Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Today is Pentecost in the Church calendar. Even though Pentecost is one of the three important festivals in our calendar. But, we do not celebrate it with decorations, we have no family dinners like Christmas and no celebrations or family meals like Easter. Yet, the messages of Christmas and Easter that we hold so dear would have been impossible without Pentecost.
Our Gospel text today goes back to Maundy Thursday when Jesus told the disciples in the upper room that one of them will betray him, and had told Peter that he would deny Him three times. Jesus said:
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[g] in you. (John 14)
Jesus told the disciples that He will leave them… after three years … walking with Him, He must have shocked them with such news. Imagine if your pastor would tell you tomorrow…Oh I accepted a call to Hawaii… and I will move out in a month… Most probably you would feel lost, and won’t know what to do.
The disciples needed the Holy Spirit badly, because the world around them was falling apart. As you know, the disciples scattered when Jesus was arrested and was crucified, and hid for fear of being arrested and tortured too…Peter denied Him three times, as I mentioned. Even when Jesus appeared to them and taught them for 40 days, they were still in hiding.
When the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples, the empowerment was so intense that those who denied Jesus came out in public preaching the Gospel. Peter who denied Jesus three times, became a lion for Jesus. Peter, with the power of the Holy Spirit, preached the first sermon in the first Christian church on earth and 3000 people confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Peter and the disciples who had been hiding before came out of Jerusalem and preached the Gospel all the way to Rome… to North Africa…Dying under persecution, dying under the sword… never revoked Christ. When Peter was sentenced to death by crucifixion, he told his executioner that he was not worthy to be crucified like His Lord Jesus Christ, and was crucified upside down. Even Thomas the doubter came out and preached the Gospel all the way to India, where he was speared to death.
The miracle of the Resurrection is the disciples’ commitment to the Great Commission… In addition, their self-sacrifice is evidence of the Resurrection. The cowards became lions for Jesus.
I was listening to one of the leading Imams on the South Side of Chicago on YouTube… He was saying that the miracle of Muhammad; the prophet of Islam was his disciples… the irony is that Muhammad’s disciples killed each other over political power.
The miracle of the Resurrection is the disciples’ commitment to the Great Commission… but it was not their power, but the power of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul explains this when he said “our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor. 3)
So, what is this for us today? What is the Holy Spirit doing today?
As the world of the disciples was falling apart, our world is falling apart too. Today, we live in a culture antagonistic to Christianity. We live in a world where many Christians support abortion, gay marriage, gay sex-education in schools… a world where Christians are persecuted, and denigrated in the media. The media is bashing any criticism of the Islamic terrorist threat among us and is calling it Islamophobia. You are encouraged to say you believe in anything but Jesus.
Churches are dying, and are sold to become Islamic mosques or Hindu temples. Above all, the church is imploding with heresies…which is the most disturbing… like the people in the story of the Tower of Babel, many churches are teaching people how to find their way to heaven. Some have opened their doors for meditation or other kinds of spirituality. It is good that God took on Himself an oath not to flood the earth again.
Last month, I was giving a lecture at Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. After talking 50 minutes, my host stood up, and said. Rev. Shehab, we are worried. Statistics say that in 2050, White Christians will be a minority in America. My reply was: I do not care whether it is White or Black. The only solution is to be on fire for the Gospel, like the day of Pentecost. We have to be a missionary Church like the disciples. We have to walk by faith not by sight. The Holy Spirit will lead us, and is leading us. Jesus said “I will not leave you like orphans” (John 14: 18) … right (…) then Jesus added: 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. (John 14)
It is the Holy Spirit that brings you to church on Sunday… It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin and shows us that we are doomed without the vicarious work of Jesus Christ on the cross… it is the Holy Spirit that makes our hearts burn when we read or hear the scriptures and know that we have to trust in Jesus Christ and know that he gained the ultimate victory for us on the cross, and that we have to work out of victory not for victory.
On this day of Pentecost, we have to go out into the world like the disciples did, and know that the Holy Spirit will do wonders through us.
Jesus encouraged us and said: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)
As St. Paul said in Ephesians 3: 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Rev. Hesham Shehab