give the Holy Spirit the benefit of our wisdom and add some catch slogans and jazzy programs because, after all, the Day of Pentecost was 2000 years ago and times have changed and the Holy Spirit needs to adapt in order to be contemporary.
I think that sometimes God must be the one who looks on His beloved bride, the Church and thinks, “They must be filled with new wine.”
The Holy Spirit declares through His apostle Paul that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. How can they hear without someone preaching?” (Rom.10:14-15). Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom.1:16).
Whatever the reason, the lack of faith is clearly not because of the Word or the Spirit who sows the Word. It can only be the rejection of man who has been taken in by the deception of the OTHER WORDS.
But, says Jesus, there are those who hear this precious Word of forgiveness and life and “hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
So, here we are, ALL TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE, celebrating the harvest. Not with the sound of rushing wind and tongues of fire. That was the first Pentecost. Today, we celebrate the day of Pentecost by speaking the same message as was spoken then, and hearing it with the same amazement that as those who first heard it. Jesus Christ, crucified for your sins and raised for your life.
Today, we celebrate the harvest of souls through Holy Baptism, 3000 then, many more since then, our own most especially.
And like them, from here, we return to our homes and communities and friends and loved ones, anxious to tell about all that the Lord has done.