May 24th this year was Pentecost Sunday, the Fiftieth Day after Easter and the tenth day after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. And the Lutheran lectionary readings (Ezekiel 37:1-14, Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27;16:4-15) for this year’s Pentecost all talk about the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity. We worship one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Pentecost Sunday, in particular, is associated with the Holy Spirit, because of what happened on the first Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension, which we read about in Acts 2.
But, before we get to that, let’s first consider what the Holy Spirit is associated with in the Scriptures. In the beginning, when God created all things, the Father spoke His Word (the Son) to create all things, and then the Holy Spirit hovered over the creation to order all things. He gave life and order to the world.
Then, when God formed Adam from the dust of the earth, in order to make Adam a living being, God breathed His Holy Spirit into Adam. In the Bible, the words breath, wind, and Spirit are all the same word. So, when God breathes on something, He is bestowing the Holy Spirit. And so Adam became a living person because God breathed His Spirit into Him to make him living. Adam was no longer dead dust, but became a living being due to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Then, throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was working through the prophets to give them God’s Word. They proclaimed God’s promises of the coming Christ due to the working of the Holy Spirit in them. Their Word brought life as the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And we see this in the Pentecost reading from Ezekiel 37 where the Lord brings the prophet Ezekiel “out in the Spirit of the Lord” and sets him down in the middle of a valley full of dry bones. All these bones belong to people who have long since been dead. Their bones are dried out from the sun and the heat, and they have no hope in themselves; they can not make themselves live again.
But, the Lord gives Ezekiel His Word to proclaim to these dry bones, and they rise up and re-attach and are covered with sinews and muscle and skin. They’re people again, they’re no longer dry bones, but they’re not yet living.
So, the Lord again gives Ezekiel His Word to proclaim to these bodies. Ezekiel calls upon the breath, the Spirit, to breathe on these bodies so that they may live. And the Spirit comes to make the bodies live again. They are no longer dead, but become living beings due to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So, just like when God made Adam in the beginning, here in Ezekiel is a vision of God raising up the dead from their graves and breathing life into them through His Spirit in order to make them living beings again. This is what the Lord promises the dead of Israel, that is the dead of the Church: “… you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.”
In this promise, the Lord uses the name that the Israelites called Him, Yahweh, which appears as Lord in all capital letters in our Bibles. If you recall, the Lord calls Himself “I am,” and the Israelites respond to this name by calling Him “Yahweh,” which means “He who is” or “He who causes to be.” This double-meaning is appropriate, because only the Lord is eternal – He is – and only He causes things to come into being from nothing and who brings life from death. So, He promises the dead that they shall know that He is the one who is and who causes all things to be when he raises you from your graves.
So, we saw God as “He who causes to be” in Genesis as He caused all things to be, and we see this also in Ezekiel as He causes the dead to live again. And then He also promises the dead of His Church: “… I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” The Lord promises that He will raise the dead and breathe His Spirit into you to make you live again.
And we have the first fruits of this promise now, in the New Testament Church. It came on the first Pentecost Sunday as related in Acts 2. We who were once dead in our trespasses, as Paul says in Ephesians and Colossians, were made alive with Christ through the Spirit. As Peter points out in his sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21), the pouring out of the Holy Spirit was in fulfillment of God’s Word given through the prophet Joel. God promised to pour out His Spirit on all flesh to enable people to “prophesy,” which means to speak His Word, so that all who call on His name shall be saved.
The Lord has been promising for a long time to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. Jesus, in John 15 and 16, promised to send the Spirit – the Helper – to guide his Church into all truth. Jesus also told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they were clothed with power from on high. And just before Jesus ascended into heaven, in Acts 1, he told His disciples, “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So, let’s consider more closely what happened in Acts 2 on Pentecost Sunday when these promises were fulfilled.
The apostles are in one place in Jerusalem, as Jesus had instructed them, for the Pentecost feast. This is also called the Feast of Weeks, where the first fruits of the harvest are gathered in. So, as the apostles are gathered for the feast “…there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind,” which filled the house. This wind is the Holy Spirit entering into the presence of the disciples. And then divided tongues as of fire appeared and rested on each of the apostles. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, or languages. This speaking in tongues was not some non-sensical babel; they were actually speaking in other languages.
For also in town for the feast were devout Jews from “every nation under heaven.” They came to where the apostles were and heard them speaking in their own languages. They were amazed at this, because the apostles were from Galilee, so the Jews from the other nations couldn’t understand why or how these simpleton Galileans were speaking in their own native languages. For there were “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.” These people were from all over the place and they all heard the apostles speaking to them in their own native languages.
So, they were amazed and wondered what this meant. Some mockingly said that the apostles were drunk with wine.
Now, remember that Jesus told his disciples that they were to be his witnesses. So, Peter stands up and declares to those assembled that they aren’t drunk – after all, it’s only 9 in the morning. Rather, what is happening is in fulfillment of the prophecy from Joel. What God had promised in pouring out His Holy Spirit has come to pass. The Lord has fulfilled His promise, and what the people have witnessed is this fulfillment as the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples to enable them to proclaim the Word of the Lord and therefore be Christ’s witnesses. He’s making them alive in Christ by breathing His Spirit into them.
The Lord is doing something wonderful here. Remember that list of hard-to-pronounce countries and areas in Acts 2? These devout Jews have travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Pentecost feast. They have come from all the areas of the dispersion. Over the centuries, the tribes of the Israelites were captured and taken off into foreign lands; they were dispersed. Now, they’re gathered from these lands in
Jerusalem as the Lord pours out the Holy Spirit upon all flesh. The Lord is gathering up His people, uniting them around Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit. We see Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together to accomplish our salvation.
Now, way back in Isaiah chapter 11 in the Old Testament, when Isaiah recorded the Lord’s promise of the coming Messiah or Christ, he mentioned this event as well. Isaiah wrote: “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea” (Isaiah 11:10-11).
These lands mentioned by Isaiah are the same lands, called by different names, mentioned in Acts. The people from these lands have been gathered by the Lord around the root of Jesse. This root of Jesse refers to the Messiah who would be descended from Jesse’s son, king David. This is Jesus Christ. This gathering is centered around Jesus Christ, because it is in him that God’s promises are fulfilled. And the resting place of Jesus Christ is glorious, because Jesus has ascended into heaven, back into the presence of the Father. And now the Holy Spirit has been poured out to gather all nations to him.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – our Triune God – work together with one will to bring us to salvation. The Father sent the Son to die and rise for the forgiveness of our sins, and the Holy Spirit brings us into this truth and into faith in the Son for our salvation.
So, the Holy Spirit witnesses to Jesus Christ through God’s Word and Sacraments. These bring us the Holy Spirit who builds and creates faith in Christ in us, and then works in us so that we too may be Christ’s witnesses on earth.
And the Holy Spirit also, as Jesus said he would, convicts “…the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…” (John 16:1-11).
Concerning sin, because the world does not believe in Jesus; so it remains in its sin. Concerning righteousness, because only Jesus is righteous and our righteousness before God is through him, since he went to the Father on our behalf – his resting place is glorious. Concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world – Satan – is judged and condemned. The Holy Spirit proclaims the truth and those who do not receive the Holy Spirit remain in falsehood and in the condemnation of their sins, because they do not receive Jesus Christ – the way, the truth, and the life – whom the Holy Spirit proclaims and glorifies.
So, on that first Pentecost Sunday of the New Testament Church, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples and Peter then, in the power of the Holy Spirit, proclaims that this is in fulfillment of God’s promises and then proclaims Christ to his hearers; he’s being a witness just as Jesus had said he would be. And these devout Jews are converted through the power of the Holy Spirit in this proclamation. The Lord has begun to gather the first fruits of the nations into His Church.
And then, He sends His Church out into the world to continue this gathering through the working of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In addition, the promise of God in pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh is significant.
You see, in the Old Testament, those who proclaimed God’s Word were priests and prophets. This was only a few people who had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, as we see in the prophecy from Joel, the Lord promised to pour out His Holy Spirit upon all flesh so that all could prophesy, that is proclaim His Word. And this has been fulfilled, first on the day of Pentecost, and then and now in the New Testament Church.
For all believers all priests in Christ. St. Peter points this out in his first epistle as he says to you, “… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
You are the Lord’s nation, the Church, people called out of all nations and out of the darkness of sin and death and into the light of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament. You are priests because the Lord has poured out the Holy Spirit upon you to bring you to faith in the truth, in Christ for your salvation. You are no longer dead in your sins, but have become living beings due to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This happened in your Baptism, with the water and the Word and the Spirit, and happens constantly to you as you dwell in the Lord’s presence in the Church. So, we enter into the Church through the font and are continually fed by the Lord at the altar and pulpit.
So, the Lord has breathed new life into you through His Spirit. You are no longer dead sinners, but living saints, redeemed by the righteousness of Christ that the Holy Spirit gives you as a gift. You have the first fruits of eternal life as you live new lives in Christ, as living beings re-birthed into Christ by the power of the Spirit.
And what you saw in Ezekiel 37 will happen to you as well. Ezekiel received a vision of the resurrection of the dead, and you are in this vision. You have been given new life here and now in the Church through Baptism. And God’s promise to you is that after you die and are buried, the Lord will return for you. And your dead bodies will hear the Word of the Lord as He again raises you up and breathes the Spirit into you to make you living beings again.
And then He will bring you into your own land, into His presence. We call this heaven, but heaven simply means the place where the Lord dwells. We live on earth in this life, while the Lord lives in heaven; they’re separate, because the earth is covered with sin and death, while heaven is blessed with the Holy Lord and life everlasting.
But, we have a taste of heaven on earth here and now in the Church. The Lord has promised to dwell with His Church, and He does so through His Word in all its forms – written, spoken, sacramental. So, the Church on earth is a foretaste of what is to come later.
For when the Lord returns and He raises you up, you will dwell with the Lord directly, no longer through His means of grace. Heaven and earth will be the same place on that day, because sin, death, and the devil will be cast out, the Lord will restore all things to the perfection in which He originally created the world, and you and He and the rest of the Church will dwell together forever.
You are part of the Church militant here in this life, battling sin, battling the devil, at odds with what passes for reason in this world, and facing mortal death. But, the Lord has given you His Spirit as the pledge of the promise He has made to you to raise you up. Because where the Spirit is, there is life.
So, when Christ returns you will be the Church triumphant, victors through Christ over sin, death, and the devil. And you will then be at rest, because the struggle will be over and only the Lord and you His people will remain, living together in the new, restored creation forever. The Lord, your God, has done all this for you, because He fulfills His promises. You have His Word on that. Amen.
(Image “Friesach – Dominikanerkirche – Rosenkranzaltar – Pfingsten” by Neithan90 – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Friesach_-_Dominikanerkirche_-_Rosenkranzaltar_-_Pfingsten.jpg#/media/File:Friesach_-_Dominikanerkirche_-_Rosenkranzaltar_-_Pfingsten.jpg)