“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” – Acts 2:1-2 (NIV)
Notice that Luke didn’t say ‘a gust of wind filled the whole house, knocked over goblets, messed up their hair and rustled their parchment,’ but the sound of wind. Presumably, if there’d been a breeze, he would have said so. Apparently, this was an audio-only experience.
And speaking of fire that doesn’t consume any fuel …
“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” – Acts 2:3-4 (NIV)
‘Tongues of fire?’ What does that even mean? And what would that have been like to experience? Were the fire tongues hot? (And if they weren’t, would that be more freaky, or less freaky, than the alternative?
In case it’s not obvious, I love this passage. If I choose to, I can just sit here and soak in these four verses – reading them over and over and trying to imagine what the experience was like for the disciples. And sometimes I do, and I think that’s OK. Meditation and contemplation are a great way to connect with Scripture.
But I also have to remind myself not to stop at Acts 2:4.
This is the moment that the Holy Spirit has chosen to come to the Earth in power, so it must be about a whole lot more than Wind that whistles without blowing and Fire that crackles without consuming.
And, of course, it is.
Wondrous as they are, the wind and fire aren’t the point – they’re just the appetizer to the real miracle. The wind heralds the fire, which prompts the disciples to speak in foreign languages, which prompts onlookers to assume they’re drunk. Peter dismisses the suggestion, pointing out that it’s only 9 a.m. (that would hardly be conclusive evidence in my college days, but it seems to quiet the jeerers).
But after that, Peter delivers a scathing sermon – blasting the crowd for their part in the death of Jesus. And they respond to this unpleasant message not by ignoring or attacking him, but by repenting and being baptized.
“About three thousand were added to their number that day”. – Acts 2:41B
From a few dozen to a few thousand in a few hours. Not a bad first day.
There’s the real miracle of Pentecost. The birth of a church.
And the best part is that this miracle is still going strong, and we can all experience it. Peter’s church was no flash in the pan, folks. There’s a direct, unbroken line between the what he began in Acts 2 and the church that thrives still today.
We’re in Peter’s church. Or more accurately, we are Peter’s church.
Hmm, sounds a little daunting doesn’t it? The thought of being the successors of those first Christians, who went out from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, seems like a pretty big bite for our small mouths to chew. Most of us don’t feel worthy of carrying Peter’s mantle.
But that’s OK, because Peter didn’t start off being worthy of it, either.
This is the disciple whom Jesus describes as the rock on whom He would build His church (was that specifically prophetic about Pentecost?), and also referred to as a satan. Peter walked on water for a few steps, then lost faith and sank. (Nobody else even tried, though, so maybe this is more victory for Peter than defeat). He encountered Elijah, Moses and Jesus in His Glory and said, ‘This is cool; let’s stay here. I’ll put up some tents.’ And 52 days before Pentecost, the future pope denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.
Sometimes God qualifies the called, rather than calling the qualified – if you doubt the truth of that oft-repeated Christian slogan, just take a look at Peter‘s story.
Other Pentecost tongue-speakers probably have similar arcs. They may not be quite as dramatic as that of the Rockster, but remember they were all fishermen and tax collectors; doubters and skeptics. Bumpkins from backwater villages in Gallilee.
If God can use ordinary people like Peter, James and John, what can He do with someone as extraordinary as you?
Peace be with you.