This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
During the talk, Acts chapter 2 verses 1–21 from The Living Bible is read by Ishbel.
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This week, as parts of Churches Together celebrations to mark Thy Kingdom Come, the Church of England’s preparations for the ancient festival of Pentecost, all five churches in Frodsham gathered together at the Bear’s Paw Barn, not the Bear’s Paw Pub next door, for a 48-hour period. In the barn, we were encouraged to pray in different ways, at different times and to pray for our town and for one another. On Thursday, for example, the worship group met there to pray and were a little surprised that at the same time the Catholics had come from Saint Luke’s to take part in the rosary, something that I’d never come across before, I’d never experienced before, but it was good to be together.
Some of us stayed up all night to pray for particular people, to remember God in every street, lane, road, and crescent in Frodsham. During the 48 hours, people popped into the church during the day. Organizations such as the Mother’s Union, Saint Lawrence’s Thursday morning Eucharist had moved from their parish hall. Some of us slept there -- Oh, well, we didn’t sleep there, we prayed there overnight, and it felt a real privilege. Okay, I got 10 minutes. It was a real privilege to know that we were praying for people as the town slept.
On Friday evening as the church leaders came together one last time to take down the prayer space, there was a sense of unity amongst the churches. All five churches, again, represented. It was most certainly agreed that it had been good to be together. It was good to openly share with Frodsham that we had been praying for our town. The doors had been open for 48 hours for people to come into the prayer space.
Although I didn’t experience it myself, I understand that some people who weren’t part of the churches did come in. They wandered in from the pub. Perhaps they’d seen, they’ve parked their car behind and they were just on their way back home after doing some shopping, and they were able to spend some time in God’s presence. It was good to be together. On Friday afternoon here, we had Friendship Group. This week was our Royal Wedding tea party. Cilla and Ruth and Allen and I, and Isabella, of course, have put together a big table of the most delectable morsels that we could muster for the wedding of Harry and Meghan.
I had been given a free mug from the mug man on the market, and so I used that. One of the people who came on Friday said that they considered not coming. As they left, I got this cuddle and a kiss. That’s nice, and they said that they were so pleased that they’d come. Not because they wanted to celebrate a wedding but because it had been good to be with other people.
This is what we experience at the beginning and at the end of our Pentecost story in Acts chapter 2. The people of God were together when the Holy Spirit came. There was something important about unity. Although we didn’t experience the special things that the 120 disciples of Jesus experienced in Jerusalem at the Bear’s Paw, we did experience the unity of God. God comes when people are united, but more than that, as Peter explains what was happening in the story of Acts 2, we find that God can use every one of us.
Today, this Pentecost Sunday, I want us to explore for a few moments the importance of what it is to be united in the Holy Spirit. We’re going to take a look at the origins of the festival of Pentecost and how it fits into the Jesus story, and we’ll talk about what it means for you and for me. We’re going to read now from Acts 2:1-21 and Ishbel is going to come and read for us.
Ishbel: It’s called The Holy Spirit Comes.
Seven weeks had gone by since Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Day of Pentecost had now arrived. As the believers met together that day, suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads and everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
Many godly Jews were in Jerusalem that day for the religious celebrations, having arrived from many nations. When they heard the roaring in the sky above the house, crowds came running to see what it was all about and were stunned to hear their own languages being spoken by the disciples.
“How can this be?’ they exclaimed, ‘For these men are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking all the native languages of the lands where we were born. Here we are -- Parthians, Medes, Elamites, men from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia Minor, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the Cyrene language areas of Libya, visitors from Rome -- both Jews and Jewish converts -- Cretans, and Arabians. We all hear these men telling in our own languages about the mighty miracles of God!”
They stood there amazed and perplexed, “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
But others in the crowd were mocking. “They’re drunk, that’s all,” they said.
Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen, all of you, visitors and residents of Jerusalem alike. Some of you are saying these men are drunk! It isn’t true! It’s much too early for that! People don’t get drunk by 9:00 a.m.! No! What you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel -- ‘In the last days,’ God said, ‘I will pour out my Holy Spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men dream dreams. Yes, the Holy Spirit shall come upon all my servants, men and women alike and they shall prophesy, and I will cause strange demonstrations in the heavens and on the earth -- blood and fire and clouds of smoke; the sun shall turn black and the moon blood-red before that awesome Day of the Lord arrives. But anyone who asks for mercy from the Lord shall have it and shall be saved.’ ”
Paul W: Ishbel, thank you. That was a reading from the Living Bible.
Within the Christian calender, there are lots of set times of celebration. There’s a time for Easter, there’s a time for Christmas, there’s a time for Ascension and now a time for Pentecost. Presently, Pentecost or Whit is one of the Christian celebrations that hasn’t been highjacked for commercial reasons. Yet, it’s one of the most significant moments of the church’s history, its birth. Whilst it seems the whole world celebrates Christmas, though some forget the birth of Jesus, and though there’s a lot of excitement around purchasing Easter eggs but not so much about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, very little seems to be made of Pentecost.
We may say that Christmas and Easter have become commercialised and stolen by the shops to make money, but Christianity might also be guilty of highjacking the Jewish festival of Pentecost. If you’ve noticed or read the notices today, on page two, you’ve already look and have learned about a little bit of what I’m going to say today. You see, the Jewish Pentecost was already in existence in the calender when the Holy Spirit came.
Seven Sabbaths plus a day after the celebration of the Passover is when it occurred. On this day, two wave loaves were offered from out of the grain harvests as first fruits to the Lord. It was also known as the Feast of Weeks, and in Jewish practice and tradition, Pentecost came to represent the giving of the law, the 10 commandments, at Mount Sinai. This took place on the 50th day after Passover. Pente, 50 in the Greek. Later, God promised a new covenant in which He would write His laws upon the heart of His people. This associated with the putting of the Holy Spirit within you.
At this particular Pentecost where the Holy Spirit met with the followers of Jesus, we have this reminder that God was doing something new, something special, something now. A time when laws of stone, the ten commandments, will become laws written on the hearts of people, and this is what was happening when the Holy Spirit came. God’s heart was now in the hearts of those people, of His people. A promise that we can know God that intimately. We can sense His presence with us. That Pentecost was another reminder that although Jesus was no longer with His people in person, the promised Holy Spirit would go with them because He now lived in them.
It seems perfectly apt whereas Jesus died for our sins at Passover, the Holy Spirit came as the first fruit of salvation at Pentecost. The occurrence of the New Testament Pentecost occurred in a place of gathering for united prayer, a place of unity where, with one accord, people might glorify God. Suddenly, three unexpected things happened. There was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads and everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages that they didn’t know.
I guess if you were a Jewish person around that time, you would have immediately recognized the same or similar phenomenon at Mount Sinai where the 10 commandments were given. Exodus 19 tells us there was a terrific thunder and lightning storm and a huge cloud came down upon the mountain. There was a long loud blast from a ram’s horn and the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
All Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because God descended upon it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the skies as from a furnace and the whole mountain shook with a violent earthquake. As the trumpet blast grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God thundered His reply. Jesus had told His disciples to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. Then He said that they would become His witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the world. The power which they were receiving was for worldwide witness, which was why those first hearers heard the wonderful works of God, each in their own language.
The story of the planned building of the Tower of Babel back in Genesis 11 was being reversed as people at Pentecost were hearing their own language being spoken by the uneducated Galileans rather than different languages being a tumult of confusion back in Genesis. God’s purposes were being restored. This is what we see happening on this Pentecost day, a renewing of Old Testament experiences.
We know that Jesus’ followers were mainly Jews, they’ve been waiting for the Messiah, the chosen one. We know that Jesus had worked miracles, we know that He’d spoken with authority. We know that He had raised questions in the minds of many about whether He was actually this long hoped for Messiah. We know that many people had chosen to follow Him. They’d seen Him die at the Passover festival, they’d seen Him resurrected, they’d seen Him ascend into heaven in a similar way that the prophet Elijah had been taken up, although not in a chariot of fire. We can perhaps imagine that they might have expected something else to happen at Pentecost.
Passover was when people remembered that God rescued the people from the Egyptians. We know that when Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, people shouted, “Hosanna!”: rescue us. Those who would have been Jews would have remembered the importance of those festivals, and now, Jesus was overlaying the traditional festivals with His renewed promise that He was alive, that He is alive. That He was alive in His people and would be with them wherever they went by His Holy Spirit. It’s that same Jesus.
It’s that same Jesus who lives in the hearts of people who follow Him today. Whether you are old, whether you are young, whether you are male or female, whether you work or are retired, none of these matters. God no longer just offers His Holy Spirit to those who are of specific importance, such as a prophet or a king. This is the message of Peter as he recalls the Old Testament prophet of Joel. Following the ascension of the right-risen Christ, His Holy Spirit is at work in His church, the vehicle which God chooses now to work. That is to say no longer in a temple made of bricks, no longer obeying laws that are on tablets of stone, but eternity written on the hearts of mankind.
This Pentecost, God’s Holy Spirit was made available to everybody in the world. It was true when the 120 people were together in that room, and it’s true now. It’s true today. Of course, there will always be people who mock what they don’t understand. To address this, Peter’s sermon began as an explanation of what was going on. “These people aren’t drunk as you think, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning, but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,” and he goes on. He applies the last times to this time. “This,” Peter says, “Is the dawn of the age of the Holy Spirit when both men and women and young and old and people from all walks of life catch a vision from God, dream big dreams of God, and speak God’s word.”
Joel’s message, just as with the other messages from the Old Testament, was being renewed for a new generation, and that includes us. It includes you, it includes me today. God’s church is its people and God chooses His church to be the vehicle through which He sends his spirit and through which He works. God’s Spirit is for us all. It knows no age or gender, social status or ability limits. God’s Spirit lives in each one of the children that He loves. God’s Spirit is here. Whether you feel that you can no longer give yourself to the work of the church, let me encourage you that there’s no retirement in the kingdom of God.
Whether your body, perhaps, feels like it can’t give in the same way that it used to, that’s not the issue either. God’s Spirit is in you, and God lives in you. The role you play in the church may have had to change because of your circumstances, perhaps it’s because of your infirmity, but your status in front of God hasn’t changed. You are a child of God, His Spirit lives in you. Of course, you might feel that God couldn’t offer His Spirit for one reason or another, but His gift isn’t dependent on your feelings just as your receiving a birthday gift isn’t dependent on what you have or haven’t done that year.
Those in the room on that first day of Pentecost were not expecting such a multi-sensory explosion of God’s power. It wasn’t dependent upon them, it was dependent on God’s giving. It was dependent on the love of God, fulfilling the promise of Jesus earlier in Acts 1:8, “wanting to be with His people.” Despite any feelings we might have about being too old or too infirmed, too sinful, too young in faith, none of these things are of importance.
This Pentecost Sunday, let’s celebrate this least recognized of Christian traditions and festivals, the one which should be the most open, celebrated, and recognized. Let us afresh know that God is with us. As one church body, let’s encourage one another, let’s spur one another on in faith by loving one another and living by the Spirit. Let’s keep meeting together and encouraging one another.
Shall we pray? Lord God, thank you that your Holy Spirit is for all. Would you please help us to see the Spirit of God in those around us? We pray for those who haven’t yet decided to follow you or perhaps have wandered off. We thank you that your Spirit is for them too. We pray this Pentecost Sunday that you would fill us afresh with your Spirit, that you will deepen our relationship with one another and with you. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Scripture quotation of Acts 2:1–21 on this page and during the talk is from The Living Bible (TLB). The Living Bible copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.