What God has Done

Reading: Acts 2.1-21
We object if someone is "blowing his own trumpet". The old saying was that "self-praise is no recommendation."

Of course, we began all this in early childhood. We proudly showed off our unrecognisable creation or indecipherable scribble and doting parents and grandparents warmed with appreciation of our creative efforts. The education system most of us grew up under tended to point us to others as models. There were examples of truth, beauty and goodness to emulate. Whenever we thought we had achieved well, there was another standard so far beyond us that kept us humble.

There has been a change in the approach to development from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. We have tended to abandon absolutes. Truth, beauty and goodness are seen in much more relative terms now. School reports are much more in terms of how performance relates to personal potential. Assertiveness is valued and encouraged. We end up with adults who have a much inflated view of themselves as "Number One." It has led to a more self-centred way of relating to other people and to increased aggressiveness on the roads. I am far from suggesting that all these attitudes are new, yet there seems to be a much sharper "don't tell me what to do" than ever before.

Unlikely Witnesses

We tend to see this as a changed attitude in our time. It is, of course, part of the human psyche across many centuries. It was there in the disciples of Jesus. Even after they had been three years with Jesus their main concern still seemed to be which one of them would be greatest in the Kingdom of God (Luke 22.24). But then, when the authorities came to arrest Jesus, they all ran away. Even Peter, so sure he would stay by Jesus no matter what, denied three times that he knew him.

And Jesus, their Master and friend, had died - a cruel horrible Roman execution by crucifixion. All pride in their own personal achievements and potential was broken. They were failures and they knew it!

Then from the third day - wonder of wonders! - Jesus is alive! For forty days Jesus not only proved beyond doubt that he was alive - his urgent talk was about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1.3). "Lord," they ask, "are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?" (v. 6) (Is this some of their old ambition surfacing again?) No! The Holy Spirit will come on you, filling you with power and "you will be my witnesses" - not generals, not cabinet ministers, but "my witnesses". The focus of what they were to be about was telling what God had done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

And when the day of Pentecost came, that's just what happened - they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in the native languages of all the visitors to Jerusalem "the wonders of God" (2.4,11)

What God has Done

What was the major focus of the whole group as they met for prayer during those ten days between ascension and Pentecost? Judas was gone. There were now only eleven apostles. There should be twelve - "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection" (1.21-22).

And on that first Christian Pentecost, they were witnesses to what God had done in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. They were witnesses to Jesus as he had said they would be.

What were the wonders of God, the great things God has done?

The people listening were "cut to the heart". If the promised Messiah had come, if God himself had visited them and their response had been to call for him to be crucified… "Brothers, what shall we do?" (v. 37) They had missed the whole point. They had not only erred, but had sinned grievously.

But… remember what Jesus had prayed on the cross? "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23.34).

So the gracious invitation - "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." (vv. 38-39).

Witnesses Today

And what is the driving force behind our lives? Are we fired up to make a name for ourselves? Are our personal priorities and goals based on selfish ambition?

Jesus still calls his people to be "his witnesses" - and that includes each one of us. I am not talking about the doorknockers who press us to receive their "Watchtower" literature. Jesus' word was "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses..." In other words the evidence will be in their lives before ever it is on their lips. It is a matter of being witnesses rather than "doing witnessing". The witness of words about the "wonders of God" is only possible because we have received the forgiveness God has offered us in Christ and are indwelt by his Spirit who now lives within us.

It was the atheistic philosopher Nietzsche who said, "If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, then you'll have to look a lot more redeemed."

The Holy Spirit is "the Lord and Giver of life", as the Nicene Creed puts it. The sign of his presence is life. For those first hearers of the gospel, there was the amazing miracle of tongues by which all of them heard the message in their own native language (Gk dialektos). This certainly grabbed their attention - the liveliness of the believers was itself testimony to their living Lord!

Donald Coggan, former Archbishop of Canterbury, observed, "The Holy Spirit refuses to allow himself to become the exclusive possession of any tradition, denomination, age or status. The Daily Telegraph reported a charismatic conference of Roman Catholics in Westminister Cathedral. With a glorious disregard of who might be present, the Spirit released the congregation into ecstatic languages. All this was, of course, in the presence of tourists from around the world for whom the cathedral is just one stopping point on a London tour. A very traditionalist elderly woman was among them. For a moment she was flummoxed by the noise, before a beam of a smile lit up her face and she murmured, 'How lovely to hear the old Latin again'!"

It is Pentecost again. Too often in the modern church we have been over-concerned with questions of whether we have had this or that Holy Spirit experience instead of whether people outside the church are hearing in their own language the great things God has done.

It is Pentecost again. Are we available to be filled with the Spirit and to be witnesses - not to ourselves and our experiences - but to Christ himself?

It is Pentecost 2002! Lord, do it again!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 19 May 2002
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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