Acts 2 begins with the disciples “all together in one place.” This is not an ideal gospel situation. The gospel is more a free spirit wanderer than an established homesteader. The gospel is more cosmopolitan than provincial. This is a lot to ask of Galilean fisherman–so God sends them a helping hand.
The tongues were divided. It was not a raging Spirit inferno. It was not a united flame. Each tongue rested on a disciple, and each tongue gave the ability to speak in a particular language. The Spirit of unity was not there to bring the disciples together—they were already together. The Spirit of unity was there to send out those who would bring the world together. In order to do it, the Spirit came as divided tongues to wedge the insular group apart.
Before the Spirit’s coming no one had ever heard of international Galileans (cf. vs. 7). The gathered crowds hearing the many languages erupting from the disciples were amazed, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own language?”
Luke is confusing, “All were amazed…but others sneered.” The “all” are the Jews of the diaspora who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). The “others” Luke identifies as “Men of Judea, and all who live in Jerusalem.” The sundry world outside of Judea accepted the miracle while the singular tribe inside of Judea denied the presence of the Spirit. God is not meant to respect borders, or to be contained by them.
The sneering crowd accused the disciples of being drunk with new wine. Peter denies this accusation, and tells the dissenters that the presence of the Spirit is the fulfillment of God’s word. The last days are here, the Day of the Lord has come. Nothing is the same. The Spirit of God is released and cannot be put back in its place. This is a full scale meltdown of the containment unit. The Spirit has descended on sons, daughters, young men, old men, male and female slaves–all flesh.
Psalm 104:24-34; 35b
Our Psalm lection celebrates the Spirit of life. The Spirit of God animates God’s creation. When God takes away the Spirit, God’s creation dies (vs. 29). When God sends forth God’s Spirit, there is creation and renewal (vs. 30). This is an important reminder for the church as we gather on the day of Pentecost. When we resist the Spirit, and act provincially about the gospel, we become sick and weak. When we act like God and send forth the Spirit with reckless abandon, then we see new creation and experience vital renewal.
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
The call to diversity in unity within the church is not the church’s hat-tip to a post-modern buzz phrase. The Spirit of God demands diversity in unity, for the Spirit does not give a single gift, and the Spirit does not give to some to the exclusion of others. To each is given a unique manifestation of the Spirit–“The Spirit allots to each one individually as the Spirit chooses” (vs. 11). The church often resists this diverse empowerment, and gives preference to the presence of some gifts, and marginalizes the presence of others. When it does it fails to realize that it is the same Spirit (vs. 4, 11), Lord (vs. 5), and God (vs. 6) that is present in every gift. It fails to realize that all the gifts are brought together into one body–whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, the same Spirit animates us all.
Though different in details, the stories of the outpouring of the Spirit in the book of Acts and the Gospel of John have much in common. In John’s gospel the disciples are fearfully gathered behind locked doors. Mary Magdalene had already informed the disciples that the Christ was risen. This news failed to embolden the disciples. Without the Spirit that enlivens, the followers of Christ were huddled in fatal fear. Like in Acts the gospel is inhibited by weak faith and immobility.
When Jesus appeared among them he gave them his peace. “Peace be with you” was a traditional Jewish greeting. Twice Jesus gave them his tranquil peace (vs. 19, 20); the opposite of trembling fear. Then Jesus apprenticed the disciples to the Father, “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” The indicative is absurd in the face of cowering fear. How can those behind locked doors find the bravery and ability to go out into a dangerous world? It is then that Jesus breathes on them the Spirit of God.
The church cannot stay behind closed doors. The church cannot exist in fear. The church is sent with the peace of Christ to sanctify the world by the power of the gospel.
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship, consider the ways we huddle together all in one place, fearful of the Spirit’s release, and fearful of the danger found in the world. Our individual salvation is to serve a corporate end. We are justified and sanctified in order to enter a world of hurt with a healing balm. When we attempt to contain the Spirit, God will send tongues of fire to divide us. When we favor some gifts more than others, God will remind us of the common good. God reminds us that we do not set the agenda for God’s saving work, only God does. So be it.