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Faithlife

Ac02-01j

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Ac02-01j

Acts 2:1 - 21

May 19, 2002

Wesley, Doncaster East

John M. Connan

There’s absolutely no doubt that Luke meant us to take his story of the first day of Pentecost as a day of wonder and excitement – and of elemental and revolutionary force.

Flames appear in the air and spread like wildfire.  A gale-force wind shakes and shocks the whole group. The words of their Lord, put out of mind like dead letters in the drawers of memory, suddenly begin to make sense, flicker into life and flare with a sudden intensity. They’re awakened from the torpor of their apprehension, aroused from their lethargy, filled with a new dynamism and determination.

What has happened?

We know of people who go through dramatic conversion experiences. We know of Pentecostals and Charismatics with their very different ways. But we find it hard to accept that Christianity could have been and can still be so exciting, so fiery and so stormy that it could catapult people out of the previous course of their lives. We’re used to a faith which is calm, steady and settled. We’re used to sermons and liturgies that are reasoned and reasonable, but somehow lack the fire and storm of that first Pentecost.  We find it hard to believe that what we hear of that first Pentecost could be fire and storm.

Unless there was such fire and storm, such enthusiasm and absolute determination, why were those early followers of Christ prepared to be ostracised from society, driven from home and livelihood, bound to stakes, lit as living torches, sent into the stadiums as food for the lions and as diverting amusement for the bloodthirsty crowds? It happened thousands upon thousands of times. The flames that came to life that first Pentecost were contagious, leaping from one human heart to another, and to another and to another. The faith that began in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire spread east and west, and north and south.

Yet here we are wondering, if it that contagion were once true, can it still be true? Might the burned-out cinders of our faith spring into flame again?

Have you ever read a passage from the Bible or heard something said in a sermon that suddenly made sense and brought you a sense of excitement and reality? Have you heard the words of the 23rd Psalm about the “valley of the shadow of death[1],” known that they are poetry and somehow more than poetry, but had them suddenly speak to you of something all too real in your own experience – the shepherd who leads you beside quiet waters[2]? Have you known the promise of Jesus to be with you always[3], then suddenly known his presence in your life at just that critical time of weakness, darkness, and loneliness, when you desperately needed him to be with you? Have you taken the bread and drunk the wine mechanically month after month, and then had an occasion arise when you tingled with the certainty sense that what you’re doing has to do with eternity and eternal life?

If you have had those stirrings of the wind of God; if you have had the ashes in your life begin to smoulder into life, you’ve already sensed - even though you may have realised it – that those ashes have the potential to flare into flame!

If you’ve experienced anything of that sort, you know – however unknowingly – what the miracle of Pentecost is all about. It’s your world-view being blown to pieces – and the way you understand and react to the world around you being totally changed. It’s your priorities being turned upside down. It’s the experience of coming in from the cold.

Let me try to explain what I mean.

You may have visited some of the glorious cathedrals and churches of England and Europe. Some have treasures in stained glass. The windows are really picture stories of the mighty acts of God. They’re not just pretty pictures or pieces of glass and lead creating fascinating patterns of light on the walls and floor. Just as a sermon speaks to us; just as the music of an organ speaks to us; the stained glass pictures speak to us.

Walk around the church on the outside, and the windows seem lifeless, dull and grey. Come inside and the windows blaze with colour, come to life, and speak. While you were on the outside, the brilliance of colours was there, even though you couldn’t see it. You had to come in, so that the story of God’s mighty acts could reach you. The message was there, but you couldn’t see it. The word of God was there, but you couldn’t hear it. The experience of God at work in the world and in your own life was there, but it didn’t touch you.

The miracle of Pentecost is that joyful-fearful event when the word suddenly reaches you, touches you, transforms you, jolts you; sweeps you off your feet, “clicks.” What had been little more than a word, an idea or a story becomes dynamic and life-changing. What was little more than a symbol or sign pointing to some other reality becomes power supercharging life.

People on the outside see pretty glass pictures. They have no idea of the message streaming down from the stained glass. The spectators who looked on at that first Pentecost saw enthusiasm and ecstasy, but had no understanding of what was happening. They leapt to the conclusion: “These people are out of their heads; too much to drink; shickered; dead drunk.” Or they may have decided that these men were fanatics, dreamers, enthusiasts who’d lost contact with reality.

You really do have to be on the inside to understand what it means to be touched by the Spirit, to feel the cataclysmic and life-changing reality of the Spirit-filled life, to hear God speaking in a way that has never happened to you before.

So Pentecost becomes your miracle and my miracle, when we can admit that something that’s previously left us feeling like outsiders has now gotten though to us.

There was nothing new in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. He was retelling the story of God acting in history from Moses to Good Friday and Easter. “Ho-hum. Same old stuff. Nothing new!”

But it was not quite the same old stuff. Peter told the same old story, but from a new perspective, in a new light and with a new vibrancy. He told the story as someone who’d been personally involved, as someone whose own life has been shaped by the mighty acts of God. He spoke as one excited about what had happened in his own life. That’s the reason his message touched and kindled the enthusiasm of his hearers. Fire spreads.

Pentecost is only real when it’s real for you. The experience of Pentecost is only real when the old story becomes your story. The fire-storm and gale of Pentecost is only real when it blows through your life and fans into life a new enthusiasm within you. Pentecost is only real for you when it so awakens your experience of God in your life and in his world, that it changes your world-view and the priorities of your life.

Pentecost can be real for you. But beware. You may never be the same again. You may find yourself wanting to spread the story of Jesus, wanting to change the world. And others just may not understand. But remember that the world has never been the same since Pentecost.


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[1] Psalm 23:4.

[2] Psalm 23:2.

[3] Matthew 28:20.

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