Power and Purpose

Power and Purpose

Service Video (link)
TEXT: Acts 2:1-13,37-39

Last week I noted that we often focus on two of the significant parts of what God did in Jesus Christ: the Incarnation and the Crucifixion. Jesus was God come among us and he died for us and our salvation.

In the past seven weeks or so we have focused on two more significant parts of what God did in Christ, though these two get less attention, and often less understanding: the Resurrection and the Ascension. But those are the two things that have to do with our lives now, defining our identity and new life in Christ.

Today – Pentecost Sunday – we focus on one more very significant act of God, one promised by Jesus as he ascended. Last week we heard his final words to his followers, that he would send his Spirit to empower his followers to be witnesses of God and what God has done in Christ. And that is exactly what happened on Pentecost. In today’s text we see three human responses to that power and witness. Like those disciples, God empowers us to bear witness in the world. And people still have responses today like those all those years ago.

POWER (vv. 1-13)

First, in verses 1-13, in response to the power of the Holy Spirit, displayed through “tongues of fire” and hearing the disciples speak in multiple languages, there are two distinct responses.

  1. Amazed and astonished (vv. 7-12) – Many of those present on the day of Pentecost heard the Galilean Jews speaking in their own language. A long list of nationalities is included in the passage. We read in v. 7 that some “were amazed and astonished” and continued “in amazement and great perplexity.” They asked each other what it all meant. I’d call this a holy curiosity.
  • Doubtful, even mocking (v. 13) – Others were neither amazed or astonished, rationalizing and writing it off to drunkenness on the part of the disciples. Some pressed even further and made fun of the disciples.

I’ve seen both reactions. I’ve had both reactions. We see something we don’t understand and we have to decide between the natural and the supernatural explanation. And some of us are probably more open to mystery and miracle than others, which is understandable. Having said that, to descend into outright mockery of the divine or of faith is another thing altogether. I’ve come to realize that making fun of God or followers of God usually is a cover for something else that is often between that person and God.

Nonetheless, what occurs to me, especially knowing what is coming, is that there is no shortage of God’s power here in this passage, and yet it is not at this point that people respond in faith. I’ve often heard – and thought myself – that if God would just unleash a few good tangible and measurable miracles, that many would believe. But this makes me question that. Probably it would just scare us and the best we’d manage is to either write it off or to be amazed without understanding.

And this is where the way that God has arranged things begins to make more sense to me. Why is it that God chooses to involve us in witnessing to His power? It is because we respond to story; we respond to incarnation – to fleshed-out reality. The WITNESS is an integral part of belief and it is how we participate in what God is doing in the world.

WITNESS (vv. 37-39)

  • Believing, pierced to the heart (v. 37) – So after Peter shares the story of Jesus, we read that those present were “pierced to the heart.”

In our scripture reading, Peter’s message is just referenced as ‘this’ – “Now when they heard this” (v. 37). What Peter had done in verses 14-36 was what Jesus told him to do: he gave witness. Here are the Cliffs notes to Peter’s sermon: Peter talked about God’s promise to send his Spirit. He talked about God’s plan to send Jesus into the world. He talked about history and hopes and the great themes and stories of incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. He talked about and gave witness to Jesus as Lord.

And the people heard it. They heard it because it resonated with truth and it resonated with power – God’s truth and God’s power. Peter just gave witness to both. They believed it and were “pierced to the heart” – and their response back to Peter was, “What shall we do?” (v. 37) Peter answered in three ways:

First, REPENT; turn around. Stop going that way and go this way. Listen to what God’s power and truth are doing in your heart right now.

And ACT outwardly on that inward change. Receive baptism as a sign of God’s forgiveness of your sin. Take the mark; humble yourself. Take God’s story into and onto your story through this rich symbol of belonging.

And GET READY; God will also give you the gift of His Spirit. That’s not just a personal promise, but God’s story unfolding in you, the next generations, and many yet far off.

How Will YOU Respond?

The practical question that raises for all of us is this: what will YOU do with Jesus? Which of those responses best fits where you are today?

Does all of this God-stuff just sound like mysteries and miracles? Or like mythological stories empty of real power and meaning? At the end of the day, you just don’t get it?

Or has the way Christianity has developed in so many places in our culture given you reason to disbelieve or mock? If so, I get it; I do.

In fact, those are the two most common responses out there; confusion or disbelief. What of the third option? When does that happen for us, separated by thousands of years from Pentecost and eye-witness disciples?

I think – and I think scripture teaches us – that what pierces us to the heart, stirring up faith and repentance and obedience, is God’s power combined with authentic testimony or witness. It’s not enough to just tell the Bible stories if we don’t seek and welcome God’s presence and power. And I don’t think we could handle or believe God showing up without the context, instruction, and explanation of scripture and lives lived out for the sake of Christ. But when both happen, and I believe they both still do, I think that’s when faith is stirred. That’s when our hearts are pierced by truth and grace and we become open to God working in our life.

When you get the scent of God showing up and the Holy Spirit, what will you do? Do you clamp down and push away the possibilities? Are you open to repentance, to change, to God shaking things up?

In the weeks and months to come, as you have a period of time without a called pastor, God is still here and the Holy Spirit is still at work with power. And you – each of you – have the capacity and the calling to bear witness to what God has done in your life. So you have all the ingredients necessary for people to come to faith, for God to shape and grow the church, and to thrive.

And the next verses in Acts provide one picture of what happens when God gets a hold of individuals and communities of faith. The people who responded to the message, the Spirit, and the Savior were “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Inviting God to come be involved in the most intimate parts of your life will draw you deeper into the family of God through the Church. You will hunger to hear the Word; you will desire the encouragement and accountability of fellowship in the body; you will desire to be fed by the Word and sacrament; and you will desire to talk more often and deeply with your Heavenly Father in prayer.

Come; repent; believe – whether for the first time or a new time. And receive both grace and the promised Spirit of help and hope. Amen!