Sermon for Pentecost

Here is my sermon for Pentecost Sunday, for those who were prevented from attending church.

3000 Baptized in a day. An amazing testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit working through the preaching of the Apostles. We don’t generally see such amazing results today. The apostle’s didn’t generally see those sorts of results in one day either. Pentecost was an especially miraculous day. But there was a significant difference between the apostles preaching in Jerusalem, and the church in our own day. In the apostles day the people of Jerusalem were generally God-fearing. They were waiting for the Messiah, expecting him to come any time. They read and studied the scriptures, eagerly waited to hear a word of the Lord taught to them. True the leaders had hardened their hearts. They hypocritically claimed they desired the Messiah, while worshipping their own works. But by and large the people wanted to hear the Word and promise of the Lord, they wanted to see the fulfillment of the prophecies of old.

The world outside of Israel was much like our own – people chasing their own pleasures and desires, wandering aimlessly looking for meaning. But the Jews read and studied the Word of God. They would have known that passage in Joel that Peter spoke of – your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. They would have recognized that Joel promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. The sun had been blocked out 53 days earlier when Jesus hung on the cross. There had been an earthquake. The news would have still been on their lips when Peter explains what it all means. The sun turned to darkness as the Light of the World dies and by that death recreates and restores the world.

At the end of Peter’s sermon, the people are cut to the heart, and ask “Brothers, what must we do”. Peter goes right back to the line from Joel, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Peter explains how they go about calling on the name of the Lord, and receiving the promised salvation: “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.”

Peter directs them to what Jesus had told the apostles: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus gives us the name of the Lord we are to call on: Father, Son, Spirit. Jesus tells us that God places his name on us in Baptism. It is not our Baptism. It is God’s baptism. It is his name, his promise, his work in us.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit back it the upper room. That’s our Gospel: Jesus going into death, returning to the Father; He does not abandon us. He promises to send the Holy Spirit. And he gives another name to the Holy Spirit: The Comforter. The Work of the Spirit is to comfort the disciples. Not as we think of comfort – full bellies, overstuffed chair. But real comfort – true consolation. The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life of the world to come. This is our consolation. Jesus promises it will come to His church through the work of the Spirit. How? “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

The second part of that is a great comfort to us in our own day. The Spirit will bring to the remembrance of the apostles all that Jesus says. Jesus knows that eventually the hearts of man will grow cold and cynical. That those who call themselves bible scholars will mock and tear down the authority of the Word of God: claiming it does not tell us what really happened. But Jesus says that the Spirit will bring to their remembrance all that He says. When the apostles record the words and deeds of Jesus, they aren’t making things up. They aren’t filling in gaps of their memory with interesting or cleverly devised fables. They were eyewitnesses, and their record is accurate. Time and again scripture answers objections of the heretics centuries before they invent their false teachings. Here, Jesus comforts us with this: The record of Holy Scripture is a true record of what happened in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The words the apostles write are not their own. The Spirit inspires them – breathes into them and causes them to write the words that are a true record, the words necessary for our salvation. And then the Spirit preserves that record. No document in history has been as studied as the history of Scripture. And no document in history has been preserved as faithfully or fully as holy scripture. And the Spirit preserved it, even amid the efforts of the world to wipe out the church, to destroy the scriptures and hide the truth. But the Word of God endures forever. It will not be removed from the earth, but will endure until our Lord returns.

And what amazing news is recorded in the scriptures for us? The comfort of the Gospel: Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from Eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, by the shedding of his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. But he has also been raised from the dead, and now reigns at the right hand of the Father. This is what the Holy Spirit teaches us in Scripture. It is what we confess together as the church. It is what sponsors confess on behalf of the little ones even before they can speak the words themselves. It is the faith the Holy Spirit gives them in Baptism.

The question often arises among the doubters – and we are tempted to ask it ourselves in our weak moments – how do we know the teaching of scripture is true. Instead of a unified church as Jesus prayed his heavenly Father, we see a church divided. There are many sects, many heresies. How do we know we have THE truth?

It is a scandal that the church is divided. A scandal in it’s original sense, was a stumbling block. A rock in the road that causes people to trip and fall. And the divisions in the church are certainly that. Many have been tripped up by them. Many have fallen.

But we should not be surprised that Satan sows division where the Lord would have unity. Satan’s work, his goal, is to try and undo the work of our Father in heaven. To sow division, to bring in false doctrine, to lead astray from our Lord Jesus Christ.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this – we see it explicitly in Holy Scripture. Right after Jesus begins his ministry by being Baptized for us, he is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus is God – he can’t sin. And yet Satan tempts him right after the Spirit Descends as a dove on him in Baptism. This is a warning to us that Satan will not leave us alone either. Baptism doesn’t keep us from Satan and his temptations. If he tempted our Lord, he will certainly tempt us and try to lead us astray into all manner of false belief or into great shame and vice. That is why we pray God would deliver us from all temptation, from all evil. We are in danger each day, and must constantly watch our step. Prayer is a mighty defense, as we heard during Easter.

It has been truly said that when God builds a church, right next to it Satan builds a chapel. He doesn’t need to lead the world astray from God. The World is already corrupted. Instead he focuses his efforts to lead us astray from the truth of God’s Word, to lead us from repentance, the forgiveness of sins, from salvation.

In the third article we confess, “I believe that I can not by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” The work of the Spirit is to call us by the Gospel, because we can not believe at all on our own. Certainly, if our sinful nature will not let us believe at all, it will also try to lead us astray from the truth once we do believe. This is why Luther says the Old Adam in us must, by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires. It is why we must be in the word and prayer each day, why we must return to the church each week to hear and learn again, to receive again the forgiveness of sins, to once again drown that Old Adam so that a new man arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the church is divided, that Satan brings in false doctrine, masquerading as an angel of light, as a sheep, when he is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Scripture records first church council in Jerusalem, called by the Apostles to answer the question, “Can you be a Christian without first being circumcised?” The Judaizers claimed circumcision was necessary before Baptism. They could not accept the grace and mercy of Baptism without a work of their own. They wanted to add their own works to salvation.

Luther calls works the greatest idolatry. The history of the church proves this to be true. In Luther’s own day the merits of Jesus were not enough. Human works and merits had to be added for salvation. That’s the great idolatry of every age. Trying to turn God’s grace and mercy into our work. The people in Jesus day do it repeatedly. They try to stone Jesus over it.

Today there are those who would turn Baptism into our work, who would rob it of God’s promise and so deny it to little children. There are those who take away the forgiveness of sins from the Lord’s Supper and make forgiveness into our work as it was with the Pharisees. Or who deny the clear word of Jesus, “This is my body”. We must keep the Word of God intact. We must hold to the word of Jesus that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, that Baptism now saves us. That the body and blood of Jesus are truly present distributed and received in the Holy Supper according to the word of Jesus, “This is my body.” We must never turn aside from the promise. We must never make salvation into our work.

We can’t save ourselves, we can not choose Jesus. This isn’t some strange Lutheran doctrine – we get it from the mouth of Jesus. “You did not choose me” he tells the apostles, “I chose you”. Certainly we are not better or holier or have a greater faith than the Apostles, who were eyewitnesses of the resurrection. And so we dare never turn the Gospel, the good news of salvation into our own work. We must leave the work to God. If it’s our work, it’s doomed to fail.

Consider the apostles before the Spirit descended and gave them boldness and confidence to speak the Word. They were hiding in the upper room. The doors were locked for fear of the Jews – and this after they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. Then, in an instant, they are filled with the Spirit, Peter begins to preach boldly of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And 3000 are baptized, brought into the kingdom and they receive the Spirit according to the promise. These 3000 return home and speak the Word to those around them – bringing the Gospel to their own communities, starting churches. Before Paul or Peter can visit Rome, the church is already established there. Likely it is because of the witness of those on Pentecost. If not that day, certainly soon after. Some unknown person heard the Gospel, and carried it with them to Rome, where the good news spread. By the time Paul writes his letter to them, they have a congregation and a pastor, whose name is now lost to us. The Gospel was carried to the ends of the earth, just as Jesus had promised. And it was done anonymously. Paul only catches up to it years later. That’s ok. The Spirit works through each one of us according to our calling and station in life. We are each given opportunity to witness to others of the hope that is in us. That is the work of the Spirit. To comfort us in our afflictions by reminding us of the goodness of the Lord, of his mighty deeds for us. He has Created and preserves us in this world, but especially He redeems and calls us out of the world to be his own and live under him in his kingdom.

And he does the work – he does the dying on the cross, the rising from the dead, the ascending into heaven, the sending of the spirit to create faith in our hearts. We receive the gift given through his work when we hear and believe, when we take eat and take drink as he has promised.

We resist the temptation to deny the power of God working through the Word and Sacrament. We resist the temptation to make that work own. Instead, we let Jesus be our savior. We let the Spirit teach us all things. We let the Father save us through the promise he gives in the waters of Holy Baptism. We let Jesus merit plead for us. We let the Spirit join us to the promise as he creates faith in our hearts.

By the Word, The Spirit comforts us in all afflictions. Because it is Christ who works in us in all things. He redeems the time. He redeems our suffering. He redeems us body and soul and promises one day to return and take us – body and soul – to himself in heaven.

And until then he feeds us with his supper, he strengthens us and keeps us in the faith, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. And he gives us peace in this world. Oh, it’s true, things often happen to spoil the spirit of peace for us in this world. But no one is able to rob us of it, to rob us of the joy of the resurrection and of the new life in Jesus Christ. The promise is good. It is for you and your children. And for all who hear and believe the promise of the salvation given through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

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