This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the 50th day after the resurrection of Jesus. On this Old Testament festival (giving of the Commandments on Mt. Sinai and offering the first fruits of the harvest) the Holy Spirit is poured out on the disciples (Acts 2), the first fruit of the nations. Jesus had promised it:
“I’m sending you what my Father promised. Wait here in the city until you receive power from heaven.” (Luke 24:49 GW)
And now it happens! They are filled with the Holy Spirit.
This event is considered the birthday of the Christian Church. Do we celebrate or do we fizzle? Do we detract from it? It is surprising how easily we fall into ditches on either side of the road and in the process, we take away from the birthday, the Holy Spirit, and ultimately from Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately two movements misunderstand this text and have distorted and changed the message. And even more sadly, many in reaction to those two movements have denied the very essence of both parts. When we believe in Jesus Christ, we are part of that Church. Let’s avoid these distortions and not deny the reality; instead join the historic Church in power as we proclaim Jesus Christ.
“They spoke in many different languages”
On this day it means that they are able to speak in many different languages. They speak to the Jewish visitors whose native tongue is not Aramaic.
Stunned and amazed, the people in the crowd said, “All of these men who are speaking are Galileans. Why do we hear them speaking in our native dialects? We’re Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. We’re people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the country near Cyrene in Libya. We’re Jewish people, converts to Judaism, and visitors from Rome, Crete, and Arabia. We hear these men in our own languages as they tell about the miracles [mighty works] that God has done.” (Acts 2:7-11 GW)
What a miracle that must have been! Peter, James, Andrew, Bartholomew, and the rest were “unlearned men” for the most part. They knew 2-3 languages (Aramaic and Greek, and possibly a little Latin and Hebrew). But not these other languages. Yet the Holy Spirit gave them power to speak the languages. We don’t find this as the norm in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit can empower in any way, including languages. But it isn’t something that we initiate or demand. It is the Spirit who equips, empowers, and distributes for the good of His Church.
Some want to focus so much on this instance of the work of the Holy Spirit (“speaking in tongues”) that they miss when the same Holy Spirit is speaking through one person to another. Away from the spotlight, away from the spectacular, no “different language.” But the same Spirit is working through that person, just as the Spirit did in the disciples in Acts 2, speaking about Jesus Christ.
The End… and the distortions
Another distortion is that the Church is an intermediate, almost a “mistake,” but the real focus becomes Israel. The Church is supposedly raptured out of the world. According to this views, that is when the end times really begin—with a “national Israel.” Sadly the theology is wrong because it detracts from Jesus, and thus, the focus of the Church gets diverted from its original mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ and making disciples.
But what happens at Pentecost? In the reading for tomorrow,
[Peter said:] “Rather, this is what the prophet Joel spoke about: ‘In the last days, God says,…’” (Acts 2:16-17 GW)
The end times begin right here at this Pentecost festival. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit initiates the end times. Our purpose/goal is not calendar-watching and the latest news. Rather we join with the Pentecost Church, proclaiming Jesus Christ; we are empowered to speak, to make disciples, to live in as those who have died and risen with Christ.
“As they tell about the mighty works of God”
But the power is evident not just in languages spoken, but even more clearly “as they tell about the miracles [mighty deeds] of God” (Acts 2:11), and specifically Jesus Christ. In other words, the real focus on Pentecost is not on the Holy Spirit, it is Jesus Christ. Yes, we worship the Holy Spirit, and celebrate this great event. But we recognize that the work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Jesus to the world.
[Jesus said:] “The helper whom I will send to you from the Father will come. This helper, the Spirit of Truth who comes from the Father, will declare the truth about me. (John 15:26)
Sadly many have changed the focus of Pentecost to “witness,” but a far different witness. That is, “witness” becomes my story, or my faith, my change. But that is not the Pentecost story. The witness of these disciples throughout chapter 2 (and the rest of Acts) is on Jesus Christ. Read Acts 2:22-36 and see who is the center of the witness—Jesus. When I change “witness” to “me-focus stories” I am no longer being a witness to Jesus Christ, but to myself. And I leave the Pentecost Church and quench the Pentecost Spirit.
The people around us need to hear about Jesus Christ. Perhaps my “witness” (or story) may help me relate to someone that I am speaking to. But if I am pointing in any way to myself I have left the Pentecost Church. I am not living in the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter and Paul put it so well:
[Peter said:] No one else can save us. Indeed, we can be saved only by the power of the one named Jesus and not by any other person.” (Acts 4:12 GW)
[Paul wrote:] While I was with you, I decided to deal with only one subject—Jesus Christ, who was crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2 GW)
That is the Pentecost message! Let’s not be distracted by the side issues. Let us not fret about the end—we are living in it. Let us not deny the power of the Holy Spirit—He is given for this very purpose.
The Church is empowered to bring Christ to people—today. “Today is the day of salvation.” As we study, reflect, worship, celebrate on Pentecost, let us be drawn back to the foundation of the Church. It has not changed, and will not change.
Lord God, on this Pentecost festival we rejoice that You empowered the disciples in Acts 2 to speak boldly the truth about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Grant us that same Holy Spirit so that we may speak the truth, not distracted by side issues, not diverted from our current mission, not taking our eyes off Jesus Christ. Fill us so that we might live a disciples who live and proclaim Him clearly; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen