How does the Spirit work and how will we respond?

1. The Spirit opens doors

Pentecost was a major Jewish religious festival that celebrated the first harvest of wheat. It was held 50 days after Passover Sunday. Pentecost is the Greek word for the fiftieth.

Over time, Jews migrated through the region. They kept connected to their faith by attending worship at their local synagogue and traveled at least three times a year for the major festivals.

At least 15 groups are mentioned in our text. These consist of devout Jews who live in places like northern Africa, Libya, and Crete, up toward the Baltics, through Turkey and modern-day Syria and Iraq, and westward toward Rome and other parts of Europe.

As the worshippers are making their way through Jerusalem they hear the sound of mighty rushing waters, yet there is no wind! The sound goes into a house where the 120 disciples are waiting. This grabs everyone’s attention.

The Spirit settles over each person. Jesus had appeared to these disciples over a 40-day period and upon his ascension told them, “Go to Jerusalem and wait for power from on high.” This is it!

The Spirit Opens Mouths

The Spirit came and equipped them, so they open the door. Now, as they preach, the Spirit opens their mouths.

Each of the disciples are empowered by the Spirit to preach in a language not their own. They preach in the home language of the attendees!

Let me explain. The trade language was Greek. That was a language that was as commonplace then as English is now. If you did business, you likely transacted in Greek. The worship language was Hebrew. For Jews, Aramaic was spoken by the common folk and Hebrew was the language of worship. Yet, each of these devout Jews lives elsewhere and has the language of their home.

The disciples come out of the house and preach. Wait! What’s that country girl from Galilee saying? Do I hear Arabic? Do I hear Parthian? Latin? Is that teenager speaking Cretan? You see, it’s one thing to speak the language of your trade; it’s another thing to hear the dialect of your momma. That hits the heart.

What are the disciples preaching? “God’s deeds of power.” They are likely retelling the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The listener perhaps says, “Okay, that’s the story of Jesus, but what does all of this mean? Why the languages?”

Peter interprets the situation for everyone. You are hearing the gospel of Jesus preached in your language. The other disciples are not babbling. They are telling others the same information in their home language, the language of their heart.

These devout worshippers are primed to hear the connection to Joel 2: God is pouring out the Spirit on all people. God sent the prophet Joel to warn the people of God about upcoming judgment, but he offers them hope, “If you call on the name of the Lord, you will be saved.”

Peter follows Joel’s sermon. God is pouring out the Spirit, yet these beloved people have also made a grave mistake: though God gave them Jesus, the religious leaders handed him over to the Romans and they killed him. However, on the third day, God raised him from the dead. “We (the 120) bear witness to this fact so let the whole house of Israel know with certainty that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you have crucified.”

The Spirit Opens Hearts

The people are cut deeply. They realize their mistake. “What must we do to be saved?” borrowing from Joel. We can’t go back in time and change what we did. What’s our hope?

The answer is plain and simple: “Repent.” Now, we live in a culture in which if you hear someone say, “You need to repent,” it is usually an argument. That’s not so here.

What do we need to do, they ask? Peter answers, Repent. Change your mind and let this message change your life. Two months ago you didn’t believe it, but you’ve heard new testimony. Now you believe, so change your mind and let this change your life.

They are reasoning it out. They are in process.

This is what the Spirit does time again. God gifts people with gifts, passions, and skills so they can spread the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ. The word goes out, and people hear it and believe it.

On that day, 3,000 believed, but we don’t know how many others heard. That’s not the point. These heard and believed.

So What?

The Spirit opens doors, mouths, and hearts, but to what end? Why?

There is another important connection with Pentecost; it was also the celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses.

The Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years and were under the tyranny of the pharaoh. They were delivered at Passover, but as they were leaving pharaoh had some of these troops chase them down in order to bring them back.

At one point there is the Red Sea in front of them and the army approaching from the back. What will happen? God opens a pathway through the water, they cross over and are saved. Fifty days later God gives them the Law at Sinai for the purpose of guiding them as they build a new community that honored God and practically loved one another.

There is salvation and then guidance for a committed community. Salvation may happen individually, but it is always communal. Always.

Luke wrote Acts and also the gospel bearing his name. In Luke 9, he has a spark of genius. When he describes Jesus preparing the disciples for his leaving the world, Luke writes, “And Jesus spoke to the disciples about his upcoming exodus.”

Jesus is arrested and killed and on the third day, HE is delivered. God opens a way when there seems to be no way! He appears to the disciples and walks with them post deliverance. Fifty days later this group is given not the Law but the Spirit. Now they are implored to go through the waters of baptism, the water of salvation.

It’s a cycle: first the Hebrews in Exodus, then Jesus and his people are delivered from the tyranny of sin and death and also pass through the waters of salvation so that a committed community could be formed.

This is what occurs, as they devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.

We are a place and we are a people that experience the work of the Spirit. The gospel is faithfully proclaimed. We hear it and try to make sense of it. We repent when we need and we stay devoted to both Christ and the congregant.

We need not let the supernatural blind us to the naturally good things God does in and through us on a regular basis.

How will you respond to this message? You have heard the gospel of Jesus read and preached to you. Jesus was given to show you what God has done for you and the world. Will you commit to this gospel and will you commit to this community that pledges to pray for you and to be there for you?

May the Spirit come in large and small ways. May we have eyes to see the flame and ears to hear the message and hearts to make it our own. Amen.

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This is the text of a sermon preached on Pentecost Sunday. It is the text from the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C). Through this sermon idea and bible study, I hope to offer insight, inspiration, and encouragement.

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