This past Sunday, Christians observed Pentecost Sunday. It was a day to remember when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples of Jesus and empowered them with power and boldness to carry forward the ministry of their Master. Whether or not one is a Pentecostal or Charismatic, that Pentecost described for us in Acts 2 is considered the birthday of the church.
Some will read Acts 2 and use it as a proof text that speaking in tongues is the chief evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As one who speaks in tongues, I admit that perspective had coloured my view of Acts 2. As I read through it again, however, something else came to light which prompted me to write this short reflection.
Before going on, Pentecost did not begin in Acts 2. It was already a feast in Israel at the time – the Feast of Firstfruits. The Greek word “Pentecost” means “50th” so that feast marked 50 days since Passover and was traditionally the day of harvesting of the grain harvest. It was the 1st harvest in the Jewish calendar. Symbolically then, it is so apt that Christ chose this day to inaugurate the church! But I digress…
In my reflection, I started reading from Acts 1. In Acts 1:1-3, Christ had already risen and spent 40 days with His disciples, showing that He really was alive and speaking to them about the kingdom of God. In v4-5, we read: 4 While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “Which,” he said, “you have heard me speak about; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days.” (CSB)
This was the last instruction He gave them because, just a few verses later, He ascended into Heaven. (I put myself in their shoes. I can remember a couple of times when I succeeded someone else I had served under. It felt like the safety net was suddenly removed from under me and the weight of responsibility came upon me as I realized “the buck stopped here”!) But instead of being fearful, they actually did what Jesus had commanded. Even though Christ had left them physically, they responded in faith by obeying Him.
Since Jesus was crucified on Passover and Acts 2 begins on Pentecost, it is likely that, the disciples had continued on in Jerusalem, waiting for the Father’s promise for some 7 to 10 days. (I wonder how many of us, myself included, would to the same. I think we’d be prone to give up and stop waiting after 7-10 minutes!) Faith shown in obedience. It shows that this was not a game for them. They were intent on obeying Christ. It was this heart posture that “qualified” them for what came next.
Acts 2:1-4 reads thus: “When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them. 4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.“
I wonder which of the disciples described this wondrous event to Luke as he was compiling accounts for his letter to Theophilus. There, in that upper room, they heard the roar but felt no wind. They saw flames but could see no kindling. Going back to Acts 1, Jesus had just told them to wait for the Father’s promise and said that they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit. But He didn’t tell them what it would look like. So they must have been amazed to hear the roar of rushing wind and to see tongues of fire appear out of nowhere. But then the tongues separated and rested on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in different “tongues” or “languages” AS THE SPIRIT ENABLED THEM.
So the disciples started talking in other languages. We aren’t told if they understood what they were saying but Acts 2:5-11 tells us that others certainly did.
5 Now there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under heaven. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 They were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the magnificent acts of God in our own tongues.” 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But some sneered and said, “They’re drunk on new wine.” (Acts 2:5-11, CSB)
Those who had come from other nations and spoke other languages heard and were amazed! Galileans were the hoi polloi of Israel. They were the commoners who were typically not as well-educated as their cousins residing in Jerusalem. And yet, here they were speaking in other languages. How did they suddenly become polyglots? What was even more amazing was what they were saying – the were declaring the magnificent acts of God! It was a multilingual praisefest! However, as was the case when Jesus taught, some were amazed while others were dismissive and sneering.
Here’s where I noticed something. In Acts 2:4, we read that it was the Spirit that enabled the disciples to speak in tongues in this instance. Of all the different gifts that the Spirit could enable, why tongues? I believe the Holy Spirit does nothing without reason and purpose. There is no “just play, play only” with Him! God doesn’t do something just for the sake of doing it. Consider this. There are a group of people from many nations gathered together in Jerusalem that day. They were serious enough about seeking God that they would leave their homes to go to this city just to worship at the temple. In desiring to draw them to Christ, the Spirit empowers the disciples to speak in a myriad of languages for the benefit of these foreigners! When the Spirit enables us, it is for a reason.
So what is the reason? It’s stated partly in v11 – that the nations might hear what God has done. In Acts 2:37-39, we read the ultimate reason – that the people of many nations might also be saved and come into Christ’s kingdom.
And so, we see that:
- The Lord is looking for those whose hearts are intent on obeying Him by faith
- The Holy Spirit enables the right manifestation for the situation.
- To those whose hearts are not intent on obeying Christ, the work of the Spirit may look ridiculous
- The reason the Holy Spirit gives gifts and empowers wondrous things is that people might be saved and come into Christ’s kingdom.
Some may say, “Well, this was for that group of disciples and the people living at that time. It doesn’t mean anything to us in the 21st century.” This is not so. In fact, it says so in Acts 2! In v16-21, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel who had foretold the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon all people in the last days. Then in v39, he reiterates that the Holy Spirit’s outpouring is promised to all who are called (invited) by God to enter His kingdom. (We qualify as those “who are far off”!)
I often wonder and sometimes get asked why we don’t see many miracles today. Could it be that our hearts are not really for our Master? Could it be that we are trying to “enable the Holy Spirit” rather than allowing Him to enable us to do what He wants? Or could it be that we want to exercise the Spirit’s gifts to build our own churches and fiefdoms rather than Christ’s kingdom? These are certainly questions I will ponder and I pray for the courage and good sense to get realigned to the King of kings where needed. Join me?