A Day of Passion, Praise and Prophesying / The Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Let me ask you a question this morning: how many of you are bilingual, that is, you speak two languages? Or tri-lingual . . . if you want to show off? If so, were you raised speaking a language other than English, or did you learn that second language as an adult?

There’s a federal agency called the Foreign Service Institute that trains diplomats to operate in other countries. The folks at FSI also provide advanced language training in over 65 languages.

Sometime back, they ranked all the major languages according to how difficult they are to learn. They discovered that among the easier languages for English speaking people to learn are Swedish, Spanish and French. You want to guess the more difficult languages? How about Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Of course, some of us who speak only English have a difficult time getting it right.

If you are looking for a new challenge, though, and have some time on your hands, then you might want to consider learning another language. Who knows how God might use that skill to help others?

During the 2020 Olympic Games held in Tokyo, there was a heart-warming scene in which a Japanese surfer lost a surfing event to a Brazilian surfer. The Japanese surfer handled his defeat with grace, however.

In an interview after the competition, a reporter asked the Brazilian surfer a question in Japanese. The Japanese surfer, who speaks Japanese, English and some Portuguese, realized that his rival surfer spoke only Portuguese and had no way of understanding the reporter’s question or responding to it, so he graciously volunteered to serve as a translator. Fortunately, the interview went off seamlessly much to the relief of all involved.

But think about it. What a gift this Japanese surfer was able to give his competitor by translating the reporter’s questions into the Brazilian surfer’s native language. I think that’s a beautiful image to keep in mind as we read our scripture lesson this morning from Acts 2, the day of Pentecost. That, of course, is the day when the Holy Spirit gave ordinary men and women the ability to share the message of Jesus in multiple languages. In this way, they were able to fulfill the promise and the commission Jesus gave them to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

Our story begins like this, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” The “they” in this verse refers to about 120 people, followers of Jesus, both men and women who were waiting for the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised them just before He ascended into heaven. That’s not the part I want to focus on right now, however. Let’s focus on the last part of that verse, “they were all together in one place.”

The actual Greek word used here is a compound word, two separate words mashed together to create a new concept. It’s a difficult word to pronounce. So, I won’t try. This word is used only twelve times in the Bible, but it’s used ten times in the Book of Acts. The two words separately mean “to rush along” and “in unison.” To rush along in unison. It sounds like a good word to apply to a close-knit sports team, or to a professional orchestra. In the Book of Acts, it refers to a group of people who have one mind or one passion.

If we want to understand the story and the miracle of Pentecost, if we want to experience that same blessing in our church and community, then we must understand how it began. The blessing of Pentecost began with a shared passion. That’s a powerful concept, isn’t it? The idea of a group of people rushing along in unison, operating with one mind or one passion. And that passion was to honor Jesus Christ as Lord in a place and time where that declaration could get them persecuted or killed.

What if we developed that same shared passion to honor and live like Jesus in our culture no matter what sacrifices that required? What do you think a group of people can accomplish when they are completely of one mind and one passion?

When I think of the power of a shared passion, I think of the life of Frank Laubach, a missionary to the Philippines from 1915 to the late 1950s. Most of us probably don’t remember Frank Laubach’s name and that’s a shame. He was a great Christian.

There were few people who could read or write in the remote Philippine communities where Frank Laubach served, so he developed a simple literacy method that employed charts linking pictures with words and syllables. His instructional method was so effective that it was easily adapted into a worldwide system for teaching literacy.

But then Frank Laubach’s mission funding was reduced, and he couldn’t hire and train enough teachers to meet the needs of his community. When he told a local community leader about the problem, the man replied that he should encourage every new learner to teach someone else. They adopted the slogan “Each One Teach One,” and encouraged new learners to pass on their skills to others in their community. It didn’t take much encouragement because the new learners were so overjoyed and empowered by their newly acquired ability to read and write in their own language that they were passionate about sharing the gift of literacy with their friends and neighbors.

Since it was developed in the 1930s, Frank Laubach’s “Each One Teach One” system has been used to teach 60 million people around the world to read in their own language. Here’s something you probably didn’t know: Frank Laubach is the only missionary in the United States to have a postage stamp issued in his honor.

What inspired Frank Laubach’s passion for missions? I think we can see his inspiration in a quote from his writings: “Every person we ever meet,” he wrote, “is God’s opportunity.” Think about that: “Every person we ever meet is God’s opportunity.”

Let’s return to our Bible passage. As the believers were joined together with one mind, with one passion, waiting for Jesus’ promise to be fulfilled, the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Jesus Christ, came from heaven with the sound of a violent wind and the appearance of tongues of flame resting over their heads. And suddenly, each one of these 120 believers could speak in other languages. How amazing is that? The Holy Spirit filled the believers with the ability to speak in multiple languages but with only one message. Verse 11 says they were “declaring the wonders of God.”

The first blessing of Pentecost was a shared passion. And that shared passion resulted in the second blessing of Pentecost, which was an outbreak of praise. That’s what happens when the spirit of Jesus fills individuals or fills churches. We become passionate about declaring the wonders of God.

Pentecost is meant to be: a little preview of heaven. In Revelation 7, John is given a vision of what heaven will actually look like. In verse 9, he says he sees a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” And what is the great multitude doing? Singing praises for their salvation through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. So, Pentecost was a preview of this explosion of praise that naturally flows from God’s people.

But so is worship. Every time Jesus-followers get together to worship or pray and sing praises or learn the Bible or do mission projects, there should be an outbreak of praise. Think about your last few conversations at church? Did they revolve around politics, work issues, family issues, sports? Or did they revolve around declaring the wonders of God? If we want the transforming power of the church at Pentecost, then we need to start with a shared passion for God’s work and an outbreak of praise to God.

And the final blessing of Pentecost is a call to prophesy. Notice what Peter says in verses 17-18 when he quotes the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

Notice: it says All . . . Everybody. And they will prophesy . . . God isn’t just talking about those 120 believers who were there on the day of Pentecost. God is talking about a day when every believer will prophesy in God’s name. God is talking about you and me.

Don’t let the word “prophesy” scare you. Prophets are simply truth-tellers. They are chosen by God to share the message of God. A message of warning. A message of hope. But every prophet’s message is essentially the glorious and grace-filled message in verse 21 of our Bible passage today: And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. That’s the message you and I need to share with our family and friends and neighbors and co-workers and random strangers and everyone. Share it with your words. Share it with your actions. Share it with your life.

God didn’t pour out the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, so we could keep God’s glory and power and love and truth inside these four walls. A Franciscan friar from the 14th century once said, there is little good in filling churches with people who go out exactly the same as they came in; the call of the Church is not to fill churches but to fill heaven. I like that. The call of the Church is not to fill churches but to fill heaven.

You and I are called and equipped by the Holy Spirit to be prophets, to share the truth of God and salvation through Jesus Christ with everyone. Remember the words I quoted from Frank Laubach: every person we ever meet is God’s opportunity. What God-opportunities are right in front of you?

Remember the promise that the prophet Joel made around 700 years before the birth of Jesus? The promise that Peter quoted at the end of our Bible passage today: And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Pentecost was a world-changing moment. It was the moment when the Spirit of Jesus Christ was poured out on ordinary people, men and women from every tribe and nation and tongue for the purpose of accomplishing the work of Jesus Christ all over the world until the day that Jesus returns. It began with a shared passion. It resulted in an outbreak of praise. And it left behind a calling for all of us to prophesy, to tell the truth, to share the awesome grace of a God who promises that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.