Sermon: What Does Pentecost Mean? (Acts 2:1-21 | Pentecost, Year C)

Text: Acts 2:1-21

Date: June 8 & 9, 2019

Event: Pentecost, Year C


Acts 2:1-21 (EHV)

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the rushing of a violent wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw divided tongues that were like fire resting on each one of them. 4They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, since the Spirit was giving them the ability to speak fluently.

5Now there were godly Jewish men from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6When this sound was heard, a crowd came together and was confused, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7They were completely baffled and said to each other, “Look, are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them speaking in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, and of Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya around Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; 11Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring in our own languages the wonderful works of God.” 12They were all amazed and perplexed. They kept saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others mocked them and said, “They are full of new wine.”

14Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and spoke loudly and clearly to them: “Men of Judea, and all you residents of Jerusalem, understand this, and listen closely to my words. 15These men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day. 16On the contrary, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:


17This is what God says will happen in the last days:

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.

Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.

Your young men will see visions.

Your old men will dream dreams.

18Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

19I will show wonders in the sky above,

and signs on the earth below,

blood and fire and a rising cloud of smoke.

20The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21And this will happen: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

What Does Pentecost Mean?

How many times have you had a conversation with someone where they were talking extensively about things that you didn’t really understand? But then, by the time you realized you didn’t really grasp the core concepts of what was being discussed, you felt too embarrassed to ask. There’s a few ways out of that situation. Maybe you keep listening hoping that you’ll catch on. Maybe, if it’s not work- or family-critical you hope that it won’t be something that comes up again after this. Or maybe, you just swallow your pride and ask the questions that you need to have answered. Maybe you say something like, “Ok, before we go on, could we back up to what you said before? What does that mean?”

That’s a solid Lutheran question, actually. Those of you who went through Luther’s Small Catechism as children or adults will remember that repeated question, “What does this mean?” It accompanies each of the Ten Commandments, each of the parts of the Lord’s Prayer, each article of the Apostles’ Creed, and so forth. Luther’s goal in writing those short explanations to those sections of Scripture or of the confessions of the Christian church were meant to make sure that we didn’t miss the core concepts of the faith. He hoped that we wouldn’t just nod along, oblivious to the true meaning of God’s Word, but dig in to understand what God has said and promised on a fundamental level.

Of course, Martin Luther was not the first person to ask that question. We have it here before us on Pentecost, some 1500 years before Luther worked. The people gathered around the apostles that day saw and heard some dumbfounding things. The sound of a wind blowing with no actual wind, tongues of fire over the apostles’ heads, and then these mostly uneducated men speaking in many different world languages that they had never studied. So many vocalize the question everyone there was thinking, “What does this mean?”

“Pentecost” is the Greek word for fifty. It was a Greek name for the Feast of Weeks outlined in the Old Testament because that festival took place fifty days after Passover. This Jewish festival was one where they spent time thanking God for the early harvest that had just come in. The account before is not the one and only Pentecost, but it is the first Christian Pentecost. This festival is why there were godly Jewish men from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. Undoubtedly there were more permanent residents of Jerusalem there to see and hear these things. But there were people who had come to this festival alone, perhaps some that had come for Passover and stayed the several weeks for Pentecost. There were people from all over the world gathered in this one central location.

But why do we observe this festival? Is it anything more than the birthday of the Christian church? As we see this account freshly again this morning, we’re left asking, What does this mean?

Firstly, Pentecost means Jesus’ work is done. Jesus is no longer preaching, teaching, and healing. He’s finished his work. His work really wrapped up at his resurrection. He had suffered and died to pay for the sins of all people, and his resurrection was the seal of victory, the assurance that his sacrifice had been accepted by the Father. He spent time proving his resurrection to his disciples so that there was no doubt of his victory. At his ascension, Jesus made clear that he was passing the torch of his proclaiming work to his disciples. And Pentecost is the beginning of that work.

Pentecost also means Jesus’ promises are trustworthy. As we consider the crowd gathered there at the first Christian Pentecost day, we can’t help but remember what Jesus’ directions were. We heard last weekend at his Ascension that Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses, “beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Here it is. Here’s the start. A crowd of people from all over the world to hear the gospel message. The Holy Spirit allows the confusion of Babel to be undone, at least for a time. And as these people went to their home lands, some would undoubtedly share what they had heard from Peter and the others. From Jerusalem, this message would spread to the surrounding regions and around the world.

But there’s an even bigger promise here. Jesus had told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them. He would come to be their comforter, to remind them of everything that he had said, to speak through them the words that God had for them to share. Here Jesus fulfills that promise too. The Holy Spirit transforms these men from nervous people hiding in locked rooms to boldly proclaiming the good news about Jesus to the world. The Holy Spirit turns Peter’s impetuousness into confidently sharing Jesus’ forgiveness with all.

That, too, is what Pentecost means. Pentecost means that God wants others to know about what he’s done for them. It was never the point for God’s free forgiveness in Jesus to be a secret, known only to a select few. It was never the point that only the disciples, or only the Jewish people, or only those living in the years that Jesus did his work would know the salvation God provides. No from the first promise in the Garden of Eden, the work God was doing and had done was always meant to be shared. For generations, the temple in Jerusalem stood as a beacon to all nations to come to hear God’s Word from those to whom he had given it. Now, at this first Christian Pentecost, the focus shifts, and now instead of being a beacon drawing people to the truth, Christians are sent into the world to share this truth in every place.

And this, then, is what brings us to today. For Pentecost’s shift in direction is the reason that any of us are here, that any of us know anything about Jesus at all. Pentecost means that we can be confident of the Holy Spirit’s power for us. We are most likely here today because the Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts. That faith clings to Jesus as the certainty of our eternal life. The Holy Spirit makes us ever-confident that Jesus’ work is completed, that Jesus’ work is for the whole world, that Jesus’ work is even for us. Even if we feel all alone on an island in the world around us, we are never alone. Our ascended Savior is ever with us, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom he promised and sent, is with us as well.

The Holy Spirit may not always come with outwardly impressive signs among us today. But that doesn’t mean that he is silent or absent. The Holy Spirit worked every school day this past year in our classrooms, building up teacher and student alike with his wonderful Word. He will be with us as we proclaim his good news to those coming to our Bible Camp in just a couple of weeks. He is active in our Bible classes as we gather around his Word to learn and grow in our faith. He is active in our worship, as the Word is proclaimed to us and the sacraments are given to us. Here the Holy Spirit brings his comfort. Here the Holy Spirit reminds us of everything that Jesus has said and done for us. Here the Holy Spirit emboldens us to go and share this word with others.

And just as the Holy Spirit was with Peter and the other apostles as they began this massively important work, so too he is with us, today, as we live our lives to glorify him at the grocery store, as we invite our neighbor to come to church with us, as we explain ever-so-briefly the core of our Christian faith to a curious coworker. He’s there, working through us, working even in spite of us. As he uses us to point people to Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s work means that the words Peter shared from the prophet Joel are absolutely true., “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

What does this mean? This whole scene at the first Christian Pentecost day, the whole of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives means one eternally important thing: we will be with our God and Savior forever! Thanks be to God! Amen.