Cross, Tomb, and Spirit

Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine." 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, and make our hearts your place of rest; come with your grace and heav’nly aid, and fill the hearts which you have made. Amen. (CW: 177 v1)

He was frightened by the charges of those around the fire.

He was terrified by the accusing voices in the darkness.

He was petrified by the allegations of a teenage girl.

Peter had been a quivering mess. He so desperately wanted to hide his connections to Jesus that he denied ever knowing the man. He so vehemently denounced being a Galilean disciple that he called down curses upon himself to embolden his testimony. (Mark 14:66-71)

A few hours earlier, Peter promised that he would be willing to die with Jesus (Mark 14:31). But as Jesus was being led to His death, Peter ran away crying, after having denied His Rabbi, Friend, and Savior three times.

But now it is 51 days later. It is the Feast of Pentecost. It is no longer darkness, but nine in the morning. It is no longer a small group gathered in the high priest’s courtyard, but thousands of Jewish pilgrims gathered within the temple courtyard. Peter is no longer denying Jesus or calling down curses upon himself or hiding behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). He is out in front preaching Jesus, calling down Law and Gospel, and boldly proclaiming that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21).

Peter may still be speaking with a Galilean accent … but now he is preaching in the language of Parthians, Medes, and Elamites with that Galilean accent (Acts 2:9).

Something has changed in Peter over the course of those 51 days. The cross, tomb, and Spirit have changed Peter from a quivering, denying mess into a bold preacher of salvation in Jesus Christ alone.

How often aren’t we like Peter around the fire, hiding in the shadows, afraid of our connection to Jesus? We live in perilous times for Christians. Our world seems to have gone crazy over bathroom wars and gay wedding cakes. We, as Christians, are accused of being bigoted without ever opening our mouths. By God’s grace, this morning John and Katrina are joining Epiphany and the WELS through adult confirmation. They already know what it’s like to be identified as being WELS Lutherans. Because we are so positively for God’s Word and His will, we are often portrayed negatively as being against this cause or that lifestyle. At our pre-marriage workshop last month, one of the couples said they were berated by their co-workers and friends for NOT living together before getting married. There is a constant caustic and cynical sarcasm seeking to discredit our faith in Christ.

And so we are tempted to hide our faith. To keep our connection to Jesus in the shadows. To remain silent about our faith. To swallow our testimony about our Savior. To hide behind locked doors. To give in to the pressure of an unbelieving world. To sing: “Bring Low the Cross” (CW: 579) or “Take a Break, Christian Soldiers” (CW: 537) or “Sit Down, Sit Down, for Jesus” (CW: 474).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this should not be. It doesn’t have to be this way. For the same events that changed Peter have also changed you – the cross, the tomb, and the Holy Spirit.

The Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and even modern day ISIS have used the cross as a particularly shocking, painful, and embarrassing way to die. Indeed, in the Roman world, crucifixion was so horrifying that it was against the law to crucify any Roman citizen. Even the Bible reflects the terrible connotations of the cross when it says, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23).

Peter was shocked and embarrassed that his Messiah was put to death on a cross. He was also terrified that he might be found by the Jewish or Roman soldiers and put to death on a cross, as well.

Yet the cross is the way God’s Son died to take away the world’s sins.

Whether it was early in Christianity or two thousand years later, it seems unthinkable that God’s Son would die such a shameful death. St. Paul acknowledged that position when he wrote to the church in Corinth: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The message of the cross eventually changed Peter so that he boldly preached to the people at Pentecost: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

The symbol of the cross has also been changed by the sacrifice of the Savior. By God’s grace, and through Jesus’ resurrection victory, the hated symbol of death has been transformed and become the beloved symbol of forgiveness and eternal life.

It was six years ago when we first used the processional cross for our Pentecost worship. The cross has changed us. We don’t want to hide our faith in the shadows. We boldly parade our faith in the crucified Savior at every festival service as we process into church lifting high the cross of Christ.

Our processional cross was made specifically for Epiphany. It is made to match our oak woodwork, yet stained a little lighter to stand out. It is made in the shape of a Celtic cross with a nimbus or halo around the cross which symbolizes eternity. The cross is a crucifix. The body or corpus of Christ is hanging upon the cross for we preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). The design of the corpus of Christ surrounded by the asymmetrical mosaic symbolizes how Jesus was made sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). The mosaic looks broken because we are made whole in Christ.

The cross changed Peter and us. So does the open and empty tomb.

Peter went to the tomb on Easter dawn and found it empty. He then saw His risen Christ – privately on Easter morning, in the locked room on Easter evening, and then again on the Galilean shore. Though we haven’t traveled to see the empty resurrection tomb, we believe the testimony of Peter, the women, and the angels. You and I have not seen the risen Christ with our own eyes. But we have seen Him with the eyes of faith. Jesus Himself says that we are more blessed by not seeing, but still believing: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).   

Through His open tomb, we have a Savior who forgives our cowardice, who extinguishes our apathy, and who emboldens our confidence.

Now we are sent out to proclaim the cross and the open tomb. But we aren’t sent out alone. Jesus has promised us the same Spirit that He gave to His disciples. “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).

This Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles on Pentecost morning. The walls of the house shook. The sound of rushing wind filled their ears. Tongues of fire rested upon the apostles’ heads. They were enabled to speak in unlearned foreign languages by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then Peter and the rest of the apostles went outside to preach the sacrificial cross and empty tomb of Jesus the Christ.

The Holy Spirit was poured out on you in your baptism and His holy Word. That day when you were baptized or converted, the Holy Spirit came upon you much more silently … but no less powerfully.

Now the Holy Spirit continues to be sent to you as you hear His words of truth; as you are convicted of your sin and made to repent of that sin; as you recall your baptism; as you remember your confirmation vows; as you taste the very body and blood of Christ.

The Spirit testifies to Jesus. The Holy Spirit breaks down the barriers of your fears and teaches you to trust in the crucified and risen Christ. He calls you to leave behind your life of sin and calls you to live a holy life of faith and good works. He calls you to follow Jesus today and forever.

On his own in the darkness around the fire in the high priest’s courtyard, Peter was petrified. He felt alone and so he was afraid. But after seeing the risen and crucified Christ ascend into heaven and after receiving the power of the Holy Spirit along with his brothers and sisters in the faith that Pentecost morning, Peter realized he was not alone. He would never be alone again. God the Father was watching over him. God the Son was always with him (Matthew 28:20). And God the Holy Spirit was within him in faith (John 14:17).

My dear Pentecost Christians, you are not on your own. You are not left to your own devices. You are not ever alone. Jesus has given you His Spirit, the Counselor and Comforter to guide you into all truth. The Spirit has connected you to the Christ and the Christ has connected you to the Father. The work of the Trinity comes together in the cross, the open tomb, and the Pentecost miracle. That Father sends the Son. The Son accomplishes His Father’s saving purpose. And the Spirit makes known this glorious Gospel so that you might believe and then share this Gospel that others might believe.

The Spirit works in us in the same way He worked within Peter. He moved Peter away from the charcoal fire and the locked room and out into the bright light of the temple courtyard. He moved Peter away from hiding his faith and shirking his responsibility as a disciple to emboldening Peter to preach his faith and take on the mantle of an apostle. He moved Peter to proclaim the promises of the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord Jesus.

The Spirit does the same work in us. Though we are tempted to keep our faith hidden, the Spirit moves us to let our light shine. Though we are tempted to swallow our testimony about our Savior, the Spirit moves us to proclaim Him who died and rose and ascended into heaven. Though we are tempted to be ashamed of the cross of Christ, the Spirit moves us to process into church lifting high Christ’s cross.

The cross, tomb, and Spirit change everything – first for Peter, then for us. Amen.

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.