Sometimes the most exciting things that happen aren't the most important things that happen. In the Second Chapter of Acts, it's not the details of the day that make the difference for everyone, but what happens at the end of the day that matters.
What I want to know is, if the Holy Spirit came to the disciples through the tongues of fire on the head, why didn't all the people that day get a flame of fire on their head? I know today we'd probably ask God to light a fire under the seat of most people to get them going. If the fire on the head meant that the disciples had the Holy Spirit, then why don't we look like a church full of candles? I mean, what would you do if the hair of the person in front of you right now started glowing with a little campfire? Shout "Praise the Lord" or go looking for a bucket of water?
And what about the disciples speaking in tongues? That is, if proclaiming the gospel in languages you've never learned is a sign that the Holy Spirit is with a person, why did I spend all those hours in college trying to learn Greek and Hebrew? I mean, God could have just downloaded the language right into my head and saved me a lot of time and tuition. Want to do mission work in a foreign country? No problem. Just get the Holy Spirit to put the right dialect in you, and Shazam! You're fluent with the natives.
We don't hear about the other people, nearly 3,000 who came to the Lord that day. Why didn't they get the tongues of fire and the tongues of language? Could it be that there are two classes of Christians, those with simple faith in Jesus as savior, and the super disciples who have the full power of the Holy Spirit? I can't help wonder if the people that day felt any different after they were baptized. They saw the tongues of fire on others heads. They heard the simple Galileans preaching in their native tongue from back home in Parthia and Mesopotamia, Pamphia and Capadocia. Such exotic sounding places!
Remember back in the 1970's when the Charismatic movement was in full swing? People were trying so hard to look like the apostles. Everyone wanted to speak in tongues--have proof that they were truly Christians. When I was a teen-ager my brother introduced me to a charismatic Christian man in his congregation. He was nice, but sort of scary. He came up to me, held his head about four inches in front of mine and said, "Jim, I know you're a Christian. I can see it in your eyes." I think I went home that day and stared in the mirror for about ten minutes. What did he see in there? How is a true Christian supposed to look? Is it in the color of the eyes? The dilation of the pupil?
Did he have a direct message from the Lord? I'm not sure I'd want one of those. If I heard the voice of God speaking to me directly, without the Word of God being read into my ears, I'd have some urgent questions. 1.) Is this really the voice of God, or am I experiencing a form of mental illness? 2). Is this God speaking, or the voice of the devil trying to deceive me?
One can have different postures in worship. Traditional Lutherans tend to sit or stand rather complacently. But we've all seen people raising their hands and closing their eyes as they sing praises. Perhaps that's the way they did it in Bible times, but whenever I see that it gives me the message that the worshipper expects that God is speaking them directly, without the reading of the Bible or the preaching of the word.
So what really was the main event on the day of Pentecost? The tongues of fire, the tongues of language, the sound of the blowing of a mighty wind? It's almost anticlimactic when Peter starts to preach, as if all the excitement dies down. But that's really it, isn't it? The excitement was just setting the stage for the main event. Now that God had everyone's attention, the real business of the day began.
Peter preached the message that Jesus did signs and wonders. The people knew about this. But the main event they probably didn't see, when he was put to death, nailed to the cross. It all happened so fast, how could they have all been there. And even if they were, what would they see? A poor man, beaten bloody, nailed to a pillar of wood, groaning and dying like a despised and tortured animal. What a horrid scene.
But that was what God wanted. Ages before he had spoken through his prophets, You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy one see decay. Jesus would be buried, but he would not remain in the tomb. He would rise to take his place on David's throne. He would ascend to the right hand of God, but not before he promised to send the Holy Spirit to all his people.
Peter's sermon took them there, and showed them the awful meaning of it all. "Let all Israel be assure of this. God made this Jesus, whom YOU CRUCIFIED, both Lord, and Christ. Nothing like putting the blame on the one who just came to listen to the story.
Those who heard Peter's sermon were physically shaken. They were cut to the heart. They asked, "Brothers, what should we do?"
Then Pentecost came to the people. "Repent and be baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The fullness of the Spirit was not in the wind, the tongues of fire, the tongues of men, but He came in the proclamation and in the Baptism.
And so he went on to tell them more and more about Jesus, and the Holy Spirit brought Pentecost to about three thousand souls that very day.
When did your Pentecost come? Most of us don't remember it, for we were baptized in the name of Jesus when we were just a few days old. But God came to us then just the same. And every day since then we have confessed our sins and received his forgiveness. We've hear the same message as Peter preached that first Pentecost from this very pulpit week after week. It may not be as exciting as seeing the tongues of fire, but it is much more powerful and efficacious for our salvation.
Our Pentecost is today as the Holy Spirit visits us. He does not call attention to himself, but as Jesus said, He will remind you of everything I have said (Jn 14:23) and He will take from what is mine and make it known to you." The real Holy Spirit always leads people to Jesus.
There are plenty of other spirits around today: the spirit of rebelliousness, of personal pride, the spirit of the age. Many follow these spirits. But the Apostle John says,
Do not believe every spirit. but test the spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John 4:1). How do we do that? He says, This is how you can recognize the spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ is no from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist.
God wants us to be full of the Spirit. The prophet Joel said we would all have him. Young men will have visions and old men will dream dreams. Your sons and daughters will prophesy (Joel 2:28).
The Spirit's task is to move us to despair of our broken, sinful condition and put all of our hope on what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross of Golgotha. That is the heart of Peter's sermon.
This is our Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit comes, not by the words and promises of men, but by the voice of God speaking through the Holy Scriptures. When men, women and children learn of their greatest need, that of having a savior, and that savior is introduced to them in the man Jesus Christ, it's Pentecost.
We should always remember that the Spirit works inside of us to produces this faith, but he comes to us from the outside.
We do not meditate on our own thoughts, like in Yoga. We do not empty ourselves by praying and fasting, without being filled with God's word from the outside.
Our Pentecost comes when God lights his fire in us through his Word—that old message that we should repent of all sins and believe Jesus brought forgiveness. It's told in many ways but the story is always the same.
Be filled with the Holy Spirit and you will receive His gifts. Not fire and language, but fruit of the Spirit. These are traits that are noticeable in you.
Love—seeing others as God sees them, as precious children.
Joy—that we have our names written in heaven.
A peaceful outlook—knowing that God is pleased with us for Jesus' sake.
Patience—not having to enforce our will on others, but trusting the Spirit will guide them.
Kindness and goodness—showing our love through words and good deeds offered to others with no thought of being repaid.
Gentleness—we learn that a word of compassion is more powerful than ten thousand words of aggression.
Faithfulness—as Jesus was faithful to his Father and to us, even to giving his life, so are we led by the Holy Spirit t be faithful to God's Word in everything, and to one another in the relationships of marriage, family, church, and community life.
Self control—when the Spirit is living in us, we can say no to greed and immorality, the new "human rights" of modern society. We are led by the Word of God.
This is our Pentecost for today. Gathered around God's word, we are filled with faith in Jesus, and love toward those God has placed in our lives.
Sometimes the most exciting things that happen aren't the most important things that happen. That's the way it can be for all of us, as the Holy Spirit brings a Pentecost of the fruit of Christian faith. Amen.
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