Not the Same

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.'

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

If you Google “Pentecost” images and you will discover all kinds of Pentecost type images, artwork, icons, and symbols. Undoubtedly, the one image that will appear first in your Google search is the “Pentecost” artwork by Jean Restout II. It is just not the same as the others!

This masterpiece of the 18th century is enormous. The painting is 15 ½ feet x 25 ½ feet. The painting once adorned the refectory (dining room) of the Abbey of Saint-Denis outside Paris. It has been part of the artwork of the Louvre in Paris since 1944.

Jean Restout II’s masterpiece is not like other Pentecost paintings. He captures the high drama of the events of that day! The apostles demonstrate all kinds of emotion at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – fear, awe, amazement, power, humility, etc. Mary, the mother of Jesus, stands at the center. She appears calm and blessed. It is very similar to the way I picture Mary with the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation or when the shepherds show up in the stable at Jesus’ birth or with Simeon at the temple with the eight-day-old Jesus.

Mary and the disciples were not the same after Pentecost, either!

Before the Festival of Pentecost, Mary and Jesus’ brothers questioned Jesus’ divinity and authority, and on at least one occasion thought that He was “out of His mind” (Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:21). Peter was not strong enough to stand up for Jesus to a servant girl (Matthew 26:69). James and John jockeyed for positions of power. Thomas doubted. The rest of the disciples took turns questioning, refusing to believe, and cowering in fear.

When the day of Pentecost came, Jesus’ male and female disciples were all together in one place – perhaps the same place that Jesus and the disciples had used for the Passover Meal seven weeks earlier. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. The apostolic band, once cowering in an upper room behind locked doors, now is filled with God’s Holy Spirit, filled with boldness, filled with courage, filled with the fire of God’s Word.

What they once were, we still are. What they became by the power of the Holy Spirit, we pray to become.

We hear Jesus speaking to us in His Word; we’ve memorized His commandments; we’ve promised faithfulness in our confirmation vows; and yet, we so often do what we want, when we want, as often as we want. We just ignore what God, along with His prophets and apostles, have been telling us. We don’t think that our sins are really all that serious or that there could be any eternal consequences waiting for us because of our sins.

We promise to be faithful, even to the point of death, unless the weather is bad or the weather is nice, unless there is a soccer game or a basketball tournament or a vacation planned. We don’t think we need God’s Word. We don’t think we need the Lord’s Supper.

We commit ourselves to the Lord in our youth or adult confirmation ceremony, but then we cower in fear when someone questions our God. We hide our faith, our Christianity, our Lutheranism, behind locked doors because we are afraid of behind challenged, confronted, or bullied.

We trust in the Lord when things are going well, but are so quick to doubt God’s love when the car breaks down, the bank account is depleted or the doctor’s prognosis is not good.

We love it when Jesus is displaying His power in healing our child in the hospital room, but then think He is “out of His mind” when we are at the funeral home.

This is often the way we are … but, we don’t want to be that way anymore.

That’s why the Festival of Pentecost is so important. It is one of the three high festivals of the Christian Church year – along with Christmas and Easter. Pentecost reminds us of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised His disciples.

The Holy Spirit came on you with power at your Baptism. You were anointed with the Holy Spirit when the pastor poured water and Word over your head. That’s the moment when the Spirit cleaned house in your heart. He threw the devil out and made room for Jesus’ throne.

The Holy Spirit comes on you with power in the Lord’s Supper. You have lived the past week trying to fulfill your vocation as a parent, child, employer, employee, citizen, etc. You are weak and worn out. You have sullied your reputation and Christ’s good name. You have done and said some things that you are not proud of. You need the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is in this meal where the Spirit strengthens your soul, feeds your faith, and nourishes you with the body and blood of the eternal Son of God for another week in your vocation. 

The Holy Spirit comes on you at the beginning of each worship service or when you are kneeling beside your bed in confession. The Spirit uses His Word to change you. Change in the Christian Church is all about repentance. The Spirit confronts you with the Law as the wayward and erring soul you are. He shows you the severity of your sins and how you along with the help of wicked men put Jesus to death by nailing Him to the cross (Acts 2:23). The Spirit then uses the Gospel to rescue your broken soul with the promise of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. He tells you again and again that God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on the Son of God (Acts 2:24). This is the kind of change that the Holy Spirit brings again and again through confession and absolution, Word and Sacrament. 

This is not the kind of change that happens at home; nor does it happen overnight. Rather, this change comes upon you slowly and gradually as the Spirit is working in His temple here in church through liturgy, Scripture readings, and hymns; at the pew, font, pulpit, altar, and communion rail.

Look forward to no longer being the same. The Holy Spirit is at work in you. Discouraged folks, He will cheer you up. Dishonest folks, He will lead you to confess up. Sour folks, He will sweeten you up. Gossipers, He will shut you up. Lukewarm folks, He will fire you up. Dry bones, He will liven you up.

The crowds at that first Pentecost asked a very Lutheran question: “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) What does Pentecost mean? It means that we aren’t the same as we were before. You aren’t even the same as you were when you walked into church this morning. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit means that you and I can have a renewed, restored, and right relationship with God now and forever. It means that we can live a life of faith that begins to transform our hearts and minds to be like Christ. It means that we have been given an abundant, eternal, and purposeful life in and for Jesus Christ.

After the Pentecost event, the apostles were never the same! I don’t know if any of the other followers of Jesus – besides His mother, Mary, and John, the disciple whom He loved – had the courage to climb Golgotha’s hill on Friday afternoon. They may or may not have seen the crucified Christ.

But they certainly saw the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:3)! He appeared to hundreds of witnesses over 40 days.

They received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17)! They were a portion of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “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.”

On the surface, the apostles look the same. Peter is still bold. Nathanael is still contemplative. Philip is still calculating. Andrew is still identifying. Thomas is still validating.

They look the same. But they aren’t …

They have seen the resurrected Christ! They have received the Holy Spirit!

Peter is no longer afraid of servant girls beside an early morning fire. Now he is preaching boldly to thousands gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14).

Philip is no longer wondering how so many can be fed on a hillside (John 6:5). Now he is driving out evil spirits and baptizing Ethiopian eunuchs (Acts 8).

James, Jude, and the other brothers of Jesus are no longer unbelievers. Now they are bold witnesses for the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:7; Jude).

James and John are no longer arguing over places in God’s kingdom. Thomas is no longer doubting Christ’s resurrection. John is no longer streaking away from temple guards. Instead, John was imprisoned on the island of Patmos, the rest of the apostles were put to death by crucifixion, fire, stoning, or heathen spears. They were no longer hiding behind locked doors. Instead, they boldly preached Christ’s name in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The risen Christ has appeared to them. The heavenly Father has forgiven them. The Holy Spirit dwells within them. They are not the same. And because they are different, so is the world.

The Holy Spirit has been poured out on you in your Baptism. The heavenly Father has forgiven you in the Absolution following your confession of sins. The risen Christ speaks to you in your Bible. The Triune God sends you home with His threefold blessing.

The Holy Spirit changes you. He makes you bold to preach your faith. He makes you confident to live your faith. He makes you faithful to live your faith. He makes you expectant, ready to die for your faith.

The apostles were not the same after their dramatic encounter with the Triune God … and neither are you. Amen.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Amen.