by Charles Henrickson
"Tongues for Telling the Mighty Works of God" (Acts 2:1-21)
Scripture: (Acts 2:1-21)
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and 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 Arabians--we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
"And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on 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 on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
It’s the Day of Pentecost. It’s nine o’clock in the morning. And the disciples are all together in one place. It was true back then, and it’s true today. Back on the Day of Pentecost that we read about in the Book of Acts, it was nine o’clock in the morning--or “the third hour of the day,” as our text says--and the group of disciples was together there in Jerusalem. And on this Day of Pentecost, also at nine in the morning, this group of disciples is gathered here in Bonne Terre, Missouri. In both cases, then, what can we expect to happen? Both there and then and here and now, we can expect the Holy Spirit to be enlivening and empowering “Tongues for Telling the Mighty Works of God.”
Let’s start with back then, back on that first Day of Pentecost we read about in Acts. Only it wasn’t really the first Day of Pentecost. The Israelites, the Jews, had been celebrating Pentecost for over 1400 years at that point, since the time of Moses. Pentecost was a Jewish festival. In the Old Testament it’s called the Feast of Weeks. It occurred seven weeks after Passover, on the fiftieth day, hence the term “Pentecost,” which simply means “fiftieth.”
Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was one of the three great pilgrimage festivals in the Hebrew calendar. The first was Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in the early spring, commemorating the Lord bringing the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. The second great festival of the year, then, was Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, in mid-to-late spring, celebrating the Lord bringing them into the Promised Land, settling them in that good land flowing with milk and honey. The third great festival occurred in the fall, the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, commemorating how the Lord provided for the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land.
These three chief festivals of the year--Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles--were pilgrimage festivals. That meant for those festivals all pious Jews were supposed to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and worship at the temple. That accounts for all the crowds, the thousands of people who were there in town at that time. But over the centuries, through conquest and captivity, many Jews had been scattered, dispersed, from out of the land and had settled in other countries around the Middle East and the Mediterranean world. The Jewish Diaspora, as it’s called, would have learned the local languages in those countries, as well as retaining the Jewish languages of Hebrew or Aramaic. They were Jewish, but they had settled down in those foreign lands. But still, for the great pilgrimage festivals, these pious Jews from all over the world would travel to Jerusalem to worship there. There were also Jews who had lived most of their lives in those distant lands but who in their later years wanted to retire to Jerusalem, so they could live out their days in the holy land. And there were Gentiles, non-Jews, who knew about and admired the Jewish religion, and some of them even converted to Judaism. We see all of these people represented in our text today, in that whole laundry list of nationalities: “Parthians and Medes and 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 Arabians.”
Now our text begins, “When the day of Pentecost arrived. . . .” The wording here is a little unusual, and it could be translated as saying the Day of Pentecost was being “fulfilled.” In other words, what the Day of Pentecost celebrated in the Old Testament now was being fulfilled in the New Testament. And as I said, in the Old Testament, Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, occurred in mid-to-late spring, and it celebrated the Lord settling Israel in that good land, where he provided for them richly with wheat and grain and all sorts of good things. In fact, Pentecost was a harvest festival, the early harvest of wheat, in particular. Early harvest, the firstfruits of the great ingathering that would happen through the rest of the year.
And that is what is being fulfilled now on the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts. It is the early harvest, the firstfruits, not of wheat but of people! The church is beginning to gather in the great harvest of souls for the kingdom of God! It starts here on Pentecost.
It starts at nine o’clock in the morning on that day, and it starts with God equipping the church to do the harvesting. “They were all together in one place,” it says. Now the “they” there certainly means at least the twelve disciples, the twelve apostles whom Christ had appointed. But it’s very likely that it includes the larger group of disciples referred to in chapter one of Acts, where it talks about a company of 120 persons in all, men and women, all the believers--in other words, the first church, the first congregation. They were all together in one place, there in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, at nine o’clock in the morning.
And now God gets to work on them, starting the church on the great harvesting mission that continues to this day. The sound of a mighty rushing wind, betokening the arrival of the Spirit in power and at the same time attracting a crowd to listen. Tongues of fire resting on each believer, the Spirit’s power enkindling their tongues to speak the words he will give them. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak.”
What do they speak? “The mighty works of God.” That is what the Spirit is doing on Pentecost. He is enlivening and empowering tongues for telling the mighty works of God! That’s how the harvest happens. All the believers, all the disciples--sons and daughters, young men and old men, male servants and female servants--all of them have the Spirit poured out on them, and they all use their Spirit-enabled tongues to tell others of the mighty works of God. Some of those who hear are interested. “What does this mean?” they ask. Others who hear mock what the Christians have to say. But in any case, God has a harvest to gather, and he’s going to use his Christians, he’s going to enliven and use their tongues, to speak the good news into the ears of the “grain” to be harvested, the harvest of souls.
All the believers alike tell the mighty works of God, and that attracts interested people who then can hear the preacher preach and “seal the deal.” In this case, on Pentecost, it is Pastor Peter who steps forward and delivers the sermon, which follows in the rest of the chapter. Peter preaches Christ crucified and raised from the dead. He preaches repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And then those who receive his word are baptized and brought into the church. That’s how the harvest goes. And all that is in good order. Every Christian uses his or her tongue to speak to their neighbor and bring them to the church. The pastor then does his thing and preaches the gospel of Christ. And so new believers are brought into the church. That’s how God does it. It began on that first Pentecost, and it continues today.
Because today is the Day of Pentecost, and it is nine o’clock in the morning, and all of us are here together in one place. Oh, we may not be 120, but God can use 30 or 40 just the same. You are the believers, you are the disciples, gathered in this place. Young men, old men, male, female, it doesn’t matter. You are the church, God’s own people, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” All of you have been baptized into Christ, and you have received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is touching your tongue, and you will speak the mighty works of God you know of, the wonderful works of God by which you yourself are saved.
You know these mighty works, these wonderful works! And so if someone asks you, “What does this mean?” you can tell them: “I believe that Jesus Christ . . . is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” Use those words or others like them, but you know the works that God has done for you in Christ Jesus your Savior. Mighty works, rescuing you from a trap you could not pull yourself out of! Wonderful works, freeing you from your sins and from the death that sin brings! These are the mighty and wonderful works, accomplished in the saving death and victorious resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord, by which you who trust in Christ will also be raised from the dead and live with him in “everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.” These are the mighty, wonderful works--God’s works--which you believe and by which you are saved. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Yes, your tongue has tons to talk about! This is most certainly true!
Now here we are in Bonne Terre, and as you know, the name “Bonne Terre” means “the Good Land.” God has brought us into this “good land,” and he has a harvest to be gathered here. It’s Pentecost, you see, and Pentecost is a harvest festival. Who are the ears who will hear and be brought in here in Bonne Terre? We don’t know in advance which ones will listen and which ones won’t. Some may mock and reject the words that we speak. Some people, though, will be interested, and they will want to hear more. So we invite them to come with us to church and to hear the preacher preach the good news that God has for them. That’s how it goes. Is there someone you know, someone you will see this week, to whom you can speak some of the good news of Christ and then invite that person to come with you and hear more?
There are people all around us who need to hear the words we have received and have on our tongues. Bonne Terreans and Terre Du Laceans and French Villagers and residents of Big River Estates and Lake Timberline and Desloge, retirees from St. Louis and lifelong Leadbelters, lapsed church members, friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors. These all are souls for whom Christ died, whom God loves, and whom the Spirit may just call to the same faith and salvation you and I have received. We don’t know how big the harvest will be, but the Spirit will use our tongues, in our everyday life, as we speak to the people we know, telling them of the wonderful, mighty works of God and bringing them to the church to find out more.
It is the Day of Pentecost. It is nine o’clock in the morning. The disciples, all of us here, are together in one place. And that means God is pouring out his Spirit on his people, enlivening and empowering our tongues for telling the mighty works of God!
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