I went down to Dorsey’ Hallmark store this week looking for Pentecost cards. Well, actually, it’s now Betty’s Hallmark store. Dave Dorsey retired and sold the franchise Greg Uzell. Greg named the store after his mother. And, just like Dave, Greg did not have any Pentecost cards in stock.
Oh, he had a Christmas cards last year. He had Easter cards earlier this year. He had Passover cards. He had lots of religious cards. Just no Pentecost cards.
Why is that? How did Pentecost get lost in the shuffle of religious holidays that the secular culture celebrates? It might be that Pentecost is one of those events in history that is hard to define. Christmas is when Jesus was born and God became man. Easer is when Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death forever. Pentecost is when the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and ……..
How would you finish that sentence? What was the purpose of Pentecost? What difference does Pentecost make in your life today?
This morning, I want to focus on the Ps and Qs of Pentecost. Because while Christmas and Easter focuses on what God accomplished in Jesus, Pentecost focuses on what God will accomplish in you.
Let’s start with the first P, the Promise of Pentecost. Pentecost begins with a promise that Jesus made to his disciples. He told them that they would be baptized in the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? Well, different Christian traditions interpret that differently. Probably because the Holy Spirit works in so many different ways. He recreates us as a new creation when we become followers of Jesus. He renews us further to be more and more like Christ. But we see here in Acts, that Holy Spirit was given to empower those first apostles to be Jesus’ witnesses. Witnesses not just in Jerusalem, but throughout the world.
Now the Old Testament prophets had linked the outpouring of the Spirit with the End Times. So, of course, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom?” Jesus sidesteps the question.
Essentially, the period of End Times has broken into history. But when this period will end and the new Kingdom will be established, Jesus doesn’t answer that. It is enough for them to know the Promise of Pentecost. They will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
So after giving them the promise, Jesus leaves – he ascends to the Father in heaven. And that’s when the disciples begin the Preparation for Pentecost. What did they do to Prepare for Pentecost? The bible says they remained together. They kept their unity. Now think about this.
You have 11 alpha males who have been led by the Big Dog for three years. Now the Big Dog is gone. Typically, you would see a power struggle for the leadership. You would see factions develop. That didn’t happen here. And it didn’t happen because of something else they did in Preparation for Pentecost. They prayed together.
William J. Seymour knew what could happen when people pray together. Seymore was a one-eyed, 34-year-old son of freed slaves. He also studied under the well known Pentecostal preacher, Charles Parham. He had to sit outside of the classroom and listen because he was not white. He learned from Parham about the power of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. But he himself never experienced that.
In 1906, a small holiness church in Los Angeles invited him to speak about receiving the Holy Spirit. In his first sermon, he preached that speaking in tongues was the first biblical evidence of the inevitable infilling in the Holy Spirit. On the following Sunday, he returned to the church and found the door padlocked. The Elders of the church rejected Seymour’s teaching, primarily because he had not yet experienced the blessing about which he was preaching.
And after meeting and praying together for five weeks, one of the congregants spoke in tongues for the first time. At the next meeting, six others began to speak in tongues as well. A few days later, Seymour himself spoke in tongues for the first time after praying all night long.
News of the events circulated and attracted more visitors. They were from all income levels and all religious backgrounds. Soon the crowds became very large and were full of people speaking in tongues, shouting, singing. Seymor’s congregation would grow and have to move. They found a tumble down shack on Azusa street that once served as an African Methodist Church. The revival in that church would birth the Pentecostal movement worldwide. It would spawn new denominations such as the Assemblies of God and the Pentecostal Church of God. In the 60’s, it would give rise to the Charismatic movement in the mainline denominations.
Today, there are more than 500 million Pentecostal and charismatic believers across the globe. And it all began with a handful of Jesus followers coming together in prayer. They prepared by praying.
After the apostles Prepared for Pentecost, they saw the Proofs of Pentecost. First there was the sound. They were altogether in one place when they heard the sound of rushing wind. That could be a little frightening.
I remember a several years ago when we had one of those Mono wind storms up here right in the middle of Sunday service. It sounded like the building was going to blow down at any moment. One of the ladies turned to her hairdresser who was sitting right behind her and said, “I just don’t like those strong winds.” He replied with a smile, “Neither do I. It messes up our hair.”
That wind sound that the disciples heard calls to mind a prophecy. Ezekiel prophesied about a valley of dry bones that he saw. In the end times, God would put his Spirit in the house of Israel. He would call forth the four winds to breathe into those bones so that they might come to life. At Pentecost, God’s breath was breathing life into his church.
Well, after the sound of the wind came the sight of flames. The bible says they looked like tongues of fire that separated and came to rest above the heads of each of the apostles.
The bible often associates fire with God’s judgment, particularly in the end times. Remember when John the Baptist prophesied that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
You could also associate that fire with the fire that appeared on Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the law. And Jewish tradition connects Pentecost with the giving of the Law.
Finally, the last proof to come was the experience of speaking in tongues. Now a lot of folks get a little uncomfortable when you start talking about this speaking in tongues. But these apostles were not talking in the ecstatic utterances that no one understands. Quite the contrary. The miracle was that those hearers each could understand the apostles speaking – not in Aramaic, but in their own native languages. These would have been languages that the apostles never spoke, much less understood. We will see other occasions in Acts where speaking in tongues recurs with outpourings of the Spirit.
Why the tongues? We don’t see anything like it in the Old Testament. If you remember, Jesus told his apostles that they would be his witnesses to Judea, Sumaria and the ends of the world. It will be an international ministery. It will be a cross cultural ministry. Not one that is just restricted to the Jews. What greater sign of empowerment for a cross cultural ministry than speaking the language of the nations?
After giving the proofs of Pentecost, the bible shifts to the Peoples of Pentecost. The bible lists the Jewish people from many nations who were in Jerusalem for the Holy Day: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypts, Libya, Rome.
There is another occasion in the Old Testament when the bible lists nations. It’s in Genesis 10 where the nations that came from Noah’s three sons are listed. All these people spoke one language and were gathered in one place to construct the Tower of Babel. But God divided their language and scattered them..
Now, at Pentecost, God reverses that curse. He empowers his church to transcend those divisions. In the rest of Acts, we will see God’s church crossing cultural boundaries and moving out of their comfort zone. This isn’t your father’s synagogue! That’s the point of the tongues. The Holy Spirit continues to call us to cross cultural boundaries – to move out of our comfort zone. to extend our ministry.
Now, the bible turns to the Prophecy of Pentecost. The people hear all the commotion caused by the Spirit. Some onlookers think these guys are drunk. But others are asking what strange phenomenon could mean?
Peter tells them. He says that they are seeing ancient prophecy fulfilled before their very eyes. These are the last days that the prophet Joel foretold. These are the days when God would pour out his spirit on all people. God would empower them to speak his words. Power to cross gender lines. Power to cross age barriers. Power to cross class barriers.
Pentecost fulfills Joel’s prophecy of the Last Days. The Apostles lived in that era of the Last Days. And we today continue living in the Last Days. The final era has been inaugurated.
So what does that means for us?
That’s where we come to the Preaching of Pentecost. Peter calls the people to call on the name of the Lord. To be baptized. And so we are called to carry Peter’s message today. To be witnesses to Christ today.
To which a lot of us might say, “Yeah, but….” Yeah, that might have been alright for Peter and the disciples, but how do I do that? I’m not a preacher. I’m not a theologian. Very true.
But each one of us has our own experience with Christ – just as each of those disciples did. And Christ calls us to be witnesses of our own experience. To tell what we each know from our own experience. That what a witness does. And here’s where Pentecost comes in. Pentecost gives you the power to do that. Power that is not from you, but from God. Power to do more than you thought you could, because it is God propelling you forward.
Any surfer would understand. As he sees that big wave come, he prepares by getting on his board and doing what he can. He paddles. As the wave engages him, he takes his stand. And now it is no longer him that is moving that board forward, it’s the power in the wave. What an exhilarating feeling – as he passes others sitting on their boards. The power in that wave will take him all the way in to the beach. And all he does is stand.
Which brings us full circle to the last P of Pentecost. The Purpose of Pentecost. It’s all about God’s power. Receiving God’s power to be his witnesses in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world. Pray for Pentecostal power. And then stand on your faith and let God’s power propel you forward. Let God accomplish his purpose through you. Not because you have any power in yourself. But because God will show his power through you.