Acts 2:1-8, 14-18
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 28, 2023 – Pentecost
Out of His great love for everyone, God wants to give the followers of His Son the eyes to see beyond themselves…to see those they might bless, even those from the ends of the earth, and to see the possibilities of what they, with God, can accomplish to better life for everyone.
God wants to empower His Son’s followers to outdo themselves. Yet, for that to happen, they must receive what only God can give them, and then share it.
The Pentecost on which the church was born, all that happened. God baptized them with His Holy Spirit, saturating them with His life force. That made those everyday folks more concerned about more people, and more powerful in blessing them as they bore witness to the greatest blessing of all: Jesus and His good news.
God aches to do again what He did back then!
Back then, Pentecost was a holy day Jews had been celebrating for centuries. Scheduled 50 days after Passover, it was one of the three annual holy days that called for pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where Jesus had told His disciples to wait until the Spirit came upon them. Of the three annual holy pilgrimage days, Pentecost often drew the largest crowd because it fell at that point in the year when the weather was most conducive for traveling long distances.
According to Exodus 23:16 and other scriptures, Pentecost was the “feast of harvest”, coinciding as it did with the gathering in of the first fruits of the Israelites’ agricultural labors. This Pentecost, occurring ten days after Jesus’ ascension, ended up being another kind of harvest as well: a harvest of thousands of new followers of Jesus, thanks to the Spirit’s arriving with “power from on high” that made the disciples so effective in their witness that, by it, many started to follow Jesus.
When this day of Pentecost began, Jesus’ followers “were all together in one place”, prayerfully waiting on God to fulfill His promise about the Spirit and faithfully waiting on God to make the next move.
It came, this scripture says, “suddenly” – that is, without warning, without the disciples doing anything to bring it about, from “out of nowhere” so to speak. It came entirely of God’s initiative, at the time and in the way of God’s own choosing.
The Spirit’s arrival was heard before it was seen. There was first “a sound like the rush of a violent wind”, and then the appearance of “divided tongues, as of fire”. Gods’ life breath blew into the hearts of the disciples and ignited them with a burning passion to serve God! Given that Jesus had said the Spirit would come to enable them to be His “witnesses”, we should not be surprised that the Spirt immediately incited them to bear loud witness to Jesus, in words of praise and gospel proclamation. In a supernatural miracle, they spoke in “other languages”; and Jews from at least fourteen different nations heard what they had to say “in the native language of each”.
This miracle was not necessary to make the good news about Jesus understandable. For back then, Greek was the universal language everyone spoke. So the Spirit translated the disciples’ words into all those languages, not to get the content of the message across to diverse people but to get the spirit of it across to them, not to help them grasp it in their minds but to help them feel it in their depths by means of their “heart language”, which is almost always a person’s “native” language. So God blessed the disciples’ witness with a supernatural capacity to engage everyone and to move many to choose Jesus. So the Spirit achieved the purpose for which God had sent Him.
By the Spirit’s grace and power, the disciples saw beyond themselves: they saw what God could do through them and saw those for whom they were to do it. By the Spirit, the disciples won over three thousand souls. That amazing harvest did not occur because the disciples were well-prepared – they had no time to get ready – or because they were well-educated – they were just unschooled country bumpkins from the sticks of Galilee – or because they were well-gifted with special talent – they were just everyday fishermen and blue collar workers. The harvest occurred because the Spirit took over and took things where no human being could take them on their own.
Let me give you an analogy. Romans 8:26 says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit [prays along with us] with sighs too deep for words.” So we have hope in praying, not because we pray well, but because we believe that as we speak in prayer the Spirit speaks at the same time in support.
Likewise, we do not know how to bear witness as we ought, but the Spirit bears witness along with us, with messaging too deep for the words we have. So we have hope in bearing witness, not because we bear witness well, but because we believe that as we speak up in witness the Spirit speaks at the same time in support.
The day the church was born, the Spirit surely added His voice to the voice of the disciples; and thousands, hearing from the Spirit as much as from Peter, responded to his speech by asking what they should do in response. Peter told them, according to our pew Bible, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!” Translating the Greek verb that way, however, fails to do justice to the verb’s grammatical form. To put it more accurately, Peter told them, “Let themselves be saved!”
In other words, just as the disciples had not brought the Spirit down but only let the Spirit work His evangelistic wonders, so no human being brings the Spirit down but only lets the Spirit work His saving wonders. The fruitful Christian life, from its start as folks are born anew in Christ to its end as they fulfill their new potential in Christ, comes about, not by human striving, but by human’s giving up on making their own way and giving themselves over to the Spirit who becomes their way.
May the Spirit give us eyes to see beyond ourselves both the divine help we can have and the human beings we can bless by His miracle-working power!