The Eucharist for the Feast of Pentecost from the Benefice of St Martin's Dorking
31 May 2020
What on earth is going on? (Acts 2:1-21)
How difficult it must have been that day when Jesus’ friends were gathered in Jerusalem to work out what on earth was going on! Small wonder that we read that they were bewildered and troubled, even as they were amazed at the same time. I guess we may be feeling a little bit like that at present. Strangely enough it may help us to go all the way back to Genesis 11 to help us to understand why this had to happen.
Blown apart! (Genesis 11:1-9)
Back in Genesis 11 it seems that everybody spoke the same language and then they did something very stupid. They decided to build themselves a massive tower to reach to Heaven without any reference to the God who made Heaven and earth and made them as well and to whom they owed everything. It sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it? They were promoting themselves and, to quote a snippet of conversation I overhead the other day, “taking control of their own destiny”. Good luck with that one at the moment! They thought they could protect themselves against being scattered but, there’s an old saying of Woody Allen, “if you want to make Him laugh, tell Him your plans!”. No way was God going to allow that because they were usurping His place and so He scatters and confuses them. Just as if you and I are determined to do things “my way” (Frank Sinatra!), we are doomed to failure sooner or later just as their plans came to nothing. This is a pattern which has been repeated ever since for anyone who tries to live without the Lord. As Christ Himself said to his friends, “Apart from me, you can do NOTHING”. With Him it’s an entirely different story as we shall now see. And as we look at what happened that day remember the Lord Jesus told them it was coming and that is why they had to wait in Jerusalem.
Brought back together again! (Acts 2:1-21)
Even when we were all going our own way the Lord didn’t give up on us which is why the Lord Jesus came to live among us and die for us and rise again. The astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, said that, “far greater than man going to the moon, was God coming to earth”. He came to do what no man could ever do and that was to open Heaven to us. And now He has returned to Heaven and what the Bible calls the “last days” have begun. We live between the two comings of Christ and during that time He has sent His Holy Spirit who makes Jesus real for us, always pointing to the Lord Jesus and not to Himself.
Just as at Babel, this group of some 120 believers were gathered together but there the similarity ends. They weren’t gathered together to promote themselves but to obey Him and to do what He said. It has been rightly said that, at Babel, earth proudly tried to ascend to Heaven and that in Jerusalem Heaven humbly descended to earth. Just as the Lord had done the scattering, now he did the gathering.
There is no explanation for what follows except that He is totally in charge. The day itself was the day of Pentecost, a kind of harvest thanksgiving reminding folk then and us now of our total dependence on Him. Small wonder for them it seemed weird but also wonderful. Each of them, in their own language, was told about the wonders of God and the greatest of those wonders was that the Lord had come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Those speaking that day were given a very rare gift to give the good news in the language of each person who was listening. It doesn’t very often happen that way, but every time you and I hear the Good News, and it hits home to us personally, that is the Holy Spirit at work. For example, read John 3:16 and take out “the world” and put in your own name and then put in the name of the person you find most difficult! What happened that day tells us that background and ethnic origins do not matter two hoots. Christ died for them and for us, whoever we are and whatever we have done, but the key question is how do we react? Some were dismissive and came up with a nonsensical explanation of drunkenness, which Peter dismisses for the nonsense that it was. But the other reaction was to be responsive. They were amazed and perplexed. They asked one another what it meant, and they listened to Peter as he told them. He told them that all of these events had been prophesied and, in what he says, Peter seems to show how this old prophesy of Joel points to the two comings of the Lord Jesus. The first has just happened, the second is yet to come. By the way we shouldn’t miss another miracle that day and that is the amazing change in Peter, no longer cowardly but now courageous. That is the Holy Spirit for you!
It may be that we have been dismissive or disinterested or maybe just puzzled and wondering if it is all too good to be true. Can I suggest there is no better time than now to take a second at the words of this wonderful hymn…….
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.