24 May 2015

Acts 1:1-21

“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’. But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” (vv. 12-13)

Psalm: Psalm 104


Today the Church celebrates the feast of Pentecost, the day on which Jesus' disciples were transformed, inexplicably, from a bunch of disillusioned and frightened people whose leader had recently been executed in a shameful way, to a powerhouse of energy who were suddenly out there winning enthusiasts to Jesus' way.

Luke, the Gospel writer who also gives us the sequel - the Acts of the Apostles, explains what happened at that time as an extraordinary outpouring of God's Spirit. To convey the force of the occasion, he reminds us of the story of creation, found right at the beginning of our Bibles (Genesis 1:1-2). There are several ways of translating the description of God's creative spirit in that narrative, the spirit that "swept over the face of the waters", the chaos from which all came to be. Some see the Spirit as a kind of bird, hovering or brooding over creation. But others read it as a 'mighty wind from God' (or even a 'Godalmighty wind'!), and that is clearly the echo that Luke was searching for. This new creation that became the birth of the Church begins with the sound of "the rush of a violent wind" (v. 2). Nothing tame about it; it was awesome and it sent them out to prophesy; the Spirit seized the disciples as it had often seized particular prophets in the earlier story of God's people (eg Amos 7:15).

And people responded - but not all in the same way. The crowds (the details of whose ethnic diversity are lovingly listed by Luke in verses 9-11) were somehow able to 'get' what the disciples were saying. Or perhaps they just gathered that something deeply exciting and challenging was being announced. On the other hand, while there were many who thought there was something going on that needed to be understood, there were also those who felt that they had seen this kind of behaviour before, coming out of a pub at closing time. There is no-one quite so comically determined to be taken seriously as someone who has definitely over-imbibed and has reached the stage of pontificating gibberish.

Overall, the behaviour of the disciples was not very British. It was not a carefully planned strategy. It arose out of surrendering to something and someone - the Spirit of God - which took over their own feeble efforts and gave them a voice and something powerful to say.

To Ponder

  • When, if ever, could someone have mistaken you for being drunk on new wine, when you were explaining what you believe in?
  • Pray that you may be able to open your heart and surrender to the love and power of God, and to let yourself be moved by it.

Bible notes author

Janet Morley

Janet Morley is currently the Commissioning Editor for HOLINESS, the journal of Wesley House, Cambridge ( She worked for ten years in the Connexional Team, with the training and development officers, and latterly, as Head of Christian Communication, Evangelism and Advocacy.