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 them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own 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 men 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 heaven 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.’
This text and the festival of Pentecost have had to share room in my head with an interesting mix of thoughts this past week. Of course we have our graduates here with us this morning. Graduations are what you’d call inherently thought-provoking occasions, wouldn’t you guys say? All the time you’re thinking about both what you’ve finished and are leaving behind as well as what you’re heading into next, not to mention the big question of “future,” which is getting harder and harder to ignore.
Personally, my family is still thinking and praying about my younger sister, whose hemorrhagic stroke led me to hop a plane to South Carolina and resulted in my missing our time in worship together last Sunday. She had gone home from the hospital this past week, but early this morning they found blood clots in both her lungs. She’s back in the ICU now.
My family also has been thinking a lot in these past few weeks about a cousin of mine who was called home to heaven. Not only was he a man who was a constant in my memories of growing up in Michigan, but he was also a veteran of the Vietnam War. Seeing his coffin with a flag draped over it at St. John’s Lutheran in Bay City added special significance to my Memorial Day, making that day also a bigger thought than usual in my mind this past week.
These are all really big thoughts, but they’re not closely related to each other, are they? That has made it hard for me to juggle them around in my head. But since I was forced to think about them all at once this past week, it occurred to me that big thoughts like these do all have one thing in common that ties them all together: They all end up making you feel very small, don’t they?
And that’s something, I realized, that is true of the Festival of Pentecost, as well. Pentecost is a joyful celebration in the church, and it has been for nearly 2,000 years. But, at the same time, we have difficulty relating to the event itself: The disciples spoke in tongues! They spoke with great boldness and from exceptional knowledge of the Scriptures! And 3,000 people became Christians all on that very same day as a result of their speaking! I mean, really, how can we relate to that today? 630 people may be pretty big for Tawas, but it’s nothing like the 3,000 that were converted on Pentecost, especially when you consider that only a little over 200 people come to our church on any given Sunday.
But I want you to realize something about Pentecost: Pentecost should not make you feel little or insignificant. It should do just the opposite. When a baptized child of God realizes what Pentecost means, especially when you think about what the prophecies that speak of Pentecost actually say, then you cannot help but realize something huge about yourself and your part in God’s plan of salvation: All Christians Are Anointed to Speak. Do you realize that? All Christians are anointed to speak!
Now perhaps you don’t realize that because you’re a bit disconnected from the imagery that God used at Pentecost, and that’s understandable. Even as I say anointed I’m using a word that, while it was a huge part of Jewish life, is pretty much lost to us today. That’s okay, though. It’s not hard to explain.
Think about graduation, for instance. What do we do at graduations? We gather in large crowds. We get a principal or a school president up in front of that crowd and in front of the entire school faculty, and then we make a ceremony of handing over a diploma with the shaking of hands and the saying of the graduate’s name. It’s not an essential part of earning the degree. It’s just a public ceremony showing that you’ve earned it.
Similar ceremonies might mark someone becoming an officer in the military or earning a medal in battle. Those things have already been earned, of course. But the ceremony makes it clear, makes it public, announces the honor and perhaps even new duties.
That’s what anointing was in the order that God established for the nation of Israel. It was a public ceremony that marked someone as chosen by God for a special, highly privileged office. The ceremony involved not a handshake but the pouring of a specially formulated anointed oil which represented the Spirit of God pouring gifts out on the anointed one so that they could carry out the responsibilities of their office for the benefit of God’s people. Such ceremonies were also pictures of the Savior to come that were mightily fulfilled by Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, where the Spirit of God very literally came down upon his head to anoint him for his office as Israel’s Ultimate Prophet, Priest and King.
Now look at Pentecost. The sound of a violent wind came down out of heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. The word for spirit in both Hebrew was also the word they used for wind. As a visible sign of what was happening, something that looked like tongues of fire came and rested on each of the disciples’ heads. But the fact that this was no symbolic act pointing to some greater event was seen in the miracle of speaking in previously unlearned foreign languages, “as the Spirit enabled them.”
You see the anointing imagery, right? And you see that it is more than imagery, as well. You see that it is a fulfillment of Joel’s ancient prophecy: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy [that is, they will speak for God, speak his Word “as the Spirit enabled them”], 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.”
But does seeing the anointing for all that it is make you personally feel big and important in God’s plans, or does it just make the people in that room on that day seem bigger and more important to you? If it doesn’t make you feel big and important in God’s plans, too, then you’re missing the point.
What did Joel’s prophecy say? “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”—not just the people gathered in that room on that day, but all people. To be sure, the visible manifestation of fire and the miraculous speaking in tongues was a sign of the Spirit being poured out on these particular disciples, but it wasn’t the only way in which the Spirit was poured out that day. All the converts, all 3,000 of them, all those reborn that day of water and the Word, they were all fulfillments of these words, as well.
And so are you. Do you see it? So are all of you! Jesus made it clear to his disciples when he made the promise that the Spirit would come on Pentecost Day that all those who believe in him have already been anointed with the Spirit (John 14:17; cf. also Romans 8:9-14; 1 Corinthians 3:16; etc.). Without the Holy Spirit, they could not believe, period (1 Corinthians 12:3). So, in order to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the True Son of God and the world’s Savior, you need the Spirit’s anointing—and you have the Spirit’s anointing!
Do you see how special and important you are thanks to God’s love toward us in Christ? You have been anointed by God with the Spirit in order to speak like all those disciples did. No, they didn’t all give a sermon that day. That might be another reason you would miss how big and important your anointing is. You may think, “I’m not called to preach like Peter did, or even like a modern-day pastor, so I can’t really say I’m anointed to speak.” But Apostle or not, pastor or layman, man and woman, young and old—they all spoke in tongues that day. That’s what Joel’s prophecy said, that’s what Acts says, and that’s what happened.
Likewise, you may not have the call to preach from a pulpit, but you’re still anointed to speak. Mothers still share the life-giving Word with their children. Elders, friends and family share it with delinquents. We all share it with those who do not yet have faith. We are all anointed to speak, every one of us. We all know the gospel, and we are all called to confess it in the world. Therefore we are, every one of us, a huge part of God’s plan to save.
Perhaps another reason you might not feel that way is because you’re feeling like I did this past week: battered by your own set of big thoughts rolling back and forth inside your brain. Death or illness may have beset your family. You may be concerned about a loved one in the military. You might be thinking a lot about the economy, our church or the difficulties our synod faces.
But instead of letting those big thoughts make you feel small and helpless, remember your help. Rather than let them crowd God and his Word out, repent of any worries and see the giant privilege God has given you as forgiven children in his kingdom, anointed to speak by the power of the Spirit of the salvation that Jesus Christ has won for us and for the whole world. Amen.