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Will Pour Out My Spirit"
You may recall from last week’s sermon that in his final words to his disciples as recorded in the eighth verse of the opening chapter of Acts, Jesus said, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
And in the forty-ninth verse of the closing chapter to the gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells his disciples, “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
This may have left the disciples feeling a bit uneasy, because they have no promise of how SOON this might take place. All Jesus tells them is that they should stay “until.”
But they DO pay attention. They DO stay. They ARE faithful.
And in the opening verse to the second chapter of the book of the Acts, we read that “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”
It has been seven weeks since the day of resurrection, but 50 days since the sabbath of the Passover. In that time, all that we know of the disciples’ activities is that they have replaced Judas, who committed suicide, with Matthias.
“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.”
Last week I made reference to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus regarding the Holy Spirit, and I believe that it is relevant here.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Well, in this case, with the disciples, that wind
becomes a reality. But there is not only wind.
Now, tongues of fire have very specific meanings in relationship to Jesus. Remember, he told them, “you will be my witnesses”; and one of the ways in which they will witness will be to preach the word.
But remember also what John the Baptist said in foretelling Jesus ministry: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
Now there are those who will say that you have not been filled with the Holy Spirit unless you have spoken in tongues. And I even know a pastor who believed that he was missing out on something because he knew other pastors who spoke in tongues, but he never had.
So he proceeded to train himself to speak in tongues. When he was alone, he would practice babbling in nonsense sounds until he felt comfortable doing it. And then he could say that he was speaking in tongues.
I think that misses the point. I think we should shift our focus away from speaking in other languages and concentrate on “as the Spirit gave them ability.”
“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.”
Well, that might be stretching it a bit, but Pentecost was a significant celebration; and it brought back many of the Jewish people who were living in other countries. It was like a giant homecoming, with many of the Jewish people making a pilgrimage to 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?”
Scripture leaves lots of questions here unanswered, so we’ll need to just muddle our way through. I’m guessing that those who were filled with the Holy Spirit were the twelve disciples, with Matthias having replaced Judas. But, there may have been a handful of others around, including some women and Jesus brothers.
We also need to wonder about what was spoken and what was heard. Was it the same thing? Did each disciple who was filled with the Holy Spirit speak one language? or multiple languages? or did it just SEEM that way?
Did each listener hear his or her own native language, or did each listener hear numerous languages being spoken?
Folks in the crowd could have been bewildered by hearing a language being spoken that they would normally have heard only back home. Or, they may have been bewildered by hearing numerous languages being spoken simultaneously.
And they were certainly bewildered and astonished at the source of all this: a bunch of guys from Galilee.
But whatever the case, folks are hearing something in their native languages. And this suggests to me that they are UNDERSTANDING what they are hearing. I think that is extremely important. Somehow, some folks have the notion that speaking in tongues is supposed to be incoherent babble. I don’t think so.
At Pentecost, I don’t believe God intended it to be that way. On the contrary, I believe that the whole idea of speaking in tongues was to be UNDERSTANDABLE to all who might be listening.
So who WAS listening then? We have quite a list:
“Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.”
Pentecost is one Sunday of the year when many folks do NOT want to be assigned to read scripture, do not wish to have to deal with some of those pronunciations.
But this was the ancient world as the Jewish people knew it.
Now, there is an interesting historical twist to what is taking place here. Legend has it, according to the eleventh chapter of Genesis, that after the flood, “...the whole earth had one language and the same words.”
Well, God didn’t think that this was such a good idea then. And God said, “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” It is the story of the Tower of Babel.
So, has God reversed Godself? Well, not exactly. After this catalogue of all the nations from which the Jewish people have come, they remark, “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
God is not arbitrarily turning on and off the power to understand language, but rather is using language for God’s purpose. The disciples have been filled with the Holy Spirit in order to speak about God’s deeds of power.”
I’m reminded of what Jesus said in commissioning his disciples in the tenth chapter of the gospel according to Matthew:
“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
So we have all these foreigners standing around, baffled by what is happening. “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
But isn’t it interesting that God pulls off this marvelous feat--the disciples are connecting with everybody in town regardless of their native languge--and everyone is hearing about God’s deeds of power. And still, they ask the question, “What does this mean?”
If God had succeeded--and why not?--would they not have KNOWN what it meant?
Well, apparently, God did not succeed. “...others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
In other words, for some this event is not spiritual, but earthly. It’s a bunch of drunks babbling. God has reached many, but not all. And I suspect that wherever humans are involved, even the seemingly most perfect plans are going to have limitations.
Well, at least God has their attention. And Peter takes advantage of the opportunity.
“...Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.”
And maybe a large part of the reason for filling the disciples with the Holy Spirit was just to get the attention of the folks in Jerusalem, so that Peter could speak to them.
Indeed, I suspect that much of contemporary advertising is not expected to sell us anything, but is trying to get our attention.
So Peter tells these doubters, “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”
And I’m sorry, but whenever I read that, I cannot help but think that that is a really weak argument. It is almost as if to say that they have not had adequate TIME to get drunk. That it is too EARLY for them to be drunk.
Why would the time of day have entered into Peter’s reasoning at all? But maybe he figured that this was the fastest way to take on that argument: “they are filled with new wine.”
“He continues, “No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:”
And I can hear Peter thinking, “they may not accept my words, but maybe they will accept the words of a prophet.”
And verses seventeen through twenty-one of the second chapter of Acts are a quotation of verses twenty-eight through thirty-two of the second chapter of Joel.
Now, this passage could be quoted to anyone; but it makes especially good sense to quote it to the Jewish people at the time of a Jewish celebration.
“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.”
So what is Peter trying to tell them? Well, first of all, what is happening is part of prophesy: God will pour out God’s spirit. But second, this outpouring of the spirit can be expected by anyone, even Galileans. And finally, the spirit will enable prophesy, and visions, and dreams.
“Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
God has eliminated all barriers. To be human is to be receptive of the gift of the spirit, the gift of prophesy. I think that this is an important message for today’s church. Too often we tend to think that some have the gift of the spirit and others don’t.
That is as if to say that God is in touch with some of us, but not with others. And then, we too often end up thinking, “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t do anything.” On the contrary, the outpouring of the spirit is available to EVERYONE.
“And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.”
This is apocalyptic language, description of end times. Such language usage is rare among the prophets. However, I think it serves Peter’s purpose well. I think it helps to draw a contrast. Some of the doubters in the crowd dismiss those filled with the spirit as being drunk. But Peter is telling them that this is a minor event compared to what is to come.
And when those final days DO come,
“Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
What we have in the opening to the second chapter of Acts is a starting point. A cornerstone has been laid for the birth of the church. Jesus is no longer with the disciples, but the Holy Spirit, which he had promised, IS with them.
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