And just like that, everything changed.
I wonder what they were thinking about on that day? Had they gathered together to celebrate the holidays or were they making plans for the future?
We don’t know where they were, why they were there or even who all was there. But we do know that what happened on that day changed history and ultimately changed the world.
It truly was The Day Everything Changed.
Most of us can point to a day that everything changed for us. Perhaps it was the day you first encountered the grace and forgiveness of God. The day that you knew without a doubt that your sins had been forgiven and you were a new creation, a child of God.
For people my age and older you can probably remember where you were on July 20, 1969.
I was watching a small black-and-white TV when I heard Neil Armstrong utter those words, “That’s one small step for … man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The day Neil Armstrong became the first of only 12 men to walk on the moon. Something that hasn’t been replicated in 38 years. Something that we were able to do a dozen times between 1969 and 1972, now seems to be out of reach and beyond our technology. Oh well.
The scripture that was read for us this morning tells of another Day that Everything Changed.
It had been seven weeks since the carpenter from Nazareth had been crucified. A lot of things had happened since the day the Romans had nailed Jesus of Nazareth to a crude cross and hung him on Golgotha to die. Probably the greatest thing that happened was that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Three days after he was placed in a borrowed tomb, it was empty. Three days after the apostles had given up hope; hope had been given back to them. Three days after the devil had tasted victory he saw defeat. Three days after the religious leaders had celebrated his death they had to cope with his resurrection.
During the time after his resurrection Christ had appeared to his apostles both individually and collectively. He had made them breakfast on the beach at Galilee and gave them the great commission on top of a mountain. He had promised them that the Holy Spirit would come, appeared to a crowd of five hundred and then ascended into heaven in front of his followers.
Ten days after Christ had left they found themselves in a room in Jerusalem doing just what Christ had commanded them to do. They were waiting.
It is interesting to note that even at this point they had a pretty firm grasp about how to play church; they were busy with administrative functions. Nobody was saved, but they did have the opportunity to vote Matthias in as an Apostle.
When I was a young teen my Dad, who was a tugboat captain at the time, used to take me to work with him when I wasn’t in school. That was cool.
And one day he pointed to a deckhand on one of the other tugs and said, “Watch and see what Jack does.”
And so I watched. Jack was carrying a paint can and a paint brush, but in all the time I watched him, I never actually saw him paint anything. But every time you looked, there went Jack, with a can of paint and a paint brush. The man always looked busy.
It’s amazing that even today churches have captured that ability to look busy while basically not doing anything. Every year at our district conference there are churches that report that haven’t seen a single person come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, they haven’t celebrated a single baptism.
But they continued to function as bureaucratic entities. They formed boards, they elected people to fill roles, they filed reports, so they did all the things which would ensure that they would continue to exist as an organization.
And so here the believers were, gathered together to celebrate Pentecost. Acts 2:1 On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.
Pentecost is a New Testament name for an Old Testament festival. When most of us think of Pentecost we think of Christianity, but as is the case with most of Christianity the true beginnings of Pentecost are rooted in Judaism.
The word comes from the root word for fifty and literally is fifty days after Passover. Let’s clarify though, when Christians celebrate Passover the fifty days are measured from Easter Sunday.
Historically the Pentecost celebration commemorated the giving of the law to Moses and also had agricultural significance. In recognition of that the crops first Omar or two quarts, or 1.89 litres of barley were brought to the altar as an offering along with two loaves of barley bread.
Pentecost was a day of celebration. Servant labour was prohibited and so it was a holiday for all. Presumably the believers had made their sacrifices, remember they were all good Jews, and now they were together, whether they were in anxious anticipation over whether this would be the day that the Holy Spirit would come or if they were just sitting around enjoying each other’s company, we’ll never know this side of eternity, all we know is that they were together in one place.
I had said earlier that we don’t know who was in the upper room for sure.
We’re not even 100% sure how many people were there that day. In Acts 1:15 we are told that the total number of disciples was about 120, we don’t know if that included kids and we don’t know that all 120 were in the room at that point.
We can kind of guess who the “they” were that are mentioned in this first verse. We don’t know for sure, but we can make some guesses.
Acts 1:13 tells us that ten days earlier right after Christ had ascended Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the zealot, and Judas son of James, got together in Jerusalem.
Luke also tells us that they were with “the women”.
Who were the women? Well if we had to guess, there are several mentioned in Jesus’ life they including Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Martha and Salome the mother of James and John.
We are told in Acts 1 that Jesus’ mother and brothers were there as well.
So that’s Mary, Jude, and James. The two new candidates for apostleship were there, so that would be Matthias, and Joseph called Barabbas.
Maybe Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would have been there as well. And we can’t forget that Luke’s giving us the account and so that would still leave 97 of the original 120 who we don’t know their names.
It was Groucho Marx who said, “Although it is generally known, I think it’s about time to announce that I was born at a very early age.” And the church was born at a very early age as well, and today, Pentecost Sunday is its birthday.
We may not know exactly who all was there that day but whoever they were the NKJV tells us Acts 2:1NKJV When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all in one accord in one place. How they got that many people in a Honda is a mystery to me, but at least they were parked.
But right there in that one little phrase is the secret to a church that is going to succeed and that is they were moving in one direction. If a church is to go forward, then everyone needs to be aimed at a common goal.
One of my favourite books as a child was Dr. Doolittle and one of the amazing animals in Dr. Doolittle’s menagerie was a Push Me Pull You, kind of looked like a lama with a head on either end. And it was constantly pulling itself in different directions, directions that one end or the other didn’t want to go. And sometimes the church is like that. Being in one accord doesn’t mean that we always have common consensus, but it does mean that we have co-operation.
It was fifteen years ago that we were moving ahead with construction on our present building. Here’s what the building looked like fifteen years ago.
Not everyone agreed that the building should be on this site, or the size of the building, or what it would look like or the colour of the carpet.
But even though we didn’t agree on every detail, we shared a common vision. We knew that we needed a church building to call home. And we knew that we needed to cooperate if we are going to get the job done.
As we move ahead, here, with what is happening at Cornerstone Gatehouse, and nearby with what will happen at Cornerstone Windgate, and far away with what will happen with our village partnership in Kenenday in Sierra Leone, we will need to all be in one Accord. Although personally I’d prefer a Camry, but hey, I’m a Toyota guy.
We need to have a common goal, do we want to remain a medium sized church, do we want to be a large church of five or six hundred or do we want to be a mega church that will have an impact not only on our immediate area but on the other churches in the area as well as the churches in the denomination? We’ve already decided that we will be a multi-site church, that happened 19 years ago when we launched our weekly services at the Berkeley in Bedford.
What are our desires for Cornerstone, what are our goals?
These men and women knew what they wanted, they wanted the Holy Spirit. After all that is what they were promised in John 14:26 But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
And again in Acts 1:8 Jesus told the apostles Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. They had already experienced failure on their own, that’s why they went back fishing. They had been promised power, and that power is what they were waiting for.
And so there they were, waiting and probably enjoying each other’s company, and when it happened, it was incredible.
I mean, you wouldn’t have believed it unless you were there.
Oh sorry, Luke tells us about it in Acts 2:2-3 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.
And so there they were, in one accord, 50 days after the crucifixion celebrating Pentecost, as all good Jews were, and two things happened. The first was that a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven, and secondly what appeared to be tongues of fire came to rest on each of them. Neat huh, bet that would shake things up in your average Wesleyan church, wouldn’t it?
Now let’s not confuse the signs of the Holy Spirit with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit isn’t fire, and the Spirit isn’t wind.
I’m sure you remember what you learned in grammar in elementary school. At least some of it. A simile is a comparison using like or as.
So there was a sound from heaven, like the roaring of a mighty windstorm. And there were what looked like flames or tongues of fire.
Another example comes from the account of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:16-17 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.
And regardless of all the pictures you’ve seen, the Holy Spirit doesn’t look like a bird. You ok?
For just a minute let’s take a look in the Old Testament way back to 1 Kings 19:11-12 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.
Sound familiar? Earthquake, wind and fire? Sounds like a rock group. The wind and fire were signs, sent to prepare the people for what was supposed to happen next.
You see, as often is the case, the problem isn’t that we don’t listen to God, the problem is that we’re not paying attention. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in the here and now that we miss hearing from the eternal. And God has to get our attention.
Sometimes it just takes a word. When the Holy Spirit came to Mary in Luke 1:35 there was no wind or fire.
When the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in John 1:33, he came as gently as a dove. But sometimes there’s a need to get our attention.
Now I don’t know what was going on in that room before the wind and fire arrived, but I would suspect that God had their undivided attention after the wind and fire arrived.
Everybody’s ready, they know something’s going to happen and if we continue to read in our narrative Acts 2:4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
Again two things happen. The first is that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Filled as in, completely filled. Not a little bit filled. Not half filled. Not three quarters filled, but filled, filled, filled.
Jesus has gone, but the comforter has come in his place just like Jesus had promised, and the very first thing that the believers did was to speak in other languages.
Now you can ignore that, or you can skip over that, or you can rationalize that but no matter what you do with it, it will not go away. The only way you can get that out of your bible is to cut it out, but it will still be in mine.
Now to be truthful I don’t know what came out of the mouth of those believers on that day, could have been Greek, or Hebrew, or Swahili, it might even have been Canadian, eh. I don’t have a clue.
But I do know what went into the ears of the people outside. They each heard God being praised in their native tongue. Now that’s neat.
I once heard from a reputable source of a Wesleyan missionary who had to travel to another part of the country he was serving in where they spoke a different dialect than he knew, and even though he had never learned that particular language he was able to communicate in it for the time he spent there. But when he left that area, the ability to speak in the dialect was gone.
Now there are all kinds of disputes that we could get into at this point. You know the things people love to fight over, “you always speak in tongues when you are filled with the Holy Spirit” or “You never speak in tongues when you are filled with the Holy Spirit”.
“You aren’t saved unless you speak in tongues” “no , no, no you aren’t saved if you do speak in tongues.”
You see, what happens is that too many of us are guilty of putting God in a theological box; we say this is our position so get in there. I have met many wonderful spirit-filled people who have claimed the experience of speaking in tongues, I can’t just write them off. On the other hand, I have met many wonderful spirit-filled people who have never claimed the experience of speaking in tongues. Go figure.
I have never spoken in tongues, probably never will speak in an unknown language. I have problems enough with the language I do know.
But I have met a wonderful saviour named Jesus Christ and have been filled with the Holy Spirit and nobody can say that I haven’t.
Our church is not a charismatic church and the Wesleyan discipline states that we will not use tongues in worship nor will we promote them.
But the bible does say in Acts 2:4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. It wasn’t instantaneous, it was as the Spirit gave them the ability. Now we shouldn’t have a problem here.
Acts 2:5-6 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
In saying that let’s recognize the fact that we’re not talking about a couple of different languages here instead we are told acts Acts 2:9-11 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!”
And so at least in this particular reference to tongues it would appear that whatever language these men and women spoke in, while it was unknown to them, it was known to others.
Sometimes I wonder if the miracle was in the speaking or in the hearing?
But the gift of tongues isn’t the major issue here.
The fact of the matter is, it was simply a tool provided to them so that they could fulfil the promise that Jesus had made in Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
These disciples were told that they would be filled with power and would be witnesses to places that they had only heard of. How would they speak the language? Hey, no problem, the Holy Spirit has you covered.
Where would they get the courage? Hey, no problem, the Holy Spirit has you covered.
This group was certainly on their way to be a church that was ingrown and stagnant and then suddenly they were proclaiming the greatness and wonder of their Lord so loud that people on the street wondered what was happening.
The miracle here was not the language that they spoke in, but that they had the courage to speak in any language at all.
This is the same bunch that ran and hid when Jesus was arrested.
As far as we can tell this was the first time that Peter had ever preached to a crowd this size and three thousand people were saved.
“Incredible.” you say “Denn why doesn’t that happen when you preach?” Good question, but then again when was the last time that you were so filled with the Holy Spirit that three thousand people showed up to find out what was happening.
When the crowd came and saw the believers do you know what their reaction was? Yeah, some made fun of them saying “They are drunk, that’s all!” I bet it’s been a while since anyone mistook our salvation for intoxication.
From these 120 people, men and women who were filled with the Holy Spirit, the world was changed.
On a typical Sunday morning, before everything changed, we had over twice that number worshipping at Cornerstone, I wonder what God could do with us if we let him?