Joel 2:21-29, Acts 2:1-18, 37-42
May 27, 2012
Today is Pentecost Sunday. This is probably the third most important celebration in the Church year. And I’ve read this story of Pentecost for many years now, and I’m sure you’ve heard it for many years, too.
But I’ve been thinking lately that my mental images of what happened that day might be inadequate, especially my images of the last part of this story. Maybe that’s because I’ve been trying to get us to “tweak” our mental images this year. Or maybe it’s just the Holy Spirit impressing this picture upon me more vividly. Whatever it is, it’s been an eye-opening experience for me. And I hope it can be for you, too!
So, let’s take a look at this scene as Luke describes it. A crowd of people were gathered in the streets. They had heard this sound, or at least they heard that something was happening, and they came to investigate it. Luke describes this sound as that of a “mighty wind!” And I wonder if we’ve ever thought about that before, or tried to imagine what that was like.
Sometimes descriptions given to first century readers don’t translate well into our age. Maybe there are better ways of describing this for us. For instance, I wonder if this sound could have been described as being like a jet plane flying overhead. Or perhaps it was like the sound of a freight train. Neither of those things would have made any sense to the people then. So, we’re just not sure. But let me ask you. How loud do you think it was, and more importantly, who do you think heard this sound? Did the people throughout the city hear it? Or was it just the disciples in this house?
I Looked at this story a little more carefully and I realized something. I always thought that the people in the city only heard the sound of the disciples praising God in these various languages. But I went back and looked at that verse in the Greek, and I started to wonder if it wasn’t more than that. The word in Greek here is not just a “mighty wind” but a “violent” wind. And I got to thinking that this may well have been heard by at least some of the people in the city. Literally the phrase here is that the people gathered, “having arisen the rumor of this.” And the “rumor” – the word that got around – had to do with this whole event described in the first paragraph. In other words, it meant the sound of the “violent wind.” It meant the disciples speaking. It meant that whole thing.
So, whether or not all the people in the city could hear this sound from where they were, they certainly heard about it. This was a big event! And the “rumor” – the “word” about it – spread quickly! And in a very short time a “multitude” had gathered. Now, the Greek word here for multitude is the word “play-thos.” And what does that word sound like? How about the word “plethora!” I actually used that word a few weeks ago when we were talking about the number of fish the disciples caught! I used it then because I like the word, and I was having fun with it. But after reading this, I went back again and looked, and I found indeed that in the Greek they cast the net on the other side of the boat, and they caught a “Play-thos ton Ixthon.” Literally, they caught a “plethora of fish!!” (I was so excited that I was right about that!)
So here in this story, a “play-thos,” a plethora, a multitude, a “mob” of people had rushed together after this event. And they heard the disciples speaking many languages, which of course they would not have expected. And we see that in what they said. And again, I think this is one of those places where we don’t have a big enough picture. I hope you’ll consider that there was probably a much larger number of people than you might have imagined. All the city of Jerusalem had heard something, or they heard something was going on, and an enormous number of them had all come to see what was happening. (We’ll think a little bit about the numbers in just a bit.)
So then, Peter stands up – probably on a rock or a porch or a something – and he addresses the huge crowd. And in doing so, he preaches what is considered to be the first Christian sermon. (And yeah, I know! You’ve all had to listen to them ever since, right?!) And of course he starts with a joke. He says, “Wait, these guys aren’t drunk! It’s only 9:00 in the morning!” (Implying, not that they wouldn’t be drunk, just not this early in the day!) So then, after the laughter dies down, he launches into his explanation.
Now, we don’t have time to read this whole thing today. But I hope you will some time. It’s very good! Peter explained very well, and in no uncertain terms, all that was happening that day, and just who this Jesus really was. And don’t forget, this was not all that long after the crucifixion! And many of these people had witnessed that, and had been talking about it ever since. Remember what the two travelers asked the “unrecognized Jesus” on the road to Emmaus. “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who has not heard these things.” They had all heard. They all knew. And now they were right there with what Peter was saying!
So then, as a result of this sermon, we read these words in verse 37. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart.” In other words, the people heard, they were convinced, they were convicted, and the result was action! They asked “What shall we do?”
That’s it, isn’t it? That’s the perfect question! Notice, it wasn’t “What shall we believe?” That was already now the case, wasn’t it? They believed. No, the question was, “What shall we do?” That’s the real question of faith, isn’t it? Our faith in Jesus is not just a belief, it is ultimately a response! That’s the faith! It’s not just a statement, it is an action.
We brought our Confirmation Class into our fold today. And throughout the class, we asked them to try to understand certain things about what they believed. And we asked them to state those beliefs before us. But then, we did our best to impress upon them that, in believing, we as Christians act! In the service, I asked them those questions you’ve heard before. And notice that they are action questions. “Who is your Lord and Savior?” That’s a belief. But then I asked, “Do you trust him?” “Do you intend to be his disciple, to obey his word, and to show his love?” “Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, giving of yourself in every way?”
Those are action questions, aren’t they?! And isn’t it the same with all of us? Do we act? Do we seek to grow in our relationship with Jesus? Do we serve in his kingdom? Do we seek his lost children? Do we support the work of his Gospel? Or do we just believe in him?
Well, there were great actions that first Pentecost Day. And the last part of this is a scene is one I really don’t think we comprehend. I know I’ve never really pictured this very well! Luke tells us this. “The people received (Peter’s) word, and they were baptized,” And again, Baptism is an action. It is, as we say, “an outward sign of an inward change.” It is something we do! But then, don’t miss this next phrase! “and there were added that day about three thousand souls!”
That was quite a baptism service, isn’t it!! That was quite a Confirmation Class! And can you imagine how long it took to baptize three thousand people? That was a plethora of baptisms!!! The people responded in a big way, and their actions were the focus of the beginning day of the Church of Jesus Christ!
So I want you to think about this as you go today. The question to ask is not, “What should we believe.” The question is “What shall we do?!” Yes, we state our beliefs in confirmation, we say them when we say the creed, we may even find ourselves telling others what we believe from time to time. But our beliefs are lived out in our actions! That’s the essence of the faithful life in Jesus Christ.
So I urge you to be people of action. Be people who respond to the call of God upon your lives! Be people who hear the word, and who are convicted, and who ask, “What shall we do?”
Lord, save us from the temptation simply to say and to speak our faith. Help us indeed to do that, but help us also to live out our faith. Help us to be faithful people of action! Help us to follow well our Savior who showed your love in amazing ways. This we pray in his name, Amen.