When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But 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. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:1-21)
In verse 12, the people who witnessed the events of that Pentecost Day had one important question: “What does this mean?” They knew that something significant had occurred in their midst. However, they did not yet understand the fuller implications of the Spirit’s movement among them.
Just as they asked themselves, “What does this mean?” we too should reflect on the account in Acts for contemporary witness.
What does this mean? It means that the Spirit will meet the needs of the people. Many times in our churches, we work so very hard to meet the needs of people: those in our doors already and those yet outside of them. Yet, Acts tells us that God is even more interested in meeting the needs of people. He will do the miraculous to meet those needs. People heard the story of “God’s deeds of power” in their own language. That means that the Spirit met people in their own setting to meet their needs. In our contemporary contexts, we are often tempted to meet the needs of the people with some new out-of-the-box program or the next big idea. The lesson of Acts 2 is to instead be channels of the Spirit’s work and let him do the work that he wants to do.
What does this mean? It means that the ministry of the church does not rise and fall on one person alone. Peter, nor any single apostle, is the center of ministry. Rather, all the people are empowered to serve in the Kingdom of God. In the local church, it is tempting to pin the hopes of effective growth on one or two people. The hope of the church does not lie solely with the pastor, the longest standing member or the hip new staff member. All believers are called, and empowered, to serve.
By reading further in the account in Acts 2, we see what those new believers did: They were baptized, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, they were discipled, and they shared meals and fellowship. They thought of others first. They put the mission of God before their own agendas. They spent time in the “breaking of bread,” taking care of each other and enjoying each other’s company. They did so in small groups and in large assemblies. They didn’t wait for Peter (the senior pastor, if you will) to do it.
And they prayed. When you pray, be careful. Things will change. If you start praying, really praying, things are going to change. Watch out! Are you ready for God to bring about the change you are praying for? Are you truly ready? In the Pentecost story the people embraced the change that God brought. And thank God that they did.
Can you imagine what would have happened if they refused to accept the changes God was doing? Imagine if the disciples had said, “Well, that’s all well and good, but I do not want to do anything different. Jesus is gone now and I just want to go back to my fishing boat, my tax collection booth. Don’t bother me.” What if they had stood up and said, “That is not the way we’ve done it before, and I sure don’t want to do it that way now.” Can you imagine the travesty? Christian believers today celebrate a spiritual heritage because those at the Pentecost movement of the Spirit said “YES” to the new thing that God was doing.
What does this mean? It means that churches were planted. They grew into vibrant communities of faith. By the power of the Spirit, they brought the Good News to the world. The Spirit met the needs of the people. The Spirit empowered the people to serve in the Kingdom of God. Those first believers responded by sharing with others the amazing things that they had seen. And they prayed in that same Spirit. They prayed and things changed.
What does this mean? Because the Spirit is still at work in the world, it means that the contemporary church can do just the same. This means that the church must prioritize the work of the Spirit over any ideas of people. As twentieth-century evangelist E. Stanley Jones said, “Unless the Holy Spirit fills, the human spirit fails.”
Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes is the Associate Director of Education and Leadership Development for World Methodist Evangelism. He may be reached at: rob[at]worldmethodist.org