Acts 2:1–17 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel”: 17 “ ‘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.”
At the 2015 Toast Master’s championship Mohammed Quatani walked out onto the stage, pulled a cigarette out of his pocket, stuck it in his mouth, pretended to light it and said, “What?” They all laughed at him. Then he went after them. With words. He said, “Oh, you think smoking kills. Let me tell you something. Did you know that three times as many people die from diabetes than from smoking? Yet if I pulled out a Snickers bar here on stage nobody would say anything. Did you know that the leading cause of lung cancer is not actually a cigarette? It’s your DNA. You could smoke for years and nothing would ever happen to you. This whole war against smoking is just to restrict the farming of tobacco. My friend Nassaq loved his father. He idolized his father. He was always trying to impress his father. First year he went to college and got straight A’s. He thought, “This is it. I will finally make my dad proud.” He picked up the phone. “Dad, I got straight A’s. Are you proud? Please tell me you’re a proud father.” “Yeah, listen, son, I have to call you back. I’m busy.” Then Mohammed Quatani made his point. He said, “Words have power.” That speech which he called The Power of Words gained Mr. Quatani the title of the world’s greatest public speaker.
He got it by showing with unmistakable power that words can shatter our hypocrisy about health threats into a millions pieces or just as adeptly take the soul of your son and bury it before it’s ever really alive. He showed that words have power. And that’s why he won. He won not just because his speech was well-crafted speech, but probably mostly because his speech hit a deep, deep cultural nerve. We all want to believe what he says about words. Because our world is awash in them. Bite sized words that come at us in 144 characters or less. Novels flying off the shelf that are hundreds of pages long. Blogs. Facebook posts. Words. Words. And more words. Deep down we’re all afraid we’re getting numb to them – the kind of numb you feel when your brain has dealt with so many words in a day that it feels like someone’s trying to fill your cup with a fire hydrant. So we do more Instagram and less blogs. More BuzzFeed and less Atlantic Monthly. We just can’t take anymore words. Poor, over used, and underappreciated words.
I’m pretty sure Luke felt badly for words too. You have to understand something about what he’s doing here. He’s no history teacher. He’s an evangelist. He has no interest doing in history for its own sake. His only interest is how history bears on our present. Let me say that another way. Luke wasn’t writing to people in his present day to tell them what had happened. He wrote to tell them what was still happening. And that’s just huge. Pentecost isn’t a dead historical artifact. Pentecost is present power. Luke’s telling us this history so we know where to find it still now. Not to beat a dead horse, but that’s actually how Pentecost has always functioned. It was always only the beginning of what God was up to. Pentecost was the day when the first fruits of the field were brought to God. Not the last fruits. On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit was just getting warmed up. He was bringing in the first fruits of God’s crop. Just the start. Luke isn’t describing a one-off, one hit wonder of the Spirit. The Spirit was just getting started bringing in a massive, multi-cultural, and universal bumper crop of the saved. Luke is telling us that Pentecost isn’t a day; it’s a season that we’re in.
That idea unlocks this whole history. Because there are parts that won’t be repeated. They were one-time way to highlight how the Spirit was going to keep on working. There were there to show us how much we should appreciate what would remain. Maybe you know which parts of the history I’m talking about. That part where, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (v. 2) Just a sound. Not an actual wind. Just a sound. To announce the Spirit’s activity. The perfect way to do it too. Spirit in Greek is the same word as wind. God the Spirit was beginning to violently and powerfully break into human history. The Spirit had come ready to do what he does. And what does he do? Light people on fire for Jesus. “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (v. 3) Another one off act to tell us not that a single day of his activity had come, but a whole season of it was here. The Spirit was breaking in. And he was getting to it right there, right then in that moment.
And how? The fires didn’t win any souls to God. Neither did that violent sound of wind. They were pointers to what would. The Spirit pointed us to the one way that he was going to keep Pentecost going: the Word. Did you notice that’s exactly what Luke was leading up to. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (v. 4) This wasn’t meaningless babbling or heavenly, angelic words that nobody could understand. This was communication in clearly intelligible language. It was words. In fact, that was the most remarkable thing about it. It was so stunning to hear these words that to everyone there that the NIV translates that everybody was, “Utterly amazed. (v. 7) And that’s a pretty good translation for what Luke originally wrote. Luke wants us to know that everyone’s jaw dropped so hard and so fast that he used to verbs of astonishment to make us point. And again, why? The Spirit had become here like the headphones people put on at the U.N. He undoing Babel. He was un-confusing language. He was uncrossing communication wires. He was telling the people, “the wonders of God,” (v. 11) in their own native language to drive it right into their own hearts.
And what do the people do? Seriously, what do they do with those words? Do they say, “Wow, God poured out an awful lot of power so I could hear these words right now. Maybe I should listen to them. Maybe I should tune in”? Does a single one of them say that? No. Not a single one. What do they do? They ignore the words in favor of a promoting a vicious stereotype. Did you catch that? They said, “Aren’t all these speaking Galileans?” (v. 7) “Aren’t these redneck, hickville, backwoods, uneducated preachers here?” And as if that vicious stereotype wasn’t bad enough, some even began to jeer at them. We might call it a massive diss today. They said, “They have had too much wine.” (v. 13) And that right there is the kick off of the season – the era – of the Spirit’s power. He has people declaring the wonders of God in the clear language of the gospel. And instead of listening to it, they busy their brains with stereotyping the speakers. He has people pointing to Jesus with the gospel. And instead of believing it they point themselves in the direction of silly wine drinking theories.
And, yes, Luke does spend some time looking at the ugly side of that history. You know why? You can jeer at the Word. You can diss it. You really can. Or you can be incredibly excited about its power. You know what the truth is? What you believe about Pentecost will tell you all by itself if you should be way more excited about Jesus’ church than you ever have been before. Or if you should just diss it. Check out of it. Not ever go to it. Whatever. This miracle and its meaning will all by itself determine that for you. You know why? There’s no sudden sound of a violent wind here today. Not even a gentle breeze. Not here. Not in this church. And there’s no unburning fire on my head today. Not on me and not on you either. You know what we do have? The Word. The Word in song. The Word in baptism. The Word in sermons. No fire. No sound of wind. Just the Word from some thirty something guy, who at the end of the day isn’t any smarter or better than a redneck, unsophisticated Galilean preacher. Do you see that? That will either get you incredibly excited and inspired at what God is up to in this very moment and at this church or it will immediately send you heading for the exits disappointedly thinking, “Pentecost is over. The church isn’t headed anywhere.”
I’m pretty sure we’re all guilty at some point of believing the latter. I know I am. I’ve seen sheer unbelief in Pentecost in myself that would probably rank up there with the most hardened of sinners and purest of hypocrites. Maybe for you that looks like not calling any church home right now. Or staying away from the one you do. But for others and for me. It looks like checking out while you’re there. I’ve sat through sermons with my eyes locked on preachers, but with my mind filling my mental March Madness bracket. I’ve gone to evening services where I’m pretty sure I’ve counted more sheep than grace of God. I’ve spent worship more intent on working out my issues in myself than letting the Word do it for me. What I’m trying to show you is that we all need a very desperate sort of forgiveness for our sins against the Spirit’s Word. Think of how many times he’s come to us with the Word and we’ve martyred it. We’ve been more critical of the words coming our way than receptive to them. We’ve sacrificed them on the altar of our inattention or our personal issues. We’ve compartmentalized them, filed them, ignored them, or just plain let them die somewhere between our brain and our eardrums or two feet outside the doors of this church. And why? We haven’t always believed so well in present Pentecost.
And that’s why I love – I love! – Peter’s response to the Word dissing that goes on in our hearts. Did you notice what Peter didn’t do? He didn’t say to that crowd, “So you’re going to diss the Word, huh? We’re out. We’ll go to people with a few less issues than you guys.” None of that. Not ever. Instead, you know what Peter – not totally without irony – immediately does? He gives more of the Word to people who had already dissed the Word. He gave them the Word. He doesn’t start yelling about the tongues of fire. He doesn’t point to the sound of wind. And that’s called grace. Glorious, powerful grace in the form of words. And this time the Word had to come from Joel. Because you know what Joel said? Joel said that people were going to get God’s thoughts and then they’d be communicated in the form of words. That this, in fact, was the Spirit’s Pentecostal plan. That people would receive the Word and then communicate it. And that’s why we all can be so excited about what the Spirit is doing in the church today. Because the Spirit didn’t check out. I said it once and I’m saying it again. The Spirit didn’t just bring his Pentecostal power to one day. There’s present Pentecostal power too.
Presently. Here. In this church. Do you see the comfort and the glory of that? We are to trust the Word’s Pentecostal power today. It isn’t boring, lifeless, and unimportant. The Word works because it comes with power and energy of the Spirit. Words are powerful all by themselves, but when they’re his? When they come from God? Oh, let me tell you. What did God do to create the universe? Do you remember? How did he do it? He spoke words. Or what did Jesus use to calm the sea when it was raging around him? Did he think it calm? No, he spoke it calm. And how did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead or make the blind see or even forgive people their sins. He didn’t use ESP or some sixth sense in them. He used words. And on Pentecost how did Peter convert thousands? Was it the fires on the heads? Was it the sound of violent wind? No. Peter used words. Understanding that is understanding Pentecost. That the Spirit is right here in this moment in these very words and by these very words cracking open your heart, stoking the fire of your faith, and giving you a massive, heavy dose of God. That by the Word of God the Spirit is raining down Pentecost on you and in you.
That’s far more power than Mohammed Quahtani ever dreamt of in his championship speech when he said, “A single word can save a life.” Think of the grace of God to know he’s here in his Word still coming for us. Always. No matter what. For you. With power. That’s Pentecostal grace. Just the kind of grace and power you’d expect from the God who sent us Jesus. He’s just the kind of God who would sent truthful words our way that say, “Jesus forgives you for your sins against his Word.” That’s the God who’s showing up right here and right now in this moment. The God who takes those words – the very heart of the gospel – and somehow makes them pass through your neurons and places them deep down in that profound space known as your soul. And that’s power. That’s the power the Spirit brings to that pure gospel. Raw. Pentecostal. Holy Spirit power. Power that just won’t let those sacred, gospel words fall lifeless and unnoticed to the ground like leaves on some cold autumn day in your soul. Power that takes that truth, plants it deep into the soil of your heart, and makes it produce the deep joy and the awesome confidence in God’s heart for you no matter what. The new life we call faith. That’s what we’re celebrating today. Pentecost. Not some dead historical artifact. We’re celebrating present power. Now. Here. And in you. Amen.