THE MEANING OF PENTECOST
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn. Zechariah 12:10
WELCOME to an important feast day. In the Church Year, today ranks with Christmas and Easter. It is one of the few days when we use red paraments, symbolic of the Holy Spirit. In the Hymnal it is called "Whitsunday," a name remaining from early modern English. The word "Pentecost" is really a number, Greek for "fiftieth." It is the fiftieth day after Easter. There is an Old Testament Pentecost as well, called shevuoth in Hebrew, which means "weeks." Moses commanded that seven Sabbaths after Passover such a festival should be celebrated. Since Easter was the Sunday after Passover, Pentecost would become the Christian Feast of Weeks. In Jewish tradition this feast is connected with the Ten Commandments. We celebrate the writing of the Law on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The best thing about this feast is that it has never been commercialized. There are no greeting cards that say "Happy Pentecost." May this festival be preserved from such decadence for many years to come.
Our text is from the prophet Zechariah, after the return from the Exile. It is an extremely important passage because it points out how the New Testament fulfills the Old. I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication ... they will look on Him whom they have pierced ... they shall mourn for Him. Consider "I will pour out." God was, is, and always will be the supply base for all human operations. We consume; He produces. He wants it that way. His gifts keep coming while we sinners spoil, wreck, ravage them, and eventually turn them into garbage. God answers this by pouring out more. For sin God poured out the blood of His Son. By that blood He purchased us so that we no longer belong to the devil, but to Him. As if that weren't enough, God continued to pour out the Holy Spirit to repair us on the inside. The Holy Comforter is the Spirit of Compassion. As Jesus' blood took away the guilt of sin, so the Holy Spirit takes away the power of sin, making us over from consumers of mercy into producers. Remember, however, that the mercy and kindness we produce is not from us, but directly from Him.
The text continues ... I will pour out on the house of David. This isn't about a building. Neither is it really about David's biological descendants, although they are the shadow of the Apostles to come who would proclaim David's One Great Descendant, the One who fulfilled all the prophecies. Today the Holy Spirit creates a new house of David beginning with the Apostles, then including all who have believed through their testimony. So we come to you and me. God pours out the Holy Spirit on us, making us compassionate and leading us to pray. He shows us Him whom we have pierced. Yes, I do mean "we." Our sins nailed Him to the cross just as surely as anyone's. The Holy Spirit softens our hearts by showing us the dying Savior and leads us to repentance. Talk about miracles! By giving us a good look at Him whom we have pierced, the Spirit performs this miracle even in hardened criminals. History records thousands who have repented on contemplating the cross. The word "pierced" reminds us at once of the centurion on Good Friday. He was a veteran sergeant, not the sort of person anyone would consider delicate, but as he watched his spear go into Jesus' side, he was crushed with repentance and prophesied that Jesus was the Son of God. Similar things could be said of Paul on the road to Damascus, Augustine listening to the preaching of Ambrose, or Luther trembling as he raised the Communion Chalice. All these men were filled with awe on contemplating the sacrifice of Christ! So were the people of Jerusalem on that first Pentecost Day!
It was about nine in the morning when the Apostles went outside to preach to the crowds, noticing that everyone was hearing the message in his own language. Most of their words are not recorded, but Peter's are. He talked about Jesus. He preached forgiveness to the very people who had demanded, "Let Him be crucified." Some people did not hear clearly, and thought the apostles were drunk. So there will always be those who cannot hear any good news, who know nothing but evil and will hear nothing of good, but for those who heard, Peter fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah. He showed them Him whom they had pierced, they wept, tore their clothes, and asked, "What shall we do?" Peter answered:
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, into the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The weeping was coming true, so was the repentance. Jesus was indeed an Only Child, the only Son of the Father, the true Son of Abraham, the ideal Son of David, the Righteous Remnant of Israel. He was the One who could and did keep God's Commandments. Notice Peter says nothing about inviting Jesus, or making a decision. Such talk is not found in the New Testament. Those are doctrines of men. Peter directed his hearers to the God-given way of regeneration, by Holy Baptism in which we are joined to the cross and resurrection of Jesus. That is what Jesus meant by being "born of water and the Spirit." That is the way of salvation for us, Gentiles, everyone.
Zechariah also calls the Holy Spirit a "Spirit of supplication." That means a Spirit of devotion and prayer. How does He fulfill this? He does it by making you the temple of God. You are the house of David today. You are a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, the Bethel where heaven touches earth. That is a big responsibility. When you belong to Jesus you become like Him. He said that the Spirit anointed Him to preach good news to the poor. You can say the same about yourself. You are anointed, a peculiar people, the Spirit is in you to stay. You can drive Him out by persistence in hard-heartedness. You can break the relationship by insisting on your one natural right, the right to God's wrath rather than His grace. Now as we say that it might sound stupid, but remember the flesh doesn't like to look at Him whom we have pierced. We have received a Spirit who makes good use of our knees, getting us down in the dust of contrition, then picking us up by the Gospel of forgiveness. In Him we have freedom not only from the penalty for sin, but from sin itself. He changes you from a consumer of love to a producer. You drink from the Fountain of Life, you become a fountain of life.
Today is the great festival of this Third Person, this Divine Spirit and His gracious work of sanctification. We keep it best by imitating Christ. AMEN.
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross