You may or may not know that one of the categories in our recent Trivia Night was Easter. That meant teams received 10 questions, including a bonus, that all pertained to that certain holiday.
There was one particular question that caused some trouble for many of our teams.
It pertained to a special day celebrated by the ancient church—a day that corresponded to the fiftieth day following Jesus’ resurrection.
Some guessed Passover. That was close, but, as we mentioned last week, that was the OT counterpart to the NT’s Easter Sunday.
Some guessed Ascension Day. That’s the day when we commemorate Jesus rising up to heaven to be with His Father.
The correct answer was: Pentecost. The prefix, “pente-“, indicates the number five.
That was the best clue I could offer that might lead the teams to the answer of Pentecost. But that special day had roots far before Easter.
In the OT, there was a celebration known as the Feast or Festival of Weeks. This feast involved counting of 50 days from a certain Sabbath each year.
In the NT Greek and Latin, the Feast of Weeks was translated as “Pentecost”.
In the NT, the inauguration of a new, but similar, special day came 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, it happened after He had ascended into heaven.
The disciples were, in the sense of spiritual leadership, all alone. There was probably a great deal of consternation as to what would happen next.
And then, you might say, all heaven broke loose in their midst.
You know what this NT version of Pentecost involves, don’t you? It’s the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus Christ.
Ah, the Holy Spirit—now there’s an interesting topic. We talked about Him briefly last Sunday night in Bible Study.
In fact, I even shared with you that He will be the focal point of our next Bible Study, when we finish going through the parables.
And yes, you heard me correctly. I have been referring to the Holy Spirit as a “He”.
We call God the Father, “He.” We call God the Son, Jesus Christ, “He.” Why shouldn’t we call God the Spirit the same thing?
Too often, we refer to Him as an “it”. That’s probably because we just can’t or don’t or won’t understand Him.
Forget about the fact that we can never come close to fully understanding God the Father or Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is a bit of a mystery.
He’s got no flesh so that we might see Him, as there was with Jesus. He’s not even got a visible appearance, such as a pillar of cloud or fire.
And so, what do we do with things that are mysterious or beyond our comprehension? We become afraid of them.
We hide them—or, better put, we hide from them. We don’t talk about them and hope that no one else will either or that, somehow, those things will just go away.
But we cannot do this with the Holy Spirit. We cannot sweep Him under the carpet and just go on with Bible or church or life, as usual.
So, today, we’re going to look at this passage when He, the Holy Spirit of God, came down in power for the first time, filling the lives of Christ followers.
It’s found in the second chapter of Acts. Perhaps, we will grow in our knowledge of and appreciation for this seemingly odd-man-out of the Trinity.
And, by the way, if you find this whole concept of the Holy Spirit confusing, don’t worry. You aren’t alone.
Even people in the passage we are about to read were horribly confused. So let’s see what all the fuss is about, beginning with verse one. (Read Acts 2:1-13.)
So here we are at the Day of Pentecost, NT style. It happened 50 days following the Resurrection. Let’s forget about the fact that we aren’t 50 days past Easter yet.
I just found this to be too important to wait. And let’s forget about the fact that we didn’t read Genesis 11 this morning, where God confused the language of everyone.
Yes, let’s forget about the fact that, here in this passage in Acts, we had a demonstration of a unified language, perhaps hinting at an end to that Genesis curse.
And let’s forget about the fact that so much of this is a mystery—baffling language and communication abilities, frightening tongues of fire, and so forth.
Let’s focus on what we do know. Let’s explore what we can figure out.
First of all, Jesus does what He says He will do. Jesus holds a promise like no one else. Jesus takes care of business like no one else.
Chapters 14-17 of the Gospel of John give us an intimate look at Jesus’ final private moments with His disciples. This was heartfelt conversation.
And in that conversation, He offered these words of comfort to His friends. When He leaves them, He will not leave them alone or empty-handed.
He will send a Helper. Some translations refer to this helper as an Advocate, Comforter, or Counselor. He is also referred to as the Spirit of truth.
Yes, the Holy Spirit, called forth by Jesus, was His promised helper for His disciples.
And this Spirit would do certain things for the disciples. He would enlighten them.
He would remind them of Jesus’ teachings. He would empower them. He would guide them in the paths that their lives ought to go.
And Jesus made good on His word. We see it here in the second chapter of Acts.
The Spirit came down upon the disciples in power. They were gathered, it would seem, in a private residence—“in one place”, the scripture says.
The sound of a violent wind filled the house. Often in scripture, God’s presence is portrayed to His people as the wind.
And then these beings, which looked like tongues of fire, came to rest on them. God’s presence has also been portrayed in scripture as fire—remember the pillar?
You see what’s happening here, don’t you? God showed up. God showed up, and the disciples were fundamentally changed forever.
This is no small matter. Nor is it as oversimplified as we try to make it from time to time. I don’t really know the lifestyles of these disciples.
I don’t know their struggles. To say that they were fundamentally changed doesn’t necessarily mean they had the testimony of the prodigal son.
In no way does this fundamental change have to imply a rejection of a wanton and immoral lifestyle—though that certainly could be the case.
Think about the disciples for a moment. Often, they were bewildered and confused.
Often they were weak-willed and weak-minded. Often they were prone to both impulsiveness and timidity. Often they helplessly looked at Jesus with shrugged shoulders. But the time for that way of life was no more.
I’m talking about power! They become vibrant and impassioned preachers. In fact, immediately our passage, Peter delivers a bold and impactful sermon.
They become committed evangelists. They become leaders and teachers. They become healers, through God’s power.
We will hear a little bit about that next week. But, in this moment, the power is personified in the tongues of fire upon them.
And then, these disciples begin to speak in other tongues. Couple this happening with the violent rushing wind, and we’re talking about quite a scene.
As you might expect, people took notice. Verse five tells us a little bit about who was around. There were lots of folks staying there in Jerusalem.
Notice that it says they were “God-fearing Jews”. So these were people of the Jewish faith—whether by descent or conversion.
But they were also fearers of God. Other translations call them “devout”. These people were committed, to be sure, but perhaps not as the Pharisees were.
There was a holiness about them. There was something real and transparent about their faith. And they hailed from nations all over the world.
Why were they there? Perhaps they had visited to celebrate the Passover and decided to stay for the Feast of Weeks, that 50-days-later celebration.
Perhaps they were there to commemorate the OT version of Pentecost. In any case, they got more than they bargained for.
They are understandably baffled. The truly unbelievable part is that each of these onlookers hears the disciples speaking a language the onlookers understand.
Yes, the gathering crowd hears words in their own languages. They see that these disciples are merely Galileans. So how is this possible?
Luke, the author of Acts, gives us some insights as to the different home regions of those in the crowd.
Some are from what we now call Iran and Iraq. Some are from modern-day Turkey.
Some are from what is now North Africa—you see that Egypt and Libya are mentioned. The island of Crete is mentioned, as well as the center of the Empire.
Yes, Jews from Rome had made their way there. In other words, just about the entire known world is represented at this gathering.
That means many different folks speaking many different languages. And yet, everyone hears what is spoken in his or her own language of origin.
Verse 12 says that those in the crowd were “amazed and perplexed”. That’s probably the understatement of the year.
They marvel at this sight and wonder what it all means. I often wonder when the last time someone looked and thought that way about me.
I wonder if it’s ever happened. I know, I know. You and I probably haven’t had an experience even rivaling tongues of fire and violent rushing winds.
Probably the closest I’ve come is trying to get the kids out the door for school in the morning—or possibly coaching 5-through-8-year-olds on third base.
But in all seriousness, this is what the power of the Holy Spirit does. It confuses people—even Christians—because it doesn’t work the way the world’s power works. Think about what I mean when I say, “the world’s power.”
The world wields its power through systems: economics, science, celebrity, military, or what have you. But these forms of power all have limitations.
Most of them are human limitations. But there are also natural limitations—limitations of physics and math and so on.
But there are no limitations on the power of God. So demonstrations of His power can come in forms never before seen or even imagined.
So confusion is to be expected—really, I suppose that mystery is a better word. The power of God is a mystery because—as scripture says—His ways are not our ways.
I don’t know about you, but I desire to be a vessel through which God’s power flows.
At least, that’s my desire when I’m thinking clearly and seeking God. I truly believe that God saved me—and has saved or can save you—in order that His power and glory might be demonstrated through our lives.
And the world won’t get it—nor should they. How can it make sense to them? That’s why some of the onlookers assumed the disciples were drunk. There was no other explanation—at least, from the world’s perspective.
We must stand out. Unfortunately, we too often attempt to stand out through our own power, rather than allowing God’s power to stand out through us.
We come to every church event. We wear our t-shirts and display our bumper stickers. We hold protests and pass around petitions.
We’ll even make sure to eat at Chick-Fil-A. And you know what? There’s not a thing wrong with any of that. But think about scripture for a second.
God has a history of powerfully using 12 people sitting in a room praying, even more so than those who are incredibly, religiously busy.
There’s a reason that many—though certainly not all—“revivals” in churches today lack power, or at least they lack lasting power.
You and I don’t plan a revival. The very nature of the word, “revive”, means to bring to life again. And we have no ability within ourselves to bring something to life.
That power lies only with God. So, by the simple definition of the word, revival can only come from God.
We don’t plan an event, put up a tent, bring in a speaker, and call it a revival. It happens on God’s timing and His planning.
It happens when His Holy Spirit falls in a powerful way, filling His people and empowering them to serve Him boldly and with passion.
I really want to see that happen—with my own eyes. I’ve only seen it a time or two, though certainly not to the extent of this passage found in Acts.
But do you know what I want more than getting to see it happen? I want you all—our church—to want to see it happen. I want us all to catch the vision.
The question is, what do we do about it? This isn’t something we can force or manipulate or control. So what do we do about it?
Well, first of all, if there’s something that we greatly desire, that will be beneficial for us, and that is completely out of our control, we really only have one option.
We must pray. Jesus told His disciples that they have not because they ask not.
So we pray and we watch and we wait. That doesn’t mean we sit idly or complacently. We continue to go about our daily lives, honoring JC to the full.
But, in the meantime, we pray continually and fervently for God to do something powerful and even unimaginable in our midst.
The next question is this: How do we know when it happens? There’s so much out there these days that is merely a religious sham. So how do we know?
How do we avoid missing it? And how can we possibly know? Tongues of fire? Violent rushing wind, from nowhere? Speaking in foreign languages?
Doesn’t this all seem a little bit out of our element? Aren’t we dabbling in the Pentecostal religion here?
How do we tell the difference between the work of the Spirit and a crazed religious fervor? Shouldn’t we play it safe—play it conservatively?
These are all valid questions. The work and presence of the Holy Spirit is truly a mystery—perhaps the mystery to end all mysteries.
But consider this. Many folks have their reservations about this whole Holy Spirit concept. Others just don’t get it, so they basically don’t give Him the time of day.
Still others are flat out scared of Him, shunning anything that has to do with “being in the Spirit”. So we’ve got reservations, misunderstanding, and fear.
Sounds an awful lot like the way people responded to Jesus. He was called Emmanuel, which means “God with us”.
Well, God is still with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We must be sure we are not guilty of responding to Him the way so many responded to Jesus.
And we might well think that unfair. How can we be sure He is near us when we cannot even see, touch, smell, or perhaps even hear Him?
But it’s not God being unfair. It’s all about our human fallen-ness and self-centeredness. How often do we read the gospels and think, “How in the world did all those people miss the boat?”
I wonder if folks in the future might say the same thing about us. Likewise, we look at the gospels and sense the urgency of responding to and following Jesus.
We must display that same urgency in our response to and following of the Holy Spirit. He is our guide, comforter, and counselor.
He is our source of power in this world. I refer not to power that we might wield to hold others beneath us. I refer to power for fully and abundantly living.
Too often we live with no power. But we must desire it. We must seek it. And it can only come from the person of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s bow before Him now and ask that He might fill us, as only He can. (Pray.)