What Does This Mean?
Day of Pentecost, 2017
Acts 2: 12-13 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Dear Friends in Christ
The author and preacher John Piper tells a story of two elderly women who had given their “retirement” years to go to Cameroon for the sake of the Gospel. They had been killed when their brakes gave out and their car plunged over a cliff. He asked, Was that a tragedy? He answered his own question, “No, that wasn’t a tragedy. Let me tell you about a tragedy.” He cited a Readers Digest article about how many Americans are taking early retirement so that they can pursue their own pleasure. One couple had bought a yacht and spent their time sailing off the coast of Florida, collecting seashells. Piper said, “Now that’s a tragedy!” Can you imagine this couple standing before God at the judgment and saying, “Here’s our seashell collection, Lord.”
At least two different ways we can live out the retirement chapter of our lives, or any chapter of life, for that matter. We can live them with definite purpose or with no particular purpose. We can live them controlled by the Holy Spirit or controlled by our sinful nature. We can live them for Christ or for me, myself, and I. We can live our days with the Festival of Pentecost uppermost in our minds, or with Pentecost as pretty an afterthought.
This morning, we ask the question Lutherans have asked for 500 years now, we ask the question Martin Luther loved to ask he wrestled with interpreting Scripture, we ask the question thousands of people from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem 50 days after the resurrection, 10 days after Jesus had ascended, we ask, What does thisPentecost mean?
What does this mean that the Spirit of God was poured out in superabundant fashion on the early church? What does this mean that there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind ,and what does this mean that there were tongues of fire that appeared and rested on the disciples’ heads, and what does this mean the first disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and could speak in languages they had never studied?
One question is before us today, with two answers. The question is, What does Pentecost mean for New Testament Christians?
Answer #1 is that Pentecost means that you can’t keep good men, women, or children (down). No doubt you’ve heard the idiom that “you can’t keep a good man down.” The history of that old saying goes all the way back to the story of Joseph in Genesis. His brothers threw him down in a well, but God saw to it he didn’t die then and there. His brothers sold him down into slavery in Egypt, but God saw to it he didn’t languish in slavery. Potiphar’s wife saw to it that he was falsely accused and thrown into prison, but God saw to it his story didn’t end there. Over the years, Joseph learned what we want to learn again today, God has a plan to turn every bit of evil in our lives into good. Two truths we would learn today about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit as New Testament Christians.
First, we learn again that God isn’t just for us, He is (inside of us). Certainly the disciples were aware of Divine Presence while Jesus walked alongside of them in His earthly ministry. They could see with their own eyes, you can’t keep a good man down. No doubt they were already asking what does this mean? What does this mean to be baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? What does this mean to take and eat, this is my body, to take and drink, all of you, this is my blood? What does this mean that out of our hearts will flow rivers of living water? What does this mean that we will be dragged before emperors and kinds with an opportunity to witness to our Master?
No doubt they were already beginning to grasp the idea that if God is for us, who can be against us. And now, on this day that had been promised by Joel and also by Jesus, now what does this mean that God isn’t just for us, He is inside of us? Paul would say it this way to the Corinthians, it means that we have a treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us, it means that we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, it means we will be perplexed, but not driven to despair, it means we will be persecuted, but not forsaken, it means we will be struck down, but not destroyed, it means that we will always be carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies.
Pentecost’s reality is that not only can’t you keep a good man down, you can’t keep good women and children down either. We’re good people, of course, not because we have led such good lives, but because the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed us from every one of our sins. We’re good people not because we have earned that title, but because we have been baptized into the very family of God, the sign of the cross has been placed on foreheads and on our hearts, and in that moment, a river of living water started to flow not just for us, but inside of us.
The Spirit binds us together (into the Church) What the early Jewish Christians learned that day was that the Gospel wasn’t just for the Jews, it was also for the Gentiles. Not just for the circumcised, but also for the uncircumcised. All that God has done for the world in Jesus Christ is implanted in the hearts of all who confess their sins and receive the greatest and best of all God’s gifts – the Holy Spirit. The Day of Pentecost is not the end of the story by any means. It is the beginning of a new era. On that day, the disciples became apostles. From that day forward, they weren’t just called to be followers, now they were sent forth from Jerusalem telling what had happened to them. From that day forward, their faith wasn’t just meant to help them survive, it was to be a contagious, turn your world upside down kind of a faith. From that day forward, men and women regardless of race of class would be having a new experience with the Spirit of God, they would be lifted out of themselves, they would be, introduced to a spontaneous goodness for which they could claim no credit. They wouldn’t need to wait for the Spirit of God to move a prophet to prophesy, the Spirit of God would be on the inside of each one of them. The Spirit would be binding them together into the one holy, Christian, and apostolic faith.
From that day forward, by virtue of their baptism into the Name of the Triune God, they would be given a unity they did not deserve nor understand, their assignment was to guard that unity, to celebrate that Good News, to spread the message that had come to pass that everyone who calls uponthe name of the Lord shall be saved.
Which brings us to a second answer to the question, what does this mean? What does Pentecost mean? First Pentecost means that you will never again be able to keep good men, women, or children down, secondly Pentecost means no more minding our own (business). Two of my father’s core principles in life were to take care of business and to mind your own business. He didn’t say very much, he wasn’t at all flashy or famous, he just kept it short and simple, finish what you start, if you’re going to do something, do it right, don’t be sticking your nose in other people’s affairs. And in so many ways, those are terrific core values to have and to practice.
With at least one exception. Let’s call it the Pentecost exception. From that day forward, the mission of the Church would be to scatter to the four corners of the earth and plant Christian congregations. Congregations where the Word of God would be proclaimed, Law and Gospel would be correctly divided, and Sacraments would be administered. Congregations where hurting people would be helped, broken hearts would be mended, and troubled souls would be comforted. Congregations where the cross would be lifted high, resurrection would be celebrated, and Pentecost would be the driving force. Two truths the New Testament Church needs to understand.
Truth #1 - Christ came first for the Jews, and then also for the (Gentiles). The 21st century mindset is that good gifts should be offered to all in equal measure, at the same time, with liberty and justice for all. But God’s mindset has always been to take his time, train a smaller group of people, and then to send that trained group of folks out to the masses. That’s what He did by taking his time with the small and insignificant nation of Israel, to take them through centuries of rigorous trial and error training, and on the day of Pentecost, to set them loose with the Gospel to the far corners of humanity. That’s what Jesus did with a small band of disciples, to take them through three years of rigorous trial and error training, and on the day of Pentecost, to set them loose with the forgiveness of sins to Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world. That’s what the Spirit of God has done with this church and school. All year long, for 137 years now in this place, the Holy Spirit has taken his time with us, week after week He molds us and shapes us through trial and error with Word and with Sacrament, on every year on the day of Pentecost, He sets us loose with a joy that just cannot be contained, he sets us loose with a fire that cannot be hidden, he sets us loose with a river that flows up and over its banks. Christ came first for the Jews, and then also for the Gentiles. First for those who were raised up in the Church and then for those who are still on the outside looking in.
Truth #2 - The Spirit provides the fire power for us not only to be saved, but to (prophesy). When Peter says that in the last days, your sons and daughters shall prophesy, he’s not saying that all of us will be able to predict the future in a supernatural kind of a way. He is saying that all of us will be able to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ. He’s not saying that we’re all called to be pastors and missionaries to far away places, he’s saying we are all called to listen carefully to broken hearted people all around us, he’s saying we’re all called to pray with those who are at their wit’s end in life, he’s saying we’re all called on to speak of that which we have seen and heard to be true, he’s saying we’re all called on to not just be minding our own business in life, we’re called on to be about our Father’s business in a thousand and one different ways, in every one of our days.
Debi and I were reading a devotion for older folks by Jane Wilkie (a college friend of ours), the other day. She wrote that many of us have prayed the prayer, “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. She proceeded to turn that little prayer upside down by suggesting this prayer, If I should wake before I die, I pray the Lord to show me (why!) Her point was this – it’s tempting for us in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod to be what Billy Graham is said to have said about us years ago – that we are a sleeping giant. In other words, that we have a strong message of truth and purity inside of us, but that we pretty much keep it to ourselves.
If I should wake before I die, I pray the Lord to show me why. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who are waking up to the fact that life isn’t so much about me, it’s about Jesus Christ. They are realizing more and more that life isn’t so much about my needs being met, it’s about walking alongside of others making sure their needs are being met. Less and less do they wonder what they can get out of the sermon every Sunday and more and more do they wonder what it means to have the Spirit of God poured out and spilling over. More and more do they wonder what it means “that your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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