Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Dear friends, you are living in the last days, the end of the world draws near. I don’t say this to scare anyone or because of anything in the news this week, only because this is what Luke reminds us of in Acts 2.
Acts 2 is the start of something Huge Rochester… HUGE!!! The Hugeness happens on the festival of Pentecost. Pentecost, also known as the Feast of Weeks, took place a “week of weeks” after the Paschal Feast (Passover). So from the Passover celebration to Pentecost was 50 days.
There is a rich history in the OT of things that happened between Passover and Pentecost which have ramifications for the Christian church today. In the OT the barley harvest happened between the Passover and Pentecost: in fact, during the Passover week the first sheaves of barley were offered to God as a sacrifice. But the Passover feast wasn’t about the harvest, instead the Jews remembered how their ancestors had put the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts, and how God had spared their firstborn sons from death and this celebration reached its culmination at the day of Pentecost.
The Lord commanded Passover and Pentecost so that His people might remember His deliverance and provision. But there was more to it than that: way back in the Old Testament, He commanded these feasts and celebrations to point to Jesus. It is no coincidence that Jesus was crucified during Passover, He is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, His blood shed and smeared on the doorposts of our lives saved us from the death of sin in the same way as the blood of the lamb at the first passover saved the Israelites first born from death. In addition, it’s no coincidence that the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost: it was time for the apostles (the sent ones) to go out and make disciples of all nations. In other words: Christ has died and Christ is risen, it is time for the apostles to sow the seed of His Word. It was time to make ready for the harvest not of barely or grain… but the harvest of souls for the kingdom of God.
In our Epistle the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost with the sound of a loud rushing wind and tongues of fire above the heads of God’s people, there to convict the world of sin. He is there to testify of Jesus to all who will hear, by means of His holy Word.
Pentecost was a HUGE day!!! For our brother’s and sister’s of old, the wait was over, Jesus had come, died, risen, and then ascended followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. After which the apostles started to preach. Pentecost is HUGE because it’s the birthday of the Church. It’s the start of the harvest of souls, that will happen as the millions leave Jerusalem after the Pentecost festivals to their respective homes all throughout the Roman Empire. But biblically, it’s also the beginning of the end.
This is hard to understand, just when it seems that things are getting going, Peter goes reminds us of something different, the end times… the last days. It’s difficult to understand because when we think about the end times, we normally think of the book of Revelation and Daniel. But Acts 2 must be added to the list for it was on Pentecost when The Holy Spirit comes. Crowds gather and people ask, “What does this mean?” In response, Peter begins by quoting from the prophet Joel to explain what it means. He tells them that Pentecost is a fulfillment of the prophecy from long before which says:
And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
“And in the last days,” begins Joel’s prophecy: the Spirit of God will be poured out. Ergo, the last days begin in Acts 2, and we’ve been in the last days ever since. Not only does God promise to send the Spirit in that time, but He also promises wonders—wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below. Namely: before the day of the Lord when He comes to judge, there will be blood and fire and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood.
We see the Spirit poured out in our text: but when do the rest of the signs take place? Brother’s and Sister’s, the sign of blood took place when our Lord Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world. But what about fire and vapor of smoke? Here’s where it’s important to know what the OT says; for in the Old Testament, fire and smoke were symbolic of God’s presence on earth: as we see on the top of Mt. Sinai or when Moses experienced the burning bush. Now, in Acts 2, the Lord has been most recently present, on the cross, in the tomb, risen with His disciples, ascending into heaven. Joel’s prophecy is all about Jesus—God present on earth in His life, His death and resurrection, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Not only is Joel’s prophecy about Jesus but his prophecy was all about that specific Passover and that Pentecost.
And this is why Peter declares that the people are living in the last days. Peter preaches this way because these are the days after which all that was necessary for salvation has been accomplished. Christ has died and risen again, and because the Holy Spirit has come, God’s plan for our redemption and salvation is complete. And so, now, the world could end at any time. But remains still because the Lord patiently waits for more to hear and believe and be saved.
Now, if those people in Acts 2 were living in the last days of this world, it is that much more true for you. You are living in the last days, days where the end is getting ever nearer. That makes this a matter of urgency: it’s ironic to me what a friend of mine once said to me about the power and efficacy of the Gospel; “That it only makes sense to those who realize how close they are to the end.” Dear Christians, you do not hear that the end is near to scare you straight, for the message of the end being near has been present since the Day of Pentecost. You and I hear the message that we are in the last days because it’s true, it has been since that Pentecost so long ago, and also to know that this world is passing away, along with it all the institutions, hierarchies, systems and plans. We are in the last days. So what do you do to make sure that you are ready for the great and glorious day of the Lord when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead?
The crowd will ask this question in our text, once Peter’s done preaching. After Peter pierces the hearers to the heart: after he quotes Joel, he goes on to declare, “You know that Messiah you’ve been waiting for, for centuries? He has come. His name is Jesus…and you killed Him just seven weeks ago.” Convicted of their sin, they’ll ask Peter, “What shall we do?” They are asking; “How can we make up for what we have done? How can they be ready for the great and magnificent day of the Lord? And so the questions go for you? What shall we do? Peter tells them, and us in Acts 2:38-39: “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”
There’s gospel for you. The people want to know what must they must do to make up for their sin, and so often this is true of us. The truth… there is nothing left to do to atone for sin, sin has been put to death, it can no longer control us, victory is won, Jesus has reminded us from the cross that it is finished. But we do find that we continue to sin in many and various ways, but dear brother’s and sister’s sin is not your master anymore, nor does Satan have any sway with you anymore. But inevitably we find that we do fall back into sin. Knowing this Peter says; repent. Turn from sin and works-righteousness, and see your dire need for God’s grace. Be baptized, for it is there where Christ gives you the forgiveness He has won on the cross. In baptism you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit already. What’s more, Peter doesn’t just preach for the grow-ups in the crowd that day. This truth is for children as well. It is for those who are far off, both Jews and Gentiles. Peter preaches for young children far away in space and time, like those in Henrietta, New York, indeed St. Peter was preaching this knowing that these things were for you too. The Lord promises forgiveness and His Spirit for you and all by water and the Word; and where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation for you. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is all gift, that you might be sure that you are pleasing to God even now, all of these things (faith, trust, hope, forgiveness, mercy and grace) have been done, still are done, are preached to you and given to you that you might know that because of Christ you are already ready for the Last Day.
That’s what baptism does: it gives forgiveness of sins. It gives life which we see in our reading for today, three thousand men who heard Peter’s sermon were baptized. Of course, life must be nurtured, so Christianity doesn’t end there. What did those newly-baptized do? The next verse of our text tells us; “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They continued to nurture the life they’d received by simply hearing the Word, for God gives life in His Word.
There’s a joke that goes around that says this “Lutherans make the Holy Spirit boring.” And I guess in many ways we do. There is no rushing wind in this place today… There’s no fire here today, and to many who still wish for rushing winds and tongues as evidence of the Holy Spirit we Lutheran’s might seem a bit boring, but we’re really not. For the wind that does come, comes from my mouth, it is the very same breath, or as the hebrews say: ruach (breath of life) that God breathed into Adam in the Garden that comes through the simple speaking of God’s word. And while none of us is speaking in tongues in the way that our Pentecostal brother’s and sister’s often say that they do, we speak in the tongue of English, in the same way that the medes, parthians, Elamites and others spoke the truth in their own language. And the refining, purifying fire of God’s word reproves, calls to repentance and purifies simply by hearing.
Now I would say this; “Lutherans make the end times boring.” Dear Christians, what will the last days be like? The answer; they will be just like the present day, Peter declares that we are in the last days, for all that must happen before the end of the world has happened. The Lord could return at any time. How can you be sure that you are ready for Judgment? Simple. “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” This is the glad confidence given to you by grace. You’re ready for the end because Jesus Christ has died in your place, for your sin. The price is paid; and in Christ you are righteous before God even now. For His sake, you live in these last days with the assurance and joy that you are forgiven for all of your sins. Amen.