Sermon from Sunday, May 28, 2023
Speaker: Rev. Michael Cloud
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
Our scripture reading this morning comes from the Book of Acts, chapter two, verses 1 to 21. Hear these words: On the day of Pentecost, they were all together in one place. Suddenly, from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now, there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. At this sound, the crowd gathered and was bewildered because each one heard them speaking in their own native language. They asked, “Are not these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear each of us in our own native language?” Parthians, Medes, Elamites, 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—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let it be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 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. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
So we’re going to start this morning with a bit of a bold statement, but stick with me. I’m going to unpack it for you. The gifting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is not necessarily new. Rather, it is a deeper manifestation of an already present reality. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is going to come upon us in a new way, and we’re going to experience the presence and power of God like never before.
That’s true. Not going to take away from that. But this new manifestation of God is rooted in the way that God appeared to our ancestors. So since the beginning of time, God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit, have existed as one eternal being united together by their reciprocal love and infinite love for one another.
God is not constrained by the ways in which God chooses to manifest Himself among His people across time and in God’s sovereign wisdom. God designed it where He would appear first through the various signs and wonders as He gave the people the law and spoke through the prophets. Then He would come to us through Jesus Christ, His son, who was the word made flesh, conceived and dwelt by the Holy Spirit, and who filled full the weight of the law and the prophets.
And now God’s presence is manifest not simply among us, but within us, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, like never before in human history. But it is vital that we understand the working of God across human history to be connected in such a way that for us to draw a line between what God has done, is doing, and will do in the people of God. If we try to draw that line, it’s like trying to draw a line and divide the father from the son, from the Holy Spirit. It cannot be done.
And so there are some connections in our passage this morning that link what God has done to what God is doing that I don’t want you to miss. So if you notice in our text this morning, there are people from all over who have come to Jerusalem. And so what we now refer to as Pentecost was one of the three major pilgrimage holidays in the Jewish tradition. The crowds were there for a major Jewish holiday known as the Feast of Weeks. You may have heard the Jewish word Shabbat, perhaps pronounced showboat, Right? Shabbat showboat and Feast of Weeks. It celebrated the wheat harvest in Israel. It was also referred to as the day of first fruits. That phrase is going to be important for us in a moment.
So Shabbat, the Feast of Weeks, takes place 50 days after Passover, 50 Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. And this is when Moses led the people out of Egypt. All right. To redeem God’s people through the bond of bondage and oppression. Okay. So Passover takes place in Exodus 13. And then it just so happens 50 days after that Passover event, the Israelites find themselves at Mount Sinai, where Moses receives the Torah from God in Exodus chapter 20. Now, watch this. This is good. You don’t get this the first time you read it through. As God’s presence comes upon the mountain. In Exodus 19, it says that Mt. Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently as the sound of the Ram’s horn grew louder and louder. Moses spoke and God answered him in the Thunder.
Fast forward to me to Acts to the reality of the Holy Spirit has made visibly noticeable how in sounds of a violent rushing wind and the whole house is filled with tongues of flaming fire. So is it any coincidence that God will appear for the birth of his church in a way that causes the people to remember the first time? God appears to form his people as a community and to teach them the ways in which they were to live for God? Told Moses in Exodus 3:12, “Go, I will be with you and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you. When you have brought the people up out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” And what does Jesus tell the disciples? That the Great Commission in Matthew 28: “Go make disciples and remember, I am always with you to the end of the age, for one is coming after me that will guide you and teach you and be your advocate.”
I remind you that Jesus’s crucifixion takes place during the celebration of the Passover. In fact, it’s during the ninth hour, the traditional time of Temple sacrifice, where Jesus breathed his last breath and becomes the sacrificial lamb on our behalf. And now here we are, 50 days after his resurrection, and it just so happens to be Shabbat, the day of the first fruits. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul calls the resurrection of Christ the first fruits for those who have died. And in Ephesians 1, he calls the Holy Spirit the pledge of our inheritance towards the redemption as God’s own people to the praise of His glory.
So this new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to those gathered in the upper room ushers in a new mission for the children of God, the ways in which they are to live. When Christ says, “You will be my witnesses,” what do witnesses do? Well, they speak about what they have seen and what they have heard. And that’s why I both love and hate the quote, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” So I understand the point of the quote and why they were to say it like, yes, live your life in a way where people see your good works, glorify your Father who is in heaven. But you must also proclaim the gospel by speaking the words and leave no doubt that it is not my work, but it is Christ who works in me towards the glory of God.
Now, even in the passage before us, the Holy Spirit does not simply come upon the disciples and empower them to go out to be the hands and feet of Christ. Yes, that happens. That is part of it. But the Spirit explicitly manifests himself in the gifting of speech. Now, the gifting of speaking in tongues in Acts 2 is not to be confused with the speaking of tongues that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 13-14. It’s translated the same because it’s the same Greek word. If you look at the Greek, you say, “Well, Pastor, it’s the same.” Yes, but just like we have more than one nuance and definition for our words in English, right? I run for exercise, but I run an errand. It’s not the same run. So do we find that in the Greek for some of the words. And it just so happens that tongues is one of those similar ideas, but two different ways to talk about the gifting, with different emphasis on the tongues.
See, the speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians, that’s the more familiar one that gets talked about, right? That’s that spiritual language that you’re not supposed to speak unless somebody is around to interpret it, and so on and so forth. But the speaking of tongues in Acts 2 at Pentecost, it’s the ability for those gathered in the upper room to immediately speak these foreign languages clearly and accurately with no prior training or understanding. I mean, we see this in verses 7 and 8, right? “Aren’t all those who are speaking Galilean? How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language?” And then Peter stands up with the other 11 main disciples and he begins to reveal to the crowd what’s happened. Well, they’re not drunk, right? The Holy Spirit’s coming upon them. And he’s empowered us for the new mission of preaching the Gospel, proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth.
I remember lying in bed in a hotel room in Dallas several years ago where I would wake up the next morning to go to Cambodia for a six-month internship that turned into a five-year mission to teach the gospel to the committed people. And as I lie there, God made two things abundantly clear to me. The first was I got that same feeling I got when I was a kid and it was time to go see the grandparents, aunts, uncles, all at the family reunion, Christmas, Thanksgiving, that whole thing. And so even though I literally only knew just a handful of people in Cambodia at this time, and my wife not being one of them at this time, it was abundantly clear that I was going home
This is where I was supposed to be. And then the second thing was, you know, perhaps learning to speak a new language is like learning to speak in tongues. Perhaps these things are connected. Like there are some languages out there too that they just sound like babbling to the untrained ear. Now, if I were to say to you, “Praise you, could you upgrade your major?” you would look at me very funny, kind of like you’re looking at me right now.
But the Cambodian people would hear, “What? Sweet wife, I see you back there.” What would they? They would hear the truth, the reality that God and Jesus are one and the Holy Spirit continues to do that during my time there. Like for whatever reason, I have this ability to hear a language and repeat it fairly well. In fact, we were sitting one day, reviewing our vocabulary lessons and trying to learn the language, and she just kind of stops and watches what I say.
“Now, Randy, you say that better than most of the native people. You say that better than the Cambodians. How is this even?” But I don’t know, dear. I just can’t write. God’s given me a gift. And this is why I can kind of brag on that, right? God’s given me this gift, but I have to practice it and I have to work on it. And I am far from fluent in the language. Let me make that clear. Oh, I can say one word. Really? Well, I’m still not fluent in their language, but for whatever reason, there’s just that ability within me that I didn’t know was there. But God’s allowed me to see it, and he’s allowed me to be able to work at it so that I could cultivate a passion and a gifting for spreading the gospel.
So I’m reminded of that old adage: God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called. Scholar Darrell Bock is going to note that in Acts, the gifting of the Holy Spirit is related to the proclamation of the Gospel and to the equipping of missions, most notably in Acts. The Spirit fills believers for service to speak God’s Word and to do ministry.
And so I want you to notice that the gifting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the gifting of service and ministry and preaching, is for all believers, not just the pastors or the church leaders. In fact, our passage today opens by saying, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Well, who were they? They refer to the 120 from verse 15 of chapter one who were all waiting in the upper room, just like Jesus had told them to do after his ascension.
And we see further evidence right here in the passage. Peter quotes from Joel. He says, “God has spoken and says, ‘I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, sons, daughters, men, women, young or old.'” The Holy Spirit will not only come upon all nations, but the Spirit will come to every people in every social class, rank, and skill level as well.
Somewhere along the way, as churches grew into institutions, they got this idea that ministry was supposed to be relegated to the professionals. It was the job of the clergy and the church staff to do ministry and missions, and the laity, well, you’re just here to help support the church. And in one sense, perhaps this is true. We pay people, you know, you pay people to do a job. And when we pay you to do a job, we expect results. Now, your guess is as good as mine of what that looks like in the church world. Oh no, you know, spirits really rising in that, right?
But in another… thank you, the staff is giggling, right? That’s right. But in another, more biblical sense, when we think this way about the church, we do a great disservice to the ministry of God and his church. So stick with me here, right? The fact is that some of us are called into what we now call professional ministry, and some of us are called into other professions. But as baptized believers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each and every one of us are called, you are called, no matter what your skill or vocation. Each and every one of us is called to be a minister of the Gospel. The fact that the pastor has been given gifts and graces by God to lead the church in no way, and in no biblical text, undermines or devalues the gifts and graces that God has given each and every one of you.
Again, to the gift of tongues here. The tongues of fire come upon all who are in the room, the 12 disciples. Matthias replaced Judas right before this event, so the 12 disciples stand up before the crowd. Out of them, Peter is the only one to preach, but the full 120 go out filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
So when I say that relying solely on the pastor and the church leaders does a disservice to the Ministry of God’s church, what I mean is, look around you. Look at all the people in this room, all the skills, all the talent, all the wisdom, all the years of service that we have in this room. God has given you gifts and abilities and personalities that he hasn’t given me, and he’s given me things that he hasn’t given you because God calls each of us to accomplish different purposes for the same mission.
The God who created you just as you are has given you the ability to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order that together we might fulfill the Great Commission to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Amen.
Alright, the Holy Spirit. It’s Pentecost Sunday. You can get a little spiritual on me. Amen. It’s right here in verse 11. It confirms that while the crowd was initially confused by the disciples’ ability to speak their language, the purpose is crystal clear. “In our own languages, we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” Again, Peter is the only one who stands up and explains what is going on, but the crowd here is all 120 proclaiming the power of God.
Moving forward from this moment, nothing we see the disciples do towards the Kingdom of God is done of their own accord. Peter’s never going to address a crowd except when he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and later, when we meet Paul, he’s going to do all these crazy miracles on his journeys. Sure, Peter and Paul have some accolades that you and I likely never will. Paul is a highly trained Pharisee. He knew his Bible inside and out. He writes 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. Peter was uneducated, but he spent three years learning directly from Jesus, and he was part of Jesus’ inner circle. But the thing that gives them their boldness and their power is not their skill, their education level, or their personality. The thing that gives them the boldness and power to take the gospel to the ends of the Earth against all odds is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
You are who you are, and God has created you how He has created you. And while we all need a bit of work, what makes you think God cannot use you, who you are and how He has created you, to do what He has commanded you to do? And what makes you think that God doesn’t have a special part of you ready to go that you won’t know about until you step into where God is leading you to go?
God is not bound by our infant finite way of thinking. God is infinite, and He will do things far beyond what we could ever ask or imagine. So let’s be clear: The church cannot operate void of the Holy Spirit’s power. Yet, it is precisely our God-given gifts, personalities, and talents that the Holy Spirit will transform so that we can begin to operate for the glory of God here and now. Christ’s call to be my witnesses by the power of the Holy Spirit draws together our participation in proclamation, community, and service. Because the Triune God’s Agency does not destroy human agency, but it frees it by and for the Trinitarian life and activity of God.
This day of Pentecost is the mark of a new manifestation of God among His people, where the Holy Spirit is accessible and empowers us to grow in communication and relationship with God, the Father Almighty. But our going out in His name will take practice. It’s like learning a new language. It will take upkeep and renewal.
Can the Holy Spirit rush upon you and overcome you? Absolutely, it can. We don’t want to discount that. We don’t want to brush that aside. But we don’t see any of the disciples or the early Christians, even when this thing happens, receive the Holy Spirit and then act like they need nothing else for the rest of their lives. The early church thrived, but it also struggled.
The Holy Spirit gives us the power to proclaim the Gospel when we cannot find the words, and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to persevere through times of trial and drought. And so, as churches today long for revival, longing for the Spirit to come upon them like a flaming fire to spread through the town and the nation, there must be a place for the fire to rest and remain.
The spirit of revival becomes nothing more than a flash in the pan. It sizzles, it excites, it sparks. But without a substance upon which the fire can remain, created by the Triune God to do good works, it dissipates. The only place outside of God’s self that is able to consistently contain the burning embers of God’s love is the human soul, for it is written, “Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.”
And like any fire, these embers of God must be cultivated, lest we quench the Holy Spirit within us. Without anything to sustain that vitality, tongues of fire become bombastic, babbling about the transformative power of God. Yet, if we build an altar of living stones upon which to call down God’s all-consuming fire, it will come like the days of Elijah, ready to prove the powerful presence of God Almighty.
Let’s pray, Father God, send your Spirit once again upon this place. Prepare our hearts, our minds, our bodies to receive your presence and to carry it forward with us wherever you would have us go. In Jesus’ name, amen.