Joel 2:21-29, Acts 2:1-16, 22-24
June 12, 2011
This is Pentecost! And I hope you got a chance to read my web page this week. In it, I tried to clear up a few little details about this celebration. For those of you who didn’t read it, (or you non-technical people who wouldn’t read it!) let me tell a little of what it said.
Pentecost is thought of as one of the greatest Christian celebrations. But it was not originally a Christian. It was Jewish. It was also referred to as “Shavuot” and it commemorated the giving of (what ?) the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai. And Pentecost comes 50 days after (what ?) Passover. Which was also 50 days after the Israelites left Egypt. And the word “Pentecost” literally means “fiftieth day.”
So, the events of Acts 2 took place on the Jewish celebration of Pentecost. It wasn’t the other way around. It wasn’t that the events of Acts 2 took place, and then the church decided to name the event “Pentecost.” That’s not how it happened. The Holy Spirit came upon the Church on a holiday that already existed. Does that make sense?
So it’s interesting that the giving of the 10 Commandments to the people of Israel, and the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church are connected. And that makes sense, too, if you think about it. The salvation story of the Old Testament – the Exodus – was amazing and miraculous, and through it God saved his people from their bondage. But they were confirmed as God’s people and given their “mark,” as such, with the giving of the 10 Commandments.
Well, Pentecost commemorates a similar thing. The salvation story of the New Testament – the story of Jesus and his Resurrection – was also miraculous and amazing. And the church was also confirmed and given it’s “mark,” and of course it’s power, in this event, in the giving of the Holy Spirit.
So I think these two events happening on the same day is no coincidence! And I have to tell you that in all my years of thinking about these stories, I’ve never put the two of them together like that! How many of you had? So you see, we learn new things all the time. That’s what’s great about the Bible, and the way the Holy Spirit “in-spires” us as we study it! We can read the same passage a thousand times, and then, on the one-thousand and first time we read it, God shows us something new!
So then, it was on the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, and the disciples were all together. And as they were sitting together, this amazing, life-changing, and earth-shaking event took place! God’s power came over them, the Holy Spirit came into them, and they were filled with power! And because of that Spirit, their fear was gone, they finally understood the story of Jesus, they spoke with strange languages they didn’t know, and they told of the glory of God with new power! And so that day, the Church was born, and the word began to spread!
One of the things I’ve always said about this event is that when God starts something, he really starts something! As I’ve said before, God has a “flair for the dramatic.” But he also has a flair for powerful and spectacular events. When God establishes something, he really starts something. He makes liberal use of the exclamation point!! He does that here, doesn’t he?!
Well, the people in Jerusalem hear something. And I sometimes wonder what they heard. Did they actually hear “the sound of the rushing wind?” Luke doesn’t exactly say they did. He says, “Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the sound of a might wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” Does that mean the people outside the house could hear it? Again, it doesn’t say. But when it happened, and when the disciples began to speak in all these languages, the people in the city started to gather around. So they must have heard some kind of commotion. Word spread quickly around the city, and before long we have this crowd of people – people from countries and regions all around – countries that are now the bane of every lay reader who has to read this passage!
Well, let me say that power of this event, is not just the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit working in these men. It’s not just the miracle of the people hearing these Galileans speaking all their various languages. The power in this event is what the disciples – namely Peter – were given the power to say about the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus! And it was the powerful way the hearts of all those people were touched. That’s the focus of this story. Verse 37 says, “When they heard this they were cut to the heart. And they asked the disciples, “What shall we do?”
You see, this wasn’t just a miraculous event. It wasn’t just a great show God put on! We don’t believe all this and celebrate Pentecost because of the power of these events and the God who made them happen. The important thing about this story is that God used these men in miraculous ways to establish the “church” and to begin the spread of the good news. That’s what makes Pentecost what it is. It is truly the “birthday of the Church.” And in the past 2,000 years, the Church of Jesus Christ has had the greatest influence on the most people, and on the entire course of history of this planet, that anything else ever had – and nothing else even comes close!
My hope is that this is more than just a miraculous event for us, too. I hope Pentecost for us is not just that “we believe in the miracles we read about today.” I hope it’s not just a commemoration of the birth of the church. My hope is that we know that we are part of this thing called the church! It is that we know that God has put his spirit in us, and he empowers us to do great things, like he did that day – even the “least” of us!
When Joel spoke of this event in his prophecy, he told of the spirit being poured out ”on all flesh.” It will affect all people, not just some prophet up on a mountaintop. He said, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. Even upon your servants will I pour out my spirit.” We are part of that! God’s spirit is on all of us!
So the question today is, “Are you?” Are you part of that? Are you “filled with the spirit?” I remember in college that “spirit filled” was a buzz word people used. It was like the term “born again” (Only at the next “level.”) When asking about your faith, they would ask, “Are you ‘born again?’” “Are you ‘spirit filled?’” And yeah, those terms did get to be a bit cliché and “buzz word-y.” And maybe that’s ok. But they were “buzz words” that spoke of a deeper meaning that to often we forget. So let us ask ourselves, are we filled with the spirit?
Now I know that sometimes we leave the “spirit centered” beliefs and activities to our “Pentecostal” brothers and sisters. And I suppose there are good enough reasons for that. Because that may not be our “cup of tea.” But I don’t think we can forget the importance of the spiritual part of our lives. I believe God’s spirit is within us, too. And so, the big question is, “Do we let him be part of our lives!” Or like too many people, do we ignore that spirit? Do we “quench” the spirit within us and not let it affect us?
So, as you think about Pentecost today, I’d like to ask you that. You are the Church. You are part of that great “body of Christ” that was “commissioned.” established, and empowered that day. Do you know that spirit within you? Are you filled with the power of God which he promised? And those terms we used in college should not be reserved for some small segment of the church. It should describe all of God’s people. So ask yourself, are you “born again?” And if so, are you “Spirit filled?” Are these events from so long ago that we celebrate today, part of your life?
Eternal God, whose power once came upon the Church and changed the world, change our lives by the indwelling power of your Holy Spirit. Help us to know that power living within us, giving us the peace and the direction and the boldness to speak of and live your love. May we be empowered to be together the church you want us to be. For we pray in the name of Jesus our savior, Amen.