Summary: There is an idea in our culture that recognizing our inability or insufficiency is somehow contrary to the principles of success. Self-confidence and high-powered, aggressive personalities seem to be what takes the day.
A Tour Through Acts ~ part 2
Inadequacy Encountering Sufficiency
Acts 2:1-4, 14
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 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. (Acts 2:1-4)
As the apostles’ heads were bowed in prayer, a breeze began to move across them, and then it was more than a breeze. It was literally, “an echoing sound as of a mighty wind borne violently” roared through the house like the whirr of a tornado, so that their robes flapped wildly. The Spirit of God was coming upon them! A fiery presence was in their midst, and it suddenly divided into separate flame-like tongues that individually danced over the heads of those present. Fire had always meant the presence of God. Through John the Baptist, God had promised a baptism with fire (Matthew 3:11), and now it was here. They were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and in an electrifying instant began to speak in other languages—literally, “as the Spirit continued giving them to speak out in a clear, loud voice.” They spoke as clearly and powerfully as the Old Testament prophets.
This event may seem mysterious, with its “wind,” “fire,” and supernatural utterance. It has a primal ring like the Greeks’ earth, fire, wind, and water. But in the Jewish context the phenomenon was perfectly understandable. The Hebrew word for “wind,” ruah, and the Greek word pneuma are both used for the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel used ruah to describe the Spirit of God moving over a valley of dry bones representing a spiritually dead Jewish nation, so that suddenly there was thunder and the clattering of bones as they came together “bone to bone.” Then came the wonderfully macabre spectacle of growing sinews and flesh, and finally skin, and then Ezekiel’s words at God’s command:
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. (Ezekiel 37:9–10)
At Pentecost, the reviving winds of the Spirit came upon the apostles with incredible spiritual life and power. In a future day this will achieve final fulfillment in the Messianic Age. The apostles now had God’s life-giving Spirit in a more intimate and powerful way than anyone had ever known.
First “wind,” then “fire.” Fire is a symbol of God’s presence throughout the Bible, beginning with Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2–4) and continuing with the consuming fire on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:17). The fire at Pentecost indicated God’s presence, just as its resting on Israel demonstrated a corporate unity. However, a new significance came when the fire divided into flames dancing over the individual apostles. The Spirit now rests upon each believer individually. The emphasis from Pentecost onwards is on the personal relationship of God to the believer through the Holy Spirit. The inner pillar of fire burns away our dross, flames forth from our inner being, and brings to us a sense of God’s presence and power. The fire of God!
First “wind,” then “fire,” then divinely empowered utterance. In the Old Testament, inspired speech was regularly associated with the Spirit’s coming upon God’s servants, as in the case of Eldad and Medad (Numbers 11:26–29) and of Saul (1 Samuel 10:6–12). Pentecost was the day par excellence of such speech. To the observant Jew, it was easy to see that the Holy Spirit had come. When he comes to God’s people, he brings wind, fire, and utterance.
How did the apostles feel when the heavens began to roar so loudly that the sound attracted a vast multitude from all corners of Jerusalem? Surely there was some surprise in the Upper Room. What was it like when the flames began flashing over their heads and they began speaking languages they did not know? Some began to speak in perfect Latin, others in other languages and dialects. The burning expectancy of the last fifty days, the persistent emptiness, was suddenly fulfilled. What did they feel in relation to God and to one another? We get some idea from Ephesians 5:18–21, where Paul carefully explains the experience by first counseling the Ephesians to be filled and then explains what this means in four subordinate participles.
Really, a sense of our own inadequacy is a gift. To recognize that we have a need may be the first step in seeing that need met. Feeling our own inability or insufficiency may seem like a negative thing, when in fact it may be quite the opposite.