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Is there anything that can really make us different, that can shake us out of our apathy and anxieties? That can inject enthusiasm and joy, confidence and courage into our lives?
Come with me to the events of Pentecost that we read about in Acts chapter 2. It was six-weeks after Jesus’ resurrection. Three questions emerge.
What happened? When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples were together in an upper room in Jerusalem. ‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came… 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 celebrating the giving of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 19:18 we read that violent wind and tongues of fire had enveloped Mt Sinai at the time God gave Moses the law. However, as Israel’s prophets had said, the law failed to change the world because the law failed to change people.
Now at Pentecost some twelve hundred years later, God was coming with fire and wind, not to impart more law, but to impart his Spirit. The mighty wind symbolised the power of Jesus; the fire symbolised his purifying and cleansing work; and speech pointed to the good news of Jesus reaching every nation.
Luke, the author of Acts focuses on speech. He tells us: 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 crowd came from the Caspian Sea in the east to Rome in the west; from modern Turkey in the north to Africa in the south. ‘How is it?’ they asked, ‘That we can understand them in our own native language?’
The cynics in the crowd mocked, saying the disciples were drunk. But Peter wasn’t silenced: ‘The bars aren’t open yet,’ he said. ‘It’s only nine o’clock in the morning’. This was the ultimate Author of speech reversing Babel.
The disciples, previously demoralised and defeated, had a new enthusiasm, confidence and joy. Peter, who had denied Jesus, was no longer a coward but a courageous preacher. What made that difference? It was the Spirit, ‘Another Helper’ whom Jesus had promised.
For many, Christianity is little more than a moral code they must struggle to observe, or a creed recited mindlessly every week. But in John 14 Jesus had spoken of ‘a Companion’ who would enable his people to experience a life-changing personal relationship with him.
What did it mean? The Holy Spirit was turning cowardly disciples into intrepid apostles. From verse 22 Luke records Peter’s speech: “Men of Israel, listen to this: 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, …”
People today mock the idea of Jesus’ miracles. Yet first-century historians such as Josephus, agreed that Jesus was a miracle-worker. Peter called the miracles signs. Just as a sign-post points to the road we might follow, so Jesus’ works pointed to the power and authority he wielded. “If I by the finger of God cast out demons,” Jesus had said, “then the kingdom of God is come upon you.”
The climax of his speech is in verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Peter had a logically developed progression of ideas – not a frenzied set of phrases. He explains that Jesus’ cross and resurrection reveal God’s extraordinary love. The Son of God had put aside the glory of heaven and come amongst us, giving his life as the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Human authorities had judged Jesus a threat and guilty, and nailed him to a cross. From his supreme court, God overturned that judgement and raised Jesus to life.
Does all this matter? It happened so long ago. Peter’s hearers were cut to the heart…, “Brothers, what should we do?” they asked (2:37f). Peter’s words cut through to their hearts. They were utterly ashamed. Previously they had mocked the dying Jesus. Now they knew the truth. God’s Spirit 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 they needed to turn over a new leaf and start living moral lives. Rather, he focused on their relationship with Jesus. Repent. ‘Come to your senses about Jesus,’ Peter is saying. ‘Turn to him and ask him for his forgiveness.’
Three thousand responded to Peter’s call that day. God’s Spirit was taking up the work of Jesus the Messiah in the world, opening blind eyes and changing hearts.
Significantly Peter continued: 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 would come into the lives of all God’s people (see also Romans 8:9).
What God did that day, and what he has been doing ever since, matters. God’s delight is to draw men and women from all over the world, from every culture and walk of life – people like you and me – into a personal, living relationship with himself.
And we have a part to play. Let’s not be fearful. Rather, let’s pray for the Spirit’s strength and wisdom to take up opportunities we have, to introduce people we know to Jesus. Why not invite a friend to join you in exploring John’s Gospel through ‘The Word One-to-One’? It is available online free of charge at: www.theword121.com.