I want to look at the Acts reading, the lectionary as usual has done something strange. It jumps straight from v14 to v22 and skips the interesting bit explaining about the pouring out of the Spirit from Joel. Unless you had a Bible to see the context you would miss entirely that this reading is on Pentecost.
I’d like to look at some of the stuff before Peter stood up (not in our reading):
They were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language? …we hear them declaring the magnificent acts of God in our own tongues.”
They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
So what’s going on? All the disciples are enabled to speak about God’s deeds of power. The power of the Spirit that enabled the Old Testament Prophets to speak the words of God has now been given to the Church.
The prophesy of Joel has been fulfilled. So God’s people are given the power to speak God’s words to their hearers.
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
I will even pour out my Spirit
on my servants in those days, both men and women
and they will prophesy.
What’s more, they’re not just given the power to speak, but suddenly their fear and hesitation is gone. They speak with great boldness. In the gospel we read about the first Easter Sunday in the evening:
When it was evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because they feared the Jews.
So now, it’s fifty days later and there’s an amazing contrast to this picture of Peter standing up in the market square in the middle of Jerusalem calling people to repent of their rebellion, telling them that they put Jesus, the Messiah, to death.
Suddenly Peter is warning and pleading with people to hear God’s word to them. And the rest of the disciples are just opening their mouths and the words seem to come out and in whatever language is needed!
And notice what it is that the Spirit inspires them to say:
This Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through him, just as you yourselves know. Though he was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail him to a cross and kill him. God raised him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by death.
Firstly he proclaims Jesus Christ, who he was (a man attested to you by God), then he proclaims what God did through him (the miracles, wonders, and signs), then what happened to him (lawless people nailed him to a cross and kill him), but God raised him from the dead!
Peter’s on a roll and he then reminds them that King David as a prophet had foretold his coming, his death and resurrection, and we read that this morning in the psalm. And finally they focus on his identity as God’s only begotten Son, now risen and exalted to the right hand of God.
King David seeing what was to come, he spoke concerning the resurrection of the Messiah: He was not abandoned in Hades, and his flesh did not experience decay.
“God has raised this Jesus; we are all witnesses of this. Therefore, since he has been exalted to the right hand of God and has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, he has poured out what you both see and hear.
But their focus isn’t just on who Jesus is. It’s also on what the people should do about it. So the message finishes with a call to repent, to be baptised as a sign of their new allegiance to Jesus Christ; it includes the assurance that Jesus’ death means their sins will be forgiven; and it includes the promise that the Holy Spirit will be given to them as well.
When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what should we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, each 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, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
This is one of the most amazingly encouraging things about Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit begins to shape those first listeners to match the true vision of God’s people. They meet together, to pray, to learn from the apostles, to remember Christ’s death and resurrection through celebrating the Lord’s Supper together and to pray with one another.
And as they meet together, as they worship the risen Christ, wonderful things begin to happen. “Many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” There’s a great out-flowing of generosity, of true fellowship with one another as those who have possessions sell them to support those who have nothing.
The early church was a community, centred around the worship of God and of his Son Jesus Christ. They’re a community where the bonds of fellowship are real, where no-one goes hungry because their brothers and sisters look after them, and they’re a community where the glory of God is revealed to the nations in a way that makes those nations want to come and join God’s people. They’re a community that gladly proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ, of his Lordship over all people and of the offer of forgiveness and peace with God that his death and resurrection have made possible.
I pray that we’re such a community! Do people look at St Mark’s or St P or St B and see that? Do they see a community firmly held together by love? A community that shines Christ’s light on the peninsula? Are we a community that loves God and everyone else?
Because, we’re the same Church that began on Pentecost Sunday all those years ago. We have the same Holy Spirit living within us. The same Holy Spirit inspires each one of us to carry out the works of ministry that he has for us. And like that early Church we too should be reflecting the sort of community that God desires for his people. We too should be a community that’s centred around the worship of God and of his Son Jesus Christ.
We too should be a community that cares for one another in practical ways, that lifts up the weak, that shares our resources with one another in meaningful ways. We too should be a community in which God’s glory is seen and where people hear God’s call to turn back to him.
If you’re still not convinced about whether you can do the same sort of thing as the disciples, look at v39 again, it’s still on the screen:
For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.
The Spirit is poured out on all flesh. The Spirit will give each one of us the words to say, the power to change people’s hearts, if only we’ll trust him to work through us.
Let’s look again at what the Holy Spirit does for these first Christians, and therefore what he’ll do for us:
- He shows himself in power.
- He purifies them to enable them to speak.
- He enables them to speak in a way that their hearers will understand.
- He enables God’s people to understand and interpret the Scriptures.
- He empowers them to speak the words of God – to prophesy.
- He empowers them to call people to repent.
- He touches their hearts so they’re convicted of their sin and of Jesus’ identity as the Lord.
- He causes their hearers to repent and turn back to God, and finally
- He inspires them to generosity and true fellowship together.
Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to empower and inspire us as he did those first Christians.