“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Acts 2:1-13 ESV)
The celebration of the harvest has always been an event that brings communities together. In our culture, we gather to celebrate the harvest at our annual county fair. That really is the core purpose of the rural county fairs of this nation. We celebrate the fulfillment of the promises and hope of the planting or sowing of the spring seed. While I’ve never been particularly skilled at growing a garden, it is fulfilling to see the outcome of a task that results in a blessing for your family. You work hard, you pray, you hope and anticipate and then when things begin to come to fruition you celebrate and rejoice.
The Jewish festival of Pentecost is just such a celebration. It comes seven weeks or, more precisely, fifty days (which is the meaning of the word, Pentecost) after the feast of Passover. And while it is a celebration of the harvest or first fruits, it is also a remembrance of the giving of the divine Law at Mount Sinai which came fifty days after the Exodus from Egypt. God had delivered Israel from their oppressors and then He gave them the law to guide them towards godly obedience and proper worship of the LORD. The harvest of the seed planted in Israel’s Exodus was the Covenant the people were given at Mount Sinai. The harvest of the seed planted in the Garden of Gethsemane is a spiritual Exodus, the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood and the coming of His Spirit to lead His people into Godly obedience and proper worship of the LORD.
The overarching message of Scripture is the story of an Exodus, the redemption or deliverance of God’s people from their slavery to sin and the Exodus of Israel is a reflection, archetype or shadow of the true Exodus story of redemption or deliverance in Christ. So, the sacrifice of Jesus as the Passover lamb and the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days later on Pentecost is the true fulfillment of God’s Covenant with His people, the true Israel.
But, there’s another HUGE implication in the coming of the Holy Spirit during the celebration of the harvest or first fruits. It would be a celebration of a true harvest of souls or the first fruits of Jesus resurrection. People who are born into the family and lineage of Abraham by faith and the Spirit of God and not physical birth. Everything in Scripture is pointing towards the fulfillment of this promise, a harvest of the souls of men born of the seed of Christ’s bloody sacrifice and glorious resurrection.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 ESV)
One thing that farmers know about plowing, planting and harvesting; it is ultimately an act of God and not of man. You see, a farmer has to live each day by faith and anticipation of the harvest. He will put in hard days of labor planting, weeding and working towards the goal of a harvest. But the outcome, the success or failure of his efforts are really in God’s hands. That’s the hardest part about faith, our inability to do what only God can do. So, notice three things present in this story that help us rely on God while we anticipate the harvest…
First, there’s a unique and obvious presence of God in the wind and fire. Just like the historical Exodus of Israel, the power and glory of God is on display to accomplish what only God can do. As the Israelites stood on the banks of the Red Sea, the glory of God, as displayed in the pillar of fire, had moved from guiding them to protecting them from Pharaoh’s approaching army. Then the power of God, present in the East wind, began to blow and removed the obstacles that stood between God’s people and God’s purpose.
In a similar way, the wind and fire present at Pentecost puts the power and glory of God on display even while it removes the obstacles that stand between God’s people and God’s purpose. As that heavenly wind begins to blow it overwhelms the disciple’s fears and drives them far away. Then the glory of God’s presence through His Spirit settles on each of them as tongues of fire. What they were incapable of doing themselves, God is now doing in and through them by His own power and for His own glory.
These are the very elements that are generally missing in our modern church worship and mission efforts. We try and achieve a harvest using our own abilities, resources and plans. But when God’s glory and power are omitted from the process then the work is done but the outcome isn’t God’s but ours and if the outcome is the result of our efforts then God isn’t glorified, we are. If we want God’s power-filled results and His name glorified then we need God’s power to be doing the work and His Spirit to be our protector and our guide.
As the Spirit settles upon them notice what happens, they begin to speak “as the Spirit” enabled them and they spoke about the “mighty works of God.” So, the breath (or wind) of God had made such a commotion and display of God’s power that people began to come out of their homes wondering what was happening. As they did, they encountered the disciples who were no longer hiding in a room behind locked doors but were openly declaring the things God had been and was still doing.
The disciples were witnesses but they were witnesses of God’s power and glory, not theirs. Their invitation to the wondering crowd was not to “come join us and see what we’re doing,” but come see God and what He is doing! Often we invite others to join us in church because of the outstanding preaching, singing or programs we can offer and that’s simply the wrong reason to join anyone in worship. Now, don’t misunderstand me… God has chosen the foolishness of preaching and the feebleness of our worship as essential elements of the Church. But worship is NEVER about our efforts or even our achievements because that’s not worship but pride. Worship happens when God’s power and glory are on display and is simply the overflow of that experience.
This is evident in the crowd’s response, “aren’t all these men who are speaking Galileans?” In other words, this must be something very different because these guys aren’t capable of these incredible things on their own. In fact, Luke notes that the crowd was astonished and amazed at what they saw and heard. The tendency of many in the Church is to make the focus of this event the “speaking in tongues” and completely miss the point. The point is not WHAT they did, but WHO was doing it – pay attention here; it wasn’t the disciples, but it was God! People may or may not come to see what you’re doing. That really depends on how “good of a show” you put on. But I promise, when God shows up people will, too. Why? Because the power of God and the glory of God will be obvious, and transforming.
And that brings me to my final point, the response to God’s power and presence. Notice there are two responses from the crowd who was both amazed and perplexed; they either asked “what does this mean?” or they attributed it to drinking “new wine.” When we encounter a true work of God we can be both amazed and perplexed. We struggle to make sense of what we are seeing, hearing and experiencing.
Is it possible to encounter the living God and still walk away an unbeliever? Yes, we have examples throughout scripture of those who have done so. We even have those who believed in God but didn’t recognize Him when they stood face-to-face with Him (the Pharisees and the High Priest – see John 8:19 for example). But for most of us, an encounter with God will have a HUGE impact on our hearts and lives. We don’t attribute the encounter to “new wine” but we ask the question, what does this mean?
Let me pose a possible response for you…
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV)
God desires for you to know Him, to experience His power and His presence. When you begin to seek Him with all of your heart you WILL find Him. How do I know? Because He FINDS you and reveals Himself to you.
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Psalms 139:7-12 ESV)
Don’t attribute the work of God to a drunken stupor or close your heart and mind to His power, but let His love and grace wash over you and transform your heart. Let His Spirit take up residence in your soul as the promise that He will complete what He’s begun in you. Fall at His feet in humble worship and then let Him lift you up so you can proclaim His glory. When you do, He will continue to work the soil of your life until it bears fruit for Him. Then ask yourself, “What does this mean?” It means God loves you more than you can ever know…