The Feast of Pentecost
May 22-23, 2010
Text: Acts 2:1-21
Dear Friends in Christ,
About forty-five hundred years ago, God destroyed the whole world by a flood. He did this because the whole world was filled with evil. It was quickly clear that man was just as evil after the flood, as before. But God had limited man’s life span so that he didn’t have time to accomplish such great evil. The people of that time must as felt as though they were mere shadows of humanity compared to those who had lived before the flood. So they purposed to show that they were just as capable and began to build a great tower. God at that time confused the languages of men and scattered them across the region and eventually around the globe. It was, however, not just the languages that were confused. The knowledge of man was divided. For example, the mathematics needed to build such a structure was lost to most groups of people. It would be a couple hundred years later, at the time of Abraham, that the Egyptians re-acquired the mathematical skill to build in that way. They immediately set about proving to the world that they had it by building the pyramids.
God divided man so as to frustrate the plans of men. One has to wonder if the current lust for a one world government isn’t our own Tower of Babel which God will ultimately frustrate. But on one particular morning, May 24, 33 A.D., Babel was reversed. For one brief moment, there was perfect communication between men of all nations. The account is familiar. The followers of Jesus, about a hundred and twenty in number, were gathered, presumably for worship. There is a sound like that of great rushing wind. Perhaps the ground even shook. But it was localized in the place where the disciples were gathered. The people of Jerusalem rushed to the sound. Now Pentecost is one of the great Jewish pilgrimage festivals. So the city was bursting with people. When they arrived at the site, they heard the disciples speaking. They heard the disciples speaking and they all heard what was being said in their own native language. Scholars debate whether the miracle was in the mouths of the speakers or ears of the hearers. But it doesn’t really matter. They heard and understood what was being said. No translation was needed. For that moment, all human language became one again.
There is something that we must not miss. It is easy to miss. But we must not. It’s at the end of verse 12 - “...We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Let me edit that verse to make the point clear: “...We hear them telling... the mighty works of God.” What were the disciples talking about? They were talking about what God had done. It was all about God. Peter was not up there giving his testimony. Thomas was not up there telling about his doubts. They were all talking about what God had done. Very specifically, we can say that they were talking about Christ. They talking about how Yahweh became flesh and dwelt among men as the Man Jesus of Nazareth. They were talking about how Jesus was indeed the Christ, God’s Anointed One, who fulfilled all the Prophecies of the Old Testament. They were talking about how Jesus died on the cross for our sins - the spotless Lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sin of the world. They were talking about how Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, victorious over sin and death. They were talking about how Christ had trampled Satan under His feet, rendering him powerless and helpless. This is what the people heard in their ears, in their own tongues, on that morning of May 24, 33 A.D.
This is instructive for us. American Christianity is often long on emotion and short on substance. You look at the music of popular evangelicalism and find that the words often say next to nothing. And in many cases the focus is on me - my feelings and my emotions. I overhead a lady in a waiting room talking with a friend about how she was going to give her testimony at her church the next Sunday. It was all about her. It was all subjective. It was all about her encounter with something. I couldn’t even tell what it was that she thought she’d encountered. Can such vague and undefined faith save? No. Of course not. Anything that looks in upon ourselves is turning us away from Christ. Remember what they heard on Pentecost - the mighty works of God. Why should we want to be focused upon ourselves? We find nothing there but sin and death.
Peter does show us how we are to be focused upon ourselves. He gets the crowd to focus upon themselves. Where you might ask? In the verses after our text. We read: [David] Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, " 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.' Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:30-36) So what is Peter telling them about themselves? That they crucified Jesus. That they are guilty before God. That is what we also are supposed to see when look at ourselves. We are to see our guilt and our sin. Otherwise, see a lie. We must see that we, by our sin, made Christ’s death necessary.
What follows is also instructive. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:37-41) Here we must say that many in the crowd would have had nothing to do with the actions of the priests. They were not literally responsible for Jesus’ death. But they saw their sin and their guilt. They understood it was for their sin that Jesus died. And so for us also. We must see our guilt. We must ask, as they did, what shall we do? The answer is repent and be baptized. Be placed in the tomb with Christ. Participate with Him in His sacrifice for the sin of the world. That’s what we do in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We find life in the mighty works of God. And that is where we must be focused today. God has saved us. We do not save ourselves. We must not listen to the babble of sinful man. We must listen to the mighty works of God. For those works were not done to make God look great. Those mighty works of God, were done for our salvation. This is what is to be in our ears.