April 14, 2024. Sermon Title: Acts: The Pentecost Event

First Mennonite Church

April 14, 2024

The Pentecost Event

Text: Acts 2:1-12

Out of the entire book of Acts of the Apostles, this passage has been and is still given more attention than any other. And the scrutiny is well deserved due to several reasons.

  1. During Jesus’ final days of ministry and after his resurrection, he emphasized the importance of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Here, we see that promise fulfilled.
  2. This passage is central to certain faith traditions and religious movements regarding the legitimacy of their spiritual experiences and the theological grounding for them. That is, the Pentecost event is what warrants their religious practices and beliefs.
  3. This passage also invites/reminds the church—every Christian community, of the necessary expectancy it should have every time they gather together in worship. When the church gets together there should be a heightened sense of expectation of being renewed and reborn by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

This historic event on that Pentecost Day after the resurrection of Jesus is only narrated by Luke of all New Testament writers. John only mentions it in passing in his gospel. In John’s account of Jesus’ Easter Eve appearance to his disciples, he writes: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21, 22).

In Matthew, the closest reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples is found in chapter ten, where Jesus warns his disciples of what will happen to them for his sake. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (10:19 20). But Matthew does not have an account of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.

Luke tells us that when Pentecost came, the disciples were gathered as Jesus ordered them to do. They gathered in the upper room and waited for the promise Jesus gave them: “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” (Acts: 1:8). Pentecost, which 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. The text tells us that, on that occasion, a convergence of peoples from “every nation under heaven” were also gathered in one city—Jerusalem. An unusual phenomenon took place during that Pentecost Festival. It was filled with sight and sound. 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. Once the tongues, as of fire, had rested on the group of a hundred and twenty, they all began to speak in languages other than their own, according to the Spirit’s pleasure. There was a cacophony of human voices, caused by the diverse accents and phonetic characteristics of various languages being spoken at the same time. It sounded like a madhouse, yet all the noise made sense.

God’s Spirit enabling those backwoods Galileans to speak another language other than theirs caused amazement and aroused suspicion, and even contempt among their auditors. Therefore, outsiders came to inspect. They wanted to know what it was they were hearing. The curious crowd was amazed, literally “out of their minds” at what they were seeing and hearing. No one speaks a foreign language at the turn of 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. By “speaking the wonders of God” in diverse languages, the disciples were beginning to fulfill Jesus’ command of preaching the good news “to the ends of the earth.”

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.

In response to the questioning crowd about the peculiar event on Pentecost, Peter immediately rose 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, see visions, and 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.

So, 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 learn the English language, also, even after at least 23 years of learning American Sign Language, I still 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 gives witness of the disciples’ trust in the Lord 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, when, or how it would happen? Most certainly not. Did they fight back what God was doing to them and through them when they realized it was not something they were not used to? They did not. They only availed themselves to the will of God’s Spirit. They surrendered themselves to be used as the Spirit pleased to do. Therefore the question is, how expectant are we about God’s working when we come together? Sometimes, 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 weekly 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 all participants. 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 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 and 14. The purpose of the manifestation of the Spirit in Acts and 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 those from other nations to hear of God’s mighty deed. In other words, in Acts, the disciple communicated the message of God to people who had not yet believed Jesus is God’s Messiah. In Paul’s instruction in 1Corinthinas 12:14-30 and 14:5, the gift of tongues is given to a few to relay God’s message to build up the church, not addressed to outsiders. The gift of tongues—glossolalia, is a spiritual language and therefore requires an interpreter if it was ever to profit to the church. Tongues in Paul’s teaching had the purpose of edifying the church and not the proclamation of the gospel to non-believers, as it is in Acts.

On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were enabled 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 something from God. 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 out 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!

Pastor Romero