Dr. Chris White May 4th, 2014
We live in a world that wants to know, ‘What happened?’ That is the pressing question that drives news. We, too, spend some time exploring ‘What happened?’ in the Scriptures. In fact, our faith is futile if some of the happenings in Scripture did not happen. But we actually have a larger question bearing down on us: ‘What does it mean?’ That is the real question of life and faith. It is also the question driving our understanding of a unique occurrence Acts 2.
Please read with me Acts 2:1-4 for the ‘What happened?’
Fifty days from the first Sunday after Passover is Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks for Jews. It would come to be a day held as the anniversary of the giving of the Law at Sinai, so it is a day of celebration. On that day the followers of Jesus experience a ‘What happened?’ A great wind fills the room and fire lights on them all. And then the foreign languages begin. There are clues that something big is occurring. As with Ezekiel and the Valley of the Dry Bones (37), the breath of God comes on the wind to raise the people to life. As with Moses in the wilderness, the fire represents the sacred presence of God. The ‘What happened?’ is the arrival of the Spirit of God in obvious force and expression as Jesus promised.
But we’re not done. As some have noted, the Spirit is jumping the banks and offering one more clue of the day’s significance. Read with me 2:5-11. Here we find Jews coming from far away and hearing in these Galileans their own languages. As far as they are concerned, these men cannot know these languages. *Mexico Lindo owner speaking perfect Louisville English. Here we see another biblical wrinkle, but in reverse: Genesis 11 records the story of Babel and the tower built to reach God. He confuses their language so they cannot understand each other, and are then scattered. Here the emphasis is on men understanding each other and thereby sensing a movement of…something.
This brings us to our question in verse 12: Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ ‘What happened?’ has its place, but the most important question concerns meaning. What does it mean that a room of men and then a wider audience experiences such strange events?
As we see in 2:14-16, Peter is reaching back to carry everyone forward. (Read) The answer comes in part from the Old Testament book Joel (2:28-32). Those in attendance may think they’re watching something very contemporary, but Peter expresses something more ancient. Joel’s letter speaks of the Day of the Lord, a time of God’s judgment to come on God’s people. It is a prophecy describing God’s judgment in darkest terms, as if a locus horde came upon them. It is a grim Last Days scenario. Except. There is with the Day of the Lord a worst of days/best of days scenario. Good news is also here. With the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, these ancient signs are upon us. We are living in the Last Days.
So we return to our question, ‘What does it mean’ to live in Last days?
First, read with me verses 17-18. Joel and Acts reveals that the age of the Last Days is the age of the Spirit. Note that Spirit of God is poured out upon us, like water poured from a pitcher. The Spirit of God dealt in very exclusive terms before this event, but now the Spirit of God comes to all people. We should never grow tired of these words of Joel: all people, sons and daughters, young men, old men. In the Last Days the Spirit of God comes to all regardless of gender, of age, of position of authority. The idea is that the Spirit will be so available that all people will enjoy His presence. Gal. 3:28 says, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. No longer will the Spirit be reserved for a chosen few. The Spirit of God will come upon any and all who call on God through Christ.
Of course, this core confession of the Holy Spirit’s availability is a very, very divisive topic. I remember the season in college when all of my close friends were experiencing more Pentecostal versions of the Holy Spirit—speaking in tongues. They assured me God wanted the same for me. This led to some real anxiety in me and distance from them as no such event was forthcoming in me. I remember sitting alone in a wooded area in the dark one evening and accepting both what was not happening in me through the Holy Spirit and what was happening in me. That was the real step of faith: I accepted that the Holy Spirit was in me. Most important, for all I could not control of God’s presence near and in me, I had to accept that the move-ment of the Holy Spirit was to be a norm in my life.
*A great turn in faith: expectation. (Ella Mahoney’s prayer card)
We should note something else this means with verse 21. While strangers understanding each other is the key point of the story in Acts, the greater story of the Spirit in us is God understanding our language when we call on him. In this age of the Last Days and the first days of the Spirit, all are warned of the Judgment to come. But it ends on a word of hope: And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. We need only call on the name of the Lord to be saved. We go to Him seeking the help that he alone is able to give. It is the way of people like us to reduce the salvation event to formulas, phrases, emotions, or reproducible experiences. The book of Acts tells us that there are many ways to come to Christ: the Ethiopian commits through a Bible study with Philip; Paul experiences a powerful, personal encounter with Jesus; Cornelius comes to Peter and asks for a lesson on Jesus; the jailer sees in Paul and Silas men who sing in chains, stay when they can run, and give reason to trust Christ.
Above all, to be saved is to be freed from the fear of Judgment. Romans 8:15-16 says, For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but received a Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. The Holy Spirit does not free us from the fear of God, but He does free us from being afraid of God. We are God’s children, not His enemies. By this Spirit we call God ‘Father,’ and this is meant to carry all the cultural meanings of the word in the day it was used: a name, a family, a security, a promise. It was the name of one’s father that marked one’s destiny in the world—for whatever virtue or shame a father’s name carried, so did a child carry it.
But there is more. Romans 8:26-27 notes this: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. The Spirit brings help. This intercession of the Spirit for us is in groans, beyond words. The idea is that God is speaking to Himself about you with deep knowledge and concern. In this community of the Trinity of God, Spirit speaks to Father on your behalf with His knowing and it is received as a Father receives all news of a child. The point, of course, is to show the great concern of God for all of us. This is to be the norm for faith: God active in us and for us.