There are places in scripture, many of them, where the text is so dense and thick with meaning concealed so artfully in a great story that the casual reader is apt to miss much of what is going on. In both volumes of his work, Luke has demonstrated himself capable of both broadsides of such power that the reader is almost overwhelmed coupled with such delicate moments that they almost disappear upon reading. And sometimes, both in the same text. Acts 2 is one such place. Pressed in to the four verses that mark the moment of the church’s first breath is a dazzling array of allusion that frames the event for his theological purpose – all the while telling the story of what actually happened with enormous restraint. (considering, that is, what actually happened!)
The day of Pentecost had shifted from a festival devoted to first fruits to one commemorating the receiving of Torah on Sinai – and it is this latter connection that Luke uses to make sense of the events. The parallels – the sound of a rushing, mighty wind coupled with the glory of God visible as fire – make the point that, in the events of Acts 2, God is breaking in to human history. It is this that Peter explains to the crowd of curious on-lookers – in these events, the last days to which they had looked forward for centuries have begun! The differences from Sinai make the point that, unlike that event, the gift of the Spirit and the Glory of God are now available to everyone – and, through them, to others. Both young and old, male and female, slave and free have full access to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. A truly new day has begun!
In another parallel, the confusion of languages, devised at Babel to limit human cooperation, is reversed so that all persons may hear and celebrate together the glories of God. A look at a map of the ancient near east on which the countries mentioned in Acts 2 are highlighted makes the point! This new community of the Spirit is instantly multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-generational – in a matter of seconds, the church is out of control and on the move! Instead of the nations coming to Jerusalem to share in the wonder of Torah given to God’s people, all of those filled with the Holy Spirit are God’s people – and are sent on mission to the far off world!
The response to Peter’s invitation to repent is equally striking – 3000 people are added to the church. The echo of the death count accompanying the coming of Torah as the people worshipped the Golden Calf while Moses communed with God is unmistakable. The Law kills. Literally. The Spirit gives Life. And keeps on giving.
Pentecost is not a day to remember. It must be more than a day on the church calendar. Pentecost is the very life of the church – and is best celebrated by living that life in vibrant, Spirit-filled witness to the fact and meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. On this Pentecost Sunday, I find myself wanting more of Him – a deep desire, a longing, not just for power, but for the very Life of the Holy Spirit.
Let the wind blow!