Acts 2: 1-21 Sunday 4th June 9:45 and 11:30am (Pentecost)
By porthkerryandrhoose, Jun 12 2017 11:17AM
Have you ever been excited waiting for something? Have you been restless with anticipation the night before a birthday, Christmas or a holiday? If it hasn’t happened to you recently, can you remember a time when you were? Anyone with any involvement with children will be familiar with high levels of excitement. Christmas Eve, the night before a birthday or a holiday and most children are like bottles of pop that have been shaken up – bubbling, full of energy and liable to explode if the pressure is released!
I imagine the days in between the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost felt similar for the disciples. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to wait. In Acts 1: 4-5 we’re told ‘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. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ They knew that Jesus was going to send the Holy Spirit, but not when or how. And so this morning, we’re going to look at two things. Firstly, how the disciples knew that they had received the Holy Spirit and secondly, how this outpouring of God’s Spirit was different from in the past.
Let’s begin with the disciples’ experience that first Pentecost. Acts 1 tells us that the disciples had returned to Jerusalem and stayed together. Furthermore, they were preparing themselves for the Holy Spirit. Verse 14 says: ‘They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.’ Then the day of Pentecost came. Pentecost, also known as ‘The Feast of the First Fruits’ is a significant Jewish festival, connected with Passover. It celebrated the first produce of the Promised Land, as commanded in Deuteronomy 26: 1-2, 11: ‘When you have entered the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land that the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. […] Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.’ So then, our Christian Pentecost festival is also connected with Easter. Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus and Pentecost the firstfruits of the blessings of salvation for those who believe in Jesus. The day of Pentecost was a most appropriate time for the Holy Spirit to arrive. How did the disciples know that they had received the Holy Spirit? Verses 2-3 of the account tell us: ‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.’ These were visible and audible signs of the Holy Spirit and their divine nature would have been clear to the disciples. The Hebrew scriptures contained similar visible and audible signs when God revealed himself to his people: loud noises, as described in Exodus 19: 16: ‘On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.’
and rushing wind, as described in Ezekiel 37: 9 ‘Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’ John the Baptist, too, had described baptism with the Holy Spirit in Luke 3: 16 ‘John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit in Acts 1: 8, he also described what would happen: ‘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.’ So, the disciples were aware, from the events surrounding them and the connection with events in Hebrew scripture that this was indeed God revealing himself to them all – that Jesus had sent the Spirit as he had promised. They were filled with God’s Spirit. The result of this was that the disciples were equipped with inspired speech for public ministry, as we see in v 6: ‘When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.’
Can we be filled with the Holy Spirit too? Will we have the same experience as the disciples? How can we prepare for God to fill us with the Spirit? Firstly, we can be filled with the Spirit too. As we’ll explore later, God’s Spirit is promised for all his people – in v 17: ‘’In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’ Secondly, our experience is not likely to be exactly the same as the disciples’. The external signs of wind and flame experienced by them were possibly symbols for them to recognise that the Spirit had arrived and not something we should expect to see again. The internal filling with the Spirit will be the same. Thirdly, we can prepare in the same way the disciples did – by joining together in prayer and waiting expectantly. If God has sent his Spirit before, he can and will do so again.
So, what was different about this occasion of God sending his Spirit to the disciples than previously? In Old Testament times, God chose individuals – kings or prophets – to receive his Spirit. The first book of Samuel tells of how God sent his Spirit on Israel’s king in 10: 9-10 ‘As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying.’, but also took it away in 16: 14 ‘Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil[a] spirit from the LORD tormented him.’ Ezekiel too, was anointed with God’s Spirit in 11: 5 ’ Then the Spirit of the LORD came on me, and he told me to say: ‘This is what the LORD says: that is what you are saying, you leaders in Israel, but I know what is going through your mind.’ On the day of Pentecost however, God didn’t choose an individual disciple; everyone in that one place received the Spirit. As we see in vv 3-4: ‘The 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.’ Nor does our reading specify that it was only the disciples that received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, so we have no reason not to believe that the women present and Jesus’ mother and brothers weren’t also filled with the Spirit. In the second part of today’s reading, Peter explains the full significance of this outpouring of God’s Spirit. This is the fulfilment of God’s promise, as foretold by the prophet Joel. Again, we turn to vv 17-18: ‘’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.’ God’s Spirit does not discriminate over sex, age or social position; the Spirit is given to all equally. The great gift of the Spirit described here is the empowering of people to prophesy. The book of Acts contains many examples of this prophecy: Acts 9: 10 ‘In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered.’ Acts 18: 9 ‘One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.’ Acts 15: 32 ‘Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.’ . As Joel and the Old Testament prophets made God’s will known, so now Christians are enabled by the Spirit to make God known through Jesus. Peter continues with the words of Joel, pointing to the signs on earth and in heaven that will herald the day of the Lord. V 19 speaks of ‘blood and fire and billows of smoke.’ And in v 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.’ From this prophecy of Joel, we should know that judgement must come on the day of the Lord. But Peter ends his quote from Joel with hope in v 21: ‘And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ In the remaining verses of Chapter 2, Peter goes on to explain how people can be saved through repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus.
Do you feel a sense of doom looking at the world around you? Are you concerned about the rapid social change, moral decay, environmental crisis and economic and political problems around us? Let us be comforted. God is always at work because we live in the time of the Spirit’s life-giving presence. We see examples of this in the darkest times, as we did in the news stories from Manchester two weeks ago: the taxi drivers giving rides home without charge; the woman gathering children separated from their parents to safety in a hotel; the many citizens who opened up their homes, offering a bed or access to a phone or wifi; the homeless man who held a dying woman so that she wouldn’t be alone. These are the signs of God at work. We too, can know God at work in us and through us when we are filled with his Holy Spirit. Are you ready, this Pentecost, to accept God’s gift of his Holy Spirit to fill you?
Let us pray
Generous God, we thank you for that first day of Pentecost – the birth of the Church. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to the disciples and equipping them for their ministry. Their witness and teaching has passed on through 2000 years of history and thousands of miles to reach us today. We pray that now, we too, may be ready to go out into the world and tell of the good news of salvation through your Son Jesus. So we ask that you send your Holy Spirit again to fill each person here. Equip each one of us with the gifts and strength we need to do your work in the world. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.