The Day of Pentecost Acts 2:1-26
Today is the Day of Pentecost. It is the Church’s celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that he would not abandon us, but that the Father would give us power from on high so that we can continue the work he began. This promise was seen by the Old Testament prophet Joel who wrote, “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my Spirit (Joel 2:28-29).”
Indeed, on Pentecost, the Church was “clothed with power from on high,” divine power, God’s power. Without being clothed with power from on high, the Church would not be adequately equipped to be in mission and ministry. To continue the work Jesus began—and that is the mission of the Church—the disciples had to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What did they do while they waited? The Bible tells us that they praised God in the temple. They also gathered together in an upper room for prayer. The Bible is not clear about their actual location but they were together in one place. It must have been a large room in order to accommodate the 12 disciples and another 109 followers waiting in expectation in Jerusalem. Some biblical archaeologists believe they were in the dining area, the upper room, of an Essene monastery in Jerusalem. They were obedient to Jesus’ command and waited in the city. While they waited they were in prayer, praise and worship.
Did the Holy Spirit come with power? Luke writes, “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. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them (Acts 2:2-3).” They were not just touched by the Spirit. They did not just receive an experience of the Holy Spirit. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. God was faithful to his promises and sent them his very Spirit to give them power for the work he wanted them to do. Jesus did not abandon them in death nor did he abandon them when he ascended into heaven. He has been present in the church for nearly 2000 years as the Holy Spirit indwelled his people. We are heirs to the same promise. We, too, not only can be, but must be clothed with power from on high or we will not be effective disciples. Like the first century Christians, we need God’s Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen Christ, within us or we cannot be the genuine Church.
The Holy Spirit came upon and filled the disciples. He brought great changes to their lives. The first big change is that the Galilean believers began to speak in languages other than their native tongue. These people were not educated. They did not know the languages of the world. They were ordinary working people, not international scholars. However, the Holy Spirit gave them ability to proclaim the Good News of Christ Jesus in the languages of visitors who were from all over the ancient world and staying in Jerusalem. He gave them power to speak in different languages, and people from as far as Rome, Egypt, Asia Minor and other lands heard them speak in their own languages. No doubt this caused quite a stir as Luke tells us they were “amazed and perplexed.”
Throughout the Book of Acts of the Apostles, you can read about the Holy Spirit who brought good changes to Jesus’ friends. One of the first things I read this morning in Acts was that the disciples began to boldly proclaim the Gospel in the temple precincts. Right under the noses of the chief priests, the elders and the scribes, the disciples brazenly said that Jesus did not die but was raised from death by the power of God. Right in front of those who sent Jesus to the Cross, the disciples proclaimed the Gospel. Not long before this, they were hiding in fear of the temple authorities. They were afraid that the authorities would round them up and kill them.
Peter was radically changed. He was a faithful Jew and followed the dietary standards of Judaism. He was taught from childhood that pork and other foods like lobster and catfish were unclean. The thought of eating such foods was repulsive. The Spirit came to him in a vision and reversed the dietary rules. God said, “Do not call anything unclean which God has made clean.” The Spirit told Peter to go to the house of a Roman Centurion and baptize him and his household. A good Jew would not have any contact with the unclean people, and the Roman Centurion was an unclean gentile and an enemy of Judaism. The Holy Spirit moved Peter out of his comfort zone, and if we are open to doing God’s will, the Spirit will move us out of our places of comfort.
The Apostle Paul was radically changed as the risen Christ encountered him on the road while he was traveling to Damascus to persecute Christians. Paul was Jesus’ enemy. However, God’s power completely turned his life around. He became the apostle to the Gentiles and founded numerous churches in Asia Minor and other places. When the Holy Spirit comes, he brings good changes. At times, he brings radical transformations.
The Holy Spirit has been at work in the church throughout the ages. In the sixteenth century he inspired Martin Luther to return the Church to the authority of the Bible and undertake a great reform of the church. In the eighteenth century, the Spirit inspired John Wesley and his friends to return to biblical Christianity and reform the Church. Wesley was not one that we might get excited about. He did not have a winning personality like some of the TV preachers. He was a highly educated, stuffy, English priest. The Spirit told him to preach in the fields to coal miners. The idea of “field preaching” repulsed him. Anglican priests preach in churches from lofty pulpits, not in fields. They stand in elevated pulpits, not on boxes or stumps. The Methodist Movement was a movement of the Holy Spirit that changed the lives of people and society. When the Spirit comes, he brings good change.
How comfortable are you with change? If you are normal, change is a uncomfortable. Even welcome change can be uncomfortable. Few people actually seek change. When I was working in community mental health, I saw a number of people who resisted changes that would have made their lives more comfortable. Do you seek good change or do you run from it? Peter was not seeking change when the Spirit told him that it was okay to baptize Gentiles and to eat foods that Judaism taught was unclean. Paul was not seeking radical change as he was traveling to Damascus. Wesley simply wanted to increase his personal faith. He had no idea of leading an international revival. Change is a necessary part of life. If we don’t adapt as we age, we are in trouble. Over the years I have become convinced that one of the reasons women live longer than men is that they are more adaptable to change than men. Change will come whether we want it or not, like it, seek it, or accept it. Change is normal, and Holy Spirit led changes are normal for God’s people.
One of the hardest things for a church to do is make changes that will enhance their mission and ministry. When I was pastoring, I learned about the Seven Last Words of a Church: “We have always done it this way.” The problem with always doing it the same way, whether it’s about a person or a church, is simple. “If you do the same thing you have always done, don’t expect different results.” The Spirit presses Jesus’ Church to innovation and change that is in accordance with Scripture.
I am convinced that Dr. Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts points us in the direction God wants us to go. In order to be an effective Church, we have to become a people of fervent prayer. There is prayer and there is effective prayer. Prayer is effective when people meet together and pray with passion. Those who come before the throne of God in prayer and who pray with passion are effective. Those who pray fervently and specifically pray effectively. Those who don’t rush their prayers but who speak to the Lord and then listen to God will pray effectively. Those who pray in the Spirit pray effectively. Paul tells us that we don’t pray as we ought but the Holy Spirit takes our prayers and translates them. Vital churches are made up of people who seek the Holy Spirit, seek God’s will, and welcome holy changes. That’s what effective, fervent prayer is about. Only as we frequently come before the throne of grace with boldness and passion will God bring revival, renewal and refreshing to His Church.
We are in the midst of a worldwide revival and renewal of the Church. The Spirit is working in remarkable ways throughout the world. The church in Europe is dying and the church in the USA is in trouble while throughout the developing world the church is growing rapidly. Years ago, Dr. Peter Wagner, a Fuller Seminary professor who has studied the moves of God, wrote: “Given current trends, as well as words frequently being heard through intercessors and prophets, it is not unrealistic to look for a worldwide outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a magnitude never before experienced, in the very near future.” That future is here. As we seek God’s Spirit, He will bring revival and renewal. A time of refreshing will come. The Church is always at a crossroads. The Spirit calls us in one direction and our fears and comforts call us in another. The 1st Century followers of Jesus heard and believed Jesus’ promise. They met for prayer, praise and worship. The Holy Spirit came with power and created the Church. The Spirit is constantly recreating his Church. This week pray specifically for the renewal of the Church in America. Pray that God will again pour out his Spirit on his people.
Rev. Michael W. Malone, Veterans Memorial Chapel