Pentecost Sermon: Acts 2
Today is Pentecost (or Whitsunday). Today is the day, some fifty days after Easter when the Church celebrates the pouring out of the Spirit onto the church. Originally the Hebrew Feast of Weeks or First Fruits, God fulfilled that type or allusion by sending His Son and after He had ascended back into heaven, He poured the Spirit out on His Church. Going back to the second and third centuries, celebrating this momentous event has a deep history, but who is the Holy Spirit? What is the Holy Spirit like?
The Creator Spirit
When God created the heavens and the earth, He sent His Spirit to hover over the deeps (Gen. 1:2). This Spirit is the RUACH, the wind or breath of God. And it is the same Wind that rushes into the house where the apostles are staying on the day of Pentecost. The presence of the Spirit means that something new is beginning. Notice also that this wind precedes the spoken Word, just as in Genesis 1. The wind gives the force necessary for speech; it becomes the breath of the apostles such that when they speak, words they did not know before spring forth, languages known to the multitudes gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. But as has been pointed out before, these new linguistic abilities are the answer to the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). A new city is being founded. Finally, it’s difficult to imagine this scene without seeing the picture-Bible renditions of this event with picture perfect flames hovering over each apostle’s shiny Boy Scout face. But this scene should probably be considered far more like an electrical storm gone all wrong (Ps. 29). The same Spirit that roared the cosmos into being is once again at work in the world.
The Warrior Spirit
And if the Spirit of God is the storm of God, then it should not be surprising to see men act like storms when they are filled with that Spirit. Perhaps one of the most overlooked Spiritual men in all of Scripture is Samson. Of course Samson is looked to as a warrior, perhaps even a hero of Israel. But how often is he considered a prime example of what it looks like to be a Spiritual Man? Too many modern Christians portray faithful masculinity as soft and sensitive. When the Spirit comes upon a modern Christian man, it is assumed that he spent an extra ten minutes in quiet time, or maybe he got tears in his eyes when singing during the service. But when the Spirit comes upon Samson, he goes hunting for a Philistine wife (Jdg. 14:1). He tears a lion apart (14:6). He kills thirty men and takes their clothes (14:19). He breaks out of ropes and kills a thousand men with the jaw bone of an ass (15:14-15). This is not an exhortation to violence. But this is an exhortation to warfare. When the Spirit fills a man or a woman they act with fierce obedience, martial faithfulness. This is because obedience is treachery to the world and the betrayal of all sin and wickedness. It cannot be an accident that the Spirit appears as “tongues” and immediately following this the apostles are speaking in “tongues.” Words are fire; words are a storm, the only question is to what end (Jas 3). In our world and in the world of the first century, one the most central acts of obedience is with the tongue. When the Spirit descended on the apostles they got up and began boldly declaring the truth to the multitudes, and they and their descendents did it with such ferocity, that many of them were tortured and martyred for their faithfulness.
The Glad/Festal Spirit
Finally, the Spirit is the Wine of God. To be filled with the Spirit, one runs the risk of being accused of drunkenness (Acts 2:13, 15). And that’s a good thing. The passage quoted by Peter is Joel, where Yahweh expressly prophesies the sending of His Spirit and the pouring out of the Spirit as the pouring out of new wine on the people of God (Joel 2:19, 24). Paul also exhorts us elsewhere to be filled with the Spirit which is the proper alternative to drunkenness (Eph. 5:18). Remember Hannah who bitterly wept and prayed in the house of God pleading with Him for a child. She too was mistaken by Eli to be drunk. But of course this fits with the wildness of a storm and the fierceness of a warrior. The Spirit of Yahweh is also a thunderous, joyful festival (Psalm 78:65). And this is precisely what we see here in Acts 2 (2:29 (!), 41, 42, 46-47).
First, this Sunday is not only Pentecost, the birthday celebration of the Christian Church, it is also (fittingly) a new beginning for Holy Trinity Church. Today really is a Pentecost here in Greenville, South Carolina. Here, after 2006 years of Christ’s reign, God is pouring out his Spirit yet again in a new and unique way in this place and time. The Creator Spirit is hovering over us. His storm is rushing over us here, right now.
Secondly, this means we should expect opposition. This is not arrogance; this is not self aggrandizement; this is faith. God is blessing us here in this church at this time. And whenever God blesses his people in particular places, people notice; they hear the noise and come running and the enemies of God come out of the woodwork. But we, no less than all of the heroes of the faith, are confident of victory. The same Spirit that empowered the man, Jesus Christ, to fight sin, the flesh and the devil and conquer death itself is at work in each of us. Therefore believe that God is blessing us, but be on guard. The devil loves to turn blessings into ropes on which the saints of God hang themselves.
Lastly (and this is our greatest defense), we must look for and expect great joy. The effect of the work of the Spirit is a community of celebration and gratitude. Sharing bread and wine here is the pinnacle of lives shared throughout the week, living with gladness and simplicity of heart. Sin really is the great complicator. Sin is darkness, emptiness and formlessness; sin is uncreated or decreated reality; sin is the ultimate straightjacket. But where the Spirit is, life comes pouring forth, life like a waterfall, like a tornado, like a Spanish dance. This is the life of the Holy Spirit that has been poured out onto us. Therefore live this: believe that God is at work and blessing us here and now, fiercely contend for the faith by obeying, and finally, pursue simple gratitude, the kind of thankfulness that counts pennies, watches sunsets, and gives inexcusable gifts.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
The Collect of the Day
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.