Summary: Sometimes we don’t realize how much we need Pentecost. Pentecost is the birthday of the New Testament Church. Pentecost is God giving His Holy Spirit to all believers, not just a few.
During the last ten days of the Church year, we’ve been living in liturgical limbo, existing between two realities. We’ve celebrated our Lord’s ascension into heaven. But since the Ascension, we’ve been waiting. We’ve been waiting for this day. Like the Apostles of old, we’ve been listening to our Lord’s instructions to “wait in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
So the Apostles waited. They waited because the Lord Jesus told them to wait. But there was more to this waiting than that, much more. Something powerful was to happen to them when their wait was finally over on Pentecost day. The Holy Spirit would change them. Fear would be turned into a martyr’s boldness, fishermen would become the world’s teachers, and doubt would be replaced by mountain-moving faith--all because of Pentecost!
Sometimes we don’t realize how much we need Pentecost. Pentecost is the birthday of the New Testament Church. Pentecost is God giving His Holy Spirit to all believers, not just a few. No longer was the Holy Spirit to dwell in a building, the Temple, like in the Old Testament. There, God in the form of His Shekinah, the cloud, revealed Himself to His people above the Ark of Covenant in the Holy of Holies. No longer was the Holy Spirit only given to people in positions of leadership, to do the tasks God had given them to do. Because of Pentecost, all Christians have been brought into the Royal Priesthood, and each Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost also shows that Christianity isn’t some human-created religion. If Christianity were simply of human design, even if it were the best and most beautiful religion, the disciples wouldn’t have needed to wait in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Why would they need to?
Jesus’ disciples had lived with Him for several years, a most-intense and personal seminary training. They could’ve begun writing, teaching, and passing on what they had learned without a Pentecost. Jesus had fully trained them. Now it was time for them to start training others, right? That’s how it is with other religions.
Not so with Christianity. For Christianity isn’t just about ideas, moral guidance, or ethical norms. Christianity, of course, has these things, but that’s not what the Christian faith is about. If it were, Christianity would be but another form of Phariseeism. No, Christianity is about the Holy Spirit calling someone through the Gospel, enlightening him with His gifts, and sanctifying and keeping him in the true faith. There is no New Testament Christianity without Pentecost.
Pentecost is what Jesus promised when He said He would send another Helper, a Counselor, a Guide, a Comforter. As God breathed into Adam and he became a living being, so Christ breathes the Holy Spirit of life into His people, and His people come alive. That’s what Pentecost is all about. The Spirit gives living breath. And filled with the Spirit, God’s people become alive, unable to be silent, confessing and proclaiming Jesus Christ.
But sadly, so sadly, many Christians live as if they are stuck between Ascension and Pentecost, as if Pentecost never happened. We live our lives as if the Christian faith were only a set of ideas. We think we are Christian, or Lutheran, because we intellectually agree to certain facts in our heads, like the Small Catechism, which many of you studied long ago and haven’t looked at since.
If the Apostles had remained in that state of limbo, the state they were in between Ascension and Pentecost, they would’ve never brought the Gospel to the world. They would’ve never lived out the faith as they did. They would’ve never died for the faith as they did. And they certainly would’ve never preached as they did. Their faith-life was what it was because God the Holy Spirit was blowing, moving, and breathing within them.
Sometimes we show little proof that we are living as post-Pentecost Christians (and I don’t mean all the ridiculous nonsense that today passes for being filled with the Spirit). I mean that our faith is weak, and that’s acceptable. I mean that sin still controls our lives, and that’s acceptable. I mean that we have little Christian joy, and that’s acceptable.
Today, we are often more like the fearful and doubting disciples before Pentecost. Christianity without Pentecost is but an empty form! If the Holy Spirit doesn’t permeate our lives with His presence, then our faith-life is but empty motion! If God’s Word does not have its way with us, then our Christian life is one without power!
Consider how the life of the Church depends on the Holy Spirit. Baptism saves us because we aren’t born only of water, but of water and Spirit (John 3:3-5). Without the Holy Spirit, there would be no forgiveness in absolution. That’s why our Lord gathered His Apostles together and breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain them, they are retained” (St. John 20:23).