When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”
Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
and the moon will be changed into blood,
before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Common English Bible)
The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, since the Spirit is given, the main responsibility of Christians is to receive.
Christianity is distinctive in this sense – it is primarily a religion of receiving. The Christian life is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not in our own strength. The function of faith is to receive what grace offers.
We are saved and sanctified by grace alone through faith. God lives in and through us by means of the Spirit. The miraculous and the supernatural cannot, obviously, be done by any human person. It can, however, be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.
People tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to be a certain way and to do certain things. The result? Tiredness. Discouragement. Imbalance. Lots of giving. Little receiving.
Christianity is not chiefly about giving but receiving. The Christian life is about putting oneself in a position to receive through prayer and humility. In Christianity, the opposite of receiving is not giving – it’s pride.
Maybe this kind of talk makes you uncomfortable. I’m not talking about being passive or lazy. I’m highlighting the need of receiving grace from God by means of the Holy Spirit. Then, the Spirit to work in and through us.
Jesus said we would do greater works than even he himself with the advent of the Spirit! (John 14:12-14)
The question then becomes: Will we let God be God? Will we allow the Spirit to do work in us?
The Spirit is elsewhere described in Holy Scripture as a gentle presence, an encourager, counselor, and comforter. Yet, not here at Pentecost – the Spirit is portrayed like a violent wind and an unusual fire.
The Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not some gentleman caller entering politely when invited. Instead, the Spirit appears more like a drunken sailor who bursts into the room and causes a big ruckus. There’s nothing subtle about the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit is electric, bombastic, and volcanic, causing a huge scene and upheaving the status quo.
Because of Pentecost, Christians are marked and defined by God’s Spirit living within them and being full of the Spirit. God wants to pour out the Spirit on all kinds of people to overflowing so that what comes out of them is “prophecy.”
The prophet Joel and the Apostle Peter do not intend the word “prophecy” to mean predicting the future. Rather, they are referring to inspired speech coming from a heart overflowing with the Spirit.
Just as an inebriated person says and does things they would not typically say or do because they are filled with alcohol, so the person filled with God’s Spirit says things and does things they would not typically say or do because their inspiration and courage come as a result of God within them.
Thus, we must cast off the unholy spirits of inebriation and receive the Holy Spirit of God.
God sobered-up the little band of Christ followers from learners to practitioners, sending them into the world with a mission.
Being on a mission from God is not really about ability; it’s about being filled and sent.
First time parents may read and learn all they can about parenting before their child is born. Yet, when that little bundle comes into the world, and the hospital puts this kid in your arms and sends you out, you feel inadequate for the task. Parenting becomes a kind of supernatural affair where you pray and learn on the fly, finding out that you need something beyond yourself to get anywhere in raising this screaming, pooping, sleeping person who depends completely on you for everything.
God sends us into the world to make disciples. And we may feel very inadequate for the task. However, this has more to do with receiving the Spirit. The Spirit comes looking to turn our lives upside-down with new life in Jesus Christ.
Pentecost means that the Spirit came to shake things up and accomplish among God’s people what they could never do on their own.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The Church in the New Testament was not a country club for people to simply enjoy the perks of membership. The community of the redeemed, the Church, is actually more like a place where the people seem drunk because they are all talking with inspired speech from the Holy Spirit.
Maybe we don’t need to be saved in the sense that we have already called on the name of the Lord concerning forgiveness in Christ. Yet, maybe we need to call on the name of the Lord to be delivered from our misguided attempts to see the Christian life as a pleasant affair.
Perhaps we need deliverance from disordered priorities and misguided loves. We may need to be saved from ourselves so that we are open to the Holy Spirit with palms up receiving from God whatever it is the Spirit wants to do in and through us, rather than telling God how we think things ought to go.
Prayer, then, is more about receiving the Spirit and God’s purposes for us rather than giving God an earful and expecting the Lord to bless our plans.
Pentecost is the launching pad of the church’s mission – it was explosive because the Spirit is a kind of wild man who fills people up to overflowing so that what comes out of them is inspired speech and missional actions.
If a language barrier cannot stop the Spirit from operating, then how much more can God transform us and use us in the lives of those around us?
Joel’s prophecy, quoted by Peter, is only partially fulfilled. Events have been set in motion by Pentecost for the complete fulfillment of God’s justice. So, there’s some urgency for people to fill their vacuous souls with the grace freely offered to them in Christ.
The outpouring of the Spirit is a sign: The end is near. And the generous giving of the Spirit is inclusive – there is room for all kinds of people. Through the Spirit, God saves all who call on the name of the Lord.
Today is not just another day on the calendar. It is the Day of Pentecost!
Just as marriages occasionally need a spark and a fire and a fresh wind, so we need the Holy Spirit to breathe on us, comfort us, and inspire us.
May we be filled with the Spirit as we anticipate what our God will do now, and in the years to come.
Spirit of the living God, through the reading and proclamation of the Word, may you refresh our spirits, reshape our desires, recreate our hearts, and reform our ways so that we will shine with your enduring glory, through Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended Lord. Amen.