Pentecost: When the World Was Set on Fire
March 17, 2010
Updated September 3, 2021
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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
Sermon prepared by Rev. John Kerssies, Collingwood , Ont.
Dear People of God,
Great people quite often tend to be controversial people. Take for example the late Winston Churchill. During the second World War in England, Churchill was hailed and loved as the "man of the hour," who through his passionate speeches encouraged the Brits to courageously defy the onslaughts of the Nazi war machine, even at the cost of "blood, sweat, and tears." However, when the war was barely over, England turned its back on its war hero and instead elected as its Prime Minister Clement Atlee. Churchill, instead of being hailed and loved, was now hated and loathed.
When the greatest man who ever lived moved among people, similar reactions emerged. The apostle John remarks casually in the opening chapter of his Gospel, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." (John 1:11) As the gospel’s story unfolds, we notice that Jesus was either worshiped or whipped, followed or flogged, crowned or crucified. The presence of Jesus elicits both responses. While hundreds of people thronged towards him in Galilee and Judea, his hometown people in Nazareth attempted to throw him off the cliff to kill him.
Paul was undoubtedly the greatest missionary of the early Christian Church. The Book of Acts tells us that the message he brought was either received with joy or ridiculed with jest. In fact, the messenger himself was either gratefully embraced or became gruesomely embattled. Like the messenger, the gospel message acts like double-edged sword. It can function like a surgical knife or like a switchblade. The same message can bring deliverance as well as disaster.
All of this becomes pointedly demonstrated on the Day of Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit demonstrates his divine presence through the signs of wind, fire, and speaking in different languages, Luke informs us about the two different reactions. "Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’" There are seekers and there are scoffers.
It is at this point that Peter stands up to clarify this seemingly confusing situation. Says Peter, "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!" These men may well be intoxicated, but not with young wine, but with the new wine of the Holy Spirit. Listen, this is what is taking place here today. "No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘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. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’"
If you will, here the Holy Spirit introduces explicit signs of God’s grace. In Numbers 11, we find the intriguing story of Eldad and Medad, listed among the elders of Israel, to whom the Lord gave the gift of prophecy. When this extraordinary phenomenon was reported to Joshua, he suggested to Moses that he stop them. This is Moses’ reply, "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"
Well, it has happened. Moses’ wish becomes prophecy fulfilled. When God unleashes his Holy Spirit upon his people on the day of Pentecost, all prophetic tongues break lose and there is no stopping. All the Lord’s people do indeed become prophets and his Holy Spirit is placed on every one of them.
The apostle Peter makes that abundantly vivid when he sees in this Pentecost event the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, recorded in Joel 2:28-32. In the process of this fulfillment, old and tough barriers are eliminated and erased. The Holy Spirit is no respecter of persons. He is poured out upon all flesh, all people. Joel mentions young men who see visions and old men who dream dreams. Gone is the age barrier. The Holy Spirit gifts not only Eldad and Medad, elders in Israel, with prophetic powers, but now also their sons. Gone is also the gender barrier. Prophecy, visions, dreams and the gift of the Spirit are given to daughters as well as sons, to women as well as men. What was an exception in the era of the Old Covenant now becomes the accepted norm. The prophetess Hulda is joined by her sisters all across the globe, the daughters of Philip, and even those who worship with us here today.
Gone are the age barriers. Gone are the gender barriers. We may add: gone are the social barriers, the educational barriers, and the racial barriers. The Holy Spirit includes and calls all God’s people, the rich and the ragged, the scholars and the unschooled, the browns and the blacks, in his dynamic mission of "declaring the wonders of God" in wherever strategic position he places them.
Here are the explicit signs of God’s grace. They are also evident today. A 6-year-old girl tells her friend that Jesus loves her. A 75-year-old saint in China spends years in torturous prison cells. A committed Christian educator posits compelling arguments in a scholarly journal undermining the theory of atheistic evolutionism. At the same time, his black sister in the faith, 6000 miles removed from him, rescues little girls from the vicious claws of fetish priests. All of them declare the wonders of God within their own cultural context, their own historical setting. Why? Because the Holy Spirit of God has been unleashed on all flesh.
However, note that the Holy Spirit not only introduces explicit signs of God’s grace. He also introduces explosive signals of God’s judgment. It is interesting that Peter not only quotes Joel 2:28-29. He also quotes Joel 2:30-32. "I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord." All of this smells more of judgment than of grace. This whole passage resembles Moses’ speech to the Israelites about the curses and the blessings found in Deuteronomy 28.
Next to the prophecies, the visions, and the dreams, we find blood and fire and billows of smoke. We hear of the sun turning to darkness and the moon turning to blood. These signs will be universally displayed, both in the heavens above and on the earth below. They will include the heavenly bodies of the sun and the moon. Joel and Peter could also have mentioned the falling of stars. All of these signals will be so awesome and so dreadful that all people on earth will be affected. No one will escape.
They remind us what Jesus himself spoke of when he responded to his disciples’ question concerning his coming and the end of the age. Jesus talked about the fact that "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken." All of this will take place "before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord." The vanishing of the sun, the moon, and the stars introduce us to the final chapter of human history. These universal signals are at the same time eschatological (end-time) signals.
Peter wants to communicate on this Day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit comes both in judgment as well as in grace. The wind, the fire, and the tongues not only illustrate that the Holy Spirit has powerfully invaded our humanity with the Lord’s prophetic word of grace; these signs also offer a prelude of the Lord’s coming in judgment. The Holy Spirit has come! Now there is hope for the seekers, to those who inquire, "What does all of this mean?" For the earnest seekers, Pentecost means: grace has broken in upon you! You too will become part of the mighty movement of this age of the Holy Spirit. You too will prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams.
But what about the scoffers and the unbelieving skeptics? What about those who claim that the Spirit-filled believers are intoxicated with young wine? What about those today who sneer and ridicule the Good News of Jesus, who will do everything in their power to undermine its impact on their lives and on society? Let them beware, for the Spirit who has come in grace, with visions and dreams, this same Spirit also comes with blood and fire, with holocausts, wars, and devastation. Beware and repent!
We notice that Peter concludes his quotation from Joel’s prophecy with a challenge, an invitation. "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Here the Holy Spirit introduces an expressive signature of God’s salvation. This is a word for seekers and scoffers alike. The invitation is open-ended. It is for everyone, regardless of gender, class, or race. Here the divine lifeline is thrown to all drowning victims, to all sinners who are part of the human family. It is thrown to you and to me.
However, notice the condition. Salvation is for "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord!" The phrase "calling on the name of the Lord" is the Old Testament’s equivalence of "worshiping the Lord." It is to bow before him, to offer "your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." (Romans 12:1) By implication, it is to acknowledge your own emptiness, your frailty and your failures. Driven in a corner like a wild animal, you don’t know which way to go anymore.
So you call. This call may be like a scream of desperation, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). It may be like the response of one blinded and awe-struck when meeting Jesus himself, "Who are you, Lord?" (Acts 9:5) It may be an almost inaudible prayer like that of the tax collector in the temple, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." (Luke 18:13) It may be like the wailing of ten lepers who cry from the distance, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us." (Luke 17:13) It may be like the cry of a blind beggar, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." (Luke 18:38) It may be like the request of the dying thief on the cross, "Lord, remember me." (Luke 23:42) However the call is uttered, the results of calling on the name of the Lord are always the same: the blind receive their sight, lepers are cleansed, and sinners are forgiven and received into the Kingdom of Jesus.
That’s the Good News of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit continues the ministry of Jesus. It’s a ministry of salvation, a ministry of hope, a ministry of renewal and refreshment. Jesus is in heaven, but his ministry empowered by the Spirit continues through Peter, John, Thomas, Paul, and even to this very day. Jesus’ ministry continues through young men who dream dreams and sons and daughters who see visions. It continues through organists and music teams, through Church School teachers, and through Christian couples sharing their faith at barbecue outings with their neighbors. Jesus’ ministry continues through all of God’s people who are truly possessed with the Spirit of prophecy at the school desk and at the machine shop, and even at assembly lines and in shopping malls.
Pentecost means that the world is set ablaze. A new era has been ushered in. It’s an era of grace and salvation, of mission and evangelism. It’s also an era of impending judgment, of darkened suns and blighted moons, of blood and fire and billows of smoke. Listen and hear the urgent call to all who have ears to hear. The time is short. Repent and call on the name of the Lord. Today is still the day of grace. "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!"
Proposed Order of Service
Opening of the Service
Welcome and Announcements
Opening Song of Praise: PH #104:1-4
Call to Worship: Psalm 95:6-7
Song of Response: PH #420
God’s Greeting: "May the grace and peace of God our Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ be on us. Amen."
Hymn of Praise: PH #418
Service of Reconciliation
Prayer of Confession: PH #419:1, 2, 3
Assurance of Pardon: Colossians 1:13-14
God’s Will for Our Lives: Colossians 3:1-17
Hymn of Response: PH #419:4, 5
Service of the Word
Prayer for God’s Leading
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-21
Scripture Text: Acts 2:14-21
Sermon: "Pentecost: When the World Was Set on Fire"
Hymn of Response: PH #424
Service of Prayer and Offering
Offering and Offertory Prayer
Closing of the Service
Final Song of Prayer: PH #634
God’s Blessing: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all"
God’s people: "Amen"
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