This week is Pentecost. It is the day when we remember when the Holy Spirit blew over and into all the followers of Christ for the first time. Before we get to that, we have to set the stage. We go back to the very beginning of the Book of Acts.
Acts 1:1-9 NIV
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
As I have mentioned, today is Pentecost. What does that mean? Why is it important? Is it simply a day to wear red and celebrate the birthday of the church? Is it a celebration that the season of Easter is over, or is there something more? There are so many things that we could talk about, but this year we’re going to focus on one area, and to do that we are going into the “Way Back Machine.” We are going to go way back to January when I talked about the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.
In January we talked about how Adam and Eve had been given a job by God, to be fruitful and multiply and to out into and help creation to fulfill its purpose and to be its best. After the flood Noah and his family were given the same mission. Humanity was fruitful and multiplied, but they were afraid to scatter all over the earth. They wanted to stay together, so they started to build a tower to reach into the heavens. They had no intension or desire to be God’s representatives in the world. They wanted to live on their own terms in their own way. One of God’s responses is to confuse their language. They could no longer understand each other, so they drifted apart and covered the earth.
Mission accomplished, right? Well, not exactly. The relationship between God and humanity is still broken. God chooses one family through which all the peoples of the earth might be reconciled with God. This family became the Israelites. Through that family line Jesus comes, redeems us from our sins and gives us new life. Now, what? Jesus had worked closely with the disciples and has maybe one or two hundred followers. Jesus gave them a command very similar to the one God gave Adam and Eve and to Noah and his family. Go into all the world and make disciples (Mt 28:19). “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), as we read earlier. They are supposed to take this news, this Good News, all over the earth, so that humanity can be reconciled to God. They are going to need to be able to communicate with everyone. There’s going to have to be a reversal, and this time there’s a difference. They are going to have something, a resource, that the people in Genesis didn’t have.
So, it was like this. There were Jewish people in Jerusalem for Pentecost from all over the “known world.” They may have known Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek, but at home they spoke the local language. When the people were gathered it was a great cacophony of sound as people spoke.
And then …
Acts 2:1-21 NIV
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, 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. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘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.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
In the moment that the Holy Spirit arrived everything changed. Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem, and they did. The arrival of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had promised, was like the ringing of a starting bell. But why? Why Pentecost? Why not the week before or the week after. Jesus died, and it coincided with Passover. Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb. Christ died, so that we could live. He was raised on the Feast of Firstfruits. It was part of a festival that immediately followed Passover to celebrate the ripening of the first crop of the year, in that part of the world, barley. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “Christ was the first fruits of all those who will be raised to life.”
Pentecost was the Greek name for The Feast of Weeks, so called because it was seven Sabbaths plus a day or 50 days after the previous feast. Fifty days in Greek? Pentecost. This is when the wheat harvest began, truly the beginning of the harvest season there. Offerings were made to the Lord to thank God for this harvest, but it also signified a pledge by God for the successful in-gathering of the full harvest. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit is the announcement that the harvest has begun. The harvest of humanity being reconciled to God.
How is this done? By pronouncement. By proclamation. By prophecy. We know it’s the time because of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Peter calls it “the last days.” By that Peter doesn’t mean that he expects the world to end tomorrow (and of course, it didn’t) any more than it meant that harvesting the first sheaf of wheat meant that the whole harvest season was over. To the contrary, it was just beginning, the beginning of a season, the beginning of an age, an age that we are still in.
Does that seem strange that 2000 years later we could still be in the last days? It’s like Peter says in his second letter in the third chapter, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
What does it mean that we are in “the last days?” It means that each of us that has accepted Christ (and therefore have received the Holy Spirit) are God’s agents in the world. We are God’s servants. We are a part of that great commission to go into all the world with the message that God has made this wonderful reconciliation possible. That through Jesus we have been given a way of life and must continue to carry out his purposes. It was this mission that the people of Babel refused to do so long ago.
That day, the Disciples, now Apostles, proclaim and what happens? People from all the different points on the compass hear and understand in their native languages. Not a complete reversal of Babel but an indicator that this message is for people all over the world, no matter where they are from.
What do they do? Before they were hiding in the Upper Room hiding and afraid, just like the people of Babel were afraid. We don’t want to be scattered. It’s safer if we stick together. Now with the Holy Spirit, they are empowered to separate and go into the all the world that they know, and it keeps spreading and spreading. They proclaim. The book of Acts goes on to show how the Spirit moves and motivates the spread of the message to new people, to new groups that the Apostles had never considered.
And, each one of us are part of those new groups, all part of the larger group of people that God is reconciling to himself, all of whom have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. There was a loud noise that day, but usually it comes quietly. The Spirit does its work in the background, like yeast in bread rising, building, transforming without our hardly realizing until we come back and see this dough totally changed. It does the same thing with us quietly in the background changing us. We may not even realize it until we look back to the person we were ten or fifteen years ago, astounded at the transformation.
I remember long ago when I was a new Christian, and I found the idea of the Holy Spirit being with me all the time a bit intimidating. (Maybe more than a bit.) I didn’t like the idea that God knew what I was doing every second of the day. The pressure. I couldn’t be that good. I wanted the privacy of enjoying my vices without thinking that someone was watching me. It felt like a burden. So many people think that God is sitting there just waiting for you to do something wrong, so that he can cross you off the list, toss you out of the boat. God is not like the song about Santa Claus. “You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout… He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”
Yes, God does know everything about you. God already knew everything about you and called you, loves you anyway. God would know everything about you whether you had the Holy Spirit or not. Because of that, God already knows who we are. More importantly, God knows who he created us to be. As much as the world, we are his creations that are in process of becoming. None of us are worthy or good enough in our natural-selves (cf. Romans 3:10). If God was going to cross us off a list, he would have done so a long time ago. We have to remember that God is on our side and wants us to succeed. When I say that, I don’t mean God is on our side of an argument or a war. I mean something much greater and much more important. I mean God is on our side to win the battle within ourselves to become the people that God created us to be.
Consider this. You are an archeologist. You are in the Middle East digging in the sand, and you make a discovery. You found something that belonged to Jesus. There is no doubt. I don’t know how, but you are certain that this belonged to Jesus. Better yet, a friend has returned from their travels, and they have brought you this gift, something that belonged to Jesus. His robe, a thorn off the crown, his sandal, the thong of his sandal that John the Baptist was unworthy to untie (cf. Mark 1:7). How would it make you feel to have that? What would you want to do with it? I would want to keep it with me all the time. Like a locket of hair that someone might keep to know that a part of a loved one was with you even when you had to be far apart. Closeness, connection.
That is what the Holy Spirit is, the gift of having Jesus with you all the time. It is better than something that you can hold in your hand. You can feel inspired by the fact that you are that important to God to be given this incredible gift. Feel the power within you. If you can’t feel it, you can still know that it’s there. You are never alone. Let it strengthen you. Let it purify you, and you will be doing incredible things for God and may not even realize it.
And with the Holy Spirit, we have a mission. It is the same mission that the Apostles had. It is fulfilling Jesus’ command to teach the world all about what Jesus taught, each in the way that the Spirit leads us. None of us will do it in the same places or in the same ways any more than the Apostles did.
There are so many people that still have no idea of the love that God has for them. Just think, how many people are in this room right now? How many people do you think are in the Baptist Church down the street? Then, how many people are in Joseph? How many in Wallowa County that don’t know how much God loves them. I’m not talking about standing on the corner with a bullhorn. We all have our ways of showing God’s love to the people we encounter. We are still in the midst of harvest. As Jesus told his disciples outside a little town in Samaria in John 4, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35).
In the name and the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I implore you to go and share the love of God with all the world. And the whole church said. Amen!