This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 4, 2017.
The Lord Jesus always keeps his promises in his time and in his ways. He promised after he went away, the Holy Spirit would come to his disciples as a Helper to comfort, empower, and guide them in their gospel witness and work (John 16:5-15; Acts 1:1-8). On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), the timing was right for the fulfillment of this eternity-altering promise to unfold. The symbolism intertwined with the fulfillment of this promise is worth noticing while watching this holy moment initiated “from heaven” and instituted “on earth” take place (cf. Matthew 6:10).
Luke tells his readers the effects surrounding the Holy Spirit’s entrance came “from heaven” that included sounds like “a mighty rushing wind,” sights of “divided tongues as of fire” and results of those in the room who “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4). This promise was fulfilled after Jesus had ascended to heaven. Once Jesus was present in heaven, the creative power of God’s Spirit came down “from heaven” to enable the next phase of God’s redemptive work to be done “on earth.” The presence of God could begin in a new way on this historically significant day “on earth as it is in heaven.”
The symbolism of the God’s presence through wind, fire and inspired utterances are laced with Old Testament precedent. The work of the Spirit in the wind echoes sounds of Ezekiel calling forth the dry bones to life with the Spirit of the Lord (Ezekiel 37:1-14). We see fire representing God’s existence in stories such as Moses encountering God through the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-6) and within the Exodus from Egypt as God led through the pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). The presence of the Lord is heard through inspired speech of people such as Eldad and Medad when the elders were appointed to aid Moses (Numbers 11:26-29), as well as when Saul was anointed King by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 10:6-11). It is not by accident that the speech of humans was “confused” by the Lord at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) when the people of earth tried to become independent from the Lord. The curse is reversed momentarily on this day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. On a day when languages and dialects from multitudes of Jews and proselytes from tens of thousands of square miles had assembled in Jerusalem for this important annual celebration, everyone could understand what these Galileans were saying without linguistic chaos.
Pentecost was one of the festivals that all Jewish men were required to attend back in Jerusalem. Pentecost means “fiftieth” and was a festival also known as “the Feast of Weeks.” It took place on the fiftieth day after Passover as a celebration and time of gratitude to the Lord for the seven weeks of harvesting the barley crop that took place during that season of the year (Leviticus 23:15-22; Deuteronomy 16:9-12). There also is a historical connection to the law being given to Moses on Mount Sinai that is associated with Pentecost (Exodus 19:1). The Jews recognized Pentecost as the day the law came down to their people from God as Moses came down from Mount Sinai. However, for followers of Jesus, Pentecost in Acts 2 became the day the Holy Spirit of God came down to empower the people of God to live their lives in honor and glory to God in every nation.
Because it was the festival of Pentecost, every nation (Acts 2:5,9-11) where Jews had been dispersed on the earth were back in Jerusalem to celebrate this annual pilgrimage. Thus, every language and dialect from the north, south, east and west was within proximity to experience this supernatural promise of God coming true. They all heard these Galileans speaking their language in a way they could understand (Acts 2:7). The text says they were amazed at what they were “hearing” because it was in their own language (Acts 2:6) The word for “hearing” is in the imperfect tense which means they heard and kept on hearing as the scene unfolded. Thus, it seems what the Holy Spirit began among the men and women gathered in unity in the upper room probably spilled out into the streets and areas outside and onwards to the courts of the Temple. The crowds began to grow as all who heard realized something astonishing was taking place in their midst. Amid the amazement by many in the crowd, others accused these followers of Jesus as being drunk (Acts 2:12-13).
No good Jew would eat or drink anything until later in the morning on such a significant day as Pentecost. They certainly would wait until after the first prayers that took place at 9:00 in the morning. Peter squashes any such thought that they were drunk and points out that what is happening is what every Jew had been waiting on for generations: fulfillment of prophecy concerning “the last days” (Joel 2:28-32). Why would Peter quote Joel’s prophecy unless his audience would have an immediate understanding of the explanation for why they were speaking in this understandable manner? They had been filled not with sweet wine, but rather with the Holy Spirit just as Joel’s 5th century B.C. prophecy stated.
In those last days, all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:21; cf. Joel 2:32). Jesus enabled men and women from every nation to be saved from their sins and empowered to live by his Holy Spirit. The messengers of this good news empowered by the Spirit on Pentecost were both men and women who were in that upper room unified together. They began to tell the gospel story to all who would listen from every nation. It was good news from heaven ultimately meant for all people on earth.
Dr. David Rogers
Arapaho Road Baptist Church, Garland, TX
Tags: Pentecost, Holy Spirit, heaven, nations, unity