Today marks the Festival of Pentecost, that day when, as He had promised, God sent His Holy Spirit upon the believers to give them power, to give them comfort . . . to make them into His witnesses in Jerusalem, in Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth. On that day the world entered into a new age, the Apostolic Age when all believers would become God’s priests to the world. On that day the old order of things passed away, the Church was born, and the Last Days began. It was a day of closure, and it was a day of newness.
It is thus fitting that this day also marks my final day of service to you and to God at Bethany Lutheran. My time here is at an end, and God beckons for me and my family to depart from this place and begin service elsewhere.
What is the Pentecost difference? What do we see happening there? Throughout Jesus’ life, we see the disciples of Jesus hearing His teaching . . . but they generally misunderstand what He is saying. After His death, we see the disciples huddled together, doors locked, hiding out for fear of the Jews. After Jesus appears to them, we see the disciples restored, and they understand Jesus better than they ever did before. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, we see the disciples again gathered together, but this time they are waiting, not hiding, and we may notice that Peter is bold enough to stand up and speak to the believers.
But after Pentecost, what happens then? Verse fourteen tells us that Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and addressed the crowds. There is no more misunderstanding, no more fear, no more cautious waiting, only a bold sermon on the saving Gospel of Jesus Chris. And what a sermon it was! It was such a sermon that, when it was over, Doctor Luke records that over three thousand came to the faith and were baptized! What’s the difference? What did it take to change this group of . . . well, this group of doofuses into world-class evangelists?
When Peter boldly addressed the crowds, he quotes God’s words recorded in the book of Joel and says, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”
The Pentecost difference, the difference between the disciples before Pentecost and after, the difference between a pathetic doofus and a preacher’s delight . . . the difference is the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit—the one person of the Trinity that we as Lutherans don’t talk about much. But He plays a vital role in our Christian lives. Luther, in his Small Catechism, summarizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the words of the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
6 What does this mean? (Confirmands . . . ?)
Answer: I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. This is most certainly true.”
Did you catch that? “By my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, or come to him . . . But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel.” Without the work of the Holy Spirit neither you nor I would even be able to believe in Jesus Christ. Without the Spirit, there is no faith. That’s just as astounding as it is obvious. But the question remains . . . what kind of Pentecost difference does that make in our lives? Does the Spirit give us faith and then let us figure out the rest on our own, or does He enable us to do more?
The Holy Spirit calls . . . but He also sends. In other words, the Holy Spirit gives us salvation, but he also gives us vocation. The prophet Isaiah says in chapter sixty-one of his book that he is anointed by the Holy Spirit to speak, to proclaim, to do. So, does the Spirit give us faith and then let us figure out the rest on our own? No! The Holy Spirit empowers us to go the distance, to live out each and every single day of our lives as people who live firmly grounded in the grace of Jesus Christ.
Let me ask you a question: Remember that in verse fourteen all Twelve disciples stood up with Peter. The Holy Spirit gave them the strength to take a stand for Jesus Christ. What do you suppose happened to them later in life? After the Holy Spirit came upon them, after He not only put a flame on their heads but also lit a fire under their rears . . . what did they spend the rest of their lives doing? Did they sit back, take it easy, come to church once a week? Did they take a bold stand just that once, and then when they got back to work on Monday morning, and a co-worker told an off-color joke, or someone cut them off on the way to the temple, or they bumped into a friend shopping for kosher meat at the market, and that friend was hurting bad inside . . . did they shrink back? Did they shut down and shut up? Did they spend the rest of their lives in regret, wishing they could have said something to offer hope to a hurting friend, to bring the light of Christ into a dark world?
. . . Did they spend the rest of their lives wishing for another taste of that Pentecost difference?
. . . Do you?
Do you long for something that will finally make a real difference in your life?
I won’t tell you yet how the disciples spent their lives, but I will tell you how they ended them. Here is the list according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs:
Bartholomew: beaten then crucified
James son of Alphaeus—stoned
James son of Zebedee—beheaded
John—exiled to Patmos, died of old age
Judas (not Iscariot): stoned
Matthew: speared to death in Ethiopia
Peter: crucified upside down
Thomas: speared to death in India
If this is the end of their lives; all but one martyred for the cause of Christ . . . you tell me: Did they spend the rest of their lives wishing for another taste of that Pentecost difference . . . or did they live in it?
You know the answer. Through the power of the Holy Spirit the disciples lived out their lives in Christ. They had heard His words, they had seen His deeds, and they believed above all else that Jesus Christ was their Savior. The Holy Spirit called them to be with God and then sent them out so that the world might be told of the precious hope they had been given in Christ Jesus. Despite all odds, they turned the world upside down, because they understood the Pentecost difference.
So what’s the Pentecost difference for us? Is it the death of Jesus Christ inspiring us? Yes! Through the Holy Spirit we understood the significance of His death. Is it His resurrection? His ascension? Again, YES! We’ve read about that with our own eyes, but it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the spiritual eyes we need to truly see it! Are we responding to the fact that our sins are now and always will be forgiven in Jesus Christ? YES YES YES!!! Because the Holy Spirit applies that forgiveness that was won on the cross, He gives us the faith to grasp hold of God’s promises given through Jesus Christ, and when Christ calls us to Himself, we answer His call from the deepest part of our hearts, because it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the strength to say “Yes” to Christ.
That’s the Pentecost difference—the knowledge of both our salvation and our vocation, of knowing both who we are and Whose we are, of knowing that we are both called to God and sent out into the world . . . that’s the difference that will continue to get us up, to move us out, to propel us forward in the face of and in spite of all odds.
I want you to know something: I spent all this past week writing myself into this sermon. It was going to be part sermon, part farewell speech. All week I spent on that.
And then I spent all day yesterday writing myself out of it. Why? Because it's not my job to have you look at me, but my job to make you see Jesus. It's my task to be invisible, to allow the Holy Spirit to work through me and show you to Jesus.
Yet I did want you to leave you a word from me. And so I found these words from the Apostle Paul. Paul, even though he was not there on the day of Pentecost, probably understood the Pentecost difference better than anyone else. And so I leave with you--I give to you the words of the Apostle Paul as recorded in his letter to Timothy:
2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound1 teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 9 Do your best to come to me soon.
This is my charge to you: Live out your Pentecost difference.