THE POWERFUL AND SILENT PARTNER
Dear friends in Christ,
Today is Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter. Pentecost means fiftieth day. There was a Pentecost of the Old Testament too. It was the fiftieth day after Passover. Pentecost of the New Testament began on Pentecost of the Old Testament.
Pentecost of the Old Testament was a Thanksgiving Day. It was the celebration of the early harvest of grain. It was also called the Festival of Weeks. Eventually Pentecost was the day the Jews commemorated the giving of the law on Mt.Sinai. All Jews, no matter where they lived, were to come to the city of Jerusalem for Pentecost.
During the celebration of the grain harvest and fifty days after Jesus changed the world by his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers who had gathered in Jerusalem. It is certainly correct to say that Pentecost was the beginning of the New Testament Church. The Holy Spirit is needed to touch and open hearts to the good news of Jesus Christ. He does that through the Word and Sacrament. The Church is the delivery system.
On Pentecost we turn our attention to the Person of the Holy Spirit and we see he is “The Powerful and Silent Partner – the Holy Spirit.” 1) He does things we can’t do; 2) He promises things only God can promise.
Ten days had passed since Jesus had disappeared into the clouds as he ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives. The disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to send. The wait was complete. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” The numbers not only included the twelve apostles, there were more. There were 120 men, not including the faithful women who had been following him.
What Jesus promised became reality, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” This was no cold front suddenly moving through Jerusalem! There was the sound of a violent wind, but no one could plead that it a bad hair day. There was only the sound of a violent wind. While I inferred that the Holy Spirit is the silent partner that was not true here, the Spirit of God was making it very clear that he wanted everyone’s attention. The whole city heard.
There was more. There were tongues of fire that came to rest on the heads of Jesus’ followers. Why this unusual manifestation of the Spirit? Perhaps the Lord was reminding them how he appeared to the Children of Israel as a pillar of fire by night 1500 years prior as Israel wandered in the wilderness. If people were blind they could hear the sound of the wind. If they could not hear, they could see the tongues of fire. God was behind what was happening.
But there is still more. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Jews had come from all parts of the earth to Jerusalem for Old Testament Pentecost. The 120 plus communicated there was something greater than a harvest festival to celebrate; they heard that their sins were forgiven and Jesus the Christ had accomplished that. They got to hear it in their own native tongue.
Think about that! Most of these followers of Jesus were not candidates for MIT. They were “uneducated Galilean fishermen.” They grew up far away from the sophisticated learning center of Jerusalem. As fishermen by trade, they needed brawn more than they needed brains. But it was plain to see that something miraculous was at work here…like God!
The visitors to Jerusalem expressed an understanding of what was going on. They said that Jesus’ followers were “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” God, the Holy Spirit was at work here! He was doing things that ordinary sinful human beings can’t do.
What was the purpose? Why this event? So many came from so many different countries to Jerusalem, speaking so many different languages! Often that divides people! It still does! I went to a graduation a few years ago. One of the class speakers came from a family whose first language was not English. Right behind us was a big mouthed redneck who apparently didn’t understand the speech, not because the speaker’s accent was heavy (it was barely noticeable), I think it was because the speaker used words with multiple syllables and didn’t understand them. He popped off his mouth only because the speaker born in another culture.
Culture and tradition makes no difference. We all are the same. We all have sinful hearts that Jesus cleansed with his blood. On that first Pentecost the Holy Spirit made it very clear that Jesus came for everyone and that God wants all people to be saved. He made sure everybody heard it. He also changed over 3000 hearts that day and did so in the weeks and months afterward.
Wouldn’t it be nice if politicians and people would figure it out that it is not going to get solved by Democrats or Republicans, it is only solved when people come to know the Lamb of God whose sacrifice took away the sins of the whole world. When people have hearts changed by the Holy Spirit to believe it, will practice what God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Our neighbor is everyone.
Another item! Only the Holy Spirit can promise things that only God can bring to pass. The day of Pentecost should not have been a total surprise. “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” There were people around the disciples that made ridiculous and uncalled-for accusations. They said the disciples were speaking in other languages because they were hitting the sauce. I studied four languages in my school days. I don’t think that a night visiting a local watering hole was the way to study and learn Hebrew vocabulary. It is amazing the lengths people will go to deny the presence and power of God.
There is another point that needs to be mentioned. Peter spoke up. This is not the Peter of Caiaphas’ court where he denied knowing Jesus three times. This is the Spirit-filled Peter full of courage. This is the Peter to whom the Holy Spirit not only gave courage but also the very words to say. “Yes, I know Jesus; he is a good friend of mine. He is my best friend.”
Holy Spirit, help us too, when the boldness to speak can come only from you.
Peter goes on to say, “No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” Listen closely. This prophecy that predicted Pentecost was written by Joel centuries before Christ. He said all these things would occur in the Last Days.
When Joel wrote those words he was saying to the people of his time that Pentecost would signal the end of time. Surely, Messiah had to come. He did and he died. Messiah also had to rise. He did and he arose. He had to ascend into heaven. He did; he is in heaven. But the end couldn’t come until the Holy Spirit would come so powerfully. That’s done too. Now Jesus can come back.
In the meantime, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” In the Old Testament, believers were found mostly among the nation of Israel. That would be true no longer. People were in Jerusalem that day from all parts of the earth. Because of the Holy Spirit there were three thousand converted that day alone. They went back to their countries with the good news of Jesus. They didn’t keep silent about it.
People would have God-wrought dreams and visions. The apostle John had one. It is the book of Revelation. The apostle Paul had a vision too. He was taken into heaven, whether in the body or out of the body he didn’t know, but he heard inexpressible things. Peter saw a blanket filled with all kinds of animals, both clean and unclean according to Jewish law. God told him to kill and eat. You don’t live under the Laws of the Old Testament anymore. You are free from that.
Let me use that term vision a little differently. A vision is a plan that you wan to shoot for. Missionaries had a vision to follow what the Lord said to share the Gospel with the people of the world. There were the apostles who went out from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth. Polycarp, a disciple of John, was a great defender of the faith and spread the good news. Augustine did the same. Raymon Lull went to Africa in the thirteenth century. Martin Luther took on the Roman Church in the 16th century who had corrupted the good news of Jesus with the laws of men. Christian missionaries were on the North American continent in the 17th century. Richard Baxter went to all kinds of morally corrupt cities in England and the Gospel changed people in big ways.
In our own church body there are missionaries who have been sent to so many countries to tell the love of Jesus. Someone even had a vision of a mission church here in Alpharetta so many years ago.
And this is the way it will be until the end of time when God says, “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” While the great day of the Lord ought to scare those who don’t give thought to its coming, he calls it a glorious day. Why? How can that be? Thanks to the Holy Spirit “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
I said the theme of this sermon is “The Powerful but Silent Partner – the Holy Spirit.” I hope you can see how the Spirit is certainly powerful. After all, he is God.
Why silent partner? We don’t talk so much about him. Actually, that is by design. Sinful people like to be acknowledged and patted on the back. We like our fifteen minutes of fame.
Jesus once said, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” The Holy Spirit’s work is to testify about Jesus. He wants people to testify about Jesus. He inspired the Bible; the Bible makes it clear that Jesus is the center of all history. He also plants faith in the heart of every believer, a faith that testifies about Jesus. All is about Jesus. All of this is done so powerfully and so silently. Today we praise him for his work.