Pentecost: Power Unleashed
Today we celebrate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit by the ascended Jesus. Today we celebrate power unleashed, but it hardly seems that way. The English spirit' and spiritual' cast a weak, sickly pallor over the Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. In Scripture we see it differently. The Spirit is active in creation. He's the power behind the mighty deeds of the Judges. He is the active force behind Israel's prophets, priests, and kings. So when we come to the New Testament and speak of Spirit-filled, Spirit-guided; Spirit-empowered we're speaking of power unleashed.
Pentecost unleashed the power to undo Babel. On the Day of Pentecost the Spirit gave the Church the ability to speak in languages they didn't know undoing the judgment God gave out at the Tower of Babel. From the one tongue they all spoke, God made many, so that fallen men would not be able to do everything they wanted to do. God had commanded they scatter; they didn't. They gathered in the same place. God had set apart His Promised Seed; they joined with the faithless. In judgment of the fallen children of men and to protect the Promised Seed, God confused their tongues so that they would have to scatter from one another.
The Spirit being poured out undoes a curse that all men everywhere have been struck by. In our day of pocket translating devices, we may be loosing touch with that curse and the power it takes to undo it. You probably have to have some appreciation of technology to understand the hundreds of inventions, the thousands of man-hours, and miles of computer code that enable a handheld device to translate your English to another language. In an instant the Spirit did that. So badly did the Holy Spirit want the mighty things God did in Christ to be known to all people everywhere, so badly did the Spirit wish to take the things of Christ and give them to people that He undid the language barrier.
Pentecost celebrates the power of forgiveness being unleashed into all the world. Previously Jesus made a point of saying that His earthly ministry was only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That's whom John the Baptist preached to; that's whom Jesus went to; that whom Jesus sent the first 70 pastors to. But Jesus rose from dead speaking of forgiveness of sins for all nations. Right before His Ascension He told them, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised. In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." And at Ascension Jesus says, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Pentecost unleashed the power of Jesus' name to the ends of the earth. The sign of that happening was the breaking down of language barriers, but only a few could speak another language on that first Pentecost. The way for everyone to experience that power individually was by the forgiveness of their sins. That's how it was that first Pentecost. A crowd was called together by the sound of rushing wind and found the Church proclaiming the great needs God did in Jesus; God had shown Jesus to be both Lord and Christ, the very Jesus they had Pilate crucify. The people were cut to the heart and cried out to the apostles, "What shall we do?"
Yes what will you do about your sins? The ones you know and will admit to our enough to damn you today and for all your tomorrows. Doesn't just the fact that you can't focus on spiritual things for a 15 minute sermon prove how fallen you are? What are you going to do about all the ways you crucify Jesus anew? Every time you fear, love, or trust something more than God, you put another nail in Him. Every lust you make, every trust you break, every love you fake makes your load of guilt ever heavier.
Don't think your excuses are an answer; don't think your resolve to do better from now on changes anything. The Devil, your own conscience, and even others laugh at your lame excuses and meaningless promises. These 3 know you. They know how you always have an excuse for every sin you've ever committed. They know you have promised to "do better next time" 10,000 times. What are you going to do?
The first Pentecost crowds were people who had rejected the Baptism of John. They had turned their noses up at it when he preached it and the disciples of Jesus offered it. The apostles tell them to turn away from their rejection of Baptism because Baptism brings them the Spirit and the Spirit brings them Jesus and Jesus brings them forgiveness.
The Holy Spirit brings the things of Jesus. Jesus promised, "He will take of mine and give to you." We saw how your promises and excuses are no match for you sins. We saw how the Devil, others, and your own conscience can unman you by a few simple questions and accusations leaving you naked before God with your guilt. They can't do that to Jesus. Jesus lived an unassailable life. He never sinned in thought, Word, or deed. Not even the Devil himself could pin a sin on Him. That wicked thought buzzing through you head never buzzed through His. That sinful deed you've done that no one knows about was never done by Jesus. That harsh word you will speak to a loved one was never spoken by Jesus.
Yet Jesus died the thousand deaths your shameful and shameless sinning deserves. Everything the Devil says should happen to you; everything the people you've wronged wish would happen to you; everything your conscience knows shouldhappen to you, happened to the perfect Jesus. Jesus was publicly embarrassed and shamed. He was rejected by His friends and even His heavenly Father. So covered was He with your sins, with the worlds sins, with all sins, that even the sun in the sky couldn't bear to shine on Him.
This perfect life and innocent death of Jesus the Holy Spirit brings to you through tangible things. Jesus' perfect life is put over your imperfect life by the power of the Spirit working in the waters of Baptism that touch your skin. Jesus' complete payment of all sins everywhere is applied by the power of the Holy Spirit to you by the words of Absolution that strike your eardrums. Jesus perfect life in your place and His holy death in your stead are found in Jesus' Body and Blood in Communion where the Spirit testifies with every taste, touch, smell, and sight of Bread and Wine that you are guiltless before God for Jesus' sake.
Have you ever felt the power of a sound wave? Sound is invisible but from the thump, thump of a band's bass that you feel in your gut, to the thunder clap you feel in your head, to the sound wave of an explosion that can knock you off your feet, you know it's there. Pentecost celebrates the unleashing of the Spirit's power through the Word preached by the apostles and the Sacrament of Baptism they administered. What remains to be seen is how Pentecost is the unleashing of the power but it's not the power itself.
The incarnation of God the Son in a Virgin's womb put the power of God in flesh and blood for flesh and blood sinners. The crucifixion was God the Son paying for the sins of all mankind so all flesh and blood people would be able to use the holy power of God without being destroyed by it. The resurrection of God the Son on Easter was God the Father's public acceptance of what Jesus had done. After the resurrection the God-Man, Jesus, proclaims, "All power in heaven and earth has been given to Me." Ascension is God the Son ascending in our flesh and blood to claim heaven.
His ascension is for our good Jesus tells us. The Holy Spirit couldn't just come He had to be sent, and not even the Father could send Him upon sinful flesh and blood. Only the Son could do that, only a Man could do that, only a perfect Man could do that. And He did. He sent the Spirit whooshing down out of heaven to draw a crowd. Tongues of flame appeared on those upon whom the Spirit came so all would know who had it. And then the power of the Spirit was unleashed as a wave of sound that had the power to bowl over Sin, Death and the Devil. A wave of sound exploded into the air giving forgiveness of sins and eternal life to everyone who heard it. The thump, thump, thump of God's promises, graces, and mercies in Christ were driven into every stomach.
But why did it take 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Ascension for Jesus to unleash the Spirit's power, i.e. to take the things of Jesus and give them to fallen mankind? What we don't want to do is import our ideas of time and effort into heaven. We don't want to think Jesus needed the time to get it done. Why the time was taken goes back to the Old Testament day of Pentecost. It was unanimous Jewish tradition at the time of Christ that Pentecost was the anniversary of the giving of the Law. As the giving of the Law completed the deliverance of the Old Testament Church from Egypt, so the deliverance worked by Jesus was completed by the outpouring of the Spirit (The Temple, 279).
Yes, the payment of our sins was finished on the cross. Yes, the Father issued the receipt for that payment on Easter morning. Yes, the Son claimed the heaven He purchased for flesh and blood on Ascension. But it wasn't really finished till the Son poured out the Spirit on all flesh unleashing the power of life in the face of death and the grave, unleashing the power of forgiveness in the face of sin and guilt, unleashing the power of joy in the face of sadness and despair. There is power in a live man and no power in a dead one. There is power in a forgiven sinner and a sapping of power in a guilty one. There is power in joy and a negation of power in sadness and despair.
Joy, forgiveness, and life are given to you today and everyday by the power of the Holy Spirit unleashed in the weak looking things of Jesus' Word, Water, Body, Blood. His Word breaks rocks into pieces; His Water drowns death; His Body bows demons; His Blood covers the ugliest sins. Having these tangible things of Jesus is proof positive you are Spirit-filled, Spirit-guided, and Spirit-empowered. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Day of Pentecost (20130519); 3 Year ICLW readings C