“The Holy Spirit Changes Jesus’ Disciples”

(Acts 2:1-13 – Pentecost – June 9, 2019)

Acts 2:1-13 – When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs – we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”

Dear fellow Redeemed in Christ Jesus:

Today we celebrate Pentecost, in remembrance of the visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples at Jerusalem. Ten days before Pentecost, the day Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples: “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now… You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:5-8).

This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Jews were celebrating an ancient harvest festival, in which they offered the first fruits of the harvest to God to thank Him. On this day, the apostles and many other disciples of Jesus were gathered “with one accord in one place.” In those days, the believers in Jerusalem numbered about 120 (Acts 1:15). Perhaps many of them were together on this festival day of Pentecost.

“Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

With this outpouring of the Spirit, the festival of Pentecost took on new meaning. It marked the fulfillment of God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on all His people (Joel 2:28-29), a day when the Spirit began a great harvest of souls in the New Testament Church. In connection to this, let us see how “The Holy Spirit Changes Jesus’ Disciples”: 1) In their strengthened faith, 2) In their new courage to confess Christ, and 3) In their burning missionary zeal.

1) In their strengthened faith

The disciples’ lives up to this time often showed that they had been weak in faith. For example, once during a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee they had despaired of their lives, thinking Jesus was going to let them drown, even though He was right there with them in the boat. At that time, Jesus had addressed them as: “O you of little faith” (Matthew 8:26).

Another time, Jesus was telling His disciples that prophecy would be fulfilled in His suffering, death, and resurrection. We are told: “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:34). In other words, they did not rightly understand or believe God’s prophecy in Scripture that the redemption of sinners must come through Jesus’ suffering and death. They still hoped God’s people would be redeemed from their troubles by Jesus establishing an earthly kingdom.

But on Pentecost, the disciples were changed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Now their faith became firm. The Spirit enlightened their understanding and gave them a right knowledge of Scripture and Jesus’ redeeming work. Jesus had promised that they would receive this enlightening when He said in John 14:26: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

Now by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, they were enabled to trust God’s Word firmly, over their own human reason and understanding. And just as miraculously, by the work of the Holy Spirit, they were enabled to proclaim this Word of God in many new languages. Visitors at Jerusalem, who had come from many different nations for the Pentecost festival, said in amazement: “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?” The Holy Spirit changed the disciples that day, helping them to believe God’s Word firmly, and to preach it effectively.

How about us? Like Jesus’ disciples, haven’t we often been weak in our faith? During the storms of life, when the winds and waves of trial kick up, how often have we despaired, thinking Jesus was going to let us drown in our troubles? This has been true even though He promises that He will always be with us, and never leave nor forsake us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). The problem is that we trust our own reason and understanding over His Word of promise. How often has Jesus needed to address us also as “O you of little faith”?  Like the one man who approached Jesus, we pray: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

And truly it is Jesus’ desire to strengthen our faith in His saving power. He does this the same way He did for those disciples that first Pentecost – by sending His Holy Spirit upon us, the Spirit of truth who teaches us all things and reminds us of everything He has said.

Today, the Holy Spirit does not descend on us visibly as He did that first Pentecost. Yet we receive the Spirit’s power and blessing in full today, through God’s Word and Sacraments. Titus 3:5-6 tells us about the Holy Spirit’s work in Baptism. It tells us that God “saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” The Holy Spirit continues to come to us through Scripture, to enlighten our understanding, to remind us of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection for our eternal life. The Holy Spirit is present in Holy Communion, assuring us of the truth Jesus taught us, that we receive His true Body and Blood for our forgiveness and salvation.

So as we are gathered “with one accord” on this Pentecost day, just as the disciples long ago, our living Savior is sending His Spirit upon us today. The same Spirit of God is being poured out on us abundantly to strengthen us in faith, through His Word and Sacraments.

2) In their new courage to confess Christ

And secondly, as we see in our text, when the Holy Spirit strengthened the disciples’ faith, they had new courage to confess Christ.

Before Pentecost, the disciples were as weak in their confession as they were in their faith. Of course, in Jesus’ presence, they had often talked big and looked bold. The night before Jesus’ death, when He told them that they would all fall away on account of Him, they refused to believe it could happen (Matthew 26:31-35). Yet how shamefully they all fled when Jesus was arrested that night! Later, Peter denied even knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75).

But how differently they acted after the Holy Spirit changed them on Pentecost! When the multitude heard the mighty wind, and crowded around the place the disciples were assembled, this time the disciples did not run away. Instead, they took advantage of this opportunity to preach Christ as the crucified and risen Savior for all sinners. Not only did they speak freely in different languages, as the Spirit enabled them; but they spoke boldly, as the Spirit enabled them. Peter stood up confronted the Jews with the condemnation of God’s Law, telling them they had killed their Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Then just as boldly, he preached the Gospel, inviting them: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Do we have such courage to confess Christ openly, as the only Savior of sinners? Or does our sinful nature keep us timid? Do we fear losing friends, or being mistreated for Jesus’ sake? He says: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

As we see the weak and wavering spirit we all too often have shown, let us confess our sins to Jesus. Let us come to Him for forgiveness for all the shameful ways we have fled from His side and disowned Him before men. Let us confess all our sins, knowing that Jesus washes them all away by His blood, which He shed on the cross for us (1 John 1:7-9).

In the peace of Jesus’ forgiveness and the joy of His salvation, the Holy Spirit gives us new boldness to share His Gospel with fellow sinners. Like the repentant and forgiven David, we pray with Psalm 51:12-15: Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.”

Like the first disciples, let us pray that the Holy Spirit guide us into all truth by His Word; and that by the power of His saving truth, He may move us to confess Christ with new courage.

3) In their burning missionary zeal

Then like those first disciples, we will also be filled with burning missionary zeal, to extend Jesus’ kingdom “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Before the day of Pentecost, the disciples had not shown such great missionary zeal. For example, there was the time when children were brought to Jesus that He might bless them, but the disciples rebuked those who brought them, thinking Jesus had no time for such little ones. This greatly displeased Jesus (Mark 10:13). Or there was the time when the Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter, but the impatient disciples told Jesus: “Send her away, for she cries out after us” (Matthew 15:23). This was against the will of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit; for Jesus said: the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).

But on the day of Pentecost, a great change took place in the disciples. After they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they realized that Jesus’ Kingdom is not one of earthly power and glory, but a spiritual and eternal kingdom. It is a Kingdom that can be built up and extended only by the preaching of God’s Word and the administration of His Sacraments, through which the Holy Spirit gives sinners saving faith in Christ and continues to strengthen that faith. So at once, they began to preach that Word to the crowds, telling all who listened to repent and be baptized.

As the Spirit filled them with missionary zeal to preach the Word, about three thousand souls were added to the number of believers on that first Pentecost day (Acts 2:41). As the disciples realized the Spirit’s power to work spiritual life in people through God’s Word and Sacrament, from that day on their missionary zeal never quit. It only became more intense, so that they were willing to experience great hardships, and even death, for the sake of the Gospel.

Again, it is the Holy Spirit who can fill our hearts with such a burning missionary zeal and desire to bring the saving Gospel to lost souls around us. It is the Spirit who leads us to offer our time and abilities, our money and prayers, in the mission work of winning souls for Christ. We can trust the Spirit’s power to work change in hearts through our Gospel mission right here, and through the work of our mission fields we support around the world.

What a great privilege we have been given as disciples of our living Savior, to be able to share His Good News of forgiveness and salvation won for all people. Let us pray for God to send the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith, to fill our hearts with new courage to confess salvation in Christ, and to give us a burning missionary zeal as His witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.