The fifty days following Easter were a very depressing time for Jesus’ disciples. They had lived with Jesus three years. During that time He had revealed to them who He was and why He had come to this planet. He was the Savior of the world. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, he would pay the price for the sins of the world. Those who would repent of their sins and receive Him as their Savior and Lord would be forgiven and restored into a personal relationship with God.
He also challenged the disciples when he said that his followers would go forth into the world with the good news of the Gospel as ambassadors for Christ. This assignment was exciting, but it raised many questions. When was their world going to begin? All the information they received from Jesus was, Wait, it will not be long. Don’t leave Jerusalem.
While they were in this waiting period, Jesus appeared. Now something was beginning to happen. They were told, “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.” They were also told, “You are going to be my disciples in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world.”
Now they were getting some specifics. They were going to all nations. This would be a change. Christ was not only to be Lord of the Jews, but all people. While they would be witnesses for Jesus in Jerusalem and those places near to home, they would be traveling to many parts of their little world. They were told their approach to people was telling the good news of the Gospel and baptizing. Through these means of grace, the Holy Spirit would do His work, and people would be brought into a personal relationship with Christ. They would see miraculous things happen through their ministry, because they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
After receiving this commission, the Lord ascended into heaven with His parting words being “Wait, soon you will receive the Holy Spirit.”
Ten days later came the day for which they had been waiting. It was Pentecost. Jerusalem was full of visitors when the Holy Spirit rained down upon the disciples like tongues of fire. The people were bewildered because each heard them declaring the wonders of God in their own language. For example, a visitor from Egypt would hear the message in Egyptian.
Some may begin to wonder what this means when a wise guy in the crowd said, “They’re drunk.”
Now we meet a different Peter. Remember how he refused to be identified with Jesus the night our Lord was betrayed? On this occasion Peter jumps up and begins to preach fearlessly to the multitude. Here is one quote from his sermon: “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the 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.”
Wow! That was telling it as it was! This was the Holy Spirit speaking through Peter. Jesus’ promise had been fulfilled. Peter had received this power as had the other disciples.
However, the Holy Spirit was also working in the hearts of the people in the audience. The Bible says, “When the people heard this (Peter’s message), they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Without the Holy Spirit being at work in their hearts, they would have turned back in unbelief. Peter is Christ’s ambassador. He is simply delivering the message and leaving the rest to the Holy Spirit.”
Hearing their question, Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
When the day was over, three thousand people were baptized, and the Church was born.
That night, when the disciples were together, you can be sure they were excited. Now they knew where the power would come from. Now they understood that people are won for Jesus Christ when Christian people proclaim the good news of salvation, and the Holy Spirit works faith in those who listen.
That is the way Ð the only way Ð that the Church is built. From that day on, every person who comes to faith in Christ is added to the original community of three thousand believers. There are millions in the Kingdom. Most of them live in the Church Triumphant in heaven.
This account of the first Pentecost brings a word of encouragement to the church today. It demonstrates how God used ordinary people to tell unbelievers about Christ, and the Holy Spirit used their words to create faith in what once were unbelieving hearts. Does that not give you encouragement? God can also use us to build His eternal kingdom.
Many of us need to be reminded that it is the Holy Spirit who does the work. At times we become depressed and wonder if anything is being accomplished. We want a spiritual awakening in our churches, and it does not come. We see the sins in our own lives and long for victory over these sins, which are a part of us. Yet they remain with us.
Here we are told to only be faithful in teaching the Word, and the Holy Spirit will perform miracles. Humans can still say no. We have a will that is free to turn its back on God. We should remember that if any people are won for Christ, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.
In our down moments, Satan throws an inviting temptation at us when he says, “Why don’t you try something else? The Gospel hasn’t worked in your congregation. The people do not hunger for the Word.” So we depart from the Gospel to a message that is more appealing to a twenty-first century crowd. Maybe it is the construction of a new building, different kinds of program, or even other styles of worship. The people may be interested for a while, but it is short lived. Only the Gospel can change the hardened heart.
The disciples got their questions answered on Pentecost. May God grant that we are equally convinced that the world is our mission field, and the means of grace Ð word and sacrament Ð are our weapons.