In this very changed world is there anything that can shake us out of our fears and anxieties, and inject freedom and joy into our hearts?
Let me identify three questions that emerge from Acts chapter 2.
What happened? When the day of Pentecost came, the eleven disciples were all together … Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven … Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
Pentecost is the Jewish festival that celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments. Now, some twelve hundred years later, God was coming again with wind and fire. This time, not to impart his law, but to impart his Spirit. It was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to his disciples and was the final part of the sequence of events that form the hinge of history.
As we read on we learn: Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. … And everyone was bewildered because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each (2:5).
The cynics in the crowd mocked, and said it was because the disciples were drunk. But Peter was not to be silenced: ‘The bars aren’t open yet. It’s only nine o’clock in the morning’. Rather, it was the ultimate Author of speech who was reversing Babel so that everyone could understand.
What did it mean? Dr. Luke goes on to record Peter’s speech in Jerusalem that day: “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. …And you, …put him to death …but God raised him from the dead” (Acts 2:22-24).
Here was Peter, who had previously vehemently denied that he even knew Jesus, now, in the face of potential arrest and death, courageously speaking out about Jesus. It was God’s Spirit at work.
It’s important to notice that Peter’s focus was not on rules and ritual, but rather on Jesus. He drew attention to Jesus’ divinely empowered works when he healed the sick, overcame the forces of evil, stilled a storm, and raised the dead to life. When people today question Jesus’ miracles, we need to remember that Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, speaks of him as a miracle-worker.
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this,” Peter concluded, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:36).
Peter’s speech was a logically developed argument and a careful progression of ideas, moving to the climax of the Jesus story – his crucifixion and resurrection. The Roman and Jewish authorities had judged Jesus guilty and nailed him to a cross. God, however, from his supreme court, had overturned the judgement and had raised Jesus to life.
Does all this matter? It happened so long ago. Peter’s hearers were cut to the heart…, we read (Acts 2:37). “Brothers, what should we do?” they asked. Their eyes had been closed, but now suddenly they really understood who Jesus was. They were utterly ashamed. Previously they had mocked the dying Jesus. Now they saw the truth. The Spirit of God was at work.
Peter’s response is one we all need to hear: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven (Acts 2:38). He didn’t tell his hearers that they should turn over a new leaf and start living more moral lives. Rather, he focused on their relationship with Jesus.
Repent. Come to your senses about Jesus. Turn to Messiah Jesus as your Lord and ask for his forgiveness for not honoring him. Because the Messiah died in your place, God holds out his full and free forgiveness to you.
That day three thousand responded to Peter’s call to repent and be baptised. It was the birth of the church. The Spirit of God was taking up the work of Jesus Christ in the world.
Significantly, Peter went on to say: And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him (Acts 2:38f). From now on God’s Spirit, as foreshadowed by prophets such as Jeremiah, would come into the lives of all God’s people. Paul echoes this in Romans 8:9.
What God did that day, and what he has been doing ever since, really matters. For God’s delight is to draw men and women from all over the world, from every walk of life – people like you and me – into a personal, living relationship with himself. Because God is the majestic, all-powerful Lord over everything, his love awakens within us a deep joy and a true delight in him – come what may.
Over this last week various news outlets have reported an observation of historian and biographer, Robert Lacey, about the Queen. He comments: ‘She feels the poignancy (of the times) but that does not turn into depression or defeat. She sees it in the bigger context of her religious faith and of a God who holds her and her family in his hands. It is the solid and simple faith that sustains her.’
Sadly, many today who profess to know Jesus Christ have accepted the secular world’s verdict that God’s people have nothing of importance to live for or delight in. ‘Fill our lives Lord with your Spirit,’ we need to pray, ‘so that we may delight in you and experience the deep joy of knowing you.’