Pentecost: What’s Going on Here?

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
For Sunday, March 30, 2008
Image: El Greco, “Pentecost”

Acts chapter 2 describes a remarkable scene. Before we can understand and appreciate these verses we therefore need to spend some time understanding what is going on here.

The twelve apostles were gathered together in a house. Suddenly, a loud sound like a tornado filled the house. Tongues of fire could be seen resting on each of them. They began speaking in other languages. (Other ‘tongues’ is really an antiquated translation, as in “Oh For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”).

It just so happened that at this time in Jerusalem were staying God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. They heard the tornado and came running to see what was going on. These Jewish foreigners were amazed to hear the apostles speaking in the foreigners’ own languages.

What was going on? “Well, they must have been drinking,” someone chimed in. Then Peter stands up and says, “These men are not drunk. It’s only 9:00 in the morning!” Peter then goes on to explain from the Scriptures what was happening. He himself was tremendously excited because he realized that Old Testament prophecy was being fulfilled in their very midst. At the same time the significance of two key Scriptures was becoming clearer to him.

The first Scripture Peter cited was from the Prophet Joel, who foresaw a time when the Spirit of God would be poured out on all people in a new way. This would be marked by a large number of people prophesying at the same time as well as signs and wonders from heaven, and was happening right before their eyes.

Peter then goes on to say that the true significance of this event (which came to be known as Pentecost) could only be understood in connection with the other incredible event that had just taken place: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The connection, Peter says, is that Christ has been “exalted to the right hand of the Father in heaven” and is now himself who has “poured out what you now see and here” (v. 33).

All of this, Peter continues, has been foretold, not only by the Prophet Joel, but also by King David himself. Peter then points his listeners to two passages from the Psalms of King David where this can be seen.

The first passage, which is the focus of this reading, is from Psalm 16:8-11 (v. 25,ff.). Peter says essentially this: “Look, the resurrection of Christ was something that King David himself foresaw. When David said ‘nor will you let your Holy One see decay’ he was neither deluded nor exaggerating, because at this point David wasn’t talking about himself. Rather, he was foretelling the resurrection of Christ.”

Okay… but so what? Here’s the so what: if we are to understand our own time we have to realize how central the resurrection of Christ and Pentecost are to it. Nothing of greater significance has happened in the last 2,000 years – not 9/11, not World War II, not the founding of the United States, not the Enlightenment, not the Reformation, and not even the fall of the Roman Empire. The significance is this: we live in a time when in which the Spirit of God lives not merely among his people in a temporary manner, but within his people permanently. Once we understand this, we’ll never be able to look at either ourselves or our circumstances as we did previously. We’ll begin to experience what my pastor Mel Lawrenz is calling in his present series “Life in the Spirit”. I can say from my own experience that this is the way we were meant to live and I recommend it most highly.

Now that Peter has pointed out how King David foresaw the Resurrection he then wants to explain how King David also anticipated Pentecost. This will be the focus of next week’s reading, which continues from where we’re leaving off today.

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