Summary: At Pentecost, God enabled Jesus' disciples to do what they could not do on their own. God fulfilled Jesus' promise to spread the gospel to all lands, as the pilgrims heard the good news in thier own language. God calls us, too, to be his witnesses.
Drawing on the Power of God
A few days after Thanksgiving this past year, Eric Heffelmire was working on his GMC truck at the family home in Vienna, Virginia when the truck fell, gasoline spilled, and a fire was ignited, all in an instant. Heffelmire recalls, "I was on my back, face up, and I was trying to get some corroded brake lines when apparently the jack slipped and fell down on me. Pinned me across right here on my shoulder." Then, there was an explosion. "I thought they'd be pulling out a dead body later in the evening," Heffelmire said.
Fortunately, his 19-year-old daughter Charlotte was home from the US Air Force Academy on Thanksgiving break. She heard the noise and came flying into the garage, barefoot, five foot six, and all 120 pounds of her. She saw her dad and still can't fully explain what happened next. "I lifted [the truck] the first time, he said 'OK, you almost got it,'" Charlotte said. "Finally managed to get it out, it was some crazy strength, pulled him out."
Once her dad was out, she got into the truck, still on fire, threw it into four-wheel drive, and drove it, on three wheels, out of the garage. Then she closed the garage doors to help contain the fire, and got everybody out of the house, starting with her sister's baby.
"I just did what I had to do, so I don't feel like a big hero or anything," Charlotte said. She was recognized with a Citizen Lifesaving Award by the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue and later received a $10,000 check from Shutterfly on the Ellen show.
Every so often we hear a story like Charlotte’s of superhuman power in time of need. People do the seemingly impossible, and they have no idea how they accomplish it. What if a power like that was available to every Christian believer? It is! The Holy Spirit is our power source for when God wants to do the impossible through us.
It all began with a promise Jesus left his disciples right before he ascended back into heaven. You’ll find it in the chapter before today’s reading, Acts chapter 1, verses 4-8:
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, [Jesus] gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized in water, but in a few days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. ... You 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.”
The word for “power” here is the Greek word “dunamis,” from which we get our English word “dynamite.” Notice it’s not a power that the disciples have on their own. They have to “receive” it when the Holy Spirit comes on them. And that power, God’s power, will enable them to be God’s witnesses in several specific locations.
First, Jesus starts with Jerusalem, their current city. Jesus tells his disciples they will be his witnesses there first, right where they are. Wherever we go, we are to be Jesus’ witnesses, right where we are, because God is with us; his Holy Spirit is in us.
Then Jesus extended their geographic coverage to include all Judea. That would be all of Texas for us. Judea was the home of the Jews, those who sought to keep their Jewish lineage pure. These assignments must have felt overwhelming to the rural fishermen from Galilee. But then ...
Jesus mentioned Samaria, the area to the North where, during an earlier captivity, the conquering Assyrians had intermarried Jews with non-Jews. Judeans considered these northern neighbors “half-Jews” at best, which in their mind was worse than a non-Jew. Judeans and Samaritans had built up centuries of prejudice and hate, walls which would have to fall for the gospel to travel to Samaria. Jesus still calls us today to be witnesses to our enemies, to extend his love even to them.
Finally, Jesus told his disciples they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, the “uttermost parts of the world.” How the disciples must have struggled to imagine that!
Yet at Pentecost God brought the whole world to their doorstep. Pentecost was one of the big three feasts of the Jewish year, along with Passover or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. “Pentecost” means “50” in Greek, because the feast falls 50 days after Passover. 50 days equates to seven weeks, or a week of weeks, so the Jews called the holiday the “Feast of Weeks.” As with the other two great feasts, Pentecost would have drawn displaced Jews from all over the known world, all coming to Jerusalem to worship together during this sacred time, to give thanks to God with the first fruits of the grain harvest.