The Day of Pentecost, February 27th, 2022
God of wisdom, your Word brings life and hope. By the power of your Spirit, open our minds to understanding, teach our hearts to love, and strengthen our wills to follow Jesus, your Living Word. Amen.
New Testament Reading: Acts 2:1-21
This morning we’re going to get ahead of ourselves in the church calendar. Our journey through the book of Acts has brought us to Pentecost Sunday. In the Christian Church this day is always celebrated 50 days, or the seventh Sunday, after Easter Sunday, but as we reached it in the book of Acts today, we’re going to have an early preview.
The celebration of Pentecost originated in the Jewish faith and was held fifty days after Passover. The term "Pentecost" means "fiftieth." It is one of their major feast days and is celebrated as a commemoration of the giving of the Old Testament laws to Moses. As it occurred at the end of the harvest season in that part of the world, it also was a day to give thanks to God for the harvest.
For us, as Christians, it marks the day which the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and followers of Jesus who were together in that upper room in Jerusalem and gave them the power to spread the good news of the Gospel to all the world. Because of this Pentecost Sunday is known as the birthday of the Christian Church.
One of the best definitions of Pentecost I’ve heard is this one, “The meaning of Pentecost is God equipping His Church with the power of His Spirit so that He will be glorified among the nations.” God sent his Holy Spirit to dwell within all believers to strengthen our faith and to develop the gifts he has given each of us so we can serve God and his church more effectively.
So, with that in mind, let’s have a look at how the Apostle Luke describes the events which took place on the day of Pentecost. When reading through his passage what struck me was that everything could be classified under three words which begin with the letter “W”, being Who, What, and Why.
And that being the case, let’s begin with the Who, as in who was present on that Pentecost morning. Luke tells us, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” To find out who the “they” were, we have to go back to the first chapter of Acts where we’re told that the disciples had followed the instructions of Jesus to return to Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit would descend upon them. So, they and about 120 of his closest followers, were gathered together in an upper room in Jerusalem in anticipation of what would happen next.
And the fact that they stayed together is important as that was the wish of Jesus, he wanted his followers to be united as one body. In fact, just prior to his crucifixion, when he was still with the disciples, Jesus had prayed for such unity, he said, “‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’” It’s by being baptised into one body, being the body of Christ, that we become as one. This togetherness and faithfulness demonstrates to the world the love which Jesus has for all of mankind.
And this being united as a single body leads us to “What”, as in, what took place when they were all together as one? Luke says, “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. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” As promised by Jesus, the Holy Spirit came and descended upon his closest followers and filled them with the power of God. And one of the gifts of the Spirit which was given to them was the ability to speak in languages other than their own.
And this makes us ask the third of our “W” questions, Why? Why were they given the gift of languages? Part of the answer can be found in the story of the Tower of Babel from the Old Testament Book of Genesis. This is what had taken place, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So, the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore, it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”
This was part of God’s plan as written in the Old Testament and fulfilled through Jesus which was recorded in the New Testament. Since that time a multitude of languages had developed on earth and because people could no longer communicate with each other they became divided. But now, with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus a new age has begun. The Holy Spirit, through the gift of languages, started to restore the unity among the different peoples of the world that was lost at Babel. In this way God did something unique and powerful to inspire that small group of frightened men and women waiting in a locked upper room to become bold proclaimers of the Gospel.
Another reason that these followers were given the gift of languages can be found in this description by Luke of what was taking place in Jerusalem at the time. “Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?... we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
As it was the Feast of Pentecost those of the Jewish faith from all over the Middle East had gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration and while many of them could communicate to each other in the common language of the day, Aramaic, it was not their native tongue. Thus, the Holy Spirit’s gift of being able to speak in other languages given to the followers of Jesus gave them the ability to preach the Gospel in the listeners own language. This was the beginning of the missionary work of the Church. The day of Pentecost marks not only the birthday of the Church but also the birthday of the missionary movement.
Also, another first occurred on that special day, the preaching of the first Christian sermon. When the crowds heard the disciples talking in a variety of languages they were astonished and wondered how that could take place. Luke tells us, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” To address their confusion Peter stands up and says, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”
With the help of the Holy Spirit Peter then begins his sermon by quoting a passage from the Old Testament book of Joel. In Joel’s time there had been a severe famine in the land which was caused by a plague of locusts which had eaten all the crops. Joel, in this passage quoted by Peter, called on the people of Israel to repent, promising the restoration of their prosperity. Joel also talks about the promise of God to pour out his Spirit on his people, which is exactly what had taken place 700 years later in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, had descended upon all of the disciples.
Peter quotes these words from God spoken through Joel, “‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
Peter is using these words to tell the crowds that Jesus died for all mankind’s sins, not just a chosen few. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, whether you’re young or old, male or female, rich or poor; forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life is for everyone. Peter confirms this in this closing line from Joel, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
And that’s what we need to always remember in our lives, salvation doesn’t depend on who a person is or what he or she has done; the issue is to simply trust in God and share his spiritual gifts. Everyone who looks to the Lord for forgiveness will find it. The Apostle Paul understood this as well. He also quoted Joel when he wrote this to the believers at the church in Rome, “The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
So, if we allow the power of the Holy Spirit to reign in our lives, there will be a dramatic difference in how we live and how we show our faith from day to day. What miracles could the Holy Spirit perform in our churches and communities if we embraced it and invited it into our midst? How many hearts and minds could the Holy Spirit possibly transform if we prayed for the Holy Spirit to touch the lives of people in our communities?
Through the acceptance of the Holy Spirit, we have become children of God. And as such God wants to use us to bring his message of salvation to those around us. So, how are we doing? Are we keeping up our end of the bargain? Do people see Christ through what we do? Do our acts of love and sharing bring others into the faith? Do people know this congregation as a transforming centre of faith for their community?
These are good questions to ask ourselves as we move towards Pentecost this year, “Do people know the good things that are going on here, that the Wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing here at Union Presbyterian Church?”
Let us Pray:
Heavenly Father, you sent the Holy Spirit to live in us very much like you sent your son, Jesus, to live in our world. Make us faithful to minister, to serve, to love, and to represent the one who died for us so we could have forgiveness of our sins. May we walk in the Spirit and be blessed with the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, kindness, self-control. May we be empowered to be witnesses and examples of the work of salvation. We pray in Christ’s name, Amen.