Last year I was out on the bike cycling from Newry down to Warrenpoint with a few friends. It was one of the worst hours of my exercising life up until that point! Everything that you would not want on a cycle seemed to come together as we were battered with vertical rain and found ourselves cycling into a wind that felt like pushing into a wall. It was Horrendous, and only for pride, I would have turned back and headed home.
The whole point of cycling that day was to see the ocean, so you can imagine the joy we felt when we arrived at Warrenpoint under a weighty Fog in which I could barely see the handlebars of my bike. It had been the worst day, and with every pedal push, I began to question whether such a Sport was appropriate in the Northern Irish weather. I could not wait to turn around and head home and try and dry myself off after being drenched through, so after about 20 minutes of sitting around, we readied ourselves to head back along the road we came.
I hated the cycling there; every pedal push was the least enjoyable experience as we pushed into the rain and wind: what I did not expect was how different the cycle back would be in terms of experience. The first half of the day had been spent cycling into the wind and rain, straining to move forward, expending twice the effort for half of the speed that I would typically be going at. Yet, when we turned and found ourselves coming home, it was the most surreal experience heading back down the dual carriageway towards Newry. It was as if I was cycling with a sail on the bike as I found myself sitting at twice the speed we had made the journey.
It was the most surreal experience as, in a few moments, all the day’s frustration evaporated, the rain was forgotten, and you felt as if you had been born to cycle. It Suddenly felt natural as the wind carried us back along the road. We came with such ease and power that it was the most lifelike experience to keep cycling even with the awful weather. All the day’s frustrations disappeared as the wind carried us to Newry and beyond, and all that remained in the moment was a Joy in cycle and awe about the entire experience as the wind took us home.
When Frustration Gives Way
To be a disciple in the days of Jesus was to identify with a teacher’s way and wisdom. Choosing to learn from and then out a teacher’s ethic; was not just about acquiring more knowledge; it was a commitment to an entire way of life where learning was put into practice. A disciple modelled their living on the example and pattern of the teacher they followed. In the books of Acts, the earlier followers of Jesus are identified as followers of “The Way.”
I wonder how frustrating those early years of the following must have been for those who had given their lives over to learning from Jesus; how time and time again, they thought they were getting somewhere only to find themselves misunderstanding what he had been teaching them or unable to put into practice some of the ethics and acts of the Kingdom in which Jesus had been instructing them.
A Change of Wind (2:1-2)
It must have felt like the constant cycling uphill into the wind with vertical rain. They must have wondered what they had given themselves to and if it would ever feel natural. How confusing those days must have been when Jesus was crucified, died, buried and then rose again. Then as Jesus appeared to them over forty days, he proved his victory over death and prepared them for what was to come.
What the disciples must have been thinking as they watched Jesus ascend before them and the reality of his words began to sink in: now it was over to them, and they would no longer have him with them. They must have wondered how they would be able to carry on the way of Jesus when they had been so frustrated in their attempt before. Today as Pentecost in the church, colanders mark the moment when after the Ascension of Jesus God, the Holy Spirit descended to continue on the work that Christ had begun through his body, the church. Today is when the disciple’s frustration gave way to Joey and east as they were picked up by the wind of God, the power of the Holy Spirit who would carry them along the Kingdom road and in the direction that God wanted them to go. Pentecost marked the moment when all their frustrations of learning and following, all their fears in the absence of Jesus gave way to confidence, anticipation, and joy in what God was doing as they were carried with ease by the Holy Spirt from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth as God fulfilled what Jesus had promised them and then in and through them began the final act of heaven’s redemption plan.
The Spirit Descends upon God’s people to Ready them for God’s works
What a moment it must have been as they waited together for something to happen, and in a sudden moment, the Holy Spirit of God descended upon them so that the experience was so tangible that it filled the entire space they were in. A storm seemed to brew as they waited indoors, and in a moment, they were God up in the wind of heaven and the fire of God. So tangible was this moment in light of the work of God that it was an overwhelming experience both spiritually and physically. The disciples were transformed and made ready for the creation of God to the ends of the world. As what appeared like fire – symbolic of the purifying power of God – hovered over disciples and they began to speak in other languages under the direction of the Holy Spirit. No longer would the disciples feel the frustrations of their efforts because now God was at work in them to be at work through them. Jesus had commissioned them to bring the Gospel to all peoples. They directly spoke in the languages of all peoples by the direction of the Holy Spirit as a symbol of the fulfilment of what God had promised. A commission that would come quicker than the disciples realised as the wind of heaven carried them instantly into the mission of God.
The Commission Begins (5-13)
We are so familiar with the end of Matthews’s Gospel Account of the Life and ministry of Jesus, where he gives them that Great Commission and calls to “Go and make disciples of all nations and people groups, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you….” They are words so familiar as we learn them in Sunday School, see on Mission statements and coffee mugs. Yet, I think we find ourselves forgetting that Luke also records the exact moment from Jesus with a slightly different emphasis. Luke records Jesus speaking to his disciples and saying:
“repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:47 NIV
I had often wondered what they would have thought when they heard those words spoken to them, about the weight of the message they would carry: one of both Judgement and Grace and how specific the instructions seemed to be. Not only would they proclaim the things that they had heard Jesus proclaiming, but this message would go to all nations starting in Jerusalem! Stop and think about that for a moment, not with the mindset of an international 21st Century person who thinks of a 4-hour flight over 3000 miles as usual. These men have probably never travelled 50 miles beyond where they were born, people who didn’t know the Americas existed. They were people whose worlds were small and happy in that smallness. Yet, Jesus told them that this message would be preached it was not optional, or probably – it was inevitable.
The Message Goes because of God
The message of Repentance and forgiveness would go to all nations (it is still going today), and it would begin in Jerusalem. This was certain because God had a plan to reveal his love to all people, and the disciples would play their part in it. Who never tho precision of their How soon that promised was fulfilled must have blown the disciple away as no more shortly where they caught up the wind of heaven and being transformed and made ready for the mission of God by the power of God did the Hand of God bring the Mission to them. Those words must have rung in the disciple’s ears as they waited for the one Jesus told them to wait for in Jerusalem. The Sheer weight of the call and commission, its impossibility, how they must have wondered how it could ever begin, never mind be fulfilled! How would it happen? Here in Acts 2, Luke shows us how: by the hand of God. What God ordains he will see through!
Thus, it’s no surprise that the Disciples are in Jerusalem; the city was alive and full of people because of the festivals. As the Pentecost celebration drew close, the town was even busier as people travelled from all over the known world to join in this beautiful civic and religious occasion. There is a reason that God the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost: It was the perfect day to start the message being proclaimed and start its fulfilment of going to the ends of the earth. It was no coincident that there were people gathered from all across the known world, every corner of the Disciple’s map as the Holy Spirit descended upon those gathered in the room in sc People of Jewish descent had travelled from all over the known world to the city to take part in significant civil acts of worship.
So that the Message Can be Heard
Hence, it is no surprise that the Holy Spirit descends at this moment in a way that captures the attention of the more expansive city. Additionally, it should not surprise us that the Holy Spirit empowers the disciples to begin speaking in other people’s languages. What Jesus had told them they would do at the end of Luke begins with the very first act of God, the Holy Spirit. There – “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome.” came into contact with the Kingdom of God and the message of Repentance and Forgiveness as they pondered: Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in our native language?” People from every corner of the earth gathered together in the city of God when the Holy Spirit of God descended upon the disciples of Jesus in such a way that people noticed. Then the Spirit of God happened to begin allowing them to speak in other languages. What languages – but those of the people there! What a movement as God was at work.
Two Reactions to the Works of God
What Jesus had declared, the Holy Spirit had inaugurated to the Glory of God the father. God was at work, and even initially, with the most surreal display, we see divisive this Good news can be! In equal measure, as some wonder with intrigue about what is going on, others find the excuse they need to dismiss what they don’t want to know. How can they hear their languages with others – because the disciples have been on the new wine! God is at work today as he was then! I wonder what our excuse is for not seeing it. Let us make sure we are those who continue to react with wonder and amazement, not dismissal and fear.
See God At Work (14-20)
God was at work not just in the city of Jerusalem but also individually in the life of the disciples. It is the most beautiful picture of the power of God and effectual Grace when we consider the moment that is unfolding. A moment ago, these men were waiting for God to do something; now, as God descents and empowers, they open their sails to the Holy Spirit’s direction as transformed and empowered people. They have been given a purpose, and they will not waste the opportunity to fulfil it as Peter stands to begin proclaiming this good news of Jesus.
Consider the change in Peter for a moment. This was a man who stumbled from mistake to mistake, who always seemed to take one significant step forward before stumbling over himself backwards as he followed Jesus and tried to put into effect his teaching. Someone who had seen Jesus and loved him yet, could not quite understand him. The first to see Jesus as Messiah and then in the same movement deeply offended the teacher he was following. A man who was so fearful of the world that when asked by a Servant girl to identify with Jesus, he could not even bring himself to do so! Hence he denied him: not once, nor twice, but three times – so fearful of the world that he denied Jesus publicly and abandoned him.
Now by the effects of Grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, that same man stands as a new man. Where he would not speak about Jesus before now, he avows the truths of God. Peter is a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit and a model of what it means to live in and out of that power. So today, let us set aside the excuses we are making to get on with the work of the Kingdom and remember that it is not by our strength but by the Power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s stop making excuses and open up our sails to the leading of God and follow him where he is leading us as both individuals and a church. Let us hear that Peter is not fearful but bold in making the Gospel known in word and deed. Let us, by our spirit empowered living, show people Jesus.
As Peter stands in verse 14, he explains how all this is happening by refuting the charge of being a drunkard, pointing out the day was only three hours old! Then by referring to the Old Testament Prophet Joel. Pentecost was the beginning of the fulfilment of the vision of Joel as the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church marked the beginning of this final redemptive chapter of God until the “coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” Peter was showing that all that was happening was by the hand of God and foretold by God. The people of God should have no excuses, yet, they would still mark them up.
The Gospel will Bear Fruit (21)
That prophecy of Joel finishes with the assurance that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The word used here is the same one used throughout Scripture about receiving the Grace of God through faith in the Son. It is a picture of complete transformation and full restoration – it is the picture of the fullness of embrace from God for all who receive his Son and trust in him. An embrace and repair made possible only by the dwelling and work of the Holy Spirit. What is impressive in our passage is that the moment Peter finished referencing the Prophet Joel with these words and moved on to explain how Jesus is both Lord and Saviour, some 3000 people heeded the advice of verse 21 and called upon the name of the Lord. In a moment, the church was born, the mission of the Kingdom began, and the message went out to all nations starting in Jerusalem. What are most people is that as the news went out, it was bearing fruit because the same Holy Spirit who empowered Peter to proclaim was at work in the hearts and lives of people to make them ready to receive. The Spirit is preparing the ground to which he calls us to work! The question is will we let him lead us there? Joel’s vision assures us that anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will receive the Grace of God in return. There is no stated point of readiness, simply a willingness to accept as that day some 3000 did and then carried the message of the Gospel with them to the ends of the earth. The same good news is still travelling today and challenging us to be those who call upon the name of the Lord through faith in his Son to known salvation and then make Salvation known by our spirit empowered words and deeds. The question is, are we willing to catch the wind of heaven and join in this most marvellous of works?
Conclusion: Open Our Sails to the Wind of the Spirit
Pentecost began the age of the church. When God would make know his Glory and Grace through the Body of Jesus empowered by the Spirit to build His Kingdom and fulfil the commission that Jesus gave his disciples. Thus, Pentecost was not a one-off occasion but the beginning of a movement that continues today across the world as the Church of Jesus Christ worships him and lives out his counter-cultural Kingdom Ethic. We are a people of Pentecost who submit to the leading of the spirit and take every opportunity to explain the work of God through the word of God (Peters use of the book of Joel) and then point to the creation and Lordship of Jesus Christ, calling people to know salvation through his name.
The beautiful thing is Pentecost reminds us that we are not alone in the work of God. The same God who calls us to himself, and enables us to come to him through the work of the cross (Grace), also goes with and empowers us in our worship and living for him. We are so wonderful reminded of God’s abiding presence and power at the beginning of this passage as God reveals himself in Tangible ways. The Wind like sensation is a reminder of the Presence of God; think of courses like 1 Kings 19:11; and that which appeared like fire a reminder of the Power of the God, think about passages like Exodus 3:2 – What is more tangible for each of us is that the power of God descended in unison upon the Disciples but also individually! Each of those who had given their lives to the cause of the cross would be empowered by God to live in response to what Jesus had done. That the Spirit rested on each of them is a reminder that every believer is filled with the Holy Spirit and in that filling knows the presence of God and His power. We are never alone in life or the work that God calls us to, so we must get on with the result.
Empowered with Purpose:
At the end of Lukes’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples that they would carry on the work he had begun. Precisely that would preach “repentance and forgiveness” starting in Jerusalem and from there to the ends of the world. It seemed like an impossible task, yet, it came and began its fulfilment much sooner than the disciples would have thought possible. This is why the Holy Spirit and it was for this that all followers of Jesus would be empowered to continue that which Christ began until his return. Ours is not a purposeless empowering but rather a purposeful one: As we come to know the beauty of Life with God through the work of the Holy Spirit, the same work of the Holy Spirit will make that life known in us and through – our worship becomes our witness. Our worship is our witness! We do not “work” towards the great commission because God requires us to or needs us to do; we live lives of thankfulness because of what God has done – We live out our worship. A natural fruit of that worshipful living is a life that delights in continuing the work that Jesus began in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what Peter was doing when he arose to the steps to explain to the people what God had done and what they must do in response to it. – and a natr The disciples were immediately presented with the opportunity for Mission and Kingdom work, and they did not miss it.
We are empowered for a purpose: to live out the way of the Son, in the Power of the Holy Spirit to the Glory of God. What does that look like for us as individuals and as a church family wherever God has placed us. The disciples began something on that day; as God allowed them to start the work of Jesus, they fulfilled it! Thus two thousand years later, the same Kingdom work continues in Ireland, Europe, Africa and beyond! God is still at work, and it is our privilege to join in with it. The question for us to contemplate as we study the word of God is how can we join in this work where God has placed us? or we might say: For what Purpose have we been empowered?
It is Through the Word of God We Understand the Work of God
Pentecost can seem like a strange occurrence in New Testament, especially with cultural associations that have formed with the word over the years. Yet, what we see from the actions of Peter is that there was nothing wacky about what went on that day. Instead, it was the fulfilment of what the Scripture had foretold Long ago. Thus, Peter reminds us that it is always through the word of God that we will see and understand the work of God in the world. As Christians, we are a people of the Word! The same Holy Spirit who empowers us to live out the Kingdom; will make alive the truths of God to us through the very words of God. Thus, before we act, we discern via Scriptures: Whatever we encounter in life that claims to be of God must be judged through the word of God to determine its authenticity. We are a Spirit-Empowered people who follow the leading of the Spirit by the Word of God.
God Will Use Everyone (Who Turns to Him)
Sometimes we think that God could never use someone like “me.” We see what other people get up to and believe that they are somehow better than us or more equipped for the work of God. What I love about the Pentecost passage is beautifully it exposes that life that we often believe, that we are not good enough to be used by God. Peter, as he rises to the steps to teach about the work of God and then proclaims the truth about who Jesus is, is for us the perfect reminder that God is patient with us and will use anyone willing to be used. For years Peter had tried on his strength to grasp the things of Heaven, and time and time again, he got close, yet, as soon as he seemed to be making progress, he would trip over himself and end up in a worse position than when he started. Let us not forget this is the man whom Jesus said was doing the work of Satan; the same man who was terrified to be associated with Jesus when he went to the cross, so he denied him, not to the powers of the world but a servant girl. Now forgive and empower the same man who arises to Teach from the word of God and proclaim the Lordship of Christ – he is no longer ashamed! Peter is a picture of God’s effectual grace at work in the life of a believer. Peter is a declaration to each of us that is not about our ability to be used nor our readiness. It is about the inclination of our heart and the God who uses us! Let us consider Peter as we believe him and give thanks for all that he (and the disciples did), not limit how the Grace of God at work in us will show the beauty of God to those around us.
All Who Call Upon the Name of the Lord Shall be Saved: Have You?
Pentecost, above all, reminds us about the God who loved us so much that he sent his Son to save his Spirit and us to sustain us. Today let us be those who know the beauty of life with Christ, the beauty of life in Christ and in the way of Pentecost, seek to live out the call of Christ day to day. All this is ours only if we are those who have called upon the name of the Lord, so ask yourself, what does his name mean to you?