Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Today we celebrate the third of the three great Feast Days of the Church Year: The Day of Pentecost. First, Christ came to earth and became man at his nativity. Second, at his resurrection, he announced his new life after defeating the powers of death and the devil. And now on Pentecost, we celebrate that this new life has been given to us through the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. As we reflect on this gift of the Holy Spirit, we see in our readings for today that the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not a random, isolated event. Pentecost was an event which was planned by the Lord with great intentionality to un-do the effects of human sin in this world.
2. And so, we see the effects of human sin in full measure in our Old Testament Reading from Genesis 11. The famous account of the Tower of Babel is the culmination of human rebellion and sin in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. In the beginning, God created a perfect world. He created man and woman to live in this world as the stewards of his creation. And yet, the humans rebelled against the Lord’s command—they ate from the tree of which he had said, “You shall not eat.” As a result of their rebellion and sin, the humans were expelled from paradise, and the story of humanity spiraled out of control, and their son, Cain, built a city where violence and oppression reigned, as we see in Genesis 4. Eventually, the Lord had enough. He vowed to destroy the rebellious humans in a world-wide flood. But he chose one man—faithful Noah—and his family to be preserved in the Ark. They were to be the new humans through which a new humanity would be created. They were to fulfill the command given to the original humans: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). But after the had flood destroyed the rebellious humans, Noah and his family began to rebuild their lives. It didn’t take long before Noah, too, sinned in a garden. And when one of his sons saw his father’s drunkenness, the spiral of sin and rebellion resumed. And what do you know? The rebellious sons of Noah repeat the sin of Cain. They begin the build a city so that they won’t be spread over the face of the earth—so that they might reach to the heavens and become like God. But the Lord had had enough. He had seen this play out before and he wasn’t about to allow history to repeat itself. So, the Lord came down to earth and confused the language of the humans. They could no longer understand one another. So, they were forced to abandon their city, at least for now, and fill the earth, as God had commanded. The human’s rebellion had led to a scattering.
3. But as our Second Reading from Acts chapter 2 begins, we already begin to see a reversal of this scattering at Babel. But this reversal wasn’t because the humans had stopped rebelling against God—quite the opposite actually. It was precisely through the rebellion of the humans that the Lord was at work to reverse this scattering. God’s Old Testament people, the Israelites, had rebelled against him and had been exiled all over the known world. Even though they lived in and assimilated to different cultures throughout the Mediterranean world, their common religious heritage caused them to maintain a common bond. Now that the Romans controlled the Mediterranean world, there was enough freedom for ethnic Israelites and converts to Judaism alike from all over the world to journey to Jerusalem for the special Jewish Feasts. The Feast of Pentecost was exactly one such moment. This was the feast known in the Old Testament as the Feast of Weeks, which was celebrated at the conclusion of the grain harvest. It occurred 50 days after the conclusion of the Passover, thus the Greek name, “Pentecost”, which means, “fiftieth.” All of these moments had coalesced to created a situation where people were gathered in Jerusalem 50 days after our Lord’s resurrection, which was also 10 days after his Ascension. The Lord had been working in history for the last 700+ years to reverse the scattering at Babel by pouring out his Spirit on Pentecost. And so, we’re told: “And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where [the disciples] 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 (Acts 2:2-4). The scattering at Babel was being reversed, not through reuniting the languages, but through a mighty act of the Holy Spirit in bringing the Gospel to people of all languages. And so, Saint Luke gives us an extensive list of all the people who heard the disciples “telling in [their] own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11b). And Saint Peter gets up to preach his famous Pentecost sermon in which he quotes from the prophet Joel to show that this gift of the Holy Spirit is for “all flesh” (Acts 2:17) to that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).
4. What a great and marvelous event it must have been to witness this. How incredible it must had been to see this great act of God’s Spirit working in real time to bring his people together around the Gospel. But what does this mean for you and me? How is Pentecost “good news” for twenty-first century Christians? This is where our Lord’s words in the Gospel Reading become important. In this text, we begin to uncover some of the significance of Pentecost. First, notice what our Lord promises at the start of our reading: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). We see here that our Lord’s work in reversing the scattering at Babel wasn’t simply for the purpose of returning things to the way they used to be. He wanted to make it better. There is something dreadfully wrong with human hearts which causes us to rebel against God naturally—in a lot of ways, we can’t really help it. We are by nature “poor, miserable sinners.” So, how does the Lord fix this? By coming to make his home with us. Through the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, this becomes a reality. Toward the end of Saint Peter’s Pentecost sermon, he said: “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” (Acts 2:38). The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift for each one of us. It’s not a one-time gift which is relegated to Pentecost. That Pentecost Day, which we read about in Acts chapter 2, simply marks the beginning of our Lord offering the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost marks the moment when our Lord began to come and make his home with us through his Spirit. This primarily happens for us through the waters of Holy Baptism, as Saint Peter indicates in the verse I just shared. This is why Lutherans are happy to say, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21) because Holy Baptism is the primary, albeit not the only way, that the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to sinners like you and me.
5. But Pentecost is good news for us also because it also marks the fulfillment of another aspect of our Lord’s words in our Gospel Reading when he said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). These are some of the most comforting words that our Lord ever spoke. And yet, they are words which directly relate to Pentecost. Yes, each of us who believes in the Lord Jesus has the Holy Spirit in-dwelling in our hearts. He has come to make his home with us—thanks be to God! But we are also in need of a regular dose of peace, for lack of a better way to put it. The world is filled with troubles. The world is filled with unknowns. The world is unpredictable and scary and filled with many evil, rebellious people. We are helpless against these troubles. And yet, through his word, by his Spirit, our Lord offers us peace and security from the troubles of this world. All we need to do is surround ourselves with our Lord’s Word and his peace becomes ours through the working of the Holy Spirit. The world around us is constantly in search of this peace. The men at Babel thought they would find peace by uniting together and reaching to the heavens to find peace through power. But Jesus offers a different kind of peace. Man’s desire is always to reach to the heavens and “be like God.” The trouble is, we make terrible gods. Instead, our Lord has come down from heaven to us. He has sent his Spirit down from heaven to us. And on the last day he will bring the heavenly Jerusalem down from heaven to us. All of human history has been and continues to be preparation for this day when our Lord will come to make his home with us for all eternity. But until that day, the only way that we can find true peace and true freedom from our troubled hearts is to allow our Lord’s Spirit to come to us from outside ourselves through his Word to bring us his peace. And so, we pray this day, as we should every day of our lives: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.