This week, beloved reader, the Acts passage is the Epistle passage. We do not often stop to realize that the book of Acts was actually a letter written to Theophilus. We get so enrapt with the story that we are not aware of the narration. And then Paul enters the tale, and suddenly it is the history of how the early church, and the letter writer fades to a simple over-voice.
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 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 to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1 – 4)
Do you remember what I said, beloved reader, some days back that the Spirit came to each of them individually? It was not one tongue of fire for all as a group but each had a tongue of fire on them. And each had a tongue of language according to the ability given to them by the Spirit. Do not think, beloved reader, that the Spirit gave minimal ability. Several of the commentators I read indicated that this ability was not transitory but was in fact equipping them to preach the gospel to others in that same tongue that they were given. I had not heard before that particular interpretation of this passage. Still another commentator noted this gifting might have been as Paul explains it, not a tool for communication but a sign of spirit-filled fervor. Speaking tongues amongst some believers and faith circles is a sign and benchmark of depth in one’s Christian life. This phenomenon is worthy of much discussion. But the story does not stop here, so let us continue.
“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and 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?” (Verses 5 – 12)
Yesterday I was talking about the Jewish nation as the called and chosen people of God; that from Adam’s son Seth down to Noah, and through his sons on to Terah and his son Abram – that believers in the one God ebbed and flowed in number. And from Abraham on there was an explosion of followers that formed a nation that merged with other nations, the expanse of which is noted in the above verses. Jews were all over! Comparatively speaking.
“But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”” (Verse 13)
I have to admit, perhaps it did sound like a drunken revelry. And there are some faith traditions that are loud and boisterous, with people calling out praise refrains and testimonies. Add to that, Jesus used the analogy of not putting new wine in old wine-skins. Summing all of that up, the sneering criticism was oddly appropriate! But let us move on in the story.
“But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this 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.’” (Verses 14 – 21)
Back on Tuesday I referred briefly (without identifying the biblical source) to this pouring out of the Spirit. Did Joel the prophet (or the writer of the book of Joel) mean this occasion? Were all these things – prophesies & visions, portents & signs, blood/smoke/fire/mist, the darkened sun & the bloodied moon – supposed to happen one after another?
This narrated story in Acts (see, beloved reader, did you not forgot this was actually a letter?!) continues by saying many that day came to faith in Jesus Christ. As verse 21 said, all who called on the name of the Lord that day were saved.
But, back to my question – all that and Peter preaching it too? No, . . . . . . not all of that at one point. Consider, beloved reader. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters and only at measured intervals did creation come about. God created Adam and Eve, and humanity slowly evolved. Generation after generation of men (and women) came and went as the time flowed forward until Abram was called out. And even then Abram aged until he became Abraham and Isaac was born. You know the stories as well as I, beloved. The plans and purposes of the Lord come to fruition over time. Pentecost was the final and eventual coming of the Holy Presence to earth, as it had come to Adam and Eve in the seclusion and cloister of the garden. And then forward, down the generations and centuries to us – here and now. But we are not the end, beloved reader. I do not believe we are at the end.
Yes, the times are tough. And yes, the whole global community is going through a change . . . . that may implications that are unknown at this time. But is it the end? The sun darkening and the moon red like the spilled blood of Christ? It is scary to think about; we have smoke and fire, and mist the seeps from the ground and the sky to meet in the middle and veil the senses. I maintain, I do not think it is the end. Not the end sort of end, at least, that is prophetically biblical.
I wish I could reach out to you, beloved reader. To calm and reassure you. Think for a moment how the disciples felt, with something dancing upon their head that was clear not something they had encountered before. Speaking words that a second ago were not in their mind and vocabulary. I do not doubt some aspect of it was scary. But Jesus had prepared them for this. And the Spirit will prepare us for what will come, whatever will come.
The Day of Pentecost turned out to be a celebration of the coming of the Spirit. Men (and women) of Christian and Spirit filled intent set forth on a new type of journeying. Each day, however, we can celebrate that the Spirit is here with us, whatever our circumstances may be. May the Spirit alight on you, beloved reader, equipping you with what you will need for the journey ahead. Shalom & Selah!