Luther on Pentecost

This message [of Pentecost] does not instill fear, does not kill, but rather instills joy and boldness. It does just what Christ has promised his disciples, that he would send to them the Holy Spirit, who would not be a terrifying spook but rather one who comforts, one who would fill them with joy, boldness, and courage in the face of every kind of fear. For on this day, at the moment when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven, every one of the apostles steps forward in turn, filled with a courage ready to take on the whole world, when just a short time before, no one could cheer them up. Right after his ascension, it was all that Christ could do to gather them together like timid, scattered chicks and soothe their fears. Despite all his admonitions and encouragements, he could not instill in them any boldness or courage. But on this day when the Holy Spirit comes along in a roaring wind and breathes on them, he makes their hearts so joyful and eager to speak, that every one of them steps up before a mob of strangers and starts preaching to hem. They are totally unconcerned about what others may think, and are ready to engage the whole world.


But what did they preach about? This is what they said: Listen, dear friends, we want to bring you a new and wondrous message, a truly remarkable story such as you’ve never heard before. You know that this past Easter a man by the name of Jesus of Nazareth was crucified at Jerusalem as if he were a criminal, a villain, and a traitor. He was mocked, spit upon, scorned, cursed, and killed, as everyone knows. Would you like to know who this man really is? He’s the Lord of heaven and earth, yes, he’s the Son of God. That is what the apostles and disciples proclaimed to all the various nations represented there, not just to those who spoke their own native tongue learned in their childhood. No, they also spoke in foreign languages they had never learned! It struck the people as a genuine wonder, that this Jesus of Nazareth, dragged out of the city seven weeks earlier, legally condemned as a criminal, and publicly executed, was not being publicly proclaimed to be the Lord and God who rules the whole world.


The New Testament and the kingdom of Christ being with seemingly no power at all, but in fact they have an almighty power that no one can resist. It seems like folly for Christ to begin the New Testament in this way, with the message of the apostles on Pentecost Day. What is their message? This is it: We apostles proclaim that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who was condemned and publicly executed seven weeks ago, is the Lord, of whom all the prophets prophesied. Whoever wishes to be rid of his sins and to have eternal life, let him repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. All of this seems insignificant and unimportant, both so far as the message and so far as the messengers are concerned. The message seems to be unimportant. The messengers, namely, the apostles and disciples whom Christ used as instruments of this message, seem to be even more unimportant. And yet, as a result of this unimportant message and its seemingly incompetent messengers, the New Testament and the kingdom of Christ are established.


So Christianity begins as nothing but powerless foolishness. It is as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23: ” We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” And yet there is hidden under this foolishness and weakness the greatest wisdom and power, which no one can resist. For regardless of how great the power of the high priests and Pilate, they can’t do anything to stop it. God strikes them with fear, so that they are afraid of the people who might stone them. It does indeed seem like rebellion against both spiritual and political rulers for the apostles to come along and preach about the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. but in spit of that, both the high priests and Pilate are filled with fear. Of course, they fully deserve to be afraid, though there is nothing to fear, so that God can demonstrate his power through those who are powerless. That is why I say, Christianity is established in obvious weakness, and yet in that same impotence there is so great a power and might, that all the high and mighty stand in awe of it and are fearful of it.


You see, it is in the nature and character of the gospel to be a foolish, offensive message, and almost universally rejected and condemned. If the gospel didn’t upset citizens and peasants, bishops and princes, it would be a nice, sweet message, easy to proclaim, and the public would gladly accept it. But because it is a message that offends people, especially the high and mighty, therefore it takes great courage and the help of the Holy Spirit to proclaim it. The fact is that the poor beggars and fishermen come forward and preach in such a way that they rouse and bring down upon themselves the anger of the whole council and Jerusalem, the wrath of the whole government, the ire of the spiritual rulers, and, on top of that, also the hatred of the Roman emperor. What’s more, they dare to accuse all of the above of being traitors and murderers, fully expecting to get their teeth knocked out. None of this could have happened without the Holy Spirit. That is why the Holy Spirit’s Pentecost message is our comfort and joy, because we, too, can ignore the anger and slander of the world. It is this same message that produces such joy-filled people in Christ, people who are willing to undertake anything in behalf of Christ, willing also to suffer anything for his sake.


The sum and substance of all their sermons was: God has fulfilled for his people all the promises he made to their fathers; he did this by letting Jesus be born as a descendant of David and as the Saviour of his people Israel. From the time this same God led his people Israel out of Egypt, he performed one miracle after another. In one stroke he has now confirmed all his miracles by raising Jesus from the dead and by proclaiming forgiveness of sins in his name, so that whoever believes in him will be righteous and filled with joy.


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