14 April 2015Acts 2:1-21
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (v. 4)
Psalm: Psalm 135:15-21
Sukkot, or Pentecost, was a Jewish harvest festival occurring 50 days after Passover, when Jesus had been crucified, and Jerusalem was full of visitors celebrating the feast. A group of about 120 people, including the 12 disciples and Jesus' mother, Mary, were waiting in Jerusalem, as instructed by Jesus, for the promise of God to be fulfilled. They were gathered together in a house when suddenly they heard a sound like the rush of a violent wind and saw tongues like fire resting upon each of them (verses 2-3). The language reflects other stories in the Bible when God appears and alludes to John the Baptist's proclamation that Jesus would "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:16).
Filled with the Spirit they all began to speak in other languages: Jews in Jerusalem from many nations gathered, amazed and astonished, to hear their own native language being spoken. Some put it down to the disciples being drunk (verse 13) but Peter, standing with the other 11, addressed the crowd and interpreted what was happening as a fulfilment of God's promise as spoken through the prophet Joel that, "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (v.17, quoting Joel 2:28).
The promised power of the Holy Spirit had come upon them and the gift of prophecy had returned as a sign of "the last days" (v. 17). The disciples were being transformed from people who struggled to understand Jesus to those who were grasping his truth; from those who were frightened and intimidated to those who could stand up in public and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ with passion and courage.
Pentecost signalled the birth of the Church and revealed the Church as being rooted in the powerful activity of the Holy Spirit. An organisation and an institution maybe, but primarily a renewed Israel with the potential to cross all cultural boundaries and to be an embodied expression of God's transforming mission in the world.
- Pentecost was a unique event and as such it defies exact description. What experiences have you had which you have found difficult to put into words?
- According to Peter's speech Pentecost initiated a new stage in God's purposes and mission. Why do you think it was thought to be important to portray these events as the fulfilment of promises in the Bible?
- People will still sneer and scoff even in the face of the most extraordinary manifestations of God's love and power. How can Peter's speech inform the ways in which you might respond to such cynicism?