Pentecost - Acts 2.1-40 (19/5/13)
Imagine that you were a Hebrew thousands of years ago, on that night which none would ever forget. You are a slave in Egypt, slavery and toil and racism is all you have ever known. You back bears many scars from the whip, your stomach knows of true hunger and your throat of true thirst. Just moments ago your father took a knife and killed an innocent lamb and then took its pure red blood and smeared it upon the door posts of your house saying to his family as he did "God is going to pass through this street, and the Destroyer, the Angel of Death, will follow and kill the firstborn child of every family in every house - but if the Lord sees the blood of the innocent Lamb He will tell the Destroyer to pass over that house. We will be safe, we will be saved, because of this blood." And so you spend the night inside huddled close, trusting God but fearing nonetheless - after all where has He been all your life?
In the morning you awake to the screams of horror from the Egyptian families as they all, each and every one without exception, find their first born son dead, struck down by the Angel of Death at the Lord's personal command. Pharaoh tells Moses to take his people away and so you and your family join the Exodus and follow Moses out of your city and through the desert before reaching the Red Sea. With Pharaoh close behind with an army God parts the waters and you walk through without even getting wet, but they come crashing down on Pharaoh killing his army. You are finally out of Egypt, finally free.
It has now been fifty days since your father killed that innocent lamb to save your life from the wrath and just judgement of God. Moses has been up a mountain, hidden by an immense cloud, for days speaking with God. Finally, you see Moses coming down the mountain holding two stone tablets - the covenant between you and the Lord, the Law you must follow.
This is the first Pentecost. The day the covenant began, the day the Law was given.
In later years it would be celebrated with a harvest festival where the first fruits of the land were brought to the Temple and offered to God as thanks for freedom from Egypt and as thanks for the Law.
But now God is to do a new thing. What was just described was a mere shadow of the substance; the reality was yet to come. Thousands of years after that first Pentecost the True and Greater Passover Lamb was killed. Not to save a people from physical slavery to a human power, but to save all who would believe in Him from slavery to sin, the Devil, and even death itself. The Holy Blood of this Lamb would not just save the body from being destroyed, but save the soul and body from eternity in Hell. Jesus Christ on the Cross was the True and Greater Passover Lamb - He was all that it pointed towards.
And after being sacrificed for us, Jesus rose from the dead and promised yet more - He promised to send the Holy Spirit to bring power and new life to the disciples, to bring in the New Covenant, not written on stone tablets but written on the hearts of believers in the blood of Jesus.
Pentecost as we know it was the beginning of the New Covenant and the end of the Old.
But it was also the beginning of a New Creation. At creation the Holy Spirit - the 'Wind' as it can also be translated - hovered over the abyss. Now at Pentecost the Holy Spirit rushes into the house where the disciples are gathered. A new start. At creation Jesus breathed - again, 'wind' - the Holy Spirit into Adam and the first true human was created. Later God would call on Ezekiel to behold wind, the Spirit, coming over the valley of dry bones, and like the breath the Holy Spirit re-enter the bones, knit bone to sinew and sinew to flesh and brings a new life, a resurrection from the dead. Before ascending, to point to what was to happen at Pentecost Jesus would again breathe on His creation, on His disciples, and declare He is giving them the Holy Spirit - giving them life.
Now at Pentecost the Spirit of Life enters and fills the entire room and fills the disciples - a new creation, a new people, a new church, for a new covenant.
So Pentecost point us to a New Covenant and the New Creation.
But what did it cause?
Fire. Fire came down. John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus would baptise His people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Here at Pentecost this is fulfilled, the fire came down and formed tongues of flame on the disciples heads. Then they went outside and began speaking in tongues, in countless different languages and they preached.
Now this was not the 'gift of tongues' that we often think of today and of which Paul is likely speaking of in 1 Corinthians where he says it is for the building up of the believer. Rather this was a gift to speak fluently in languages which the speakers did not know or perhaps had never even heard of! Likely each disciple present spoke in one such language, but it is clear that all those present, from all over the ancient world, from Spain and France to Iran and Iraq, from Turkey and Greece to Egypt and Libya, could understand what was being said.
This was a remarkable undoing of the Tower of Babel where all the different languages and cultures we see today find their origin. And it is even more profound given that all those present could have understood Greek - to an extent the miracle was somewhat superfluous!
And of what did the disciples speak? What was the content of their message?
THE MIGHTY ACTS OF GOD!
I don't believe in 'hellfire and brimstone' preaching, but I do believe in fiery preaching! As Spurgeon, the greatest of preachers, said:
"God did not raise up preachers with wonderful poems and lovely speeches as if at Pentecost flowers had appeared on their heads. NO! God placed fire on their heads and raised up preachers to reflect this!"
Sermons that change lives are ones of fire not flowers. Fire brings light onto a sinners situation, fire burns away all our sin and shame fire warms a stone cold heart, fire fans into flame and spreads like a roaring forest fire - uncontrollable, powerful, amazing, terrifying, beautiful but fearful!
Does not Scripture say "The Lord IS A CONSUMING FIRE"? Was not the East African Revival described by the term "Hills ABLAZE"?
When Peter spoke to the crowd at Pentecost he had no flowery words, no sweetness of tongue, he spoke as God instructed and as the Spirit allowed. And he spoke of the end of times, of the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans he looked the crowd in the eye and said words to this effect:
"Jesus was God, the Saviour you have been waiting for since Adam and Eve were kicked out of God's garden, and you, each one of you, you killed Him, you killed your saviour by nailing Him to a Roman cross! But He rose again from the dead, He ascended into Heaven before our eyes and He has now sent the Holy Spirit of God to us in power."
That is not a message of flowers but of fire! It says that on hearing this people were pierced to their hearts - the message cut them to the core, it was emotional, they felt the fire in their hearts and cried out "What must we do?"
And what did Peter say? He certainly did not say "just be a good person, live a good life and everything will be fine - be a good moral people who give to charity and you will get to Heaven." No! That is flowers not fire, that is a message not from the Holy Spirit but from Satan himself. No, Peter said:
"REPENT! and be baptised, your sins will be forgiven and the Holy Spirit will come and make you a new creation. He will welcome you into the New Covenant where all is forgiven, where you cannot earn your way to heaven, but heaven is freely given to all who believe."
And Peter meant it! Think of the Prophecy he quoted from Joel (and notice that when the Spirit comes He always points us to Scripture and Jesus, He does not bring us new things!)
"And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy. I will display wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Joel 2.28-32)
Listen to those words, let them sink in. All are made new and are liberated, all are given the Holy Spirit and His gifts:
young and old
male and female
slaves and free
and how does it finish? "Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
And that name is JESUS. Only a few days later Peter would boldly declare in court: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven but Jesus given to people by which we can be saved."
I will say again:
"There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven but Jesus given to people by which we can be saved."
Only the name of Jesus Christ can save. Not Allah, not Buddha, not Vishnu, not Mother Earth or Sky Goddess - they are fantasies, delusions, lifeless stone statues, or even demons leading people into damnation. Only Jesus Christ can save. As it says in Proverbs 18.10 "The name of the Lord is strong forever, the righteous run to it and are safe." And that name is JESUS, the rightous run to JESUS and are safe.
It is my hope and prayer that our celebration of Jesus' death fifty days ago cut you to your heart, knowing that it was you who nailed Him there and you who killed Him, it was for you that He died. I Hope and pray that our celebration of His resurrection brought joy to your soul, that our celebration of His glorious Ascension last week brought confidence to your mind, and that now, at the last, I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit Himself would set your hearts on fire and fill you with power, that He would fan you all into flame with a passion for His name - that filled by the Spirit and guided by Him, you would tell everyone that most important thing, that only the name of Jesus can save.
I am not usually a fan of John Wesley, but nothing is more fitting to end with than the answer he allegedly gave when asked why so many people came to hear from him about Jesus. He said "I set myself on fire, people come to watch me burn."
Let that be you and me today - a new creation, born again in the fire of the Holy Spirit.