What Happened on Pentecost?

On Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world, come to live with all those who follow Jesus. Jesus told his followers what it was going to be like, to have the Holy Spirit in the world. He said,

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

How does this seem to you? Suppose I substituted the name of a person, like for instance “Charlie” for the Spirit. Jesus would have been saying something like,

I’m going to send Charlie to help you tell what’s true and what’s not. He’s not going to give you his own opinion, but he’ll tell you just what I tell him to say.

It seems to me that Charlie would be a really handy person to know, and somebody I’d like to call on from time to time.

What might the equivalent of Charlie’s job be in the modern world? In some ways he’s a lot like an investigative reporter. He goes to the source, interviews the ones who know what’s going on, and then passes it on to the rest of us, in terms we can understand. Jesus says,

He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14)

What does this word “glorify” mean? According to the dictionary, it means “to bestow honor, praise, or admiration.” So Charlie’s assignment is to take all that belongs to Jesus—his teachings, his work, his example, his life—and help us understand it. Then, as a result of what we understand, we’ll see how purely good and wonderful and deserving of admiration Jesus really is.

And Charlie’s investigation isn’t even limited to the things only about the life of Jesus, because Jesus says,

All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:15)

Charlie’s job is to take all things that relate to God, God’s character, work, motives, nature, and everything else, and tell us about it in a reliable way.

It’s nice to have the testimony of someone we can trust, on important matters like what God is like, and the way we each fit into God’s plan for the world. Have you noticed that in the modern world we’re surrounded a lot of unreliable sources? In fact, It’s hard to find almost anyone we can believe, and trust that they’re telling us the truth. We can’t be that sure of the news, because all the reporters have their own politics and point of view. We know that we can’t depend on the voices of advertisers, because they’re trying to charm the money out of our pockets or the credit off our credit cards. We can’t even trust the solicitation letters and calls we get asking us to help others in good causes. Truthfulness is an extremely rare commodity in the modern world, so if I know that Charlie can really be trusted, I know who I’m going to be listening to.

On that day of Pentecost, all of Jesus’ followers and disciples were together in one place. He himself had told them,

I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:49)

They’ve followed his instructions, instructions that he gave just as he was withdrawing from them and going up into heaven. He’d promised, on their last night together before he died,

I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. (John 14:18-19)

Death didn’t hold him, and he did come back to them. But now, once again, they’ve been left alone. They know that he isn’t dead. But now, even though they know he’s alive, they can be pretty sure that he isn’t going to be coming back to lead them. They gather together, finding comfort in each other’s company, wondering what will happen next. Can you picture them asking each other, “What on earth do you suppose he meant by being ‘clothed with power from on high’?” Of course, the answer is that it’ll be like nothing ever seen before, on earth.

At the last supper together, he gave the disciples some clues about what was going to happen. He said to them,

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

They didn’t want some kind of mysterious spirit from behind door #3. They wanted Jesus to stay with them and be their teacher, just the way he’d been all through their travels.

Jesus said,

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. (John 15:26)

What kind of Advocate do you think they were expecting? The Advocate is a spirit, so how can he also be someone to testify on behalf of Jesus? How is this supposed to work? Jesus also said,

the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

The Advocate’s going to be a teacher, their teacher in the place of Jesus, who’s leaving. The Advocate will continue the teaching that Jesus has been doing all along, and remind them all of the various things Jesus has taught them.

So the disciples did as they were told, waiting in the city for what was going to happen next. Luke tells us that they were all

constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1:14)

Waiting is never easy, but these followers of Jesus found about the best way I can think of to spend the time—devoting themselves to prayer. Then, all of a sudden, their prayers were answered in the most unexpected way.

The day the Holy Spirit came was wonderful and dramatic, and we’ve heard the story lots of times before. Today, I ask you to put yourself there in the room with the disciples. The place was probably one of those upper story meeting rooms that they’d used to get together before. There may have been a rough table or two, some stools or chairs, and probably spaces to sit around on the floor. They were truly feeling alone, since they’d all seen Jesus going up into heaven in a cloud. They were waiting, as he’d asked them to wait. But even though he’d told them what was coming, they had no idea of what it was going to be like. They didn’t even know whether they had hours and days or months and years left to wait.

And then suddenly there was a sound, like the roaring of a strong wind, filling the house. Notice that the scripture doesn’t say that there was an actual wind, blowing through the house, but only a sound like the sound of a wind. Living in a desert climate, they’d never have heard a waterfall like Niagara Falls, but if they’d heard it perhaps they would have said the sound was like that. We might have said there was a sound like an oncoming train, or an airplane taking off—whatever from our own experience was like that wild rushing sound.

In the midst of all the roaring noise, something appeared in the room. Divided tongues that looked like branching flames of fire suddenly appeared. Luke says, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them (Acts 2:3).” Those who were there used the closest thing in their experience to describe what they saw. We don’t know if what they saw was the color of fire, if it felt warm like fire, or even if it was bright like fire. All we know is that whatever appeared in the air had flickering branches like the tongues you’d see in a fire.

Then “a tongue rested on each of them.” The word for resting in the Greek is “καθίζω ” (kathizō), and this isn’t your gentle tap in the shoulder. This is a verb that means “to sit down on” with implications of settling in and staying right on top of what gets sat on. The Spirit came in with a loud rushing sound, divided into parts that went towards each of them, and then sat down on them and filled them with the power of God. Then,

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:4)

Of course the disciples were joyful, overflowing with joy. For some, their joy could only find expression in words they’d never said before, in languages they’d never learned. I don’t know about you, but there are times when, after a particularly powerful time of prayer, I just want to jump up and laugh and dance around. Yes, I know that that would be disruptive, so I do try to hold it in. But I can imagine a tiny bit of how exuberant the disciples felt, receiving that touch of the Spirit in power. No wonder the neighbors thought they were drunk and partying even at that hour of morning.

At this point, the disciples’ quiet prayer meeting has become a raucous party, way out of control. People passing in the street stop to listen, and the noise is hearable from blocks away. Luke tells us that

at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. (Acts 2:6)

Peter, noticing the growing crowd, and realizing that the disciples aren’t making the best impression, knew he had to say something.

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” (Acts 2:14-15)

We may sound like we’ve been drinking from the strongest wine jug, but it’s simply not so. We have a better reason for joy than you can all imagine, and we’d be happy to share our good fortune with you, too. It’s like the psalmist once said, “You have put gladness in my heart more than when … grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7)” The joy of the Lord is more powerful than anything that comes out of a bottle. The disciples are simply filled to overflowing, with the joy and power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was the power and energy and strength behind the proclamation of the disciples. The thousands who joined them that first Pentecost were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was the energy and strength behind the early church, carrying the word of God to the ears of strangers and into hearts all across the Roman world.

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