The Festival of Pentecost was originally one of the two ‘harvest festivals’ established by Moses to serve as a benchmark for the people of God to give thanks for His provision and care for their physical bodies with food.
The “Festival of the First Fruits” marked the beginning of the harvest. On the day that the first swing of the sickle cut down the first bunch of wheat or barley, the people of God stopped to give thanks for the harvest.
Then, they went about bringing in the sheaves until the barns were full and the harvest was complete. They counted 50 days from the “Festival of First Fruits” which was about the time it took to complete the harvest before John Deere. On the 50th day from ‘Firstfruits’ the people of God gave thanks to God for the harvest in festival called “Pentecost,” “Pente” meaning fifty.
God’s people are people who give thanks to God for their daily bread. The festival of “Pentecost” was one of several commemorations that ‘defined’ the people of God, so much so that Moses commanded that every able bodied male was required to celebrate Pentecost at the Temple.
So when we hear that “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men FROM EVERY NATION…” we know why they’re there.
But on this particular Day of Pentecost, it was a different kind of crop and a different kind of harvest that was to be celebrated in a celebration that continues to this very day and that continues to define the people of God.
On Good Friday, the crucified body of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was taken down from the cross and buried. And three days later, He arose. And Easter is the celebration of the ‘FIRST FRUITS.’ And then 50 days from Easter comes the Day of Pentecost when the people of God celebrate the harvest that follows the FIRST FRUITS, which is still in process, even has we have witnessed together here this morning in the baptism of William Seliga.
There are two important aspects about the New Testament, Day of Pentecost and the work of the Holy Spirit that I would like to hold up to you today. Both of these aspects of Pentecost have to do with ‘transformations.’ And both are absolutely critical to the harvest of men and women, boys and girls, who are continually brought into the holy barn of the church until the Last Day comes and the Lord announces that the harvest is complete.
Apart from both of these ‘transformations’ which the Holy Spirit works and there would be no harvest at all. There would be the death and burial of Christ and the resurrection of Christ, but even this would produce no harvest apart from the work of the Holy Spirit
1. Transformation of the Apostles
The first important aspect about the Day of Pentecost that is essential to grasp is the TRANSFORMATION OF THE APOSTLES OF JESUS from students to teachers.
One of the remarkable things about the 12 men that Jesus calls to be His students is the fact that He did not call the, let’s just say, the brightest and the best, the way that colleges and corporations go after the brightest and the best. Throughout the three years under His tutelage, these guys can be frustratingly dense at times and they say the darnedest things and they just don’t get it.
And so the four gospels are filled with things that the disciples say and do and many of them stand as examples for us of what we should not say or not do. And in all fairness, there are things that they say and do, that stand as positive examples.
But even after three years of following Jesus and listening to His teaching, and witnessing the things that He did, even after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is still no solid basis for us to trust that everything that they will say and teach about Jesus Christ is a true and a perfectly reliable testimony of not only what Jesus said and did, but also what it means for us.
But on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit transformed these students who did not understand what they had heard or witnessed, into teachers whose teaching is to be taken as in perfect agreement with the will of God, even as the very word of God itself.
This is the meaning of Jesus words to these men that we heard in our Gospel reading. “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26).
This is why, after our Lord ascends into heaven, rather than telling them to go start preaching and teaching, He tells them to wait. “You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:48-49)
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit marks each one of the apostles with fire and breathes His windy breath into them transforms them into the ‘inspired’ teachers of the faith that they are.
Suddenly Peter begins to preach with authority, connecting the astounding phenomenon taking place to what the prophet Joel in the Old Testament has promised. ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…”
Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we would always have to wonder if the Apostle’s Word was the absolutely true and infallible Word of God. The New Testament would actually be the basis for the confusion and division in the New Testament church just as the confusion of languages caused such division among the people of Shinar.
But because of the work of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we have a solid rock to stand upon and place our trust in. With complete confidence, we can build our life on the Apostle’s word and doctrine, trusting that it is in complete and perfect agreement with the Prophet’s word and doctrine since the same Holy Spirit inspired them as inspired the Apostles.
2. Transformation of the hearers.
And now we’re ready to point to the second great ‘transformation’ that the Holy Spirit works on the day of Pentecost and continues to work to this day – ‘THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE ONE WHO HEARS THE APOSTOLIC WORD.’
Just as there would be no harvest apart from the work of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles of Jesus, neither would there be any harvest apart from the work of the Holy on those who hear the Apostles word.
The sad truth of the matter is, we all come into this world doubters and sceptics of God’s Word. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul puts our situation like this, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them…” (1 Cor. 2:14) “No one says, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3)
So the Apostles can preach all they want, and they may attract great crowds of people, but unless the Holy Spirit ‘transforms’ us, we will all come away either saying, “they have had too much wine” or something else just as dismissive.
In his explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles Creed, Luther writes what the bible declares from beginning to end, “I believe that I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in this one, true faith.”
The work of the Holy Spirit is TO TRANSFORM THE HEARER of the ‘inspired Word’ in such a dramatic way that Jesus says it’s like being ‘born again.’ Just as we were born into this world with hearts hardened and opposed to God’s Word, the Holy Spirit ‘REBIRTHS’ US, as only the power of God can do.
Now, born again, with NEW HEARTS, we not only believe God’s Word, the Good News that by the cross of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead, God has given life and even salvation to sinners, but we believe that Jesus died FOR ME.
The Holy Spirit works this miracle of transformation THROUGH the inspired Gospel AS IT IS BEING HEARD. As Peter writes, “You have been born again… through the living and abiding word of God… This word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23,25)
Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s brilliant sermon on the Day of Pentecost would have fallen on hard hearts and deaf ears, and there would have been no harvest. But by the work of the Holy Spirit, working through the inspired word of the Apostles, “when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:37,38,41).
What a harvest! A harvest, that as we witnessed before our eyes today, the Holy Spirit continues to produce its precious crop. This is the harvest of men and women, boys and girls that will continue until the Last Day comes when our Lord will declare that the harvest is complete.
Until that day comes, we will continue to preach the inspired Word and hear the inspired Word, that the Holy Spirit may continue do His ‘pentecostal’ work of transforming us, and as many as He wills from every nation under heaven.