The “Fourth Week”: Week Thirty/Session Three.
Theme: Life in the Spirit.
Our reading for today: Acts 2: 1-11.
When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; even Cretans and Arabs! “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” (Acts 2: 1-11 MsgB)
50 Days after Passover. The Feast of Pentecost. 33 AD. Jerusalem.
Now an already interesting and controversial resurrection story gets a lot more interesting and just maybe a bit more controversial. Depending on what side of the aisle you sit on.
If you’re a charismatic or pentecostal Christian, you are smack dab in the middle of one of your favorite passages about how the Holy Spirit comes to powerfully equip and empower the early church, releasing the gift of tongues on an unsuspecting crowd of 120 followers of Jesus. If you’re more of an evangelical, word-believing kind of guy or gal, you’re looking more at the explosive evangelism event that is starting to occur in these passages.
Both camps have their points well taken. My problem is why do we need to take these passages in Luke’s second letter to his good friend, Theophilus and make it an either/or proposition. Can’t it be both? As a matter of fact, as I see it, this story is definitely about both Holy Spirit power and amazing evangelistic opportunities! And if you try to reduce it to less than what John Wimber used to call “power evangelism”, you are not doing justice to the original text.
So let me unpack this story a bit.
Jesus has just told His friends that within several days, as they wait patiently in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit is going to come and empower this Good News Kingdom Message He’s been telling them about. I can just imagine Jesus, explaining it this way…
“This same Message that I’ve been trying to help you understand, that God, your rescuing Creator and King is now breaking-in on your wayward lives, delivering you once and for all from darkness and despair, is now going out. First to Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and yes, over time, even to the ends of the earth! In other words, hold tight guys, what you thought was just a localized message for a small group of Jewish men and women meeting regularly in an upper room in downtown Jerusalem, is now about to go world-wide. And, guess what? You guys need to be at the right place and the right time, with the right attitude, or you’ll miss this bus completely!”
You see, from Jesus’ perspective, He knew that the annual Feast of Pentecost, otherwise known as the celebration of the second harvest (latter first fruits) was to begin in Jerusalem within 10 days of His departure. This feast, celebrated annually 50 days after Passover, always brought a multitude of the faithful into Jerusalem from all over the known world to celebrate God’s second wheat harvest of the growing season. How appropriate it is for God to begin the outward expansion of His second harvest (to the entire world) on such an occasion as this!
So here we are with thousands of faithful servants of God (both Jew and Gentile) gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate God’s material blessings of wheat. Just as Jesus said, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Oh wait, in order to begin this harvest, all God has to do is connect point A (120 followers of Jesus) with Point B (thousands of foreigners scattered around Jerusalem). Hey, that’s easy. Let’s send one big Holy Spirit-driven commotion to get everybody’s attention. One hurricane specifically limited to one upper room. No damage, however. Just fire-like torches falling from the sky. Sure thing. That’ll work!
Whoops. One big problem to overcome, however. These guys and gals in the upper room are basically Galileans. They speak Aramaic at best, and in many cases, being non-schooled as they are, they even have a hard enough time getting basic Aramaic to come out of their mouths, especially through their thick northern accents. On the other hand, we have these out-of-towners who speak only languages that are completely foreign to these Galileans. Wait. The Holy Spirit can overcome that obstacle! We’ll just give these former fishermen and tax collectors an ability to speak fluent foreign languages today so the Message will be understood by all!
So, now, let me ask you. Did the Holy Spirit come in power that day to set a tradition for us that from this point forward we charismatics and pentecostals must speak in tongues, or did the Holy Spirit come to empower Jesus’ disciples in a very unique way (in this case foreign tongues) so that the Message of Jesus could effectively be spread to thousands? I believe, the text calls for the latter.
Power for a purpose. God’s Holy Spirit coming upon His people, empowering and equipping us to do what we can’t do on our own in order to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth. Now that will preach!
My prayer: Lord, as I see here in Acts, You will go to the extreme to get Your Good News Message to every nation, tongue, and people. Thank You for the empowering and equipping work of the Holy Spirit that can gift us for the job, overcoming our human limitations, sins, and shortcomings. Thank You that today, as I wait patiently in my Jerusalem, You will come in power, releasing the Holy Spirit like a mighty wind as I seek to join You on mission to my world. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: So where am I trying to spread the Good News of Jesus using only my fleshly power and wisdom? How can I better learn to wait for the empowerment and equipping work of the Holy Spirit so that I can more effectively be a fruitful witness of Christ in my generation?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.