Summary: 2nd in series on what Pentecost means. Instead of the Law written on tablets of stone, it’s now written on our hearts.
Acts 2:1-11 – A Good Heart is Hard to Find
(Many of the conclusions, including the wording, set forth here flow from John Eldredge.)
In his book The Moral Intelligence of Children, Harvard professor Robert Coles told a story about Marian, one of his students several years ago. She had arrived at Harvard from the Midwest and was trying hard to work her way through college by cleaning the rooms of her fellow classmates. Again and again she met classmates who had forgotten the meaning of please, of thank you, no matter how high their SAT scores. They did not hesitate to be rude, even crude toward her. One day she was not so subtly propositioned by a young man she knew to be very bright. She quit her job and was preparing to quit going to school. Full of anxiety and anger, she came to see me. “I’ve been taking all these philosophy courses, and we talk about what’s true, what’s important, what’s good. Well, how do you teach people to be good?”
This is the age-old question. And it’s obvious that education is not the answer. With all the education about the dangers of smoking, the dangers of drinking and driving, and the need to use condoms, you’d think we’d be all set. But the problem is not that we don’t know what to do. The problem is that we don’t want to do it. That’s why people still smoke, why people drink and drive, and why people get sexually-transmitted diseases. No, what we need to be a better people is not more education. What we need is transformation. We need less of the “have-to”, and more of the “want-to”.
Which is something that was accomplished at the Acts 2 Pentecost. You may remember from my message 2 weeks ago, when I started this series on Pentecost, that the holiday had been celebrated for over a thousand years. But the one in 30AD changed them all. Let’s read it.
Now, the Jews were gathered in Jerusalem that day because all Jewish men were required to be there. Pentecost was a festival full of history and meaning, celebrating the harvest, as well as remembering the laws of Moses. Watch this – Exodus 19:1-2 says: “In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt - on the very day - they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.”
What mountain? Mt. Sinai. What happened there? God gave Moses the law. Up until that time, there had been words from the Lord. There had been people who spoke with God intimately. There had been the occasional appearances by God. But never had there been a set of regulations, letting the people know how to live lives that pleased God. This was law. The nation of Israel had been born for hundreds of years, but it had only been a wandering infant. The giving of the Law meant that the nation was ready to grow up and be productive.
So, using the timing mentioned in Exodus 19, Jewish scholars determined that Moses and the Israelites landed at Mt. Sinai 50 days after the Red Sea. Remember that the word “Pentecost” means 50. So, the holiday also called the Feast of the Harvest was also kind of like a birthday party for the Jews, a time for the family to get together and remember who they were and where they came from.
Now, I find this significant. The Jews went looking for a birthday party, and boys, did they get one. It was the birth of something wonderful. For the Acts 2 Pentecost was the birth of the church. There had always been a remnant, a group of people who would not follow the easiest or the most popular way. No, there had always been a group of God’s people who cared more for His opinion than the opinion of their neighbors, even of their own families. But the church was a new thing. From now on, God would relate to his people in a new way. Less ceremony, more substance.
In fact, the very way that people would connect with the Law would change. God changed the way we connect with the Law because the way was faulty. Not the Law; no, the Law was perfect in what it was designed to do. The Law was given so that we would know what to do to please God, so that we could understand what God wanted. All those regulations were to help us connect to God. The Law was a way of dealing with our sins. It showed us our sins – it told us when we hurt God’s heart. And it gave us a series of sacrifices to bring us back.