Today is Pentecost Sunday. What is Pentecost Sunday, you may ask?
The word “Pentecost” designates the 50th day after Passover (remember that Passover is when the Jews commemorate their liberation from the Egyptian oppression through the leadership of Moses as told in the book of Exodus). Another name for Pentecost was “The Feast of Weeks.” It was so-called because it fell on the fiftieth day, after a week of weeks, seven weeks each having seven days after Passover.
Along with Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is the third great day holiday that celebrates the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and disciples who were gathered in a room in Jerusalem—120 of them.
This is the Scripture that tells the story,
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
This Scripture of Acts 2 is the story of when the promise of the Holy Spirit that Jesus told the disciples to wait for, was fulfilled. Just 10 days before this happened, Jesus told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Before this happened, the apostles and disciples were hiding from the public for fear that what had happened to Jesus might also happen to them. But everything changed on Pentecost Day when the promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled and all of them were filled with God’s presence and power.
The Bible says the room was filled with a sound like the roaring of a mighty wind. What appeared to be divided tongues of fire rested upon the head of every person in that room and each one of them was filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in different languages.
Those frightened disciples suddenly and miraculously received the Holy Spirit and were changed in an instant into fearless witnesses of Jesus.
At that time, there were devout Jews from every nation that had come to Jerusalem to celebrate The Feast of Weeks and they witnessed this supernatural event—each hearing the disciples speak in their own languages. Some, deeply perplexed, wanted to know and asked the apostles, “What does this mean?” Others made fun of the disciples declaring, “They have had too much wine.” Peter responded to them by saying, “These men are not drunk; it is just the ninth hour of the hour and it is much too early to be drunk.”
At this point, Peter stood and preached the Scriptures that explained who Jesus was and the promise of God about God’s Spirit (remember how Jesus did the same to the disciples on the road to Emmaus?). And, when they heard everything Peter had said, their hearts were moved to believe and asked Peter, “What should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This was the first time the disciples carrying on the mission of Jesus of proclaiming God’s kingdom and the gift of life for all people and those who welcomed their witness were saved and baptized. That day about three thousand persons were added to the faith of Jesus. This was unprecedented—the birthing of the church.
There is a lot to be said and study, and learned from this story. But there is one thing that I believe can speak to us personally: The Holy Spirit has the power to change us.
Last week we learned about the power to tell what Jesus did, said, and taught, and today we see what that “telling” does to people. It changes them. We see that, for example, in the apostle Peter. Here, we see him not as a cowered disciple but as a powerful and eloquent witness of Jesus.
Let’s recall our memory. The last time anybody had heard anything from Peter prior to Pentecost, he told people that he did not know Jesus on three separate occasions. Fifty-three days earlier, he had said about Jesus, “I never knew him.” This is the same Peter who had nothing to say about Jesus when someone asked him directly if he was one of the followers of Jesus.
But, on the day of Pentecost, Peter stood before a crowd of the same people he once feared and who had shouted about Jesus, “Crucify Him,” yet he boldly declared the gospel of Jesus Christ. This happened because of the Holy Spirit coming upon him and giving him the power to speak everything Jesus did, said, and taught, and that Jesus the Christ—the promised Messiah.
I want what happened to Peter to happen to me too. I mean, I do not want to be afraid and hide from the world. I do not want to feel ashamed and hopeless because of my past or misguided faith or whatever else that may be keeping me in the shadows. I want to come to the light and become fulfilled the way God planned it for me to be fulfilled. All of us were created for the light, not the shadows. We were created to live free, not oppressed by evils or sins in our lives.
Are you in the shadows, living in fear and shackled, hiding because there is something that has shut you down? (Perhaps for years!) There is only one power that can set you free. Jesus spoke about this many times, and here is one of them from John 8:34, 36, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. [But] if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
How did Peter go from being frightened to being fearless? How did Peter go from being cowardly to being courageous? How did Peter go from denying Jesus to defending Jesus before the very same people in the very same place?
Peter did not simply change his mind; Peter himself was changed. He was a slave to fear but the Son, Jesus, set him free. And look at him now, boldly proclaiming the message that he not long ago effusively rejected several times.
Something happened to Peter when the Holy Spirit came to him. What is that?
Do you remember when God made Adam from the dust of the earth in Genesis 2:7? Although God had the body of Adam, nothing happened with that body until God breathed God’s Spirit into the nostrils of Adam, who then became a living being.
Do you remember the dry bones in the valley in Ezekiel 37? Although Ezekiel spoke to the bones and they came together to form a body with a skeleton and muscles, the body could not and did not move until the Spirit of God blew over those bones.
The Spirit of God was present at the creation giving life to every creature. It was present when Ezekiel spoke to the dry bones giving hope to dead people. In the same way, the Spirit of God came as a strong wind blowing, rushing with an irresistible force into the disciples, giving them a new life, bringing them to light, and setting them free with new thoughts, energy, vitality, creativity, and a fulfilling view of life. Their past was redeemed and forgiven, and their future was purposeful and full of hope for this life and the next one.
My friends, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the power, anointing, and coming of the Holy Spirit is not for profit or to promote ourselves in any way. The power of God is to give us life, to change us, to free us from the shadows of fears, to give us sight so we can see ourselves as the beloved children of God, letting all shame be washed away.
What does all this mean? Remember what we read just a moment ago, when the people asked Peter, “What should we do?” And he said, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” This means that the new life we can find in God comes to us when we call on Jesus.
For example, this call may be like a scream of desperation like the people in this story, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). It may be like the response of one blinded and awe-struck when meeting Jesus himself, “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5) It may be an almost inaudible prayer like that of the tax collector in the temple, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) It may be like the wailing of ten lepers who cry from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” (Luke 17:13) It may be like the cry of a blind beggar, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” (Luke 18:38) It may be like the request of the dying thief on the cross, “Lord, remember me.” (Luke 23:42)
However the call may be uttered, the results of calling on the name of the Lord are always the same: the blind receive their sight, lepers are cleansed, and sinners are forgiven and received into the Kingdom of Jesus.
This is exactly what happened to Peter and everyone else that believed in Jesus and welcomed his grace in their lives. This is the power of the Holy Spirit in us.
Don’t forget to call. Amen.