Each year, when the Day of Pentecost rolls around, we tend to identify it with springtime, the beginning of the lawn-mowing, shrub-shaving, petunia-planting, gardening and outdoor home improvement season. In a similar way we tend to think of the Day of Pentecost as having to do with “the birthday of the Church,” the beginning of the Church’s mission and of the long, green season of “the Church’s Half” of the liturgical year. Originally, in the Old Testament, however, the Day of Pentecost was a festival ordained by God for His people to give thanks for the culmination of their agricultural activities, the results of their planting and pruning and gardening, the beginning of the harvest when the very first fruits of their labors were coming in, the first part of which they were to offer to God not only in thanksgiving but also as a sort of declaration of their faith and conviction that, with the Lord’s blessing, the rest of the crop will come in also. That’s the primary meaning when St. Paul calls the risen Christ “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), that is, the risen Christ is the guarantee that “the rest of the crop” of God’s saints will also be raised to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. So, while this day marks the climax and goal of everything we have been celebrating and proclaiming since Advent last December, the Lord’s half of the year, this day also propels us to look forward to the harvest that lies before us.
On that first New Testament Day of Pentecost, the disciples were still gathered together in one place, in Jerusalem, as Jesus had commanded them before His ascension into heaven, waiting for “the promise of the Father” which He said He would send to them. People from all over the known world were gathered for the feast in the City of the feast. Then a loud sound like a mighty rushing wind got everyone’s attention; and some sort of weird appearance that looked like little flames of fire over each of the disciples, “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak.” That’s what always happens, you know. Every time we read in the New Testament that a person is “filled with the Holy Spirit” it is always followed by that person speaking, praising, prophesying, preaching the Word.
And what was the substance and subject of their speaking in all those other languages so that the people from all over the world could hear? Luke tells us they were telling “the mighty works of God,” that is, God’s recent and ultimate work of salvation in Jesus Christ. And let’s get this straight from the beginning, right off the bat, that everything that happened this day ultimately was for the sake of proclaiming Jesus Christ. Jesus is the center of attention. When it comes to God the Father, Jesus said no one comes to Him but through Him, Jesus. Likewise, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, Jesus says “He will bear witness about me…he will not speak on his own authority…He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” From beginning to end it’s all about Jesus.
The Holy Spirit is called the “paraclete” which means a Helper and a Comforter. He is a “helper” because the Holy Spirit is the power behind the Word of God that causes you and any person to repent and to believe the Gospel. He is a “comforter” not in the sense of a warm blanket but in the sense of giving you confidence and conviction in your faith. In fact, that’s what Jesus says the Spirit does. “When he comes,” Jesus said, “he will convict the world.” To “convict” means to bring the truth to bear, which is why He is also called the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father” (15:26).
And what is the truth? What is the effect of the Church’s faithful preaching and witnessing and publishing of the Gospel? Through the Church’s preaching the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. Jesus explains, “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” Every sermon must speak to the number one spiritual need of every human being of every race and language, namely, the problem of sin, the cause of all separation, warfare and death. The Church’s message is not primarily about the peripheral issues of fair employment, housing, health care or any other political agenda item. Those things inevitably become the message only when the Church forgets her true and primary message, namely, sin and grace, Law and Gospel, forgiveness, life and salvation. Ultimately sin remains and kills unless and until a person turns in faith to Jesus. The slavery and condemnation of God against sin remains until a person believes and acknowledges the forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit convicts the world “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” The righteousness of God is that He has provided for the complete forgiveness of sins by means of the cruel, vicarious and atoning death of Jesus, His perfect Son. That this is true is proved, “signed, sealed and delivered,” as we say, by the resurrection of Jesus and His ascension to reign and rule at the right hand of the Father.
Finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” Satan, the ruler of this world, rules in the hearts of those who do not know or who outright reject Christ. He rules by means of his false, anti-Christ teaching, namely, convincing people that sin is not that bad of a thing, that a person can become righteous by his own deeds and that God isn’t really going to judge and condemn sin and the sinner. Again, left on our own God’s judgment and condemnation of sin looms with a clear warning that, without forgiveness of sins, you will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21). The Good News is that, by faith in Christ, the judgment has already happened. For it happened on His Cross for the life of the world. The shepherd knows his own and his own know him, and at the last judgment he will separate his sheep from the goats before even a word of judgment has been spoken. Today is the day of salvation.
By the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us, it is true that, while we know precious little about God, the little that we do know is precious. The Triune God is mysterious and hidden. Yet everything that can be known and must be known about God is given us in Jesus His Son. There is so much we don’t and even cannot know about God. But the little that He has revealed to us in His Word is precious and takes a lifetime to learn and to believe. Because after all it is by this thing called “faith in Christ” that we are enabled to live with confidence and conviction and daily be ready for His return.
By the Holy Spirit may we have a right understanding in all things and evermore rejoice in His holy consolation.