Monday, May 25, 2015

What's This Commotion About?

What’s This Commotion About?

Pro-Epistle: Acts 2: 1-11 (KJV) Prayer Book p. 203

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.
7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?
8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?
9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.

Andy Griffith told about going with a church group to a college town on Saturday to set up for a tent meeting. When he went to get something to eat, he got caught in a mass of people who pushed forward till they came to  a pasture.  Then a  group of men ran out of a big outhouse on one end of the pasture, and one group hollered; another group at the other end of the pasture ran onto the pasture, and others hollered. Then all afternoon the two groups of men in the pasture fought over a small pumpkin. He left wondering what he had seen, but later decided it was some kind of contest where you tried to run with the pumpkin from one end of the pasture to the other without getting knocked down or stepping in something.  We know “what it was was football.”

There was a great commotion on the day of Pentecost that left people asking, “What is this about?” Some concluded a group of drunk men were causing the commotion, but others said, “No, it’s too early in morning for that.”

What was Pentecost about?

1. The Meetings

Pentecost was an annual Jewish Feast also called the Feast of Weeks.  Pentecost means “fifty” -  it occurred 50 days after the Sabbath of Passover Week. It was called  Weeks because it took place 7 weeks after Passover.

Pentecost, Passover, and the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) were the three great festivals of the Jewish liturgical calendar that attracted pilgrims to Jerusalem. It was a harvest festival sometimes called Firstfruits. This spring harvest, bracketed by Passover and Pentecost,  was the harvest of the firstfruits of the land.

Jews lived all over the Roman world. Some had been deported from Israel and resettled by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians. Others migrated on their own. These Jews adapted to the cultures  and languages of the places where they lived. Like most immigrants their descendants lost the ability to speak or understand the language spoken in Israel. They knew only the language of the country where they lived. But the synagogue system helped the Jews maintain their Jewish faith and even to attract Gentile proselytes who were disillusioned by paganism and attracted to the monotheism and morality of Judaism.

Jews and Proselytes who were serious about their religion aspired to travel to the Jerusalem for one of the festivals. Acts lists fifteen places from which they came, stretching from the farthest eastern parts of the Empire , west to Israel, north to Asia Minor, south to northern Africa, then to Rome, and finally to the island  of Crete and the Arabian desert.

Within this multitude was a group of about 120 people, both men and women including the Apostles. Jesus had told the Apostles to go back to Jerusalem to await further developments. Frequently smaller and larger groups met together and devoted themselves to prayer. On the morning of Pentecost this group met together in one accord.

We should aspire to these: (1) to meet together faithfully, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together; (2) to be of one accord, as Paul puts it, maintaining the unity that the Spirit creates, not allowing disharmony or bitterness or disunity to gain a foothold; and praying to the Lord, giving him thanks and asking for his blessing upon our congregation and upon the church all over the world.

2. The Miracle

The night before his crucifixion Jesus promised that he and Father would send another Helper or Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who would continue Jesus’ ministry to the Apostles and equip them for the ministry Jesus gave them. The night of the resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples and said,  “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  Then “he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Luke says that between Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension “he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father... for ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” On Ascension Day, he told them: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 2 records the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise that he and the Father would send the Holy Spirit.  Three things happened:

  1. From heaven came the sound of a mighty rushing wind that  filled the house where they were gathered. The word for “spirit”  in both the Old and New Testaments is “wind.”  Jesus associated the wind with the Spirit when he spoke to Nicodemus about the new birth:  “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not see where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Now to signify the coming of the Spirit, the room where the Apostles and other disciples are gathered is filled with the sound of a wind that roars like a tornado - a mighty rushing wind. We lived in Mississippi and Alabama which have many tornados. You can see their paths in forests because they rip through the trees as  matchsticks and the stumps mark their paths. The power of a tornado’s wind is almost unimaginable till you see its effects. Jesus has promised that his followers will be given power by the Holy Spirit for the mission he gave them. The mighty wind tells them the powerful Spirit has come to give them power.
  1. What looked like divided tongues of fire appeared and rested on each of those present. In the Old Testament fire is often a sign of God’s presence. The Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush. The Lord is like a refiner’s fire. God’s fire consumes evil either in consuming judgment or cleansing grace. The Lord declares, “Is not my word like fire?” When Jesus spoke about the Old Testament testimony about him with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?” When God speaks he speaks a pure and powerful word that goes to the heart.  The Apostles and the whole church are called to take God’s word to the nations and to testify to his mighty works in and through Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. The tongues of fire assured them that God would enable them to speak the pure and powerful word that reaches the hearts of hearers and creates repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ. That happened on Pentecost when Peter preached Christ as Lord and Savior and people were pricked in their hearts and cried out. “Men and brethren, what must we do?”

  1. All of those present were filled with the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised to give, and all spoke with other tongues as the Spirit enabled. What they spoke was not some kind of ecstatic speech but the languages of the people who had come from the nations of the world. The people who heard them speaking in their own languages were bewildered, amazed, and astonished and asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” Galilee was on the northern borders of Israel - much more rural and less sophisticated than Jerusalem which was not only the religious and political but also the cultural center of the Jews. These men were not world travellers who might have picked up another language. Today, when missionaries go to other countries they devote great amounts of time and hard work to learning the languages of the people to whom they minister. But those who were filled with the Spirit on Pentecost  spoke in languages that they had not learned. It was a miracle of speech, so that they proclaimed to people in their own languages the mighty works of God.

Pentecost was marked by supernatural works of God as signs that the Holy Spirit has come to empower Christ’s church - the sound of a mighty rushing wind, divided tongues of fire, and speech in unlearned languages. Those signs also assure the church today, and we who are its members, that the empowering Holy Spirit is with us, too. The ascended Lord has baptized the church once and for all with the Spirit. We need not seek the Spirit as though he is not ours, for Christ has never withdrawn from his church the gift of the Holy Spirit.

3. The Meaning

The people knew what they heard, but they could not explain it. They were amazed and perplexed and asked, “What does this mean?” That’s a question for us to ask too. What does what happened that day mean?

  1. It means that God kept the promise given through the prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh...Even on male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” It means that Jesus kept his promise to send send his Spirit to equip his church. God keeps all his promises. Not one of them fails to be fulfilled at its appointed time. The Spirit God promises is ours, and he is with us, and he equips and empowers us as he has his church through all the ages.

  1. It means that Christ’s purpose in giving the church the Spirit is so that we can take the Gospel to all the world and see people of every tongue, tribe, and nation trust in him as Savior and serve him as Lord. The light of God’s revelation was confined to Israel in the Old Testament, and often that light flickered at best. It did not shine brightly in all the world. Now the Spirit has come because Christ wants to gather the peoples of  the world to himself and to have a saved people in every nation as his own. And, as it is his will to send forth his church and his gospel to all the world, so it is his will to send his church and his gospel to Roanoke. The question we must ask is, “Lord what would you have us to do?”

  1. It means that the curse of division brought about by man’s declaration of independence from God and his sinful pride is overcome by Christ’s gospel and Spirit. In the early history of the world people spoke one language. They said to each other, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”  But God said, “I’ll fix that.” If they estranged themselves from God, God will estrange them from one another. So he confused their language, and they no longer understood one another. Thus human beings lost their unity. But in Jesus Christ God has reconciled the sinful world to himself. By the Spirit he has reversed the curse of confused languages, and by the gospel of Christ he has made it possible for us not only to be reconciled with him but to be reconciled with one another.  

We who are reconciled to God are a new human race brought together in Jesus Christ. It is our privilege to live out that unity with one another, to demonstrate that unity to the world, and to invite others to join us in this community of sinners reconciled to God. To cause the world to ask, “What's the meaning of this? What’s going on here?”

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