Sermon delivered on Pentecost Sunday B, May 23, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Acts 2.1-21; Romans 8.22-27; St. John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15.
The festival of Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks. In the Christian tradition, this event represents the birth of the early church.
The day of “Pentecost” was and still is observed by Israel today. It is a celebration which occurs fifty days after the celebration of the “Passover”, which commemorates Israel’s deliverance out of the bondage of ancient Egypt. The day of “Pentecost” is also the day chosen by the Lord to begin the fulfillment of prophecy of Joel 2:28: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh….”
The day of Pentecost was celebrated long before Jesus was born. It was a Jewish celebration just like we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The Jewish people celebrate Pentecost (Shavuot) in Thanksgiving for the first Wheat harvest, but it was later connected to the commemoration of the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. In the Old Testament, this Jewish observance was known as the Festival of Weeks, or, more simply, Weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew). One can find its origin in the book of Leviticus 23:16, which instructs people to count seven weeks or the fiftieth day after Passover. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word “Pentekostos.” which means “Fifty.” It was an important Jewish celebration even during the time of our Lord Jesus. This is simply the reason why the Apostles were gathered in a room, precisely to celebrate Pentecost. What comes at first as the traditional Jewish Thanksgiving observance, turned out to become a more significant event in the life of the Apostles and us as a Church.
On that day of ”Pentecost”, God’s Holy Spirit came upon the waiting praying disciples, who had gathered with others in the upper room at Jerusalem. Their complete dedication and commitment to the Christ and His commission, evoked a mighty baptism of God’s power. This outpouring was evidenced initially by their speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4). The Spirit was resident in their lives from that moment as they witnessed many outstanding miraculous happenings (Acts 3:1-7; 4:31). As a result, they were able to lead victorious lives as Christians in Christ as a result of their Pentecostal experience.
It is important to note that on the “Day of Pentecost”. In addition to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there were two baptisms disclosed. There was a baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, and the proclaiming of water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ by Peter (Acts 2:38). The baptism of the Holy Spirit is what Jesus referred to as being “born again” in John 3:3-7. The second baptism, was the fulfillment of Matthew 28:19, where Jesus commanded them to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
If we go back to the day of Pentecost, we discover that the first task of the Church is proclamation. Yet we also see that the Apostles devised no strategy; when they were locked in there, in the Upper Room, they were not strategizing, no, they were not drafting any pastoral plan. The Apostles set off: unprepared, yet putting their lives on the line. One thing kept them going: the desire to give what they received. The opening part of the First Letter of Saint John is beautiful: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you” (cf. 1:3).
In the Old Testament, the day of Pentecost was a celebration held 50 days after the Jewish festival of Passover (Leviticus 23:16, Exodus 34:22). In the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit came powerfully upon His disciples, enabling them to speak in foreign languages (sometimes called “tongues”) that they had not studied, and to proclaim the Gospel boldly to those gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2). The events recounted on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 have a number of important implications for Christians today.
Pentecost Reminds Us Of The Importance Of The Great Commission.
In order to really grasp the “why” of Pentecost, it helps to understand the “when.” Pentecost took place on the heels of Jesus’ final command, “Go and make disciples.” After a brief pause — like the calm before a mighty storm — the Holy Spirit arrived. A major part of his mission was to empower the disciples to fulfill Christ’s command. The injunction to make disciples of all nations and teach them all things is a tall order. Only the Spirit could aid them. When we celebrate Pentecost, we can’t help but realize the magnificent responsibility we have been given in the Great Commission.
Presence of Jesus with us
After His resurrection, Jesus promised to always be with the disciples (Matthew 28:20). Then He left them and went up to heaven (Luke 24:51). However, the spirit of Jesus (namely, the Holy Spirit) came upon the disciples at Pentecost, fulfilling Jesus’ promise to be with the disciples always.
Power for testimony
The disciples were scared and not yet proclaiming the Gospel widely, prior to Pentecost. Jesus knew this and told them that He was sending His Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49, John 14:16-18). That way, they would receive power to be witnesses of their risen Lord, Jesus Christ, throughout the world (Acts 1:8). Before Pentecost, the Spirit was not absent as He was involved in creation (Genesis 1:2) and in regenerating God’s elect so that they would believe in Him (John 3:8, Titus 3:5). But at Pentecost, the Spirit came much more powerfully upon Jesus’ disciples, and now dwells in (and empowers)all disciples of Jesus today (Ephesians 1:13-14). The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and the specific events of that day were a one-time event, but the Spirit continues to be present with all Christians, enabling them to be tell others about Christ and to live the Christian life.
The Holy Spirit and the effect of witnessing the Gospel :The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is also a blessing in another way. It’s not because of the apostles that so many people repented and started to believe in Christ Jesus. No apostle or preacher or witness of the Gospel can change the heart of someone else. Neither can a hearer of the Gospel change his or her own heart. But the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel of Jesus Christ to create new life in people (John 3:8). As a result of that renewing work of the Spirit people start to acknowledge their sins and seek salvation in Jesus Christ, who is crucified and resurrected from the dead. So the conversion into Christianity is the conversion of the heart by the Holy Spirit when one makes the decision to follow Jesus Christ and to surrender to God the almighty and obey the Ten Commandments.
We are living in the end times
After the Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter stood up and explained to those listening about the meaning of what they had seen and heard. His explanation is recorded in Acts 2:14-36. In short, he said that the coming of the Spirit was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy about what would happen when the Messiah (Jesus Christ) came at the end of time. The amazing events of Pentecost signal the beginning of the end of the world. Many people think about the end of the world as something in the far future, but in the Bible, the end of the world (or, the end times) is a long period of time, beginning with the first coming of Christ 2000 years ago and concluding with the second coming of Christ when He returns to judge the world. Everything in-between the first and second coming of Christ is considered the end times. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost was a sign that the end of the world is coming.
Harmony within human beings. Deep down, in their hearts, the disciples needed to be changed. Their story teaches us that even seeing the Risen Lord is not enough, unless we welcome him into our hearts. It is no use knowing that the Risen One is alive, unless we too live as risen ones. It is the Spirit who makes Jesus live within us; he raises us up from within. That is why when Jesus appears to his disciples, he repeats the words, “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19.21), and bestows the Spirit. That is what peace really is, the peace bestowed on the Apostles. That peace does not have to do with resolving outward problems – God does not spare his disciples from tribulation and persecution. Rather, it has to do with receiving the Holy Spirit. The peace bestowed on the apostles, the peace that does not bring freedom from problems but in problems, is offered to each of us. Filled with his peace, our hearts are like a deep sea, which remains peaceful, even when its surface is swept by waves. It is a harmony so profound that it can even turn persecutions into blessings. Yet how often we choose to remain on the surface! Rather than seeking the Spirit, we try to keep afloat, thinking that everything will improve once this or that problem is over, once I no longer see that person, once things get better. But to do so is to stay on the surface: when one problem goes away, another arrives, and once more we grow anxious and ill at ease. Avoiding those who do not think as we do will not bring serenity. Resolving momentary problems will not bring peace. What makes a difference is the peace of Jesus, the harmony of the Spirit.
St. Augustine has an explanation for this: “Perhaps this double giving of the Holy Spirit was done in manifestation of the two commandments of love, that is, of neighbor and of God, in order that love might be shown to belong to the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit, therefore, reconciles us with God and one another. Unity is, indeed, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is what St. Paul pointed out “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and we were all given to drink of one Spirit” (1Cor 12:13). It is only in the Holy Spirit that we can say, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”” (Rom 8:14-15). So, in the third Eucharistic Prayer, we ask God: “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.”
In the biography, Mother Teresa speaks of surprise. At her age, time and place, would she, could she do something different, be someone different? She was like the Apostles hiding behind the closed doors of her cloister. She said, Christ surprised her. He came through the locked doors and breathed His Spirit on her. He called her to a second vocation.
The Spirit is full of surprises. We have to admit that secularism and affluence have muted the presence of God in our part of the world, but all is not lost. History has shown us that even in our worst moments, Jesus’ ever-present Spirit can break through and raise up saints who turn things around. They call us back to the Gospel and give us hope.
A Francis of Assisi pops up out of the moral mess of the twelfth century. Maximilian Kolbe steps forward from the Nazi madness to die a martyr. Rosa Parks says no to racial prejudice and refuses to move to the back of the bus. Nelson Mandela rejects apartheid and goes to prison for twenty years.
Ascension and Pentecost tell us that God is still present, still speaks, still sends out disciples to make a difference, and still calls. Not just the St. Francis’ and the Kolbe’s and the Park’s and Mandela’s, but you and me. What Jesus said at Ascension still remains valid and indispensable: You be My witness. We are the Church, and what we do, the Church does. And what we fail to do, the Church fails to do.
How many people on the Day of Pentecost received The Holy?
About one hundred and twenty followers of Christ (Acts 1:15) were present, including the Twelve Apostles (Matthias was Judas’ replacement) (Acts 1:13, 26), Jesus’ mother Mary, other female disciples and his brothers (Acts 1:14).
The first conversion recorded in Acts is the conversion of many people after Peter preached the first sermon about Jesus on the Day of Pentecost. This was quite an amazing day as it marked the beginning of the church that Jesus established.
Before He left this world and ascended into heaven, Jesus told the apostles to stay in Jerusalem. They were to wait there for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which would happen soon. Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit would grant them power and, once that happened, the apostles were to begin teaching the story of Jesus—the gospel. They were to begin in Jerusalem, then in the surrounding lands and finally to all the earth. After Jesus had ascended, the apostles stayed together and continued in prayer and worship, and this brings us to the beginning of Acts 2.
Peter Preaches Jesus
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and filled the apostles in a spectacular display. There was a great rushing sound and tongues of fire came and sat upon each apostle. They began to speak to a crowd filled with people who spoke many different languages, and every person heard the apostle’s words in their own native language. This, of course, made quite an impression on the crowd. They were all amazed, and some wondered what this meant while others said the apostles must be drunk. It was then that Peter began preaching the very first sermon about Jesus. The Bible account of all this is in Acts 2:1-14.
Peter began his lesson by assuring the crowd that the apostles were not drunk as it was around 9:00 in the morning. Instead, he told them, this was the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Joel 2:28-32. Peter went to remind them that they had seen Jesus the wonders that God had worked through Him, and that they in turn had crucified and killed Him. God then raised Jesus from the dead because, as Peter said, death could not hold Jesus. This part of Peter’s sermon is recorded in Acts 2:15-24.
In Acts 2:25-35, Peter went on to explain that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy of David and the promised Messiah of the line of David. Peter closed this first sermon with a very powerful declaration:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
The Crowd’s Reaction & Peter’s Instruction
That was quite an accusation! For centuries and centuries and centuries, the Jews had awaited the Messiah who would save them. Now, Peter tells them that their Messiah had in fact come, but that they themselves had killed Him. How did the crowd react to this? We find out in the next verse:
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
There are two important things to notice in this response to Peter’s sermon. First, the crowd was “cut to the heart”. The message about Jesus as the Messiah had a deep effect on them. They very obviously believed what Peter taught because they were so moved that they felt the immediate need to do something. That need caused them to ask the right question. That question is the second important thing we need to notice about this verse, “What shall we do?”
These people knew that their Messiah had come, that Jesus was that promised Messiah and that they had crucified Him. How should they respond, they asked, to this information? All these things had happened, but what could they possibly do in the face of the guilt that they now felt? They were “cut to the heart” and felt compelled to do something, but what should they do? Peter gave them their answer:
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”
Peter’s instruction is clear and simple. The people, who had heard and believed when Peter preached to them the gospel of Jesus Christ, must do two things:
- Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins
When they did these things, the people would receive something very special, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the promise that was made to them and guaranteed through the death of Christ on the cross. Peter said that, in doing all the things that he taught, the people would be saved from the corruption of this world.
The Crowd’s Response
So what happened next? Did the crowd do as Peter told them to do? The story continues:
Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in prayers.
Yes! The people who received—heard and believed—the gospel were baptized. On that one day and in response to that one sermon, about 3,000 people did what Peter told them to do. Not only did they obey at that moment, but they continued living as the apostles told them to live and they continued living this way, according to the apostles’ doctrine, without wavering and without deviating from what the apostles had taught them. They spent their time together, they ate together and they prayed together.
The next few verses, Acts 2:43-45, describe how these first Christians lived.
The apostles continued to do great wonders and all of the faithful associated with one other in a spirit of togetherness and unity. They sold their things and gave the money to those who needed it more. When we read how these first Christians lived, we see that their lives were filled with the great joy of leading a simple life with those who shared their faith.
Acts 2 closes with a summary and an important lesson about the church that Jesus established:
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Again, the first Christians lived in a spirit of unity and joy in their shared faith. Now, pay close attention to that last sentence, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
Notice that people didn’t join the church. People who were already in the church did not choose and induct new members into the church. God added to His own church those who were being saved! From that day to this day, nothing has changed. That’s still the way it works. When we obey the gospel, when we do what we are instructed to do by the divinely inspired words of the Bible, God adds us to His church.
Notice also the use of the phrase “those who were being saved.” Who was being saved? The people who did what Peter told them to do were being saved. It was those people, the ones who heard the gospel, believed the gospel, repented, were baptized for the remission of sins and continued to lead faithful lives who were saved and whom God added to His church. Again, things haven’t changed since that day.
Finally, notice what this says about the church. The church is not a building. The church is not an institution that was created by men and operates according to some sort of organizational documents and bylaws. The church is nothing more—and nothing less—than the collection of all saved people in the world. It’s that simple!
- Be Baptized
The Holy Spirit dwells inside those who believe in Jesus Christ! The Holy Spirit is present throughout our daily lives. The Holy Spirit is our comfort, our seal, our breath and our joy! In the book of Acts form the Bible, we read about the coming and the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the day of Pentecost:
“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they 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 2:1-4