The Pentecost Task — Missionary Orientation
Day of Pentecost
Rev. Dr. Timothy C. J. Quill
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard the sound [of the apostles speaking], a multitude gathered together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language….Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (2:5-6, 12)
When confessing the third article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin has us ask the same question, “What does this mean?” And the answer: “I believe that I cannot 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, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” Luther’s Explanation in the Small Catechism is a perfect summary of Pentecost.
There is no believing without the Holy Spirit. That was true in the 16th century when Luther wrote his Small Catechism, it is true today, and it will be true in the future when we leave here and travel to distant lands. It has been true from the very beginning, when it all began on the Day of Pentecost. Jesus accomplished our salvation through his sacrificial death on the cross. After his ascension into Heaven, the risen Lord Jesus continued the work of salvation by distributing his saving gifts, namely, the forgiveness of sins, through preaching, Baptism, and the Breaking of Bread/Lord’s Supper. Pentecost was about preaching the Word of Christ and about baptizing in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
A lot of exciting things happened in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. But we must not lose sight of the essential things. Pentecost was and is about the preaching—preaching Jesus Christ crucified and risen. Pentecost was and is about the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who gave to the apostles what they were to clearly proclaim in the streets of Jerusalem. Thus the Holy Spirit was the real preacher on Pentecost even as he is the real preacher today. On that day the Holy Spirit preached through our Lord’s Apostles. Today the Holy Spirit preaches through pastors when they faithfully proclaim what has been given them to say by the same Spirit through his inspired Holy Scriptures—that is, Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
A lot of exciting things happened in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Today things are far from exciting as sit here quietly in the chapel of the LCMS International Center looking through glass windows at the sky. The streets of Jerusalem are replaced with concrete avenues and interstates highways. Today, the people in the crowds are isolated from one another as they speed past us in their air-conditioned cars. Some of these folks are undoubtedly good Christians. Some are literally on a highway to hell. Each car contains real people for whom Christ died—each with their own story. And here we sit, quietly listening to God’s Word, confessing Christ, saying our prayers and singing hymns. Nothing exciting about this, however it is important and essential.
When you hear the account of Pentecost, have you ever been tempted to wish it could be like that again today? Pentecost was like an exciting Christian fireworks-filled Fourth of July—tongues of fire, violent winds, loud “dynamic” preaching, three thousand baptisms, and instant language ability. / / Even as I’m speaking, seminarians at both our Fort Wayne and St. Louis Seminaries are struggling through agonizing weeks of summer Greek and Hebrew. What they wouldn’t give for a Pentecost miracle language course, GSL and HSL (Greek as a Second Language and Hebrew as a Second Language) is yours in just seconds, not weeks and years.
But one should be careful for what one wishes for. Luke tells us, “They were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” Would you really like that to happen today? Do you really want to sit in a glass chapel while tornados like winds rip through the International Center like an out of control freight train? It’s terrifying. I’m told this is what happened here at the International Center a few months ago. Be careful what you wish for. When the frightened apostles were filled by the Holy Spirit to preach in the city, the Spirit gave them both the things to say, and the courage to speak them. They fully expected that they would be met with the same fate as Jesus from the angry mobs, church leaders and government officials. And in time, most met a martyr’s death.
The tongues of fires were also impressive. Fire was a symbol of the presence of God who is an all consuming fire. A head set ablaze is not a pretty sight. But as was the case with Moses before the burning bush, a fire that doesn’t consume is a divine revelation that allows us to see into the very heart and nature of God—at the core of his being, his divine nature, the Lord God is a God of grace and mercy.
In Luke’s account in Acts 2, the tongues (γλῶσσαι) of fire give way to the apostles speaking in other tongues (γλῶσσαι), or languages. When God’s Word comes off the tongues and out of the mouths of his apostles and pastors in sermon and absolution, it comes with the very presence of the Holy Spirit. Where the Word of Christ is proclaimed, there is Christ and his promised Holy Spirit. The words are nothing other than the powerful, Spirit filled, sin-forgiving, words of life—the creative Spirit filled wind or breath that creates faith and life.
“When they heard the sound of the apostles’ preaching, a crowd came together in bewilderment.” Today it is our mission task to help gather the bewildered multitudes from all nations to come to where Christ and the Holy Spirit are present—to the church with its pulpit, font and altar. We invite others to join us at church where we are devoted to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, that is, the breaking of bread and to the prayers of the church. The Old Testament harvest festival of Pentecost was a time of joy and thanksgiving. The Divine Service with Word and supper is a time of even greater joy and thanksgiving. This is indeed the greater harvest, the greater Pentecost.
So, what does this mean? Why did all of us come here for two weeks? Why are we driven to go into all the world in order to invite people to come to Church? Because…as we confess in the explanation of the 3rd Article of the Creed: “In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
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