Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17 (25-27)
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.
We have been celebrating Easter for the past seven weeks, not only the resurrection of Jesus but also the promise of what is to come for those who believe. Our scriptures have been future focused, not as in tomorrow or next year, but as in the Day of the Lord. We have looked at the promise of when the work of Christ is complete and the New Jerusalem is a reality not just a hope. We are Easter people and the Day will come when we will dwell with the Lord forever.
Jesus was taken into heaven to sit at the right hand of God on the Day of Ascension. It seemed as though the disciples were left alone to continue the work Jesus began. Though they’d been given the promise of what was to come, they had to wait for it to come. Can you imagine the doubts and uncertainties they might have experienced in between the Ascension and Pentecost? Would they recognize the promised Advocate? Would they know when He came? Would the world listen to them and understand what they were trying to say? Jesus talked about unity between people. Could the disciples really be unified when they argued about everything?
Those ten days must have been difficult, dealing with disappointment, discouragement, uncertainty and doubt. Despite the promises, the disciples did not yet have the indwelling Spirit of God, so for a moment they were left alone. How would they do it? How in the world would they ever do greater things than Jesus? After all, that’s what He promised.
Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead. He fed thousands of people with just a few fish and loaves of bread. Jesus spoke with authority and He changed lives. Jesus did things that only the Messiah was expected to do. Though they may not have fully understood the reality of it, they knew that Jesus was the Son of God. He was not an ordinary man. They might be able to follow Him, they might even be able to do some of the things He did, but they could never do greater things, could they?
Yet, that was the promise in today’s Gospel lesson: they would do greater things than Jesus. “Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father.”
The greater things are not what we might expect. Jesus did miracles, but even greater than the miracles is the message of the Gospel. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, but even greater than these is the life-giving Word of God. We are amazed to think that someone might have been dead and then was alive, but the greater miracle is found in the salvation of God. Every Christian, saved by the Gospel and transformed by the Holy Spirit, is a greater thing than all those things that Jesus did. Jesus’ expectations were not for the disciples to become like Him, wandering the countryside doing miracles, though that was one way the Gospel would be shared. Instead, Jesus intended something greater for His people. They were called to share God’s grace with the world, making disciples of all nations and teaching them to do all that Jesus commanded them to do.
Jesus made the promise that they would do greater things and that He would give them the Holy Spirit to help. The disciples spent ten days between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. It was a time of waiting, but not passive waiting. They were gathered in the upper room praying together. It was not just the twelve. The women, Mary and Jesus’ brothers were there. Matthias was appointed to replace Judas among the apostles. Can you imagine the emotions? They missed Jesus who had been the center of their lives for three years. They may have felt abandoned by God. They enjoyed being with Jesus and His departure left them empty.
Yet, they had faith. They obeyed Jesus. They waited. They prayed. They watched. Then, after ten days, something extraordinary happened.
The lectionary takes us back to the story of Babel in Genesis 11.
Mankind had settled together and founded a city. Together they decided to build a tower that would reach to heaven. It is typical of human nature to try to become like the gods. The Lord God Almighty saw that they could accomplish great feats together and so He confused their language and sent the people to the four corners of the world. Archeologists have recently identified what they believe could have been the original tower and it is interesting to note that it is dwarfed by the amazing skyscrapers of today.
The problem was not that they were able to build a tower that would reach into heaven. That is an impossible feat because heaven is not a place we pinpoint on a map. We have sent rockets into outer space and have cameras that have filmed the far edges of our universe, but they will never reach heaven. The problem in Babel was that the people were repeating the foolishness of Adam and Eve; they thought they could become like God. The languages have been confused, but human beings have never stopped accomplishing great things together. The people in the ancient world found ways to communicate with people of other languages. The people in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day were possibly capable of communicating in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin, including Jesus and the disciples.
Of course, Jerusalem was filled with people who spoke many other languages during the days of Pentecost. There were people with Hebraic heritage all over the known world. A large community lived in Ethiopia. There were communities of Jews in Asia. Luke tells us that the crowd in Jerusalem was filled with Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, the parts of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. There were ways to get what you need when you are in a foreign place, but who would have thought that a hodgepodge group of Galileans could speak in a way that so many could hear and understand?
Pentecost is about something more. Though the disciples did speak the languages of the nations on that first Pentecost and the people heard the Gospel in their own tongue, Pentecost is about introducing a new language to the world: the Gospel. The words might be different from nation to nation, but the Gospel is the same everywhere. Jesus Christ died for the sake of the world so that all who believe will be saved. It seems too simple, doesn’t it? It was so exciting to be with Jesus, a surprise every minute and miraculous experiences around every corner. Which would you prefer? Would you want to carry a simple message to the world or change lives in grand and miraculous ways?
The gift given at Pentecost was certainly an incredible thing. Can you imagine what it was like to miraculously be able to speak words in an unknown language that were understood by others? Anybody who has learned a second or third language knows how much effort and time it takes. It is hard. But in one miraculous moment, God reversed the confusion from Babel so that the world would know His promises.
We can focus on a number of different themes for Pentecost. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, when God gave to the disciples the final piece to the puzzle: the Spirit, who will remind them of everything Jesus taught, teach them what they do not yet know and give them the power to continue the work Jesus did in this world. We can focus on the idea of languages: that the power of God’s Spirit came at Pentecost to make it possible for disciples of all ages to share the Gospel message with the world. We can focus on the wind or breath of God, learning more about the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives to God’s people. We can talk about the unity of the body of Christ that comes by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are unified, made children of God and heirs to His kingdom, not because we have done anything right or have earned such an honor. God comes to those to whom He gives faith to fill their lives with joy and peace. It is the presence of God that gives us strength to get through the hard times and humility to get through the times of prosperity. It is by the power of God’s Holy Spirit that we can experience both the suffering of the cross of Christ as well as His glory. Life as a Christian is one of extremes that are lived at the same moment.
As we look at the creation, we wonder at the magnificence of what God has done. I love living in Texas because the spring fields are filled with beautiful wildflowers. Though there are wildflowers on the roadsides throughout the year, the most spectacular displays last only a few weeks. They bloom in glory but quickly wither and die. They are the same year after year, yet each time I go out on a wildflower adventure I smile. It is so beautiful, the flowers are so pretty, that I can’t help but thank God for His incredible creative work. We often wonder at what he was thinking when He created some of the creatures in our world - like mosquitoes - but we can sing praise to Him that He has taken the time to care for such small annoying pests. If God loves the mosquito, how much more must He love the crown of His creation?
As we look at the psalm for today, we see that God has created all things, creatures both big and small. He has provided for their every need. This psalm is a call to praise God for His mercy and His grace. In the song we see that all things have a purpose, and that the purpose is not always grand and important as we might expect. Even the leviathan was specially created by God and its purpose is simply to play in the sea. We might think we have a much more noble and important purpose in this world, but we should always remember that we have been created for one reason: to glorify God.
We might want to have a much nobler and important purpose in this world, but God calls and gifts us to share the simple message of the Gospel with the world. This is how we glorify God.
I think it is interesting when the lectionary withholds a verse in a passage like this one from the psalm “Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. Let the wicked be no more.” Isn’t that what happened at Pentecost? God’s grace was showered down out of heaven into the hearts of those who believe. From that moment until now and into the future, all those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus are saved from sin and death. We are transformed into children of God to abide in Him and to do His work in this world. We glorify God by sharing the Gospel with the world, baptizing the nations and teaching them about Jesus. When we do, the sinners are consumed by God’s grace and their wickedness is no more. Then they too can sing praise to God for His amazing grace.
The water cycle is something students learn in elementary school science class. Many classrooms include a cute little poster that shows the cycle in a way that young students will understand. The water cycle is made up of four stages: evaporation, condensation, precipitation and collection. There is generally a little smiley-face raindrop that goes through each stage. He is pulled up in the sky, gathers his buddies in the clouds, falls to the ground as rain and then ends up in a river flowing into the sea. This helps us to see that the water just keeps going around and around. Today’s water is the same water that was here when the earth was first formed, it just keeps getting recycled through the system.
Would it really be possible to follow a single drop of water through the entire cycle? It seems to me that as it goes from one stage to another, the drop itself changes in substance as it move from river to cloud to sea. A drop of food coloring quickly dissipates if you put it into a river, lost forever as it spreads through the water. But it is never really gone.
It would do us well to remember that when we believed in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we became part of something much greater, like the raindrop that joins a raging river. We can’t go it alone and though we are still individuals, we are one in Christ. A single raindrop will not change the path of a river, but the millions that flow by every second are constantly changing the landscape through which it moves. We, as part of the fellowship of believers, can do incredible things. Together we share the love and mercy of Jesus Christ through our gifts so that many will come to know Him and be saved.
Jesus was one man. It would have been impossible to do the work of God alone or even with the disciples who gathered around Him for those three years. He needed to go to heaven so that He could send the Holy Spirit to dwell among the people of God. Then, instead of one man, Christ’s body is made up of many people traveling to the four corners of the earth, sharing the simple Gospel message.
There may be times when we feel like we’ve been abandoned. There may be times when we feel uncertain or doubtful, worried that we’ve missed something. There may be times when we do not know what God expects. However, it is in those very moments when we join together in prayer, in praise and in worship. It is in the unity of believers that the presence of God is manifest to the world, through the love that we share by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God.” It is as children of God that we will do the greater things. Those greater things are not always grand and miraculous. Sometimes the work we are called to do is as simple as sharing a word of kindness or a hug. There is a story about a little girl who was late coming home and her mother was worried. When she arrived, the mother asked the child to explain. The little girl told her mother, “My friend fell and broke her doll, so I stayed to help.” The mother asked, “What could you have done to help?” The little girl answered, “I just sat down and helped her cry.”
Most people have the answers they need; what they want is for someone to share in their pain or joy. When people are happy, they aren’t looking for our opinion about their good fortune or even a word of congratulations. They simply want to share their joy. Paul’s encouragement for the Christian life is that we become aware of one another’s emotions and share in them. In joy and in sorrow, there is no language needed. We all speak the same laughter and the same tears. Jesus came in flesh to empathize with the human condition and we are called to have empathy in this world as we share God’s grace with those who need Him. Our life as a Christian is indeed one of extremes that are lived at the same moment. We will experience joy and sorrow, doubts and uncertainties, hope and peace. Together we will suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.
Though the miracle of Pentecost is the miraculous tongues that brought so many to faith on that day so long ago, the Holy Spirit’s gift is not always about miracles. We may never raise the dead or heal a leper. We may not cast out demons or make a paralytic walk. We do not have to strive to do those things. If that is the work God is calling us to do, He’ll give us the power and the opportunity to do so. Our task, first and foremost, is to share the simple message of the Gospel, so that those who hear and believe will be restored to God and become His children. These are the greater things.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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