Dazed and Confused
Text: acts 2:1-21
Theme: we have hope in the power of the Spirit
Doctrine: holy spirit
Image: people are amazed and confused
Message: he who is with us is more powerful than he who is against us
Amazed and Confused
Reversal of Babel
We want to hear people talking in other languages. We want to be able to go up to a person of some other nationality and tell them the great acts of God in their language. One of the biggest barriers to our ministry in other areas of the world is language. One of my friends at seminary is going to a post in Africa with World Missions. He has to spend the next two years, at least, in language study; doing very little else. Would it not be great if he could go there and immediately start to speak in their language? Do you remember the beginning of the language barrier? The first time people could not communicate with one another because of they spoke a different language? Turn with me to Gen 11.
The people of Babel decided to ignore the command of God in Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” They thought it would be better to be in one place, to build a city, to make a tower that reaches to the heavens, to make a name for themselves, so that they might not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Ge 11:4). So, God comes down to see what they are doing, and this is what he says.
Read Gen 11:5-7.
The people did not want to do what God wanted them to, so he forced them to.
Read Gen 11:8-9.
He scattered them over the face of the earth by confusing their speech. And the story we read this morning is a reversal of this problem. Here in Jerusalem there are people gathered from all over the earth, people “from every nation under heaven.” And now, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, every single one of them is hearing the disciples in their own language. There is no longer any barrier to language. The message of God is spread in all languages, to people from all over the world.
Disciples all together in one place, waiting.
Let us take a little closer look at this story. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” (Acts 2:1) They were waiting. They were waiting for the prophecy given by John the Baptist to be fulfilled. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Mt 3:11). They were waiting for the promises of Jesus to be fulfilled. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. ... I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (Jn 14:15-18) and “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:49). and “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:26-27). The disciples were waiting. Note, they do not seem to be afraid, as they were before. In Jn 20:19 the beloved disciple describes the disciples as fearful people who have locked themselves behind closed doors. “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” Now that Jesus has arisen, they seem to have more confidence, but they are still waiting. They are unsure about what they are to do. They look around at each other and wonder what the next step could, or should be.
Then something really crazy happens. Suddenly, out of the blue clear sky, there is this strange sound. It sounds like a strong wind is filling the house. Picture them all sitting there around the table, talking about what Jesus had said, what he had taught them, what the weather was supposed to be like today, when suddenly it sounds like a tornado has entered their living room, like a 747 had parked on their dining room table. Then, if that were not strange enough, fire appears in mid-air. It separates into individual pieces and comes to rest on each of them. I wonder if anyone ducked, not wanting their hair to get scorched. On top of all of this, they turn to one another, and begin speaking in foreign languages! All of these local boys, who have never travelled very far from the loving arms of their mothers were speaking in all the languages of the known world.
This would be like going to my high school reunion in Southern Alberta and having my friends, who have never left the province, speak to me in perfect German, or Polish, or Russian, or Mandarin, or Japanese. Could you imagine how weird that would be? Imagine the people beside you right now suddenly turning to you and addressing you in Arabic! How weird would that be!
Background to pentecost; festival of weeks
This ability comes in rather handy, because there just happens to be in Jerusalem people from all over the know world. What were all these people doing in Jerusalem anyway? It says they were there for pentecost, but I thought pentecost was the celebration of the outpouring of the spirit, this very event reported in acts. Yet, the author says that “there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” (Ac 2:5) What were these people doing in Jerusalem?
Well, it turns out that originally Pentecost had a different meaning. This is one of the three major festivals given in the torah. This is one of the three times in which all Israelite males were required to be in Jerusalem.
(Le 23:16-21) “Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord. ... On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.”
So, all Israel was expected to come to Jerusalem to celebrate this festival. Think of the commotion that this kind of festival would cause. Every Israelite was supposed to be there. Think of the amount of food that would take. All the hotels would be full. All the restaurants packed to overflowing every evening. There would barely be room to move around the city.
By the time of Christ, however, this festival had taken on another meaning in the popular mind of the Israelites. Tradition had it that fifty days after the Israelites ate the first passover and were liberated from the land of Egypt, they were encamped at the base of Mt Sinai as Moses received the torah from God. The celebration of pentecost, then, was a time to commemorate this giving of the torah, the law, the teaching, the instruction of God. The thing the Israelites needed to live in proper relationship with their Holy God.
This, by the way, is one of the reasons we still use the torah today. This is why the law still has use for us. Among other things, it is a guide for our lives. It teaches us how we ought to live before the holy God that we serve, the righteous God that has called us his own. Now, however, we have another reason to celebrate. We celebrate the giving of torah, because we also celebrate the giving of the Spirit who gives us the strength to follow it. Is this all that the giving of the Spirit was? A good time to initiate the harvest of God's people? A good time to give us the ability to live in the presence of our Holy God?
So, the feast of pentecost, or weeks, or the harvest, was a time to commemorate the faithfulness of God in another year of food production, another year of maintaining the people in the land that he had promised them. It was also a time to celebrate the giving of the torah, the instructions which allowed the people of God to live with in his presence. What an incredible time for the Spirit to come and begin the great harvest. What a time for the church to start its incredible growth, for three thousand people to come into the church in one day. This is an amazing time for us to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest of the Spirit, the harvest that Jesus promised. “Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Mt 10:1).
Jesus gave himself as the ultimate passover lamb on Good Friday. He gave himself as the new passover meal to inaugurate the new exodus for the new Israel. The blood of Christ on our hearts replaced the blood on the door frames of those houses in Egypt. Then, fifty days later, the Spirit was poured out on his people. It gave us the ability to grow in sanctification, to become the people God has called us to be, to give up our bad habits and draw closer to our righteous and loving God. It gave us the power to follow the instruction of the Lord. It gave us the power and confidence to stand before Kings and slaves and tell them about Christ's loving sacrifice.
Outpouring of Spirit as fulfilment of OT prophecy
Now, picture again that scene in the room in Jerusalem. All those people together in one place, listening to the howl of the wind, having little tongues of fire resting on their heads, talking to one another in languages none of them could understand before now. Can you picture it? No wonder they drew a crowd. No wonder some of those people from all the nations gathered around. No wonder some of them thought this was a drunken bash. Does it not seem like something orchestrated as a gag by a frat house just after graduation? No wonder people looked around at each other amazed and confused. Peter gets up to explain what was going on. He gets up with the power of the Spirit flowing through his veins. He gets up with the kind of arresting confidence that causes everyone to quiet down and listen to him. He gets up with the promise of Jesus, (Jn 14:26-27) “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” He gets up to witness to Jesus, to tell all those God-fearing Jews who were in Jerusalem that the Messiah had come.
Peter tells the people that what is happening is the fulfillment of OT prophecy. This outpouring of the Spirit fulfills what God said in Joel 2:28-32.
“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’(Ac 2:17-21).
Who of you think it might be nice if we had another pentecost experience. There are times when I do. It might be nice if the Spirit was poured out upon his people in this way again. It might be nice if all these things were happening right now. It might be nice if three thousand people were added to this church today. Much of our love affair with third-wave Pentecostalism, something Synod will take a close look at this summer, has to do with this desire. We want to be wowed. We want to be shocked. We want to be amazed and confused, just like those people who gathered at the sound of the great wind.
The thing is, we do not need to have another experience, because this reality exists for us today. The tap was turned on on the day of Pentecost, but it has never been turned off. There may not be as many extraordinary things happening today as there were recorded in the rest of the book of Acts, but they are miraculous none-the-less. The body of Christ has been extended across the world. The church is extended across the globe. On any given Sunday the great acts of God are spoken to the body of Christ in virtually every language. In the Church, the universal church, the holy catholic church, there is no longer a barrier to language. Sure, I cannot speak mandarin, or Cantonese, or Polish, or Russian, or even Dutch, but there is someone in the body of Christ who can.
The barrier to language started at the tower of Babel has been broken down. Remember what God said when he came down to inspect the tower in Babel. We read it at the beginning from Gen 11. He said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” The church, the body of Christ, speaks one language. We speak the language of the Spirit, the language of love, the language of salvation, the language of the great acts of God. We have this kind of power. The power that causes three thousand people to turn to God in one day. The power that caused this rag tag band of backward people from Galilee into the some of the most respected people of all time. The kind of power the shows the world we have been with Jesus.
When the Sanhedrin took Peter to task for preaching about Jesus, he bravely defended himself. He was so bold, they attributed it to Jesus. Acts 4:13 says, “When they (the Sanhedrin) saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Ac 4:13). We are able to give this witness to Christ's work. This Spirit flows through our veins.
So, on this day that we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit on the church, remember the promise of Jesus just before his ascension. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Ac 1:8).
“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (Gen 11:5)
Let us Pray