With the omission of the Holy Spirit and demon monkey dream I described having in college, the below is adapted from the sermon I preached on Acts 2:1-21 today. (Message me if you’re curious about the dream.) You can read the Acts text here. Scripture quotations below are 1984 NIV.
Surprise Birthday Parties
If you’ve been to a surprise birthday party, you know how much fun it is. Whether you’re the one lying in wait for your unsuspecting friend or family member, or the one about to be surprised… it’s hard to match the buzz of a room waiting to yell, “Surprise!”
There’s some nervousness and jitteriness involved, too. You’re gathered to celebrate someone who could walk in at any moment, but you’re not sure when. She’s here–oh, wait. That’s just a late arrival.
Waiting for God to Come
The disciples in Acts 2 had gathered on the day of Pentecost–“all together in one place,” the text says.
They had gathered, in part, to celebrate a Jewish festival. Pentecost was the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks, one of three major yearly celebrations the people of Israel observed. It came 50 days after Passover. In this Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, the people offered God their gratitude for the crops that had come in.
Jerusalem was hopping. There were lots of pilgrims there, a whole host of international visitors, to observe the feast.
Jesus’ followers, who were Jewish, were gathered, “all together in one place,” for this festival of Pentecost.
But they had convened to worship for another reason. They were waiting for something–waiting for someone.
The disciples must have felt that same anticipation you have when you’re waiting to blow your party horn, but your expected guest is still maybe a ways off.
The disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 1, the risen Jesus–as he was about to ascend into heaven–had said something rather provocative to them. He had made an intriguing promise:
Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit….
[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
A baptism with the Holy Spirit–you will receive power, and the result would be an international witness, to the ends of the earth.
So the idea of a birthday party at Pentecost is fitting. Except the Holy Spirit wasn’t the one born then. The Holy Spirit has been with the Father and the Son from all eternity. The Christian church as we know it was born on Pentecost. On that day the church received a special gift for which it had been waiting: The Holy Spirit. As presents go, it doesn’t get any better than that.
In the power of the Holy Spirit, the church began its mission of preaching the Gospel to all nations.
The Ultimate Power Source
“[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you….”
Talk about power. It says:
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Though Scripture speaks elsewhere about speaking in tongues as possibly being its own sort of heavenly language, in this passage, the disciples actually start speaking other languages!
It’s like an instant upload of Pimsleur into their brains and mouths.
And the Holy Spirit came “suddenly,” Acts says. The disciples didn’t conjure God’s Spirit and make him appear. The Spirit just came.
This reminds us of what we usually know, but often forget: our lives can change in an instant. In a second, God can descend on you, infuse you with the Holy Spirit, and set you on a completely new course. He may not choose to work this way all of the time, but it is possible–well within his power.
As the disciples spoke a catalog of languages, a bewildered crowd asked:
Are not all these [people] who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?
Presumably, this rag-tag, humble, scared, not highly educated gathering shouldn’t know this many languages between them. They’re not world-traveling, cosmopolitan polyglots!
[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
When the Holy Spirit comes on you, you receive a new power that allows you to do what you couldn’t do before. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate power source, the provider of strength to even weak and confused Christians.
We who have accepted Jesus’ invitation to walk with him, by virtue of our new life in Christ, receive the Holy Spirit that the church received on Pentecost.
Being a Christian means you have the Holy Spirit living in and with you. And with the Holy Spirit comes supernatural power.
You … receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, so that you may prevail against what Ephesians calls “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
You … receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, so that you may be strengthened in the core of your being (Ephesians 3:16).
You … receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, “so that you may abound in hope,” Paul would later write, “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
You … receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, so that you can produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23): “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
You … receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, so that you will have the right words to say in a difficult conversation that would otherwise stump you.
You … receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, so that you will have patience–supernatural patience–when you’re at your wits end.
You … receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, so that you may heal the brokenhearted around you, with the healing power of God’s love.
You … receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, so that you can share the good news of Jesus, even if the thought of mentioning Jesus by name to somebody else makes you a little squeamish.
After all, if the Holy Spirit can give fluency in languages to the disciples, so they can praise God in dialects that others understand… the Holy Spirit can surely give us words to tell other people about Jesus.
You … receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, so that we can transform this world more into the place God wants it to be.
Desire the Holy Spirit
Did the disciples fully understand what Jesus meant when he promised “the Holy Spirit”?
I’m not sure. But they were waiting for the fulfillment of that promise–not passively, but proactively. After Jesus’ ascended into heaven, Acts says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer.”
They desired the gift of the Holy Spirit. They wanted that power, so that they could be God’s witnesses near and far.
This Thursday our almost-four-year-old son had his closing program at his pre-school.
Everyone in his class with summer birthdays had received a birthday pin earlier this week. It’s a dove with a cross behind it. “A Holy Spirit pin,” they call it.
The closing program this last Thursday was every bit as cute and funny and well-performed as you’d expect from a well-coached group of exuberant pre-schoolers. Our son seemed to enjoy the program until we were talking afterwards, when he realized… he couldn’t find his Holy Spirit pin.
So he said: “I want my Holy Spirit! I want my Holy Spirit! I want my Holy Spirit right now!”
We knew where the pin was–not there with us. So we consoled him with this fact and gave it to him later, at which point he happily showed his big brother: “my Spirit!”
He sure desired that Holy Spirit pin and all the significance that it held for him.
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.
The Holy Spirit has come, giving birth to the church at Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit is with us here, as we gather in one place to seek the Lord.
The Holy Spirit lives inside each one of us who has acknowledged Jesus as Lord.
We who have the Holy Spirit have the Holy Spirit’s power. Power to hope. Power to bear good fruit, to live lives of exemplary Christian character.
We who have the Holy Spirit have the Holy Spirit’s power to speak words of wisdom at just the right time. Power to be patient when we least feel able. Power to heal. Power to love. Power to prevail over the forces of darkness and evil. Power to proclaim the good news of Jesus to people from all nations, vocations, and walks of life.
We receive power from the Holy Spirit–power that comes even and especially in our weakness. Power to face each new day.
Let us desire the Holy Spirit. Let us want the Spirit and his power. Let us admit to each other and to God our need to live lives that are wholly directed by the Holy Spirit’s power. Let us pray together, in this sacred space, “Come, Holy Spirit.” Let us pray when we are apart, every hour of every day, “Come, Holy Spirit.”
As we wait for God–even if we’re not sure of what might happen when we pray this way–let us say, as Christ’s gathered church: “Come, Holy Spirit.”