Summary: What happened at this Jewish feast called Pentecost? Why did it draw so much attention? What does it mean for us today?
Fifty days had passed since Passover. Jesus has ascended to heaven, having left the disciples with instruction to wait in Jerusalem until the promised Counselor would come upon them with power. The city of Jerusalem was teeming with Jews whom had come on pilgrimage to celebrate Pentecost, the feast where they commemorate the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. This name comes from the fact that the events on Mt. Sinai occurred 50 days after the exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt.
Among the crowds, the disciples (with potentially about 120 of their closest friends) had gathered in a house, praying and waiting for the promised Counselor. Little did they know that this was to be no ordinary Pentecost celebration but that God was marking a new beginning in His plan of salvation for all of mankind. As they were huddled together in the house, God responds to their prayers and moves in a mighty way. Luke describes a sound like a violent wind and tongues of fire appearing above the disciples’ heads as they began speaking languages none of these men from Galilee would have previously learned but were understood by Jews who had gathered from all over the Roman Empire that day.
The crowds took notice of what was happening. Who were these men who clearly are not from where we live yet are able to speak in such a way that we understand them in our native language? If you look at the text, you can see in the text that there are Jews representing regions in which at least 15 different languages are spoken. This scene would look like several of us from our lily white congregation decide to trek into downtown Chicago and begin to proclaim the gospel message and no matter where the hearers were from, they’d understand what we were saying. This drew the people’s curiosity.
Trying to figure out what to make of the situation, some chose to make fun and ridicule the disciples, proclaiming they must be drunk. We tend to do the same sort of thing today, making fun of what we don’t understand. How many jokes do we know about stereotypes and labels we’ve given to other groups and even our own? Maybe it’s a comment about how an individual expressed themselves in worship. Maybe it’s a sweeping generalization about another denomination. These things rarely help us build bridges as we reach out to people for Christ.
Then Peter stands up to correct the misunderstanding and delivers what we know to be the first sermon and the birth of the church. He begins by explaining what the people are witnessing. Read Acts 2:14-21. First, Peter reassures the crowd of what they are not seeing. “These people are not drunk, it’s only 9:00 in the morning!” You can hear the reassurance in his voice- he knows the character of the folks he’s with, they’re good Jewish people. Even though they are here for a celebration, it’s much too early for any of them to be drunk.
He then points them back to their scriptures, to the prophet Joel and points out that what they are witnessing is part of the fulfillment of prophecy. The part they are seeing right then was the beginning of the final days, the birth of the church leading to an age when people could find salvation through following Jesus as Lord. The rest of the fulfillment is yet to come, when Jesus returns- the Day of the Lord- Judgment Day.
Peter continues by explaining why they are witnessing these things now. Read Acts 2:22-36. These happened because Jesus is the man promised by God. This was proven over and over again by the miracles, wonders, and signs that Jesus did to demonstrate that He came from God. There were many who witnessed these things, likely some right there in the crowd even. Yet the Jews, with the help of evil men, the Romans, crucified Jesus on the cross.
Not only was Jesus the man promised by God, He is also divine- part of the triune God. God raised Him from the dead, death has no hold over Jesus. Peter points to David’s psalms prophesying that God had promised an eternal throne. Yet David was still in his grave- they could go find his body even then. But to go to the tomb of Jesus would be to go and find an empty grave. And then Peter drives home his point. This Jesus, whom you crucified, is both Lord- master, leader, the one in charge- and Christ- messiah, anointed one, savior.
The people listen, recognize the truth in what Peter is saying, and are cut to the core with the realization of their guilt. They cry out in their despair- “What should we do?’ Peter responds with a two-step process for their salvation now that they believe in Jesus.