25 May 2015

Homily for the Day of Pentecost

"The Pentecost Harvest"
Acts 2:1-21 & John 14:23-31

Listen here.

If you want to know who the Holy Spirit is and what He does, don’t listen to the Pentecostals or the Charismatics. They get it all wrong. They insist that the Holy Spirit is somehow in business for Himself, making a name for Himself, doing His own thing, making us ooh and aah over unusual things like hearing unknown, babbling languages. Instead, if you truly want to know who the Holy Spirit is and what He does, listen to Jesus. He says, “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 that I have said to you.” No “Lone-Ranger” Holy Spirit there! With Father and Son, He is God, and He works in concert with the Father and the Son. And His number one work is to point you to Jesus.

Jesus also says, “When the Helper comes, who I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me” (Jn. 15:26). The Holy Spirit is God, comes from God, and testifies about our Lord Jesus and His salvation. Jesus also says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you” (Jn. 16:13-14). Nope, no “Lone-Ranger,” independent contractor work for the Holy Spirit! Instead, He comes to guide you into the Truth—and Truth has a name; His name is Jesus. The Spirit takes the things of Jesus—His forgiveness, His life, and His salvation—and He declares them to you.

If you want to know what this Day of Pentecost is all about, again, don’t listen to the Pentecostals or the Charismatics. They focus on the out-of-the-ordinary “mighty rushing wind” and the “divided tongues as of fire”—as if we should expect those same spectacular things actually to benefit us in our normal, non-spectacular lives today. They miss the point! If you truly want to know what this Day of Pentecost is all about, listen to God in His Word.

This “Day of Pentecost” is also called “The Feast of Pentecost.” It comes straight from the Old Testament, and it reminds us of a festival, or feast, God gave for a fiftieth day (The word “pentecost” means fifty.). St. Paul speaks of questions of festivals and Sabbaths and then says, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:17). Just as the Holy Spirit does, those Old Testament feasts and festivals—including Pentecost—point us to Christ Jesus Himself.

Let’s start with the biggie of Old Testament feasts—the Feast of Passover. About 1500 years before Jesus, God was about to lead His people out of Egyptian slavery. He told Moses how to celebrate a feast for this deliverance. Take a lamb. Slit its throat. Paint the blood on the doorposts, so that the Angel of Death would pass over the homes and the people could live. Roast the lamb. Eat it, all of it, with a meal that rehearses the Lord’s mighty acts of rescuing His people from slavery. And celebrate this feast every year.

When Jesus comes to deliver us from our slavery to sin and death, He actually comes as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). He is slain when He is nailed to the cross. And that happens on Passover. His blood covers us so that we may live and not see eternal death. And, on the night when He is betrayed, when He celebrates the Passover meal with His disciples, He even gives us His Body and His Blood for us to eat and to drink and thus live in His mighty acts of rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil. And we get to celebrate this new, Christian “passover meal,” not just once a year, but every Lord’s Day and at other times. Jesus fulfills the Old Testament Passover feast for us. “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).

Close on the heels of Passover came another ancient feast: the Feast of Firstfruits. At the same time of the year as Passover—late March or early April—during the same week as Passover, God’s people living in God’s Promised Land would see the first fruits in their wheat and barley fields. God told Moses to tell the people: “You shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted” (Lev. 23:10-11). Along with this ritual action of waving the sheaves that God had given, God’s people would offer sacrifices of thanksgiving—lambs and grain and wine—and would feast on the Lord’s goodness. After this Feast of Firstfruits, every household in Israel could enjoy the new harvest. It joined together their “eating of ordinary meals at home with sacred meals at the sanctuary” (Kleinig, Leviticus, 502).

Jesus fulfills the Passover Feast in His death on the cross. He also fulfills the Feast of Firstfruits in His resurrection, at the same time of year, in the same week, on the third day. For several weeks now, we’ve been celebrating what St. Paul boldly proclaimed: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). The first fruits of the wheat field give hope and promise that more fruits, more heads of grain, will soon follow. Christ Jesus is the first fruits of all of us who are bound to fall asleep into death. But High Priest Jesus waves the first fruits of His resurrection for all to see—you, me, all people, even God the Father. More resurrections are sure to come—for you, for me, for all who trust Jesus for forgiveness, life, and salvation. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:21-23). “Jesus’ resurrection marked the beginning of the harvest time that will not end until the close of the age” (Kleinig, Leviticus, 509).

Now we’re ready for the Feast called Pentecost—the feast of day fifty, also called the feast of weeks. In the Old Testament—fifty days after Passover; that is, seven weeks after Passover—the people would once again bring their sheaves of wheat for the priest to wave as an offering. These sheaves now came from the full harvest. God had made the fields fruitful. God had provided for them from His land. God had caused the harvest. Now His people could enjoy God’s mighty works of providing for them.

How does our Lord Jesus fulfill the Feast of Pentecost? He keeps His promise to send the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit manifests Himself on Pentecost, Jesus’ disciples begin speaking in various normal and down-to-earth languages. And what do they speak? “The mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11)--His works of saving and forgiving us sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus. When the Holy Spirit manifests Himself on Pentecost, God is causing a harvest—a harvest of people who hear the mighty, saving works of God in Christ Jesus in their own languages, a harvest of people who rejoice in Jesus’ death and resurrection for them, a harvest of people who live in the new life of Jesus. That harvest is YOU and all Christians. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). Welcome to the Pentecost harvest! “At Pentecost God the Father poured out the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Christ. He did not give them the blessings of a bountiful harvest from the land, but conveyed the firstfruits of the Spirit to them as his priests through the risen Lord Jesus” (Kleinig, Leviticus, 509).

You, and I, and all who hear and receive the Gospel of Jesus ARE the harvest. “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). And God the Holy Spirit—along with the Father and the Son—will bring in the full harvest on the Last Day. You, and I, and all who hear and receive the Gospel of Jesus “have been redeemed from mankind” and are “firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4). That’s what Pentecost is all about, and that’s who the Holy Spirit is and what He does FOR YOU. Amen.

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