Today we’re celebrating Pentecost–one of the church’s most important holy days from the very beginning. Why was Pentecost so important?
We know why Christmas is important. It celebrates the birth of Jesus. Today, Christmas is our favourite Christian holiday–but the early church didn’t even celebrate Christmas. Christmas came along later, when the church needed a holy day to compete with pagan midwinter holidays.
And then there’s Easter. Like Pentecost, Easter was important to the church from the very beginning–and we know why. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.
But that leaves us with question, what about Pentecost? Why was Pentecost one of the most important holy days from the very beginning?
I should mention that many churches make a big deal out of Pentecost every year–just like Christmas. Why is that?
The short answer is that Pentecost celebrates the birth of the church.
We like to celebrate births, don’t we! Having a baby is special, and people often congratulate couples on their newfound pleasure. Of course, they don’t usually mention that the couple isn’t getting much sleep. But of course the couple already knows that.
Then, during their lifetimes, people celebrate birthdays every year. Birthdays are more fun when you’re a child, of course, but we like to celebrate the birthdays of elderly loved ones too. We enjoy making them feel special, because they are special, Getting a birthday cake with candles on it–and birthday cards– and maybe a present or two–makes it clear that we love them and think they are special.
So too we celebrate the church’s birthday at Pentecost to acknowledge that the birth of the church on that first Pentecost was something very special.
Of course any birth takes place only after a good deal of preparation:
To prepare for the birth of a baby, we have to assemble an amazing array of equipment: a crib and changing table, a car seat, diapers, bottles, formula, and lots of other things. It will require having a bag packed for the time when the baby announces that it’s ready. Sometimes new parents will even have to trade in their little sports car for a minivan.
The birth of the church required lots of preparation too. That preparation started–well, I suppose you could say that it started with Adam and Eve, but perhaps I’m going back too far.
But I wouldn’t be going back too far if I said that the preparation for the birth of the church started with Abraham and Sarah, more than a thousand years earlier.
Moses, too, was part of the preparation for the church’s birth. Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus, which was the birth event for Israel, the first people of God. The church is the second people of God–the new people of God.
There were other milestones along the way, and I don’t want to keep your all day–but I must mention the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus as especially important preparations for the birth of the church at Pentecost.
Most important event, Jesus’ resurrection! After Jesus died, his disciples were scared to death. They closeted themselves inside a locked room, scared that the authorities would come after them next.
But Jesus came through that locked door to visit them. They saw him in the flesh. They saw the nail holes in his hands and the wound in his side. They saw that the impossible had happened–that the dead Jesus was alive again. After that they were no longer afraid. Seeing the resurrected Jesus transformed them from wretched fear to reckless courage.
Jesus told his disciples wait in Jerusalem for the big day–the day when they would receive the promise of the father–the day when they would receive the Holy Spirit–the day when they would proclaim the gospel–the day when the church would be born (Acts 1:3-4).
So Jesus’ disciples waited. Soon the day of miracles came. The first miracle is found in the first verse of our Scripture text. It says,
“Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place” (v. 1).
Did you catch that? “They were all with one accord.” ( Not the car, the Honda Accord …) but there was harmony between them, I think that’s the last time that a church was “all with one accord.” Even in the New Testament church, they were beset with conflict–this one pulling this way, and that one pulling that way. What a mess! And it’s been so ever since.
So that was the first miracle of Pentecost–that all of Jesus’ disciples were of the same accord–that their harmony was perfect without a trace of discord. I wish I could have been there.
But there was just the beginning. That was the quiet part. After that, things got noisy!
“Suddenly there came from the sky a sound like the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting” (v. 2).
It was like stereo on steroids! Noisy! Like a freight train! Like a jet plane taking off overhead!
Note that it does not say that there was a wind. It says that there was a sound. It sounded like a wind. It sounded “like the rushing of a mighty wind,” and the sound filled their house. That sound was God’s way of getting the disciples’ attention.
And that roaring sound was the second Pentecostal miracle.
Then “tongues like fire appeared,” and a “tongue like fire” rested on each of the disciples (v. 3).
Note that it does not say that these were tongues of fire. It says that they were “tongues like fire”–they looked like fire–they danced like fire– they lit the room like fire.
Those “tongues like fire” were God’s way of energizing the disciples. Those “tongues like fire” said, “You are mine! You belong to me, and I’m going to set you on fire for the Gospel.”
So those “tongues like fire” were the third Pentecostal miracle.
Then God fill those disciples with the Holy Spirit. From that moment on, God’s Spirit would live within them. From that moment on, God’s Spirit would guide them, and speak through them, and give them the power to change the world. Our world today is vastly different than it would have been had God not filled those disciples with his Holy Spirit. We would not be sitting here today if God had not filled those disciples with his Holy Spirit.
So the Holy Spirit was the fourth Pentecostal miracle.
Before I tell you about the fifth miracle let me give you a little background. Pentecost was one of the three great Jewish feasts, and Jews were expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at least once in their lifetimes to participate in those feasts. So Jerusalem was full of pilgrims–tens of thousands of pilgrims–pilgrims “from every nation under the sky” (v. 5)–speaking the languages of “every nation under the sky.”
So here’s the fifth miracle. The disciples began to speak, as the Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak (v. 4)–and every pilgrim heard their sermons in his or her own language. No translator was present, and no translator was required. Let me rephrase that. There was one translator, and that was the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know whether it was a speaking miracle or a hearing miracle. I don’t know whether the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples’ mouths or the hearers’ ears. I don’t know how the Holy Spirit did it. I know only that each pilgrim heard the disciples’ preaching in his or her own language. It was a miracle! The fifth Pentecostal miracle!
The pilgrims recognized it as a miracle. They ask how in the world it could be that they, coming from all over the world, could hear the preaching in their own languages.
Furthermore they said, “Aren’t these all Galileans!” (v. 7). Jerusalem, far from Galilee, was the home of many educated people–people trained to speak in different languages. But Galilee was what we call today “the sticks”–and the people of Galilee were what we might call “the hicks.” If there was going to be a miracle of languages, no one would expect it to involve Galileans. So this was the sixth miracle.
God did all those things to get people’s attention. Once he had their attention, God inspired Peter to preach a great sermon, in which he promised:
“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 21).
Once Peter concluded his sermon, 3,000 people lined up to be baptized– the seventh and last Pentecostal miracle.
Let me conclude by repeating Peter’s words:
“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 21).
Those dozen words summarize the whole Gospel. Three of those words are especially important, and I want to be sure that you hear them:
The first important word is “whoever.” There are no exceptions, and that is good news. I know that we have people in this congregation today who wonder if it is possible that God would be willing to save them. They have thought things, said things, and done things that they knew to be terribly wrong, and cannot imagine that God could forgive them. If you happen to be one of those people, I want you to hear this very important word, “whoever.” That means everyone. That means you.
The second important word is “Lord,” by which Peter meant Jesus. It’s by calling on Jesus’ name that we enter the kingdom of God. That’s not something that will happen someday when we die. Jesus said that the kingdom of God has come near–is among us. We are part of the kingdom of God once we start allowing God to be king of our lives. We are part of the kingdom of God now, and we will be part of the kingdom of God through eternity.
The third important word is “saved.” Those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved, Peter tells us. Saved for eternity, surely. Saved for heaven, to be certain. But saved in the here and now as well. If we follow Jesus, he will lead us day by day around many of the potholes of life. He will save us from the evil one.
Let me close by repeating this last verse. It’s so important!
“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
In good times or bad, call on the name of the Lord, and he will save you.
I guess we might call that the eighth miracle of Pentecost. God will save you. God has saved you, let me repeat that, it is important to hear this, God has saved you !