First Mennonite Church
April 30, 2023
Pentecost: Empowered for Witnessing
Text: Acts 2:1-13
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
When Pentecost came, the disciples were gathered in one place—the upper room, but it seems, as if representatives from “every nation under heaven” were also gathered in one city—Jerusalem. Pentecost, which literally means, “fiftieth,” was also known by other names: the “Feast of Weeks,” “Feast of the First Fruits,” or “Shavuot.” Pentecost comes fifty days after the Passover Festival. Besides the normal activities related to the Pentecost celebration and the convergence of peoples from all over the world into Jerusalem, that post-Easter Pentecost was filled with sight and sound, as never seen nor heard before. Luke tells us of the sudden noise, like the rush of a violent wind coming from above. The house where the disciples were gathered was completely engulfed by the wind. Maybe, it felt like a whirlwind coming and remaining stationary on a house until the tongues “as of fire” had alighted on people inside the house. But the sound was not only of the rushing violent wind that came but also there was a cacophony of voices. Because once the tongues, as of fire, had rested on the group of a hundred and twenty, they all began to speak in other languages, according to the Spirit’s pleasure. These diverse accents and phonetic characteristics of the various languages simultaneously spoken must have sounded like a madhouse. Yet, according to the crowds, it all made sense.
God’s Spirit enabling those backwoods Galileans to speak another language was more than enough to cause amazement, suspicion, and even contempt. Therefore, outsiders came to inspect. They wanted to know what it was they were hearing. The curious crowd was amazed and astonished at the sight and sound, Luke says. The word Luke uses to describe the crowd means they were “out of their minds” at what they were seeing and hearing. No one speaks a foreign language by turning on some kind of mental switch. But even more amazing was the fact that the disciples were speaking of the wonders of God—his mighty deeds, in a language not native to them.
It is no wonder the crowd’s question: What does this mean? The crowd clamored for an answer. They not only had the need to know, but somebody needed to explain to them what was happening.
The perennial question Christians have regarding Pentecost continues to be the same: What does it mean? If Pentecost has a meaning, what is it? Later, we will see some of the implications Pentecost might have for us.
In response to the questioning crowd about this peculiar event on Pentecost, Peter immediately rose up and addressed the crowd. He picked up from Joel chapter two. He explained to the confused and curious crowd that the amazing and bewildering event they were witnessing was nothing less than the fulfillment of God’s promise of pouring his Spirit. Peter clarified that the disciples were not drunk, as some suspected. Rather, they had become recipients of one of God’s promises signaling the approaching “great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Jl. 2:31). According to Joel’s prophesy, God’s people, young and old, men, and women, freed or slaves will be given the power to dream dreams, to see visions, and to prophesy. In other words, those activities reserved for a few only, will in the end-days become a possibility for everyone because God’s Spirit will empower them. The coming of God’s Spirit will mark a new beginning of God’s operation among his people. It will also be an equalizing factor among God’s people. Everyone will be vested with God’s power to contribute to the growth and common good of God’s people. The Spirit will make it possible for the whole world to know the marvelous works of God through his people. The Spirit will not only embolden the disciples for the task of proclamation, but will also give them the wisdom, insight into God’s plans, and the power to execute wonders in the name of the Risen Christ. The Book of Acts gives witness to all of these and more in the chapters following the Pentecost story.
The Perennial Question about Pentecost: What does it mean?
What is the meaning of Pentecost for us? First, we should know that there are some elements of that high event in the church’s history that cannot be repeated. It is not intended that during our worship service, we all get the ability to speak in foreign languages by divine inspiration. (I continue to have difficulties with English, also, even after at least 20 years of learning American Sign Language, I have not mastered it.) However, there are some essential elements about Pentecost that we should not only know about but look forward to.
Pentecost proved that God is faithful. God’s word given to Joel, many centuries before, was fulfilled fifty days after Jesus’ last Passover meal. Pentecost is a reminder to us that we can count on God. We can trust the word of the Lord. The Lord is trustworthy! He never changes, as we are reminded in Hebrews. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).
The coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day gives witness to the disciples’ trust in the words Jesus gave them when he ordered them “to wait for the promise of the Father.” For ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were preparing and prayerfully expecting God’s intervention to happen. Did they know what or how it would happen? Most certainly not. Did they fight back what God was doing when they realized it was not something they were used to? They did not. They only availed themselves to the working of God’s Spirit. They surrendered themselves to be used as the Spirit pleased to do. Therefore the question: how expectant are we about God’s working when we come together? Most often, worship services have been turned into religious weekend events/shows for spectators, rather than occasions for God’s people to be expectant communities ready to accept the will and promise of God. Are we open to the Holy Spirit to renew us, to change us from the inside out? Are we ready to receive a spiritual rebirth, to be transformed into the likeness of Christ by the power of God? Are we open to allowing the Spirit to use us during the worship service? Or do we come before God with our own agenda, or worse, with no expectation, except to break our week’s routine?
My dear friends, if the worship service is ever going to be a celebration of God’s grace to us, excitement, joy, and obvious signs of gratitude should characterize our gathering. If the worship service is ever to be the gathering of God’s expectant people, prayer, reverence, and openness are essential requirements from everyone. For when the Spirit of God is present and in charge, things might get a little more exciting than we might want them to be. Things might get a little messier than we are used to. But again, we should be reminded that the outcome of every gathering is determined by who is in charge of the service: the Spirit of God or our own plans.
We should also take notice that there is a difference between the downpouring of the Spirit here in Acts and what Paul writes regarding the gift of tongues in 1Corinthians 12. The purpose of the manifestation of the Spirit in Acts and in 1Corinthians is also different. Here in Acts, the Spirit gave the ability to the disciples to speak human languages, which although unknown to them, were intelligible to others in whose native language they could hear of God’s mighty deed. In other words, in the Book of Acts, the disciple communicated the message of God in languages people from other parts of the world could understand. In Paul’s instruction in 1Corinthinas 12:14-30 and 14:5, the gift of tongues is given to a few within the congregation and required an interpreter, if it were to be of spiritual profit to the church. Tongues in Paul’s teaching had the purpose to relay God’s message to the church, not outsiders. Therefore the purpose of glossolalia in Paul’s teaching is for the edification of the church and not the proclamation of the gospel to non-believers, as it is in Acts.
On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples gathered prayerfully and expectantly before God. On Pentecost Day, the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to speak the mighty deeds of God, so other people could hear the message of God in their native languages. Therefore, let us remember that God is faithful. He continues to work through men and women like us. So, when we come together, let us come expecting God to manifest himself through the work of his Spirit. Let us come ready to make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit. Let us not be afraid of how God might want to reveal himself to us. And finally, let us step up in faith and humility to serve and obey what God might be calling us to do. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you will become my witnesses, Jesus says. Amen!