Summary: On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came in a visible and spectacular way. Today, he still comes, in a quiet and unspectacular way. But just as powerful.
Acts 2:1-21 THE HOLY SPIRIT HASN’T STOPPED WORKING
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember how God the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in a miraculous way. On that day, the New Testament Christian Church was officially born. Hundreds of times the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit, but today, you don’t hear much about him in Christian churches. When you do, he seems to “get a bad rap.”
For example, sometimes you’ll hear about people talking in tongues, muttering sounds and gibberish. And the explanation? “I was overcome by the Holy Spirit.” Sometimes you’ll hear about people who suddenly fall down in the aisles at church, roll around on the floor. What’s going on, you might wonder? “Well, they have been overcome by the Holy Spirit.” You’ll hear about people breaking down and crying uncontrollably, or laughing uncontrollably. People are dancing and running up and down the aisles at church. What in the world is happening? The explanation - “They have been overcome by the Holy Spirit.”
But is that really what’s happening? Is that the Holy Spirit’s job, to cause these people to do these strange things? The answer is no. It seems that a lot of people get caught up in emotionalism – the music, the swaying, the crying. And they attribute that to the Holy Spirit. Many churches don’t even want to talk about the Spirit of God because they don’t want to be associated with these groups of people who look like they’re going off the deep end.
Today we are going to talk about God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. We’re going to see that his main job isn’t to cause people to fall down in the aisles or laugh uncontrollably. It’s something else. We’re going to see him in action among the disciples on Pentecost. And we’re going to talk about how he is still at work today.
In our Gospel lesson for today (John 15:26-27), Jesus describes the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls him the “Counselor.” Imagine one day, waking up, and you find out that you are being sued by someone. It’s a very complicated lawsuit – you don’t even understand it yourself. Who do you call? You call a lawyer, your legal counselor. He sits at your side. He explains all the complicated things about the law to you. He helps you to understand what’s going on, and what you need to do about the situation. Without your legal counselor, you’d be lost.
Jesus told his disciples that he was going to send them a counselor, the “Spirit of truth.” And look at what that counselor would do for the disciples: “he will testify about me.” You see, from the disciples’ point of view, the Gospel was complicated. They didn’t really understand what Jesus did. It didn’t make sense of them. But the Holy Spirit would come to them, and cause them to understand and to believe everything that the Scriptures said about Jesus. That was the Holy Spirit’s job – to cause those disciples to mature in their faith, so that they could go out and testify about Jesus to others.
We see that happen on Pentecost, in our second reading for today. The disciples were gathered together, celebrating the spring harvest festival of the Pentecost. Perhaps they were in the temple courts, where they always gathered together. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit descended on them in a special way – there was the sound of a rushing wind. Something like tongues of fire landed on their heads. Suddenly the disciples were able to speak in foreign languages, even though they had never gone to school for such a thing. The Apostle Peter stood up, and for the first time in his life gave a sermon to a group of unbelievers. And then, another miraculous thing happened – 3000 people came to faith, all in that one day.
In a very unique way, God the Holy Spirit did his job. He brought the disciples to a point where they understood and believed the truth about Jesus. Thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit, the disciples converted 3000 people to Christianity in one day.
Why doesn’t the Holy Spirit do that today? Here he works in a visible way, and in a fast way. But today, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nothing visible – no signs, no rushing wind, no tongues of fire. And nothing fast. Maybe a Christian convert here and there, over a longer period of time. But not 3000 in one day. And this frustrates us sometimes. We want God the Holy Spirit to work more quickly, and to work more visibly.
And when that doesn’t happen, we are tempted to think, “Maybe God the Holy Spirit isn’t working anymore. Maybe the Bible, the Sacraments – maybe that’s not the way to go anymore.” “Maybe it’s all up to us now, to make God’s church grow, to convince people to believe in Jesus. It’s all up to us!” Groups of Christians sometimes get desperate – they throw out the Word and the Sacraments and try all different kinds of things, especially the emotional kinds of things, hoping to see the Holy Spirit work in a fast way, and in a visible way.