"Something New"Dr. C. Von Reynolds Acts 2:1-21 Year C - Day of Pentecost
Do you remember as a kid getting a new pair of sneakers? Every year in late summer, my mother would take my brothers and me to the department store to fit us for new school clothes and sneakers. I especially loved getting new red Converse sneakers! I promise you, when I put them on and laced them up, I thought I could jump higher and run faster than before and outrun any kid on the block. The neighborhood kids would all get together to show off our new sneakers and run a race to test out our new shoes to see who could run the fastest.
Our text from Acts 2:1-21 references something new that occurred in Jerusalem during the Pentecost. The term Pentecost comes from the Greek meaning “fiftieth”. It refers to the festival celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, also known as the “Feast of Weeks” and the “Feast of 50 days” in rabbinic tradition. For centuries the Jews had celebrated Pentecost, but something new and amazing happened on this Pentecost that would change the world.
There in Jerusalem were crowds of God-fearing Jewish people from all over the Roman Empire who had come to celebrate the joyful festival known as the Day of Pentecost. Luke shares while the disciples were gathered together in one place, most likely praying (Acts 1:14), that suddenly in their midst came an unusual sound and sight. The sound was like a violent wind, not unlike the sound of a tornado described by so many today as like a freight train coming through. The sight was what looked like tongues of fire that separated and rested on the disciples. This was something new that no one had ever experienced before!
But there was more…all the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. There is an emphasis on the fact that all were filled, not just some. In the Old Testament, the Spirit was known to have rested upon Israel’s leaders. Here at Pentecost, however, the Spirit of God rested on each believer individually, a fulfillment of prophesy in Jeremiah 31:33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” Jesus stated in the Upper Room, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). This new covenant in His blood has tremendous implication for the new believer: A personal relationship with God and empowerment from the Holy Spirit to perform the work of God.
Whether the disciples were aware of it or not, they were each speaking a foreign language directed at those God-fearing Jews that were in Jerusalem as God had ordained and orchestrated. What a spectacular display of the power of God! Just imagine these Galilean believers speaking proficiently and instantly a foreign language that usually takes years, if not a lifetime, to master. This gift of the Holy Spirit was not the glossolaliathat Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 12-14, rather it was the gift of speaking in different languages that could be understood by those who spoke that language.
The closest I have come to experiencing what the disciples experienced on Pentecost was singing in Arabic the hymn, The Love of God, to a classroom of Jordanian children in Ajloun, Jordan. Having been taught the hymn in Arabic by Southern Baptist missionaries, I was given the opportunity to sing to the children about God’s love. Admittedly, I was singing phonetically and by rote and had no idea what I was singing actually; however, looking at the faces of the children, it was obvious to me the conveyance of God’s amazing love.
This miracle at Pentecost has been called by some as the Tower of Babel in reverse. I don’t agree with this assessment. Instead, I understand the miracle at Pentecost as a bridge to the Tower of Babel. During the early years of humanity, the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. The Lord looked upon it and 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. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other” (Genesis 11:7-8). The Lord gave them different languages and scattered them over all the earth and they stopped building the city.
At Pentecost God-fearing Jews from “every nation under heaven” (v. 5) were hearing in their own language for the very first time this good news of Jesus the Christ. They were able to go back to their own nation and worship God in their own locale in their own language rather than in Hebrew. No longer would worshipers of God have to come to Jerusalem to worship. Now we see at Pentecost a moment in time when God did something wonderfully new: Believers from around the world can worship God in spirit and truth. Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).
Today there is the search for new sources of power, clean new energy sources, that will empower the economy of nations and preserve the environment in which we live. Without power, the nations would be at a complete standstill and utter chaos would ensue.
On the Day of Pentecost there was a new power source that fell from heaven, not unlike the manna in the wilderness. This power source feeds the souls of believers and empowers them in Christ to proclaim the message of the cross and the empty tomb with boldness and without shame. This power source is the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus as He promised: “But 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” (Acts 1:8).
Just as the Holy Spirit rested like tongues of fire upon each of the disciples, so does the Holy Spirit anoint all believers with the power to proclaim the gospel as witnesses to all the world. Without the empowering of the Holy Spirit, the corporate church and believers individually are unable to carry out the mission of sharing the gospel.
Note that when the believers spoke in different languages to the God-fearing Jews, the hearers were “Utterly amazed” and asked, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?” (v. 7). The reference to Galileans was far from a compliment, because Galileans were known for a dialect that was less than sophisticated. As a matter of fact, Peter’s Galilean dialect gave him away on the night of Jesus’ trial.
The Holy Spirit discriminates against no one who believes in Jesus. No seminary degree is required to be a Spirit-filled witness for Jesus. Proclaiming Jesus to the world under the power of the Spirit of God, Christians are enabled to accomplish the impossible. When Jesus was asked, “Who then can be saved?”, he replied, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26).
Revelation 7:9 beautifully describes the diversity of God’s people that will one day stand before the throne of God: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language…” The miracle at Pentecost bridges the diversity of nations, languages, and cultures with an emphasis on oneness.
Echoing from the pages of the Old Testament Pentateuch we find the Shema of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” Against polytheistic worship, theShemacalls for the worship of the one true God of all creation.
The New Testament reflects the rich emphasis on oneness. Jesus revealed to the Jews, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Later Jesus prayed for those who believe in Him, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11).
This emphasis on oneness grew in power as the church multiplied throughout the Roman world. Paul, the apostle, proclaimed, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Paul continued this renewed spirit of oneness as he encouraged the church at Ephesus: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-5).
While on a mission trip to Ethiopia, I recall sitting inside a mud hut filled with beautiful Ethiopian Christians. Our differences were obvious. Our languages were different and needed an interpreter. Our clothing was different. Our worship style was different. But as we worshiped together, I was impressed that we were as one in the bond of Christ as His Spirit filled each of us with His love. Again, I thought of the bridging of the Tower of Babel on the Day of Pentecost.
When on Pentecost the God-fearing Jews heard the Galileans “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues,” they were amazed and perplexed, asking one another, “What does this mean?” (v. 12). Some believed this wonderful good news of Jesus Christ.
Peter stood up, along with the support of the Eleven, raised his voice above the crowd and began the Spirit-filled ministry of proclaiming a new era in Christ. Peter informed the listeners that they were witnesses of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “In the last days, God says, I will pout out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams…And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (vv.17, 21).
Of course, others that day rejected the message as foolishness saying, “They have had too much (new) wine” (v. 13). The book of Acts closes with another prophecy fulfilled, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (28:26-27).
Today we live in this new era, waiting for the coming again of Jesus our Savior and Lord (Acts 1:11). As believers, we receive the anointing of God’s Spirit to witness and work until He comes again. Some hear and some refuse to hear.
When our firstborn was about two years old, I became concerned that he would not respond to us when we called out his name. My concern led me to take him for a visit to an ear, nose and throat specialist, thinking perhaps our son may have hearing problems. I was embarrassed to learn from the physician that our son didn’t have a hearing problem but a listening problem.
So many people refuse to listen to what the Spirit is saying through God’s people. But we continue to proclaim Jesus. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
About the writer:
Dr. C. Von Reynolds is the pastor of Reedy Fork Baptist Church in Seneca, SC. Rev. Reynolds completed his bachelor’s degree at Furman University and earned the Master of Divinity and the Doctor of Ministry from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Gloria, are the proud parents of three children and the grandparents of two grandsons.
Scripture and Music:
John 14:8-17, 25-27
Children of the Heavenly Father
Hail Thee, Festival Day
Many and Great, O God
Christ Is the World’s True Light
Because He Lives
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments (Thomas Tallis)
Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (Robert Powell)
Father, Lead Me Day By Day (David Stanley York)
And A Mighty Wind (Mendelssohn from Elijah)
O Lord Most Holy (Franck)
Speak to One Another (Jean Berger)
O Lord Most Holy (Franck)
Spirit of God (Don Hustad)
Many Gifts, One Spirit (Allen Pote)
Surely the Presence of the Lord
Pass It On (Kaiser)