When we ask the question, What shall we do? it comes with a feeling of desperation. As we read our text for this Pentecost Sunday, we find people asking this question: “What shall we do?” Does this text have something for us today? Let’s take a look at it.
Three thousand people had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Pentecost. It was a celebration thanking God for the harvest and for his goodness to them as a people.
The Bible describes the events of that day. Peter’s words to those present is the message of Pentecost Ð the third major festival of the Christian Church. This was the day the Church was born. Now we ask ourselves what message God has for us as we celebrate Pentecost this day.
Like those on that first Pentecost Sunday, we too have to be convicted of our sinfulness to the point where we ask the question, What shall I do?
Hearing Peter’s words, the world can ask if this is not a dangerous teaching. Is it not better to bring words of encouragement by teaching the philosophy that we can do anything we want if we set our mind to it?
Look at the changes that had taken place in Peter’s life. A few weeks before he preached his fearless sermon on Pentecost, Peter did not have the courage to identify himself as one of Jesus’ disciples. Three times he denied Christ saying he did not know him. Then came that moment in Luke 22:61 when Jesus looked straight at him, and Peter remembered the Lord’s prophesy that he would disown Him. That did it for Peter; he was crushed. He was the one disciple who had told Jesus that, even if all the other disciples left Jesus, he would remain faithful.
Days of deep spiritual depression followed. Peter was a desperate man until Jesus met him on the shores of Lake Galilee and asked the broken disciple, “Do you love me?” When Peter said, “You know that I love you, Lord,” the Savior replied, “Go feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Peter was forgiven, and the Lord could use him.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all who belong to Christ. The Spirit must lead us all to that spiritual place where we have to say, Lord, what shall I do?
How does God bring us to that place? One way is through the law. Paul centers our thoughts on the purpose of the Law. It is to reveal the will of God, but it is also our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. When I examine myself in the light of that revelation, the Law causes me to say, “Woe unto me for I am undone. What shall I do?”
When we think of the first commandment Ð Thou shalt have no other gods before me Ð we realize that we are guilty. How many times do I find myself putting some thing or some one ahead of God. Then he has to crush me, only to lift me up again, convict me, and forgive me. This is the work of the Holy Spirit Ð God using his law to cause us to realize that only in him are we spiritually strong.
This is more than an intellectual exercise. This is the Holy Spirit taking those commandments and using them to show us how to live. It allows the Holy Spirit to see us in the light of the Ten Commandments. When He has done this, we have but one question: What shall I do? The answer is the same: repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be forgiven.
While God uses the Law, he also uses life’s circumstances as we become desperate. When sickness, terrible disappointment, death, or financial chaos hits, we wonder what we should do. A stiff drink of some kind, a shot of some illegal drug, or a defiant attitude that hates life is not the answer. We must come as broken people to the throne of grace and ask the question of Pentecost: What shall I do?
Peter was faithful. He told the story of what they had done. “You, with help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross, but God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:23-24).
Peter’s main joy came when he could answer their question Ð “What shall we do?” His were the words of the Gospel and the words spoken to us when we are left only to ask, What shall I do?
“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” (Acts 2:38). This is the Good News, and 3,000 people responded. They received Christ and were baptized, and the Church was born.
The Church continues to preach this good news, but so often it falls on deaf ears, for we intellectualize our spiritual condition. We want to do something about it but do not have the power to do it. All the time that we are living in this state of turmoil, the Holy Spirit continues to work in our souls. He doesn’t quit until our last breath is taken. He wants our name, together with those who became his on the first Pentecost, to be written in the Book of Life.
Don’t give up. I wonder if perhaps some people did not join the 3,000 who were baptized on the first Pentecost, but then went home wondering if they should have done so. Then, later on, they too repented, received Christ, and became a part of the Church Ð Christ’s Body. Never quit on the Holy Spirit. He is not quitting on you. And He will never be done with us until we leave this world, for it is not only to become a Christian, but also to grow in that faith that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
As a young man I was given a copy of Luther’s catechism and learned the meaning of the third article: “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 through the Gospel . . .”
I also had to memorize the verses in John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).
We need the Holy Spirit to not only bring us to faith in Christ, but also to empower us to live the Christian life. We are like Paul, who after much experience with Christ wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God Ð through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15; 24-25).
We have come a long way spiritually when we ask, Now what shall I do?