According to the traditions of the church year, today is the third great feast. Each of these great feasts is associated with a gift that a member of the Trinity gives to us. On Christmas, the Father sends the Son into the world and so it is the Feast of the Father's gift of the Son. On Easter, the Son gives us the gift of forgiveness as He surrenders His life on the cross and then rises from the dead. Now, today, on Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of faith that the Holy Spirit works in us. Although each member of the Trinity is absolutely equal in honor, majesty, and so forth, each also assumes a different role in their work of salvation on our behalf.
Of the three members of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit seems to be the most mysterious. Perhaps that is because His role in the work of salvation is to point us to Jesus Christ and give us faith in Him. Every time we focus on the Holy Spirit, He tells us to look at Jesus Christ our savior crucified on the cross in order to win salvation for us. So, even as we study the Holy Spirit, we can't help but end up back at the cross. In a way, the Holy Spirit is sort of the stealth member of the Trinity.
Of course, there are times that the Holy Spirit is not so stealthy. That first Pentecost after Jesus rose from the dead, the Holy Spirit made sure that everyone in Jerusalem knew that something was going on. There was a rumbling noise like a mighty wind and the visible sign of something that looked like candle flames resting on everyone who came to the church service that morning.
The objective of all this hubbub was to attract the God-fearing Pentecost Pilgrims to the site of all the noise. You see the Holy Spirit had to change the nature of the faith of faithful people. Up until this time, the church had been looking forward to the Messiah. Their faith was in the one who was to come. God had promised Adam and Eve that the SEED would come and crush the serpent's head. Ever since then, the church had been waiting for the promised Messiah. Now the waiting was over. The promise had been fulfilled. The anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah had kept all the promises and had won salvation for all people. He had defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil with His suffering and death on the cross. He had risen from the dead. He had ascended into heaven. Now, the Word had to get out.
The plan for spreading the Word had been in place for millennia. When God gave the ceremonial law to Moses, He established special feast days. Two of those feast days were Passover and Pentecost. Every God-fearing Jew was to make every effort to be at the religious center of their faith on the major feast days. At first, this would be the tabernacle - later on the temple. In this way, God assured that Jerusalem would be full of pilgrims on these feast days. Thus it was that Jerusalem was full of Passover pilgrims when Jesus died for us, and she was full of Pentecost pilgrims when the Holy Spirit proclaimed that this same Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of the World. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world were there to witness and hear. Thousands of missionaries were ready to go back home and share the Good News that the long awaited Messiah had come and He is Jesus of Nazareth.
The sad thing about Pentecost is that even among all these signs, there were people who rejected the Good News. There were some in the crowd who said, "They are filled with new wine." This remark shows how ridiculous people can get when they try to rationalize their resistance to the Gospel. Who ever heard of a group of people suddenly becoming fluent in a variety of foreign languages by getting drunk early in the morning?
The greater danger for us in the twenty-first century is not that we will reject the Good News outright, but that the devil, the world, and even our own sinful nature will divert us away from the Good News. It is very easy to get all excited over the means that the Holy Spirit used on that Pentecost and forget about the ultimate goal of that Day. The important point in this Pentecost narrative is that the Holy Spirit drew people together to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. The rumbling noise, the flames, and the foreign languages were only means to that end. All too often, however, we get excited by the means that the Holy Spirit used instead of the ultimate goal of those means. We become infatuated by the excitement of the supernatural. We get distracted by the rumbling noise and the flames. We get excited about speaking other languages fluently. We sometimes forget that all these signs are there to proclaim "Christ crucified," the main message of the entire Bible.
The Holy Spirit could probably introduce us to Christ in an infinite number of ways, but He has chosen to introduce us through the Word of God. He works and sustains faith in us through the Word of God that we hear with our ears and read with our eyes. He works faith in us with the wet Word of Holy Baptism as we combine the Word of God with water according to Christ's command. He sustains our baptismal faith as we confess our sins to God our Father and hear Christ's Word of forgiveness on the lips of our pastor. He strengthens our faith as Christ Himself comes to us as the living Word in His body and blood. In these ways, the Holy Spirit has chosen to connect us to our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
Now we might well ask, "How powerful can words really be? Are words really that important?" The answer to that question comes to us from today's Old Testament Reading.
God actually commanded Ezekiel to preach a sermon to a congregation of dry bones. The Spirit of the Lord took Ezekiel to a valley. As Ezekiel looked around there were crania, mandibles, clavicles, carpals and metacarpals, tarsals and metatarsals, and all kinds of other human bones scattered around in the valley.
God commanded Ezekiel, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD." Ezekiel did as God commanded and as he took the word from God and gave it to the bones, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And [Ezekiel] looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then the Lord commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind to fill the lungs of these bodies. Ezekiel did as God commanded and as he took the word from God and gave it to the wind, the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
The Word of God is powerful - not because we say it or use it - but because God stands behind it with His promises. God has promised: [Isaiah 55:10-11] "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God told Ezekiel that these bones were the House of Israel. Today, we are the House of Israel, the Holy Christian Church, we are the bones. The Holy Spirit took us when we were dead in our trespasses and sins and added sinews and muscle, flesh and skin, and continuously breathes the breath of life into us. The Holy Spirit, by the power of His Word, has made us alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is the power of God's Word - to take dead, dry, sinful bones and make them alive in Christ.
Ultimately, that is what Pentecost is about. The fire, the wind, the languages were all there so that the God-fearing pilgrims in Jerusalem could say, "We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." That is what the Holy Spirit still does through the church - He proclaims the Good News that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, has redeemed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. Amen
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