Preached: June 8, 2014

The Holy Spirit Begins the Harvest
Acts 2:1-21

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God before us today through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your young men will see visions,

your old men will dream dreams.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

I will show wonders in the heavens above

and signs on the earth below,

blood and fire and billows of smoke.

The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

And everyone who calls

on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Acts 2:1-21 NIV11).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“When the day of Pentecost came ...” (Acts 2:1 NIV11), the text begins. But wait. Isn’t Pentecost a Christian festival? Why were the people in Jerusalem, who weren’t Christian yet, celebrating it? Before the events of this particular Pentecost day, Pentecost was a Jewish festival dating back to Mt. Sinai when God gave Israel the law. God told them that seven weeks after the Passover Sabbath they were to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. On the day after those seven Sabbaths, so on the fiftieth day, they were to present an offering of new grain to the Lord. Pentecost means fiftieth, so the Feast of Weeks became known as Pentecost. It was also called the Feast of Harvest because they brought the first of the wheat crop.

Their agriculture year was different than ours. The cooler, wetter winter was much better for growing grain than the hot, arid summer. So even though our harvest festival comes in late fall, theirs came in late spring.

This also lets us pause to ponder how the Old Testament festivals foreshadowed God’s savings plan. You well know how the Passover pointed to Jesus. He celebrated the last Passover with his disciples on the night he was betrayed. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb back in Egypt saved the people from physical death, so the blood of Jesus Christ, our Passover lamb, causes eternal death to passover us who believe.

Just as Good Friday and Easter fulfilled the Passover, so also we Christians have a totally new Pentecost. It mars the beginning of the wheat crop, but a much greater harvest, the harvest of souls. Only the Holy Spirit can bring in this harvest. And that brings us to the theme today: The Holy Spirit begins the harvest. Three points we want to note: 1) All the world is his field. 2) The word is his seed. 3) He makes it grow.

A. All the world is his field

God has always wanted all people to be saved, but from Abraham on he had limited the focus of his message. It was revealed to only one people, the people of Israel. We do have some instances of non-Israelites hearing God’s word, for example the widow of Zarephath in the days of Elijah and Naaman from Aram in the days of Elisha. Wherever the word of God was preached, the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work in hearts even in the Old Testament. But for the most part, this preaching was limited to Israel. Even in Israel it was usually only the prophets and the priests who proclaimed God’s message, and they weren’t always faithful. Or think of Jesus. During his earthly ministry he sent his disciples only to the lost sheep of Israel. It wasn’t until after his resurrection that he tells them to preach the Gospel to all creation and make disciples of all nations. Before then the focus was limited to Israel.

But no more! Notice how the events of this Pentecost illustrate that all the world, not just Israel, is the field. The disciples spoke in different languages that the people from the various nations could understand. What a miracle to illustrate that the message of Jesus is for all nations, no matter what language they speak! Although we take that for granted today, that’s a truth that had to be retaught throughout Acts. The Gospel of Jesus is not just for Jews but for all people. All the world is the Spirit’s field.

This was part of God’s plan as Peter makes clear by quoting Joel. “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 1:17 NIV11), yes, all people, not just Israel—and not just a certain class of people like prophets and priests. What’s more unlike the prophets of old, who often had to wait for a special revelation from God in order to know what to say, now all believers, young and old, male and female, all servants of the Lord have God’s message to share. For you see, to prophesy means to speak a message from God. That’s what a true prophet did. Now all Christians have God’s message. We all have his full revelation written down for us in both the Old and the New Testament, a message for all of us to share. And this bring us the second point: the word is the Spirit’s seed.

B. The word is his seed

Notice how the Holy Spirit worked through the word on that day of Pentecost. When the disciples spoke different languages, these weren’t using sounds no one could understand. But those who listened exclaimed, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11 NIV11).

Words that declare the wonderful, amazing, saving work of God are seeds. Peter’s sermon holds out that saving work front and center. Today’s text only has the first part of that sermon. The last line of the text leads into the meat and potatoes of the sermon. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21 NIV11).

Who is this saving Lord? Peter goes on and shows that he is none other than Jesus of Nazareth whom the people had crucified. But God raised him from the dead and exalted him above all. This was God’s one and only saving plan as the Old Testament foretold.

Could even these people who had crucified the Christ be forgiven? Peter’s answer: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38 NIV84). Three thousand believed and were baptized. The harvest had begun. And this was all the work of the Holy Spirit.

C. He makes it grow

Peter was like the farmer. He planted the seed of God’s word, but the Holy Spirit made it grow and produce a crop. All the events of this day point to the Spirit’s work.

At the start there was the sound of a rushing wind, just the sound but no air movement. The Greek word for wind and spirit is the same. The sound of wind symbolized the Spirit at work. The tongues that looked like flames of fire and came to rest on their heads may have brought to mind the promise made through John the Baptist. Speaking of the Savior, John said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16 NIV84). See the connection? Fire also symbolizes the sanctifying, purifying work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

And look at Peter’s sermon. In one sense, Peter wasn’t saying anything new. He had learned the Old Testament well. He had listened to Jesus for three years. His words contain nothing that God hadn’t already revealed. But even though in one sense Peter was only speaking what he had already learned, he was also speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gave him the insight and wisdom to put together what he had learned and see the connections. The Spirit gave him the boldness and courage to speak out. Remember this is the same Peter who had denied even knowing Jesus. And of course the way the words pierced the hearts and worked faith was not due to Peter’s eloquence but the Spirit’s power. He made the seed grow. He brings in the harvest.

Finally, how does all this apply to us? First, how we fall short! All the world is God’s field. Yet how much of our resources do we devote to spreading that word? With a population of over seven billion we live in the biggest mission field ever. And even when God brings the world to our doorstep, instead of seeing that as a mission field, do we sometimes think, “If they don’t speak our language, what are they doing in our country?” How we fall short!

But hear the word. Let that seed grow in your heart. And what does the word of the Spirit say to you: “Jesus died for sinners. He died for you. Yes, your sins, your sins, are so serious that nothing less than the death of God’s Son could pay for them. But how great the Lord’s love is! Take heart! The Father did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you. He has raised him from the dead because you are forgiven.” Yes, dear Christian, keep on gladly hearing and learning his Word so that the Spirit continues to make it grow in your heart. Keep on remembering the promise that Baptism brought to you: “Your sins are washed away. You’ve been born again as a child of God.”

Believe that Holy Spirit makes this all grow. He works through the word and sacraments. To neglect them is to neglect the Spirit. He works through them to sanctify and purify you. He works through them to give you the strength to resist sin and show love towards others. Our acts of love bring opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus. Fill yourself with his word so that you know what to say. Trust the Spirit to empower you in how to say it. Through word and sacrament the Spirit also leads us to be cheerful and generous supporters of Christ’s work, so that others whom we may not meet in this life can have the seed of the word planted in their hearts. The Spirit moves us to work together to send out missionaries and to publish sound Christian material in many languages, like at Pentecost. What a blessing to be part of our church body, our synod! The Spirit makes the word grow in our hearts and in the hearts of others.

The harvest began on that day of Pentecost. Still today and until the end of this world, the Holy Spirit continues the harvest among us and through us. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313