“The Spirit’s Gifts on Pentecost”
(Acts 2:1-11 – Pentecost – May 23, 2021)
Acts 2:1-11 – 1When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. 6And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. 7Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs – we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”
Dear Redeemed of God in Christ, who share in His salvation through faith given by His Spirit:
When we see a UPS truck coming down the road and stopping in front of our home, it can be exciting. Oh, there is nothing exciting about the truck itself – basically a brown box on wheels; and there may be nothing exciting about the driver, dressed in a plain brown uniform. But there is something exciting about what that truck and driver bring. In the plain old box they bear to our door there may be valuable items we looked forward to receiving with excitement.
In some ways, the work of the Holy Spirit may be compared to a UPS truck and driver. Now the Spirit Himself, as part of the triune God with the Father and the Son, is exciting. He is not just an impersonal power coming from God. He is the third Person of the Trinity who shares equal glory, majesty, and power together with the Father and the Son as one God from eternity. Yet by and large, as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, He does not come in exciting and flashy ways – at least as far the world sees things. As Jesus told His disciples in John 14:16-17: “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the truth of God’s salvation in Christ to us, to deliver to us all the gifts of salvation Christ has won for us – the forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life. All these gifts have become ours through the faith which the Spirit works in our hearts. In bringing us these gifts, the Spirit comes in the plain and simple packaging of God’s Word and Sacraments. Yet the spiritual and eternal gifts He gives are valuable beyond compare. Through these humble means of grace, the Spirit applies the Gospel to us, which is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
As we see on the day of Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, He wants to bring these gifts to many more people. The Spirit moved those first disciples to preach in Jesus’ name beginning at Jerusalem, in a Gospel mission that would continue to the end of the earth. So by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Church of believers continues to grow. Therefore let us consider “The Spirit’s Gifts on Pentecost”: 1) He came with special gifts on the first Pentecost, and 2) He still brings His gifts in truth and power to this day.
1) He came with special gifts on the first Pentecost
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit with special gifts, to enable them to proclaim His Gospel with truth and power. Jesus told them in John 14:26: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” And in John 16:13: “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.” Not only would He come as the Spirit of truth to guide them, but also as the Spirit of power to accompany the Gospel and cause it to bear fruit. Before His ascension Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8 “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.”
Then ten days later, the Spirit of truth and power did come in what we might call an exciting and flashy way. In those days, the disciples and all the believers numbered about 120 souls (Acts 1:15). As our text reports: “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” (vs. 1-4).
Here the words of John the Baptist were fulfilled, who had said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11). The flames that came to rest on their heads were only an outward indication of what was going on within them. As it says: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit of truth and power took full possession of them. He enlightened their understanding by teaching and reminding them of all that Jesus had said. The Spirit gave them a perfect knowledge of how Jesus had fulfilled all the Scriptures, through His perfect life and innocent death to redeem sinners, and in His victorious resurrection and ascension to the right hand of His Father as the living Savior. The Spirit drove away from their minds every fear, so that they would no longer hide behind locked doors in fear of Jesus’ enemies. Instead, the Spirit filled them with bold enthusiasm to go out and do their Lord’s work, proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ to all nations, beginning here at Jerusalem.
Now to this end, the Holy Spirit worked a miracle in the disciples that first Pentecost. As the believers were all filled with the Holy Spirit, they “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (vs. 4). The fact that these tongues refer to known human languages becomes clear as we read on: “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?'” (vs. 5-8).
The list of nations which follows indicates that these people had come from foreign lands in every direction around Israel. Many had come to Jerusalem at the time of an annual harvest festival to be near God’s temple in worship. As they were drawn by the sound of the mighty wind from heaven, and they heard the disciples speaking fluently by the Spirit, in languages they had not previously learned, the crowd that gathered acknowledged the miracle, exclaiming: “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (vs. 11).
So as Jesus promised, the Spirit of truth and power came with special gifts that first Pentecost. The early history of the Church in the age of the apostles was marked by miraculous gifts of the Spirit like speaking in tongues, prophesying the future, and performing miracles of healing and even raising the dead. These special gifts accompanied the apostles’ preaching, to mark the authority of Christ’s Gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in that Gospel.
2) He still brings His gifts in truth and power to this day
Today, these special gifts of the Spirit do not continue the same way as in the early church. But the most important gifts of the Spirit continue. The Spirit of truth and power still accompanies Christ’s Gospel, causing it to proceed to the end of the earth. Through that Gospel, the Spirit is converting more and more souls to saving faith and eternal life in Christ.
Already on the day of Pentecost, we see the Spirit of truth and power at work, both in the preaching of God’s Word and in the conversion of souls through it. As we read on this chapter, Peter stood up to address the crowd that had assembled. The Holy Spirit enabled him to proclaim God’s Word with a full understanding, as Peter showed the people how all Scripture had been fulfilled in Christ, in His death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. Peter’s Spirit-filled sermon included preaching of God’s Law, to convict them of their sin and show them their need for the Savior. When that Law had cut them to the heart, they asked: “What shall we do?” Then Peter declared the Gospel, showing how Jesus had saved them from sin. He told 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.” And by the power of the Spirit working in their hearts through the Gospel, we are told: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:37-41).
On this day of Pentecost, we give thanks to God that His Spirit graciously continues His work among us. The Spirit may not come to us today with the audible sound of a mighty wind from heaven, filling this house of God, as He did that first Pentecost. Yet the Spirit comes to us as a powerful, life-giving wind. He comes as the breath of God, breathing life into us by His Word. In the beginning as God spoke His powerful Word, creating all things, the Spirit breathed life into man. Now, since we fell into sin and lost the holy image of God, it was necessary for the Spirit to breathe new spiritual life into us, to make us God’s new creation in Christ by faith. The Spirit does this through the truth and power of God’s Word at work in us. It is that Word which the Spirit breathed through the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. By the Spirit’s truth and power in that Word, He convicts us of our sin, He creates faith in our hearts, and He breathes new spiritual life into us, uniting us with Christ in eternal life.
The Spirit may not come to us today with visible tongues as of fire to sit upon each of our heads, as He did that first Pentecost. Yet the Spirit comes to us as a purifying fire. Jesus has baptized us with the Holy Spirit, purifying us. In Baptism, that washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, God has poured out the Holy Spirit on us abundantly (Titus 3:5-6). The Spirit has descended on each of us, filling us, dwelling in us as His holy temple. He creates faith in our hearts, connecting us to Jesus’ blood cleansing from sin. So by the redeeming work of God the Son, and the sanctifying work of God the Spirit, we are presented holy in the sight of God our Father. The Spirit continues His work in us as a sanctifying power. He leads us daily in the power of our baptism to drown the sinful nature with its unholy desires, to die to sin in repentance; and to rise with Christ in the power of His resurrection, to walk in newness of life.
The Spirit may not miraculously enable us today to begin speaking fluently in unlearned languages, as He did that first Pentecost, to help proclaim the Gospel. Yet the Spirit does equip each of us, as members of the Body of Christ, with important spiritual gifts that are useful for building each other up – especially as He leads us to share His Word and encourage one another in the faith. And like the believers in the early church, the Spirit leads us boldly to share His Word with others He brings around us, wherever they may have come from, whatever their past may be. He leads us to apply His Word affectively to them; and through that Word, full of the Spirit’s saving truth and life-giving power, He will lead others know Jesus as their Savior.
As the Holy Spirit continues His work among us and in us today, He does not promise to give special gifts the same way He did that first Pentecost. But He does continue to bring us His most important gifts in truth and power. It may not be in exciting and flashy ways, as the world expects to see; it is in some ways more like the UPS truck and driver. The Spirit comes in the plain and simple packaging of God’s Word and Sacraments; yet in these humble means of grace, He applies to each of us the full forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life Christ has won for us. The Spirit fills our hearts, powerfully working faith in us; yet it may show in humble ways, as we use the spiritual gifts He gives to serve one another in even the simplest ways, day by day; and it may show in the quiet fruit of the Spirit He works in us, such as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
And the Spirit, who has begun His good work in us, will faithfully continue to bring it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). Then the simple faith He has worked in us will be turned into glorious sight in the presence of our God and Savior. The spiritual life with which He has filled us will well up in the everlasting life and joys without end in heaven.
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.