“From Fearful to Fearless”
Acts 2:1-18 – May 24, 2015
Everyone feels afraid, some time. I know I usually do not make sweeping statements like that, but I feel safe in making that particular one: everyone is afraid, sometime. Being fearful; it goes with being human.
If we look at the disciples, gathered in that upper room—the same upper room where their leader and Rabbi Jesus had them gather together to eat the Passover dinner on Thursday in Holy Week—we can see several good, valid reasons for them to be afraid.
Confusing events happening in short succession. This was compounded by the followers of Jesus scattering, running away, frightened by the very real, very legal, very official things happening to Jesus just before His crucifixion.
Let’s fast-forward past Easter Sunday, past the weeks when the risen Jesus was occasionally present with the disciples. Past the time of the Ascension. The disciples still must have been frightened to death of the authorities. But, I suspect they needed to talk about the happenings of the past few weeks, too. Debriefed. Tried to figure things out, as best as they could. We go to the day of Pentecost, another major feast day for the people of Israel. And where are the disciples? Back in Jerusalem, in the upper room, hidden away from the authorities.
Let’s begin to read our scripture passage for today, starting at Acts chapter 2, verse 1: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues/languages as the Spirit enabled them.”
If we were watching this scene as it happened on television, or in a movie, the special effects would be awe-inspiring! Can you see it now? Except, this was long centuries before the time of anything approaching motion pictures, even electricity. Imagine what it was like for these few dozen people, gathered together to pray in the upper room.
The biblical record refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit as being similar to the blowing of a violent wind. I’m sure this was an eye witness report. That must have been what it really felt like! Buffeted about by the sheer power of a strong wind—except—they were all inside the house, with all the doors shut tight! Let’s continue with the next verses:
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues/languages!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Here in these verses, we take a tour of Asia Minor, and parts of Africa and some of Europe. That’s how far the Jewish people had dispersed, in the past few hundred years. Observant, practicing Jews had settled in these far-flung places many years before. Their present-day descendants were fully enculturated, and spoke the local languages and dialects as their own. However, some still came back to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, to worship at the Temple. As I mentioned, Pentecost was a big festival in the Jewish religious calendar.
Moreover, these dispersed Jews from far-flung provinces were amazed that home-grown Jews from Galilee, the boondocks of Israel, were able to speak many regional languages and dialects so fluently! Wonder upon wonder!
These Galilean Jews had gone out on the street, rubbing shoulders with all and sundry outside. They all had gotten a big shot of courage from somewhere, and were communicating the good news—to everyone. To all of these visitors to Jerusalem, who in turn could take the good news of the Gospel with them, to all parts of the Roman Empire when they returned home.
True, I could preach about the erasing of the Tower of Babel’s barrier, the division of separate languages, and the ease of communication that took place here on Pentecost. I could talk about the birthday of the church, and how the church began its great mission of spreading the good news. But—I wanted to focus on the disciples. How they went from fearful to fearless.
Let’s turn back to our scripture passage: “13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
Did you hear what Peter said? It’s because of the Holy Spirit. Everything is because of the Holy Spirit! That is exactly why the disciples poured out into the street after their fiery experience in the upper room! After the wind of the Holy Spirit swept through that room, their hearts, and their very lives. It didn’t matter—men, women, whoever was there. Each one in that room had the Spirit energize their hearts and their minds. The Spirit came with fire!
What is more, we see from the prophet Joel that the Spirit was prophesied to be poured upon all people. Sons, daughters, young men, old men, even men and women servants. I think that is everyone. We are all going to get power from the Spirit of God. The ruach ha kodesh, the Holy Spirit. What’s more all of us have the possibility of going from fearful to fearless!
Here is the last of today’s reading from Acts: “20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Pentecost was not just a one-time-only event. Sure, Dr. Luke put this account down on paper so we all could remember, so we all could see the power of God as it happened so long ago, in Jerusalem. But—we can see the power of the Spirit of God now, each and every day. We can tell others about what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives—how the Spirit of the Lord blows through our lives on a regular basis–today.
The important thing about the arrival of the Spirit of God was not the wind or the flames. That’s just the exterior way we all knew that the Holy Spirit had arrived! But the disciples knew, from experience, that God was now with them in power and in might. The same way the Spirit is with us, today. That knowledge changed the disciples from fearful to fearless, and that knowledge can do the same thing for each of us, today.
Is there a Pentecost in our lives today? Is the Holy Spirit living, breathing, active in our lives, today? Please God, yes. God can enable us to go forth from here in the Spirit’s power, to share what God has done for each of us. And the response? As Peter quoted from the prophet Joel, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Amen, and amen!