We are in our second week of our new Legacy series, ‘The Dawn of the Church,’ our look into the major events of The Book of Acts. Last week we talked about the last moments that Jesus spent with his disciples and how in those last moments he told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit… a gift that would be coming ‘in a few days.’ Then we ended our time in chapter 1 looking at Jesus’ rise into the heavens and we saw that the disciples did exactly what Jesus had asked them to do, even though it probably went against everything that would have made sense to them: rather than run home to Galilee they waited in Jerusalem… waited and prayed. That is where we left them last week: in a room together waiting and praying. Well, this week the waiting is over and the action begins! Let’s all turn to Acts chapter 2 and see what happens. Now, I know that the passage we are about to look at is very familiar territory for some of you… probably many of you, but it may also be new ground for some of you, as well. But whether these events are old ground, ground you know a little about or something you’ve never even heard about before, our hope is that you will excited by what you hear today. And speaking of ground, we have a lot of it to cover… so let’s get after it! Acts 2:1 says, ‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.’ We need to know a little bit about Pentecost to make sense of what is about to happen. Pentecost was the celebration of the day that God gave the Jews the 10 commandments. It was called Pentecost because the giving of the 10 commandments happened 50 days after the original Passover day… now, I know that talk about all of the Jewish festival days can quickly get confusing, but for our purposes today all we need to know is that Passover was a hugely important Jewish holiday that drew up to 200,000 visitors to Jerusalem each year… and Jerusalem normally only had 50,000 inhabitants. And since many of these visitors had made special once-in-a-lifetime trips to Jerusalem from places all over the world to be a part of the Passover week celebration, a good number of them stayed the extra 50 days and celebrated Pentecost in Jerusalem before going home. They could get in two festivals in one trip. This was so common in the first Century that Pentecost had become the 3rd largest festival on the Jerusalem calendar. The bigger point though, is that on the morning that we are focusing on today, there was a good reason the city of Jerusalem was crawling with thousands of Jewish visitors from all over the world. Pentecost: lots of people from lots of places.
On to Verse 2: Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. The word for wind in the Greek pneuma and it is exactly the same word for breath and for spirit. So, this sentence could read a number of ways: a violent wind… a violent breath… a violent spirit… actually, I don’t think it really matters... it seems like it was something of all three. But what does matter is that there is no question that the sound of the arrival of this spirit/wind/breath that came out of heaven and clearly filled THE specific house where the disciples were sitting was so ‘violent,’ (which is an interesting way to describe a wind, I think), it was so violent that, as we will soon see, it drew a big crowd. It was a big noise that went right in a specific house! Verse 3: They (meaning the disciples) saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, (or languages) as the Spirit enabled them. Fire in the Old Testament was generally connected with the presence of God; we see this a lot in the Old Testament, take the story of Moses and the burning bush, for instance. It makes perfect sense that the presence of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, would show up this day as fire. But tongues of fire? What’s that about? I believe there was a specific purpose in this as well since what God was about to do was related to speech and language; it makes sense that there were what seemed to be ‘tongues of fire’ sitting on each one of the disciples. The presence of God was going to show itself in their speech. By the way the word for tongue and language (glossa) are the same word in Greek so even that makes sense in some ways. Do I fully understand this? No, but from what we can tell about 120 people saw this and said it happen to them! And the first thing that happened to the disciples once they had been filled with the spirit (which, by the way, is the word that is always used in Acts to talk about the actual moments of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) was that they began to speak in real, spoken languages they’d never learned… Verse 5: Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? What Luke does here in verse 5 is take a step back and tell us about the crowd that gathered that morning. And don’t miss that the emphasis of the crowd’s reaction is on the disciples being Galileans. Galileans were thought to be unsophisticated, uneducated yokels; people with little, if any, chances to learn any of the world’s languages. Luke gives us a list of the many places the people whose languages the disciples were speaking had come from that day. And he was making a point in giving us this list: the crowd gathered to see what was up with the big wind noise represented pretty much every place in the entire Roman world that had any sort of Jewish population. God had gathered into one place Jewish people from all over the world so they could ‘hear the disciples declaring the wonders of God in their own tongues!’ Then verse 12 says what I’m sure I would have said if I’d been in that crowd that morning, ‘Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?’ That was a great question since nothing like this had ever happened before and it deserved an answer. Others, though, were sure they knew what this meant… the disciples were drunk. Verse 13 says, ‘Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”’ The Greek here is much harsher than our NIV Bibles. It says they mocked them and said, ‘they are filled with ‘sweet wine.’ This was a special kind of cheap, young wine people only drank to get drunk. Being drunk was abhorrent to the Jews and being accused of looking like you were drunk, especially in the morning, was a great shame. Suddenly, Peter, one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus and now the apparent leader of the disciples, stands up with some hutzpah we haven’t seen anywhere in the Gospel stories about his life with Jesus, and responds to the question ‘What does this mean?’ and to the accusation that they were just drunk. And he takes on the drunk part first. Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, (he’s not alone; they are all standing together… and remember they were hiding out in a room just a few minutes earlier) raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! And with that one statement he blows aside that assumption. And then to begin answering the question, ‘What does this mean?’ he quotes a passage from the Book of Joel, a little book of prophecy in the Old Testament. And the passage he quotes was one that had long given the Jews hope that someday God would release Israel from the tight fist of the Romans and restore her to her former glory days when she was a free nation under King David. Peter quotes Joel, ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ Peter was saying, ‘Now is that day!’ God is saving and pouring out his spirit on everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. But one thing that Peter wanted everyone in that crowd to be sure about was this: that they all knew exactly who ‘The Lord’ is. And so Peter launched into a sermon to give them the facts! And what a sermon it was! It starts in verse 24. “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. You saw the signs with your own eyes! How did you miss that God was working through him? This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.’ Ah, you killed him. That was just 50 days ago! Remember? But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Peter could be really bold about this since there were about 120 people right there who had all seen Jesus alive! And then he quoted the greatest king in all of Jewish history, King David and says even David sang songs about the coming of Jesus, about Jesus life his death and his resurrection. And then Peter gets to the answer to the question, ‘What does this mean?’ in verse 32 ‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear… Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” What this means is that God is present with us in Spirit and through his spirit he is giving his servants the power to tell the world, even in languages that his servants didn’t know, that Jesus is both the Lord and the Messiah! And suddenly many in the crowd could see clearly what Peter was saying was absolutely the truth and they responded… verse 37 reads, ‘When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” They had another question. 38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”40With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day ‘What should we do?’ they asked. And Peter gave them the good news that even in the face of their earlier rejection of Jesus they could still repent, be baptized and be saved. And they needed this hopeful truth it in the face of what Peter had just shared concerning their role in Jesus’ crucifixion. Now, there must have still been some naysayers in the crowd or Peter wouldn’t have had to ‘plead with them with many words.’ But even in the face of some who were never going to see any of this as coming from the hand of God, 3,000 joined the disciples and became disciples of Jesus as well. Things were on fire! One odd detail: a number of people have done the math and they say that if the 12 disciples started baptizing around 10 am and kept it up until dark they could have pulled off baptizing 3,000 people in one day. I don’t know that that is all that important but what was important was that God was building his church and he was doing so through people from all over the world… and think about this, many of whom were getting ready to go home to who knows where with an amazing story to tell of what they’d seen and heard and come to believe about Jesus”!
And as we look back at what happened, it’s important to think through what these events are still saying to the church today. I think it’s impossible not to read this passage without becoming, like the crowd that day, amazed and perplexed. We still ask, ‘What does this mean? And Peter’s answer is still relevant to us: God is still pouring out his spirit on all people: sons and daughters, young and old, men and women, servants of all sorts. And everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord… the Lord Jesus… will be saved. It is just as true today as it was on the day of Pentecost. And we who are filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are still under the same command that the disciples were under: to go and make disciples of all nations and to be witnesses to everyone everywhere even to the ends of the earth. This is what Pentecost means. It is the proof that we have not been left alone; that Jesus kept his word; he sent the gift of the Holy Spirit and he is still keeping his word to his church today.
But there was another question in today’s passage that is still just as relevant. The crowd, when realizing the depth of their betrayal of Jesus asked, ‘What shall we do?’ and I am sure that there are some in this room that have never surrendered your lives to Jesus; you’ve never declared yourself to be a disciple of His and you are wondering, ‘What should I do?’ And Peter’s answer is still right on target. Listen to how his answer is translated in the Message. Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.” Acts 2:38-39. And can I be so bold as to say to those of you who may be asking the question, “What should I do?” I believe God is inviting you right now to change your life… change your destiny… it can happen if you turn your life over to Jesus right now. All it takes is a simple prayer saying you believe that death couldn’t hold Jesus and that you believe that Jesus is the Lord, and he is the only one who can offer us new life now and life with God for eternity. If you pray this kind of a prayer you will receive the same gift the disciples received: the Holy Spirit.
I know that this passage raises all sorts of highbrow theological questions: Is the Day of Pentecost the healing of the confusion of the languages at the Tower of Babel? Are these 3,000 converts the reversal of the 3,000 who lost their lives for worshipping the golden calf while Moses was getting the 10 commandment tablets from God? Is there a connection between the Jewish myth that original 10 commandments were given to Moses in the 70 languages of the world and the coming of the Spirit was on a day when every language was present in Jerusalem? I also know there are some church practice issues inherent in this passage as well related to the languages the disciples spoke. Did they keep the ability to speak these languages for good? Were they only given this particular ability for the days on which they were needed? How does the absolutely-practical-in-the-moment-gift to speak a known foreign language relate to the far more esoteric gift of tongues we read about in later passages in Paul’s letters? I could go on and on this way. But bottom line today is that we are here to talk about what happened and to find in what happened what is still a pressing imperative for Grace Church. And I am confident that we can put our finger on that one: what happened was that the disciples received power from the Holy Spirit; power to stand up boldly and proclaim in a language that the Holy Spirit enabled them to speak that Jesus is alive and he is the Lord. And that is what I feel is important for us today. We still live under the command of our Lord and Savior Jesus to take the gospel to everyone, everywhere. Last week Jesus promised the needed power to be his witnesses. This week we’ve seen that power at work. And the same Spirit is still empowering us to do that same work today that the disciples did on the day of Pentecost; the same spirit is empowering us to stand up, even in the face of hostility and opposition to proclaim the facts and these are the facts: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that anyone who believes in his name will not perish but will have eternal life.” John 3:16