1. Introduction – dramatic, exciting; but what does this mean for today???
Can we experience the Holy Spirit like this?? With such great effect??
2. Being together
The disciples had gathered in Jerusalem as Jesus had told them to. This was 50 days after the resurrection, and 10 days after Jesus’ ascension. The disciples and Jesus’ other followers had not been without Jesus long before the Spirit came amongst them. When Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), he really meant it. The Holy Spirit would continue to promote the work of Jesus and the mission of God.
This was the ‘Day of Pentecost’ – there was a festival happening because of the end of the harvest (50 days after Passover). Visitors from all over the place were in Jerusalem for this festival. Maximum exposure for the wondrous deeds of God! People everywhere … from all sorts of cultures and language groups. A bit like the culmination of the Autumn Festival in Bright … busy, bustling, noisy crowds.
The Holy Spirit was breaking in! Not that the Holy Spirit had ever really been missing. When was the Holy Spirit first mentioned in the Bible??? The Holy Spirit was there at creation – “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1b). The Holy Spirit was also there guiding key figures of Israel to where God would have them be, had also inspired the prophets with key teaching about the ways of God. The Holy Spirit had ‘landed’ on Jesus at his baptism (to acknowledge his unique ministry on earth) and guarded him through the devil’s temptations. But there was something different about this incident. The Holy Spirit was coming upon the ‘believers’ collectively for a great purpose. These ‘believers’ would be moulded together and gifted together, for the purpose of becoming the church of Jesus Christ; a church that would continue to re-enact the life and ministry of Jesus day by day wherever they were.
So, they had to be “all together” (v.1), and they were all together. There was around 120 ‘believers’ by now (according to Acts 1:15): including the remaining 11 disciples plus the new one Matthias, Jesus’ mother and the other women who had been following Jesus for some time. Now there was also Jesus’ brothers (who had become believers after the resurrection), including James – who would later become an important leader of the church and write the famous letter that we have in the New Testament. They had to be “all together” (v.1), and they were all together.
This begs the question! What would it mean for us to be “all together” (v.1b)? Given the complexities of contemporary life, and the unique context in which we live locally, what would it mean for us (in our context) to be “all together”??? Purpose, unity, love. To be on the same page together, working together. To be worshipping and fellowshipping together as much as possible. Implications for being together with other local churches as well.
Given all that, what would it mean for the Holy Spirit to “fill the entire house” (v.2b)??? Everywhere we go together and also apart (separately), gathered and dispersed; all our homes and everywhere we go … working, learning, playing, eating. The whole area!! All the community!!
We should note that the Holy Spirit is never our personal possession – as if we could ever contain the Holy Spirit or to confine it our own needs or purposes. The Holy Spirit inhabits us … to point toward Jesus. The Holy Spirit goes ahead of us … to help us make relational connections, and see the doors of hospitality open to us. And the Holy Spirit’s gifts are supplied for the ‘common good’ (1 Corinthians 12:7).
I read this week about an alarm clock that just wakes up one person, even where there is another in the same room. [The “Wake” alarm takes specific aim and directs a tight burst of light and sound at a person’s face.] The Holy Spirit doesn’t generally work that way – not in this Pentecostal context anyway – the Holy Spirit is collectively and universally awakening us!
3. Wind and fire
The ‘day of Pentecost’ was all pretty dramatic … a strong wind and the appearance of fire. The “wind” covered every square millimetre of where they were situated. The fire started out in one flame, but separated out to touch (to “rest on” – v.3b) each person there gathered. And immediately there was significant output from these ‘believers’. They started speaking in languages previously unknown to them. Previously timid and fearful ‘believers’ had their hearts ‘kindled’, their minds inspired, their mouths activated, and they spilled out into the streets with a message about God.
This all came as a bit of a surprise to the gathering crowd. Look at the repeated reactions of the crowd: “bewildered” (v.6), “amazed and astonished” (v.7) – this was not normal; then, “amazed and perplexed” (v.12) – to be “perplexed” suggests that something has touched a nerve.
This was a miracle in communication. We know that this was a miracle that only God could bring about, because why?? It is noted that these people doing this incredible communicating, were “Galileans” (verse 7). These “Galileans” would NOT have had the education or opportunity of learning these languages of other places; being known as simple and humble folk. This was a work of God; or at least some would come to understand that.
We should note that these “languages” are NOT the spiritual ‘tongues’ we associate with ‘speaking in tongues’ (that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians). These are real “languages” and dialects of different national groups, through which, when heard, communicated the good news of Jesus – refer verse 6b. This certainly engaged them – every single one of them (everyone was covered)!
4. Who was there?
Who was there? People of the Hebrew faith from a variety of places far and wide … as far as Rome (listed in verses 9-10). Jews had been dispersed all over the Greco-Roman world over past centuries through various conflicts. So they would have a variety of first languages. There were also “proselytes” (v.10b) – who were not Jews by birth, but had been attracted to the Jewish faith. The Jewish faith had a few attractive features … not late-in-life circumcision, not that … but certainly monotheism (one God), and ethical standards way above other religious or societal standards. In being attracted to the Jewish faith, such ‘seekers’ as these would also likely be interested in this new expression of spirituality. Mentioned specifically were certain Gentiles – Cretans and Arabs – they were also hearing interesting and amazing news in their own languages.
What were they hearing about (v.11b)?? “God’s deeds of power”! If we read on into Peter’s great sermon, we will see that these “deeds of power” were concerned with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; and how this has brought the possibility of forgiveness and salvation to all humanity. The good news about Jesus was being shared in every language present.
5. Pentecost today
How can this be replicated today? We are God’s people, and having accepted Jesus into our lives, we too have received the Holy Spirit. This is the same Holy Spirit that each of us has received – a “tongue of fire” has “rested on each” of us … from the same Holy Spirit. How will the Holy Spirit deal with us?? Each day we would be waiting to see … expectant for God’s next move. But we also have to ready … more than this, we have to be willing, we have to be open! As we see in the New Testament, there was often things that had to be in place before the Holy Spirit became evident – usually obedience and prayer. And we see in Paul's letters (and in other places like the early chapters of Revelation), often various churches had to be called to account for their behaviour, action or inaction.
On the basis of what we read here though, the key work of the Holy Spirit in us, will be effective communication. This will happen even across difficult barriers, not just cultural barriers, but other more common barriers such as: non-belief, antagonism, bad experiences and deep hurts. Also, sadly, more and more people (often through no fault of their own) have never heard of Jesus, or seen any credible witness to the life of Jesus. So, when we share our faith in Jesus with anyone, it is unlikely to get an immediate positive response (although sometimes we may be pleasantly surprised). But what we want to create, is the space where someone will ask, “What does this mean?” (v.12). We want a dialogue to begin, which includes both words and also actions; that together add up to a very credible presentation of faith.
Sometimes, we will be sneered at and called all sorts of things – ‘nuts’ and worse, or accused of being ‘on something’. There will be those who misunderstand or pull down the blinkers. But that’s okay surely! We remain true, and wait for those who say, “What does this mean?”. There will always be those who are seeking truth or needing new solutions to old problems. When the ‘believers’ were “all together” and ready for God’s Spirit to move, the Holy Spirit worked, and a crowd was created around the sharing of the good news. Can we actually get involved in things, and conduct activities, that get people to ask the question: “What does this mean?”. This, against the tide of the mockers and cynics; and we might also say, against the tide of the times!?!
We should note that this “Good News” that we share, has to remain ‘good news’ – it needs to be presented in a way that touches people deeply where they are, and significantly answer long-held questions … it needs to be heard and received as ‘good news’. We are all sick of ‘bad news’; lives will only be changed through ‘good news’. This is why we have to be (and discern well) where other people are at, so that we know we are offering ‘good news’ solutions to those problems that frustrate and oppress; rather than speaking words that go above heads or miss targets entirely. The language of our place … our comfortable ‘religious’ words may not translate, so that is why we need other languages up our sleeve – largely the language of love, the language of compassion, and the language of hope. [There are other languages to … more on this next week.]
If we read on in Acts 2, we find that about three thousand people responded to the gospel that day and were baptised (2:41). We pray for people to make decisions for Jesus in numbers like this. Not only so we feel good about ourselves, not only so our faith seems vindicated; but primarily because this is the decision people need to make, were created to make, will be thoroughly thankful for in time.
So what might be the ‘Pentecost’ vision for today? All of us connected together by Jesus, and by a desire to lift his name high before the entire community (“entire house”) – in our various giftedness, personalities, roles, vocations and interests; empowered by the Spirit to communicate the good news of Jesus in creative, meaningful, understandable, culturally and contextually relevant ways. Exciting yes! But this may mean there are things to be left behind – i.e. convenience, personal preferences, comfort zones.
Another question! Did you want to experience the Holy Spirit working through your life to the betterment of the world? Then this starts at the cross of Jesus.
A Pentecost Blessing:
May we enter the adventure, and discover where the winds of the Holy Spirit are blowing.