Sometime before 9am there was a sound of rushing wind and almost immediately the small band of Jesus’ followers, about 120 in all, came out onto the streets. As they did they talked to passers-by about Jesus. Amazingly and strangely everyone was able to understand the message even though the listeners spoke many different languages.
Amazed and perplexed passers-by wondered what was happening, particularly as these people were like their country cousins all the way from Galilee and they were neither well-travelled nor well educated. Totally sceptical and flabbergasted some even suggested these Galileans were drunk.
A short time later Peter, one of the leaders of the 120, stood up and explained what was going on. They were not drunk, he said, after all it was only 9am. He then linked the events of that day to the prophecy of Joel made hundreds of years beforehand (Joel 2:28-32). He told to them how the coming of Holy Spirit was now possible because “God has made Jesus who you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
He called them to repent and be baptised. Their mocking disbelief turned to belief and action. By the end of the day the number of believers now numbered more than 3,000. All heaven had broken loose and the church was born. The new believers began sharing life together. They gave their belongings to each other so that none were needy or hungry and their focus was teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. As a result they kept on growing (Acts 2:47).
There were miracles aplenty that first Pentecost. Not only did it herald the arrival of the long promised Holy Spirit, but there was also the birth of the church and its dramatic increase in numbers, the spreading of the good news, the inaugural preaching of the gospel and its acceptance, and Peter’s remarkable transformation.
Some suggest that possibly the most amazing miracle of Pentecost is not the day itself but what happened afterwards. The power of Pentecost didn’t die away, but continued to grow. That the initial 120 become 3000, and they refused to keep quiet, resulting in more than two billion people around the world acknowledging Jesus as Lord today.I’ve often pondered whether another miracle was Peter’s discernment in being able to understand what was happening and get up and explain it. Jesus hadn’t left exact details as to how the Spirit was to come, but Peter saw what was happening and knew what to say.
Peter was not one to sit around. A man of action, he didn’t stand back waiting to be asked. He wasn’t afraid to say whatever he thought needed saying. Not surprisingly, he often got it wrong. Jesus once called his words the work of Satan. Mark notes in his gospel that at the Transfiguration Peter didn’t know what he was saying. And then, on the darkest night in the history of the world, Peter was quick to promise he would be willing to die for Jesus, only to end up denying him three times.
But here on the day of Pentecost, Peter was new man. After the resurrection, Jesus had taken him for a long walk along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. In the course of their discussion Jesus forgave Peter and called him to get on with the task of caring for others. On the day of Pentecost, we see him move past his shame and disappointment. Now full of the assuredness of God’s grace and love and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter preaches the church’s first ever sermon. Thousands believed and were baptised, and no doubt many more heard the good news when the baptised ones returned home to tell their family and friends of the amazing events of that day.
I sometimes wonder whether we might be a bit like Peter. The changes that have taken place in our community over the past five or six decades have left us somewhat shell-shocked, disappointed and even ashamed. The growing hostility towards the church and to our message has left us bewildered, defensive and at times even tempted to deny we are followers of Jesus. I wonder if you feel the same.
Maybe like Peter, we need Jesus to take us aside and remind us of his love and forgiveness and that he has called us to be his witnesses in this world, no matter how difficult that might be. Perhaps we need own mini-Pentecost where the Spirit comes to empower and empassion us. What would it mean if the miracles of the first Pentecost took place in Hobart today? What would it mean in your city or town?
The miracle I’d like to see is the Spirit enabling people to hear the message of Jesus. On that first Pentecost the Spirit overcame the barriers not only of language but of perception in people’s hearts and minds. What they normally would have misunderstood and rejected, on this day, they heard and received.
I want to see this miracle of Pentecost at work in Hobart, where I live; and what about wherever it is that you live? It is not about what God would do in us, but the effect that it would have in others. It’s not about what we might receive, but what others receive through us. It’s not about us getting over barriers and hurdles like Peter needed to (although that is needed), but about the gospel overcoming the barriers and hurdles in our communities and penetrating the hearts of our loved ones, friends and colleagues.
As we move towards celebrating Pentecost this year, will you join me in praying that God will break though the hostility, busyness and competition in our community and that God will enable others to hear and receive the message of Jesus, just as they did on the day when the Spirit first came and the church was born.
Stephen L Baxter