From the Word
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Acts 2:1–4, RSV
When God was about to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, he permitted them to celebrate the Feast of the Passover on the night of their departure, and commanded them on every annual recurrence of the season to observe the same feast in commemoration of their liberation from bondage and their departure from Egypt. Fifty days later, in their journey through the wilderness, they arrived at Mount Sinai. There God gave them the law through Moses, and there they were commanded to observe annually, in commemoration of that giving of the law, the fiftieth day after the Feast of the Passover. Hence the name “Feast of Pentecost,” the word “Pentecost” coming from the Greek “Pentecoste,” or fiftieth day. So when the day of Pentecost was now “fully come”—when the Jews had properly commemorated the giving of the law of God on Mount Sinai—the Holy Spirit came, in accordance with Christ’s promise, and gave them a new law. We now celebrate this feast, not because of the old historical event, but because of the new one—the sending of the Holy Spirit.
The occasion of the Jewish observance was the giving of the literal law; but it is ours to celebrate the giving of the spiritual law. There is the written law, commanded of God and composed of written words. It is called “written” or “literal” because it goes no farther and does not enter the heart. With dead hearts men could not sincerely observe the commandments of God. Were every individual left to do as he pleased, uninfluenced by fear, not one would be found choosing to be controlled by the law. As long as the law consists merely of written words, it can make no one righteous, can enter no heart.
The spiritual law is not written with pen and ink, nor uttered by lips as Moses read from the tables of stone. We learn that the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and filled all the assembled multitude, and there appeared on each of them parting, fiery tongues and they preached so unlike they were wont to do that all men were filled with amazement. The Spirit came pouring into their hearts, making them different beings, making them creatures who loved and willingly obeyed God. This change was simply the manifestation of the Spirit himself, his work in the heart.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 192–93.