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Amazed and Confused

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Amazed and Confused

Acts 2:1-21

Intro

Is this not an amazing story? This demonstration of the power of the Spirit is something we long for desperately, and yet are a bit afraid of. We want to see this kind of power manifested in us, yet we still have our reservations. After all, the church recorded in Acts has some almighty power, but it also went through some almighty crap. Peter, preaching with the power of the Spirit adds three thousand people to the church in one day, but in a couple days he gets into major trouble and is dragged before the Sanhedrin. We want this kind of power, do we not? We want to hear our fellow Christians witnessing powerfully in other languages. We want to be able to go up to a person of some other nationality and tell them the great acts of God in their language. We want to have the Spirit come into our lives with a roaring wind and flames of fire, or so we say. Remember, however, the dangerous combination of fire and wind.

Tell the story of the wheat field fire.

We want the power of the Spirit, the power of fire and wind, but we are a bit nervous about where it might take us. Who might come to join us? What might change in our church, in our worship, in us?

Reversal of Babel

The thing about this story that we most often focus on, and which splits churches and denominations, is this issue of speaking in other tongues, in other languages. The first thing we have to notice about this speaking in other languages is that it reverses a well know story in the Old Testament, the story of the tower of Babel.

Turn with me to Gen 11. (Read Gen 11:1-9)

The people of Babel decided to ignore the command of God in Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” They thought it would be better to be in one place, to build a city, to make a tower that reaches to the heavens, to make a name for themselves, so that they might not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Ge 11:4). So, God comes down to see what they are doing, and this is what he says.

Read Gen 11:5-7.

The people did not want to do what God wanted them to, so he forced them to. He scattered them over the face of the earth by confusing their speech. The story of Pentecost is a reversal of this problem. Here in Jerusalem there are people gathered from all over the earth, people “from every nation under heaven.” And now, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, every single one of them is hearing the disciples in their own language. There is no longer any language barrier. The message of God is told in all languages, to people from all over the world.

Disciples all together in one place, waiting.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1) They were all gathered together. They were waiting. They were waiting for the prophecy given by John the Baptist to be fulfilled. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Mt 3:11). They were waiting for the promises of Jesus to be fulfilled. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. ... I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (Jn 14:15-18) and he said, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:49). He also said, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:26-27). The disciples were waiting. Note, they do not seem to be afraid, as they were before. In Jn 20:19 the disciples are fearful people who have locked themselves behind closed doors. John writes, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” Now, however, they are not frightened, they are not locked in a room together. Now that Jesus has arisen, they seem to have more confidence, but they are still waiting. They are unsure about what they are to do. They look around at each other and wonder what the next step could, or should be.

Then something really crazy happens. Suddenly, out of the blue clear sky, there is this strange sound. It sounds like a strong wind is filling the house. They were all sitting there around the table, talking about what Jesus had said, what he had taught them, what the weather was supposed to be like today, whether the wife of the owner of the local hardware store had really run off with another man, home much time their neighbour spent sunning herself in the back yard, whether that lady driver could really win the Formula 500, whether the Pistons were going to win tonight, or whether the Ottawa Senators would bring the Stanley cup back home.

Then, suddenly, the sound of a mighty wind fills the house. It sounds like a tornado has entered their living room, like a 747 had parked on their dining room table. Then, if that were not strange enough, fire appears in mid-air. It separates into individual pieces and comes to rest on each of them. I wonder if anyone ducked, not wanting their hair to get scorched. On top of all of this, they turn to one another, and begin speaking in foreign languages!

Imagine that! All of these local boys, who have never travelled very far from the loving arms of their mothers were speaking in all the languages of the known world. In my high school there were a couple of guys who have never travelled outside of the province. The scene in that room would be like going to my high school reunion and having those guys, speak to me in perfect German, or Polish, or Russian, or Mandarin, or Japanese. Could you imagine how weird that would be? Imagine the people beside you right now suddenly turning to you and addressing you in Arabic! How weird would that be!

Background to pentecost; festival of weeks

This ability to speak in all kinds of languages comes in rather handy. There just happens to be people from all over the know world in Jerusalem that day. What were all these people doing in Jerusalem anyway? It says they were there for pentecost, but I thought pentecost was the celebration of the outpouring of the spirit, this very event reported in acts. Yet, the author says that “there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” (Ac 2:5) What were these people doing in Jerusalem?

            harvest

Well, it turns out that originally Pentecost had a different meaning. This is one of the three major festivals given in the torah. This is one of the three times in which all Israelite males were required to be in Jerusalem.

(Le 23:16-21) “Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord. ... On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.”

So, all Israel was expected to come to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival. Think of the commotion that this kind of festival would cause. Every Israelite was supposed to be there. Think of the amount of food that would take. All the hotels would be full. All the restaurants packed to overflowing every evening. There would barely be room to move around the city.

            torah

By the time of Christ, however, this festival had taken on another meaning in the popular mind of the Israelites. Tradition had it that fifty days after the Israelites ate the first passover and were liberated from the land of Egypt, they were encamped at the base of Mt Sinai as Moses received the torah from God. The celebration of pentecost, then, was a time to commemorate this giving of the torah, the law, the teaching, the instruction of God. The thing the Israelites needed to live in proper relationship with their Holy God.

This, by the way, is one of the reasons we still use the torah today. This is why the law still has use for us. Among other things, it is a guide for our lives. It teaches us how we ought to live before the holy God that we serve, the righteous God that has called us his own. Now, however, we have another reason to celebrate. We celebrate the giving of torah, because we also celebrate the giving of the Spirit who gives us the strength to follow it.

So, for the Jews in Jerusalem, the feast of pentecost, or weeks, or the harvest, was a time to commemorate the faithfulness of God in another year of food production, another year of maintaining the people in the land that he had promised them. It was also a time to celebrate the giving of the torah, the instructions which allowed the people of God to live with in his presence. What an incredible time for the Spirit to come and begin the great harvest. What a time for the church to start its incredible growth, for three thousand people to come into the church in one day.

This is an amazing time for us to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest of the Spirit, the harvest that Jesus promised. “Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Mt 10:1). Jesus prepared the way for this amazing first fruits of the harvest. He gave himself as the true passover lamb on Good Friday. He gave himself as the new passover meal to inaugurate the new exodus for the new Israel. The blood of Christ on our hearts replaced the blood on the door frames of those houses in Egypt. Then, fifty days later, the Spirit was poured out on his people. It gave us the ability to grow in sanctification, to become the people God has called us to be, to give up our bad habits and draw closer to our righteous and loving God. It gave us the power to follow the instruction of the Lord. It gave us the power and confidence to stand before Kings and slaves and tell them about Christ's loving sacrifice.

“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (Gen 11:5)

New Pentecost experience?

Who of you think it might be nice if we had another pentecost experience? There are times when I do. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Spirit was poured out upon his people in this way again? Wouldn't it be wonderful if all these things were happening right now? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had the kind of confidence that the disciples have in the book of Acts? Wouldn't it be wonderful Wouldn't it be wonderful if three thousand people were added to this church today?

Much of our love affair with so-called third-wave Pentecostalism, something Synod will take a close look at this summer, has to do with this desire. We want to be wowed. We want to be shocked. We want to see the great power of God. We want to be amazed and confused, just like those people who gathered at the sound of the great wind.

The thing is, we do not need to have another experience, because this reality exists for us today. The tap was turned on on the day of Pentecost, but it has never been turned off. There may not be as many extraordinary things happening today as there were recorded in the rest of the book of Acts, but they are miraculous none-the-less. The body of Christ has been extended across the world. The church is extended across the globe. On any given Sunday the great acts of God are spoken to the body of Christ in virtually every language. In the Church, the universal church, the holy catholic church, there is no longer a barrier to language. Sure, I cannot speak mandarin, or Cantonese, or Polish, or Russian, or even Dutch, but there is someone in the body of Christ who can.

“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (Gen 11:5)

This strange combination of fire and wind has been at work in the church for almost two centuries. The day of Pentecost started the kind of blaze which cannot be put out. The fire that resides in our hearts will never be snuffed out. "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory." (Is 42:3)

Conclusion

The barrier to language which was started at the tower of Babel has been broken down. Remember what God said when he came down to inspect the tower in Babel. We read it at the beginning from Gen 11. He said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Amazing, nothing will be impossible for them! Well, the church, the body of Christ, speaks one language. We speak the language of the Spirit, the language of love, the language of salvation, the language of the great and mighty acts of God. We have this kind of power. The power that causes three thousand people to turn to God in one day. The power that causes this rag tag bands of backward people from Galilee into the some of the most respected people of all time. The kind of power that gives witness to Jesus. Remember the promise of Jesus just before his ascension. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Ac 1:8).

When the Sanhedrin took Peter to task for preaching about Jesus, he bravely defended himself. He was so bold, they attributed it to Jesus. Acts 4:13 says, “When they (the Sanhedrin) saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Ac 4:13). We give this kind of witness to Christ's work. This same Spirit flows through our veins. This same fire has been kindled in our hearts. This same wind is blowing in our lives. The fire of our faith is being blown into a raging torrent.

“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (Gen 11:5)

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