Pentecost June 3, 2001
Acts 2:22-24, 37-41
224, 231, 235, 236
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. These are the Words.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who promised to send the Comforter to His disciples, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Ever count the number of chairs in this room? Could you tell me how many there are? There are forty. And one extra for me makes 41. That’s almost exactly the number of souls in our congregation. That means if everybody came to church regularly, there wouldn’t be a single chair empty. If our membership grew by 50%, and everybody came, this room would start to get rather uncomfortably crowded. It’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Well, what would you think if Ascension Lutheran Church instantly grew, not by 50%, but 2400%?! What if, overnight, we went from 39 members to 936?
“Impossible!” you say, “No church could grow that fast!”—But it’s not impossible. Our text for today is about a church that grew by 2400% in one day, and about the power that made such growth possible. The church was the Christian congregation in Jerusalem, the day was Pentecost, and the power behind their fantastic growth was the Holy Spirit. That same power is working today, right here in DuPont. Without Him, nothing can be done, but with Him, anything can be done! Our theme this morning is:
The festival of Pentecost was actually a Jewish feast marking the beginning the harvest season. Faithful Jews came from around the globe to celebrate at the Temple in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the disciples were gathered in a room, waiting for the promised Comforter. Suddenly, there was the noise of a mighty rushing wind; suddenly, there were what appeared to be tongues of fire on their heads. Suddenly, they could speak intelligibly in languages previously unknown to them. By day’s end, the Spirit made believers out of three thousand souls.
So how does the Spirit make believers out of people? He does it through the means of grace—the Gospel in Word and Sacraments. He did it that day through the message Peter preached to those crowds gathered in Jerusalem. And Peter’s message was a message, first, about their wickedness and sin.
Peter did not mince words in his Pentecost sermon. Here, in the same town where a savage crowd had recently screamed for the death of Jesus, Peter had the nerve to tell these people exactly what they had done. He didn’t beat around the bush and try to pass their behavior off as though they didn’t know what they were doing. He didn’t say, “Well, we’ve all got shortcomings,” or, “Nobody’s perfect—we all make mistakes.” Far from it. He uttered words so ominous they sent a chill down the spine of each listener: You people have killed the Lord of Glory! Then Peter proved that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed God’s Son, by citing references from the Old Testament.
Peter talked about sin. In this day and age, a preacher like Peter would probably find himself kicked out of many modern pulpits. Modern Christianity (so we’re told) no longer has room for talk about sin. No, today we reach out to people in love. We’re supposed to be able to help them by using the latest in psychological techniques. Sin is negative, and if we want to have a positive impact on the lives of people, we should accentuate the positive. Whatever we do, we must by all means avoid talking about sin! But then, we’re not the ones who make believers out of people in the first place. The Holy Spirit does that! And the way the Spirit accomplishes that is by the application of Law and Gospel.
The Law is a necessary part of the process. If used correctly, God’s holy Word always strikes the sensitive nerve of guilt within each of us. It clearly and boldly convicts us of sin, and demonstrates to us our hopeless state. Without forceful preaching of the Law, the Gospel ceases to be important. If there’s no sin, then obviously there’s no need for a Savior from sin, is there? Well, this confusion takes place regularly in many so-called “Christian” churches of our nation. If you don’t believe it, try taping one of those television services when you’re away at church on Sunday morning, and play back the sermon when you get home. It will probably be interesting. You’ll probably even hear the words “God,” “Lord” and “Savior” used quite often. But chances are one word you won’t hear very often is “sin.” The subject of sin is routinely avoided—and the listening Christians are gradually transformed thereby into self-righteous Pharisees!
So let’s take a moment to talk about our sins. Pick any of the Ten Commandments at random—say, the Third Commandment, the one about God’s Word. Are you a faithful Bible student? Do you take time to discuss the Scriptures with you family at home? Do you worship here in God’s house at every opportunity? Do you cherish the Word of God so much that it comes before everything else—even your hobbies, even the television? A recent survey shows how most families would answer those questions. 98 out of 100 American families have a Bible in their homes. But only 14 of those 98 families read their Bible at home. What happened to the other 84 families? Could it be that, for them, the Bible has become a lost book—lost, in a world of business, leisure and other activities? And what does God have to say about it all? Here’s what the Lord says, “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.”—John 8:47. And what of those who despise God’s Word? No mystery there. The Book of Proverbs says plainly, “He who despises the word will be destroyed.”—Prov 13:13.
A professor of geology was climbing a high mountain in the Alps. When he approached the peak, he stepped aside and permitted his companion to be the first to reach the top. Overjoyed by the view and forgetting the strong wind that was blowing, the companion stood erect on the mountainside. Quickly the professor pulled him down, shouting, “On your knees, sir! You cannot reach the mountain peak except upon your knees!” Our sinful lives offend God’s Law in so many points that the only way to reach eternal life is on our knees—on our knees in humble, heartfelt repentance. People sometimes think that God will accept them if they simply ‘do the best they can’, but the truth is that each one of us is lost from the moment of conception. Saving ourselves is out of the question. The Holy Spirit makes believers out of people by first convincing them of their sins and bringing them to their knees in repentance!
On Pentecost Sunday the early church went from a meager membership of 120 souls to 3,120 souls. Sinners were made believers by being convinced about their sins—and then by being convinced about the grace and mercy of God.
Peter didn’t stop when he finished preaching the Law. He went on and preached the Gospel, too. The Law had such an effect on those people that …they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.
—Period! That’s it! “Believe in Jesus and be baptized, and you’re saved.” Put yourself in the shoes of those men in the audience—it must have seemed too good to be true. They were some of the same people who had stood outside Pilate’s court, shouting for Jesus’ blood just a few weeks before. And now Peter was telling them that they could be saved simply by trusting in Jesus for forgiveness? It didn’t seem to make any sense! Now, if he had spelled out a whole list of things that they had to do in order to be forgiven, that might have made more sense…
We’ve got the same problem: we tend to think that salvation can’t simply be a matter of believing in Jesus—and then everything is settled. But that is exactly what the Gospel says. It’s a simple proclamation that no matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’ve failed to do, your slate has been wiped spotlessly clean because of Jesus! “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord, Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”—Is 1:18.
This Gospel is such good news that it a person who’s not a Christian already simply can’t accept it. It is, literally, unbelievable. Paul says, “Natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”—I Cor 2:14. And that’s why it takes the Holy Spirit to make believers out of people. God’s goodness is so far beyond our comprehension that only the power of the Holy Spirit can put faith into our hearts, can bring us home to the Lord’s grace. And he does bring us home. It is the Holy Spirit who convinces us that the Lord, for Jesus’ sake, has cast all our sins into the midst of the sea. He confirms in us the joyful knowledge that, at this very moment, both you and I stand blameless and justified in His sight. By any human standard, it’s unbelievable. But we do believe it, because the Holy Spirit is already doing His work in our hearts. He has made believers out of us!
Have you been feeling the pressing weight of a guilty conscience? Do you feel haunted by past sins? Do you ever suspect that there are certain sins that the Lord has not quite forgiven you? Then remember: Jesus was not half dead on the cross! And He did not die for 78% of our sins! You salvation has been 100% accomplished! Go back to the Bible, and let the Holy Spirit convince you: “Where sin did abound, grace did much more abound. Fear not, for the Lord has paid double for all of your sins.” AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.