Acts 2:1-13

Telling Story, Answering Questions

I understand that over the last couple of months you have been working your way through Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, and have, in the weeks since Easter ended up at the beginning of Acts, also written by Luke, just leading up to Pentecost. Have I got that right? This morning, I’d like to start by going back to the first few chapters of Luke, where he tells of the miraculous birth of two cousins. The older one was called John, and the younger one was called Jesus. John was sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus, and this is one of the things he said about his cousin, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandles. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Just after he says this, Jesus turns up at the river where John has been preaching and baptising folk and asks John to baptise him. John is taken aback by this, but Jesus insists, and as he comes up out of the water, ‘the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ “

The first thing that the Holy Spirit did was to lead Jesus into the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil. Having defeated those temptations, Jesus began his public ministry. Luke records his first sermon as beginning with a reading from the book of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Jesus then claimed that these words were fulfilled in him. He had the Holy Spirit on him, because he had come with good news for those who needed it most. And what was the people’s reaction? They were amazed and confused, they became angry and tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. So Jesus leaves his home town and goes on a preaching tour, putting his words into action by healing and releasing people from demonic oppression. People are even more amazed and some start to believe.

So, let’s summarise. The Holy Spirit fills Jesus so that he can speak out God’s good news and bring people freedom and wholeness. People are amazed at his words, and some react badly. Others react with gratitude and faith and are saved.

We don’t have time this morning to look at all the other references to the work of the Holy Spirit in Luke, so let’s skip forward to the beginning of Luke’s second book, Acts, where one of the first things that Luke relates is of the risen Jesus reminding his friends and followers of the difference between him and John, “John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Some of those that Jesus was speaking to would have been there when John first said what we read a few moments ago. The difference for them was that they had been waiting for three years for this promise to be fulfilled. John had told them that Jesus would baptise them with the Holy Spirit, but he hadn’t done it yet. In fact, when they’d seem him die on that cross they might have thought that it was never going to happen. But then Jesus was raised from the dead, as he’d said he would be, and now he reminds them of the promise that they first heard from John. They were to be baptised with the Holy Spirit.

He also tells them what the Holy Spirit is for, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then Jesus returned to heaven. His time on earth as a physical presence with his friends was over. They returned to Jerusalem, and did as they had been told. They waited.

Not many days later they were baptised with Holy Spirit. The sight of fire calls to mind John’s words – he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The sound of the wind might remind us of some of Jesus’ teaching about the power and uncontrollable nature of the Holy Spirit. But these signs, great though they are, aren’t Luke’s main focus. They are like the fanfare of trumpets announcing the arrival of an honoured guest.

What is most important is what the Holy Spirit actually does. The first thing that the Holy Spirit does is to fill Jesus’ followers. This is exactly what Jesus said the Holy Spirit would do. “The Holy Spirit will be in you”. The second thing that the Holy Spirit does is enable Jesus’ followers to speak in ways that they couldn’t speak before.

But we are made to wait for what they’re saying in those new languages whilst Luke hammers home the message with this long list of places that the people who heard came from. This list is not there just to make life difficult for generations of Christians whose task it is to read this passage. It is there to illustrate, without a doubt, that whatever is being said (and we don’t know what that is yet) is for everybody, from East, West, North and South. These words are not just for the chosen few, they are for the chosen everybody. These words, that are so important that they are the first thing that the Holy Spirit equips Jesus’ followers to speak out, are for everybody in the whole world.

What are these words? We are not told by Jesus’ followers what they are. We are told by those who heard them, “… we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Having filled Jesus’ followers, the Holy Spirit enabled them to tell other people about the wonders of God in ways that they could understand. Not only were they able to tell people about these wonders, they were able to speak in a way that excited interest. We can tell this from the response of the people who heard, “What does this mean?”

Of course, this was not the only reaction. There were also those who mocked, and who accused Jesus’ friends of being drunk.

But, nevertheless, one of Jesus’ closest friends, Peter, stands up to explain that what is happening was not only promised by Jesus but had also been promised by God, through the prophet Joel, many years previously. God had promised to pour out the Spirit on all people, and that as that happened many wonders, some physical and some spiritual would be seen. The climax of all these things, the most wonderful thing that they would all lead to, the purpose of it all, would be that, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So, let’s summarise. The Holy Spirit fills Jesus’ friends so that they can speak out God’s good news and bring people freedom and wholeness. People are amazed at their words, and some react badly. Others react with gratitude and faith and are saved.

Hold on a minute, that sounds familiar. Could it be that there is a pattern here that we might tell us something about how the Holy Spirit might work in our lives? Let’s hear it again:

The Holy Spirit fills Jesus’ friends so that they can speak out God’s good news and bring people freedom and wholeness. People are amazed at their words, and some react badly. Others react with gratitude and faith and are saved.

We are here this morning because those first followers of Jesus were obedient and waited for the Holy Spirit. When they received that gift they spoke out about God’s good news faithfully. Some of the folk who heard them came to faith in Jesus, and received that gift of the Holy Spirit themselves. For about 2,000 years that process has been repeated, countless times, until it reached you and somebody told you about God’s good news. You might still be thinking about what your reaction to that news is, you might still be deciding whether you want to follow Jesus. If you do, you will discover that the gift of the Holy Spirit will help you so much in that journey. For those who have already made that decision, we now have a responsibility. We are the next links in the chain of faith that reaches back 2,000 years. We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we can speak out God’s good news and bring people to freedom and wholeness.

That speaking out has two key parts. One is proclamation, which is telling. We are to tell people about the wonderful acts of God. We are to tell people that God has created us, that God sent Jesus, that Jesus died for us, that Jesus rose from the dead and lives now and forever, that God has adopted us as children, of all the good things that God has done in our lives, that freedom, and wholeness and healing are things that God can and has given. We proclaim the wonderful and mighty acts of God. The second part of our speaking is one of responding. In Acts we hear some of the crowds ask, “What does this mean?” The next section is Peter’s response to that question. (which I think you’re looking at next week) The point for us today is that Peter is ready to listen to their question and to respond to it. The first part of Holy Spirit inspired speech provokes questions, the second part answers them.

Now, I’m not suggesting we go about it quite like the disciples did at Pentecost, but it seems to me that one of our tasks as God’s people is to provoke amazement in the people around us so that they ask, “What does this mean?” The disciples did it like that on the day of Pentecost because that was what the Holy Spirit gave them the power and gifts to do on that day. They didn’t do that every day, they did other things that provoked the same question on other days. For instance, elsewhere in Acts we read about their love for each other that provoked this question and drew others in.

I wonder what the Holy Spirit wants to empower, gift, and guide us to do today, and this week, to provoke the question, “What does this mean?” I wonder if we are ready and willing to accept the Holy Spirit’s power, gifts, and guidance. To run the risk of being accused of being drunk, in order to provoke the question.

Following Peter’s example we are also called to help those around us find meaning in their lives. We too have been given the Holy Spirit to do this. We might feel that this is too much for us, but I want to suggest this morning that we can have confidence in the God who has called us to help us do what we have to do.

There are two questions that might give us a starting point for helping people to understand what it all means. How did you first become a Christian? What is the best thing for you about being a Christian? For me the answers might be something like this:

How did you first become a Christian? I have been a Christian as long as I can remember. I grew up in a Christian family, and as I’ve got older I’ve got to know God better and realised more and more just how much God loves me, and have become more and more passionate about following Jesus.

What is the best thing for you about being a Christian? The best thing about being a Christian for me is seeing the difference that knowing and loving God makes in peoples’ lives, including my own. I have seen people grow and blossom, be released from pain and fear, becoming more who they are meant to be.

I wonder what the answers to those questions are for you. Perhaps you could talk about it over coffee after the service, or think about it during this week in your times of prayer.

As we go out this week, filled with the Holy Spirit, let us be confident to tell the stories that allow people to find meaning. We might get sneered at, but let us bear witness. Let us be provocative, do things that amaze and perplex and then let us be ready to answer questions.

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