Epistle: Acts 2:1-21 (Pentecost: Series C)
This pericope is one of the most memorable in the Church year, recounting the Day of Pentecost following the Ascension of Christ Jesus. Preachers should appreciate Pentecost as a major church festival and convey the same, proclaiming its central message from Peter’s sermon on this very day.
The word “Pentecost” is a near transliteration of the Greek word meaning “fiftieth,” since this celebration comes fifty days after the Passover. In Judaism, it was the culmination of the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22) and one of three major Jewish festivals of obligation.
Indeed, Pentecost is a culmination, namely the result of the work of Jesus the Messiah. On this fiftieth day after His victory on Golgotha and having ascended to the Heavenly throne, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to mark, claim and indwell the people of God; all those who have given allegiance to Jesus. Of all the things in Christianity, this is the one item which underscores a demarcation from those who have not been baptized: Christians are precisely those people in whom the true and living God has given His Spirit.
Pentecost is like a major scriptural hub, too, with many themes converging on this single event, the four most important being:
(1) Pentecost culminates the work of Christ — redemption having been accomplished now it is applied.
(2) Jesus’ Ascension (Acts 1:6-11).
(3) The promised gift of the Holy Spirit of God (Joel 2:27-28; John 14:25-26; Acts 1:8)
(4) The inclusion of gentiles into the people of God, thus reversing the exile of the nations (i.e. the Gentiles) in Genesis 11:1-9 — a text always paired with Acts 2:1-21. Jew and Gentile now comprise God’s Israel.
There are numerous ways to explore the depths of Pentecost, including following the threads from Luke to Acts; Genesis 11 commenting on Acts 2 and Acts 2 commenting on Genesis 11; Christ’s gifting of the Holy Spirit as fulfilled promise from the Hebrew Scriptures but especially Jesus’ own words in the Gospel lesson from John 14:23-31; Pentecost as the advancement of the Kingdom of God—the Church—so as to include the Gentiles (Psalm 2:8; Isaiah 61:9; Malachi 3:12). It is important to remember how Acts is telling a story and the Ascension, followed by Pentecost, is the launching point into the history of the Christian Church as the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel. This story does not merely convey information, that is, it does not merely mean something, it is principally meant to do something to the reader and auditor. It is meant to bring the Law and the Gospel to bear upon everyone who hears this word because Jesus is the world’s rightful King and only Savior (Acts 4:12).
The Law and the Gospel preach well through this text. The Law gathers all humanity and exiles them with and in the Gentiles of Genesis 11. We are the descendants of our fallen parent, Adam, and condemned therein. All humanity is scattered from the presence of God and confused in their understanding of the covenanting word of God. That is our lot. “You who were far off” (Ephesians 2:13), are precisely those who are, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Then comes the Gospel. Jesus has fulfilled our covenant obligations both meritoriously and punitively, “doing all things which please the Father” (John 8:29), and, “bearing for the taking away the sins of the world” (John 1:19 my translation). Suddenly, stunningly, Babel is reversed! The exile is over for the Gentiles — hearing the Word of God proclaimed in vulgar gentile languages is an invitation out of the First Adam’s broken covenant and into the everlasting Covenant established by the Last Adam — Jesus Christ, a covenant established in His blood. Having made atonement for our sins and expiating them, we are cleansed and donned with the righteousness of Christ. Having been cleansed by Christ, we are endowed with the Holy Spirit: humanity redeemed, humanity renewed. Where once there was alienation in exile, now there is adoption and reconciliation. Where once there was confession and death, now there is illumination and life.
Extraordinary language in the first century was reserved only for the most extraordinary events, especially among the Jews. Extraordinary events were things God did. If an epic-making mighty act was done, it was probably something God did to alter history. When something like the movement of the Almighty God was taking place, then Jews—like the Apostles who followed Jesus—reached back into their history, into the Hebrew Scriptures, and pulled out stunning images and illusions which already tagged the unique hand of Yahweh. This is why, on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostles—who they once knew as certifiably dead, but now thoroughly and transformatively alive—started to describe Him, His work, and His acts with the most remarkable language and references known to them. They spoke of a powerful wind rushing through the House—God’s Temple in Jerusalem—and the wind, the Spirit, entering them, overwhelming them. They spoke about tongues of fire resting on them and transforming them from the inside out. They picked up from the Creation story the image of the Spirit of God brooding over the waters of chaos, bringing to birth a new world of order and life. They then applied it to Jesus’ work of re-creation, beginning with the resurrection of His body and now continuing with the resurrection of their spirits. They talked about the big event of what happened on Pentecost with the biggest story conceivable — the origins of the universe, the dawning of the world, the advent of history itself. It did not get any bigger than the moment of creation and so, on the day of Pentecost, only language fit for the recreation of the world and humanity would do.
Babel epitomized man’s religion and left the nations in a state of confusion, estrangement and exile. Then God calls forth one man, Abraham, and so the beginning of a new people dawns. That is the type. The antitype is God calling forth His only begotten Son, Jesus, from whom a new people dawn, namely those born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5).
Pentecost enables us to understand the whole New Testament vision of the Church—the new creation, the new kingdom on earth, the kingdom that has come where God rules on earth as He does in Heaven. It grows directly out of the vision of God’s holy ones, the Saints. They are those who have been made saints by the cleansing work of Christ on the Cross which is brought to bear on those who receive holy baptism. These holy ones, “receive the Kingdom,” the same kingdom spoken of in Daniel 7. The Kingdom is yours. Holy baptism is the point of contact.
Pentecost affords preachers the opportunity to exploit Law and Gospel, death and resurrection in connection with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism. “All of you who have been baptized,” are the ones Jesus has cleansed and united to Himself (Galatians 3:27) precisely so you may be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is the gifting of the Spirit in Holy Baptism which renders you holy or, synonymously, saints (even though we may not live so saintly). This is only so insofar as we first understand how the idea of being a holy one of God is shrunk down to one man, Jesus Himself, and opened-up thereafter to His followers. Once this is clear, the way is open for a fresh understanding of how the Cross yields a new kingdom, as we find it described in Revelation 1:5-6, 9-10.
This vision of a community rescued, redeemed, renewed, recreated, regenerated by the Cross, empty tomb, and tethered to Christ through Holy Baptism, this community is the one transformed into kingdom-bringers. This is the culmination of the story the four evangelists have been reporting: a new beginning for humankind, not as the result of refinancing or reduced carbon emissions, but as a result of the time-splitting action of God drawing a line between those with eyes wide open to see how they are not in charge (nor the answer!) and those who confess Jesus is in charge and He is the answer.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Acts 2:1-21
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Acts 2:1-21.