The Day of Pentecost (June 8, 2014)
Text: John 7:37-39, Acts 2:1–21
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
In today’s Gospel reading, the last part of John 7:39 reads, “The Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Did you notice something strange? I did. I had trouble with this when I realized it for the first time that the time when Jesus was glorified was the time of the cross, His crucifixion, His resurrection and His ascension into heaven as Pr. Mark mentioned last Sunday. We have to ask a Lutheran question. What does it mean that the Holy Spirit had not been given because Jesus was not yet crucified and resurrected? Notice that this is Apostle John’s comments on Jesus’ saying to the Jewish people on the last day of the Feast of Booths (Feast of Tabernacles). We have to ask in what manner the Holy Spirit was not given to His people before Jesus was glorified?” Does it mean that there had never been Holy Spirit present with Old Testament believers? It certainly does not mean that because today’s Old Testament reading tells us that the Spirit of YHWH rested on Moses and 70 elders plus two others. The Bible also mentions other individual OT believers like David and the prophets moved by Holy Spirit proclaiming the coming Christ. Even right before Jesus was born, by Holy Spirit Simeon and Anna recognized Jesus as their Savior. Zachariah and Mary were also filled with Holy Spirit. So, how do we understand this? There must have been a special giving or sending of Holy Spirit after Jesus’ glorification that was to be such as it had never been and had never seen before. This special giving was the descending of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. So, John is connecting this giving and sending of the Spirit to the cross, the glorification of Jesus.
Today, we are celebrating the Day of Pentecost. This is the fiftieth day after Passover, when Jesus died as the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to the disciples during forty days. While staying with them, He ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of Holy Spirit from the Father, not many days from now. He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” So, today’s second reading of Acts chapter 2 tells us that when the Day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. There were about 120 disciples. During this gathering, there was a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit. A heavenly sound like a mighty rushing wind and the appearance of divided fiery tongues resting on the disciples drew the people in Jerusalem to that place. These people were devout men from every nation under heaven. Miraculously, everyone in the crowd heard the disciples speaking in his or her own language because the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. People were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Wow, they asked the Lutheran question. What does this mean? This certainly doesn’t mean happy-hour style of worship service without any real Gospel content, because some people from the crowd thought exactly that they were having a happy hour filling with new wine. But it was not so. They were not drunk. The Bible says clearly what was spoken in another language by a disciple was a proclamation of the mighty works of God in Christ Jesus. What followed after all this manifestation was Peter’s preaching, the first sermon of Christian church newly founded by the Holy Spirit. Starting from the OT prophecy of Joel, he preached salvation by grace through faith on account of Jesus Christ. Actually, today’s Acts reading didn’t include Peter’s entire sermon. It ended at only the beginning of his sermon. I recommend you read the whole sermon later today. Peter’s sermon is an excellent example of Christ and cross-centered, law and Gospel rightly divided preaching with Gospel predominant. So, the giving and sending of the Spirit has everything to do with glorification of Jesus.
Now, let’s go back to John 7. At that time, people were divided concerning the identity of Jesus. But no one would dare talk about it openly because religious leaders wanted to kill Him. The Feast of the Booths occurred in the fall and lasted seven days followed by a holy convocation on the eighth day, called the last day or the great day. During the feast, people came to Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest and pray for the much needed rain for the coming year. Every day, the crowd would carry branches of palm or willow, trees that typically associated with water; and then they placed branches at the sides of the altar. A priest would fill a golden pitcher with water from the pool of Siloam, the main water source for Jerusalem. Upon entering the temple courts, the priests would make a solemn procession around the altar saying, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!” The priest holding up the water pitcher would climb to the top of the altar and pour the water into the altar through a special channel. The outpouring of water was a visible reminder of God’s faithfulness of providing living water to His people of Israel in the past. Apostle John says that it was the last day of the feast, the great day that Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart (or belly) will flow rivers of living water.’” Actually, depending on how you do the punctuation, these two verses can be translated as this. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and let him drink, whoever believes in me (Period.) As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart (or belly) will flow rivers of living water.’” The key difference is out of whose heart (belly) will flow rivers of living water. According to the second translation, it’s out of Jesus’ heart will flow rivers of living water! But whatever translation is, one thing everyone agrees is that Jesus is proclaiming He is the living water. I personally think the second translation makes more sense because Jesus is inviting anyone who thirsts to come to Him and drink. Of course, it means we drink from Him. No matter how strange and gruesome is the idea of drinking water from somebody’s heart or belly; we need to ask the Lutheran question, “What does it mean that we drink living water from Jesus’ heart?” This together with the next verse about the Spirit and Jesus’ glorification take us to the cross, where not only blood but also water came out when one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear. Living water flows from Jesus’ heart on the cross. Before this, Apostle John also mentioned the Holy Spirit when he describes how Jesus died. John chapter 19 reads, “Jesus said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his Spirit.” The Greek word for “gave up” is “paradidomi.” It actually means “deliver or hand it over.” So, it should be translated as “He bowed His head and handed over His Spirit.” Jesus handed over His Spirit to whom? Of course, to the Father. So, the Holy Spirit promised by the Father and descended upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost came from Jesus Christ on the cross.
Today, we celebrate the Day of Pentecost and the church exclaims “O Come, Holy Spirit!” But “the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Then, what does it mean? It means the giving and filling of the Holy Spirit has everything to do with Jesus’ cross. The OT believers were filled by the Spirit when they recognized the saving grace of YHWH and the sacrifice of the coming Messiah. For us, the NT believers, we are filled with the Holy Spirit when we recognize our sin and believe in Christ and His cross for our salvation, when we are compelled by the love of God in Christ Jesus to love one another and love neighbors as ourselves, and when we preach and share the Gospel with others proclaiming the mighty works of God in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit of the Pentecost, therefore of the church, comes from the cross of Jesus.