Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pentecost - Filled with New Wine

Acts 2:1-21

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”  12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.  19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.  21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Pentecost was a Jewish celebration long before it was a Christian one. It was one of the designations of the Feast of Weeks, which came after Passover. In Jesus’ day, Pentecost was a time to renew the covenant God made with Noah. This festival day seems to be the reason the disciples gathered in one place. They were good Jews and wanted to observe the holy day.

Jesus had ascended to heaven, leaving his disciples behind. He had told them that God would give them a great gift after he departed. Jesus had indicated it would be the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we hear that the Holy Spirit was not among human beings until the day of Pentecost, but that’s not the case. The spirit of God moved over the surface of the waters, says Genesis. Ezekiel and Isaiah both spoke of the Spirit, as did the Psalmist. Of course, Peter spoke of the Holy Spirit when he quoted the book of Joel in his sermon in our passage.

So the disciples were waiting for something to happen, but they didn’t know exactly what or when. The Scriptures don’t tell us what they were actually doing just before the Spirit hit them. Of course, what matters is not what they were doing before, but what they did after.

What would we have seen if we had we been present on the day of Pentecost? The Scriptures say there was a sound like the rush of a violent wind and “divided tongues, as of fire,” which rested on each of them.

In the Old Testament the word for wind and the word for spirit are the same. Was it the wind of God, the breath of God, or the spirit of God which moved over the surface of the deep as Genesis opens? Take your pick, the word for all of them is the same.

So this wind that Acts tells of isn’t just some brisk breeze, maybe not even something that the disciples felt muss up their hair. They heard something that sounded like wind, but wasn’t necessarily something you could fly a kite in.

One thing we know about both wind and fire, though. They are both energy. Fire spreads quickly when pushed by the wind. And maybe that’s what Acts is trying to say happened on that day of Pentecost: The Spirit of God pushed into the disciples as irresistibly a strong wind, and the fire of God set them ablaze with apostolic fervor. And their message spread quickly, like a wind-driven wildfire out of control. Just a few verses later, we are told that three thousand people were baptized into Christian discipleship that day. I imagine poor Peter and the other apostles were just about exhausted when they finally went to bed that night. And ever since, the church has counted Pentecost as its birthday.

The immediate effect of these tongues, as of fire, was that the Jews from every nation who were in Jerusalem heard the gospel being proclaimed in their own language. The passage lists about seventeen different languages, ranging from Latin to Arabic. It was such a babbling mess that some onlookers sneered and accused the apostles and others of being filled with new wine.

Now, there’s an interesting image: filled with new wine. New wine was a metaphor Jesus had used. Luke 5 records that some Pharisees complained that Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus answered them, "Those who are healthy don't need a doctor. Sick people do. I have not come to get those who think they are right with God to follow me. I have come to get sinners to turn away from their sins."

Then some other people present chimed in that Jesus’ disciples were not properly pious – they didn’t pray enough or fast. Jesus answered, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the new wine will burst the skins. The wine will run out, and the wineskins will be destroyed. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. After people drink old wine, they don't want the new. They say, 'The old wine is better.' "

I knew a master welder who told me that he would not take on as apprentices someone who already knew how to weld. “Too many bad habits,” he explained. In the same way, Jesus was explaining that he chose disciples who had not already been ruined by the church – I mean by the Pharisees. People who are complacent in their religion, who have become comfortably numb and self-satisfied in orderly routines of religion, are poor candidates for revival and effective discipleship.

The Pentecost scoffers are absolutely right, then, that the disciples and others are filled with new wine, though not for the reason they think. Peter caught on to their insult right away. He jumped up and threw their mockery right back at them: “Hey, we’re not drunk! It’s only nine in the morning!” I bet that got a laugh, because the unspoken implication is that they might get drunk later—say, about the same time the scoffers would. Peter turned their mockery into a joke, got the crowd on his side and proceeded to give the first recorded sermon by a follower of Jesus Christ.

Peter’s whole sermon is about being filled with new wine. Not fruit of the vine, but spiritual power by the blood of Christ, shed for all for the forgiveness of sins. We use wine in remembrance of Christ’s blood every time we share communion. We come to the Lord’s table asking for God to pour out the Holy Spirit on all of us gathered here. And in faith we believe God does. Every communion is a little Pentecost, when we are filled with new wine and the Holy Spirit.

So Peter talks about a new thing in the world. The spirit shall be poured out on both men and women. Young and old shall receive this new wine; they shall prophesy and dream dreams of divine revelation. Creation itself will give witness to the grand things God is doing to save all humanity and all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

A fellow named Bud Ogle is a church worker in Chicago. One year, the evening before Easter Day, Bud saw a cluster of women standing on a street corner. Normally only prostitutes and drug pushers worked the streets that time of night, yet these women did not appear to be either. He got closer and recognized two of them, regular attendees at his church.

The women told him, “We’re reclaiming this street corner for God. We’re taking it back from the drug dealers.” Spontaneously, they had decided to stand vigil against the forces of evil in the neighborhood.

A few hours later, during the Easter sunrise service, seven people spoke, three of them newly recovering addicts. “I was good as dead,” said one. “Now, with the help of Jesus and all of you, I’m coming back to life.”

Why is it that it seems that drug addicts or prostitutes or persons with similar dysfunctions are apparently the only ones who realize that they are good as dead if something isn’t done? Listen, we are all as good as dead unless we are filled with the new wine of Jesus Christ!

Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if one Sunday during our worship service some people going thought that we were all drunk, even though it’s only ten-thirty in the morning? Maybe they’d pull in and ask, “Hey, what’s with you people?” And we’d answer, “We’re filled with new wine!” – the new wine of Jesus Christ, the new life in Jesus Christ, because of the blood he shed for our sake. 

If you go to Jerusalem today you can visit the Upper Room, where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with his disciples. You can visit the court where Pilate sentenced him to death and walk the route Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha. Yet the room where the events of this passage took place is unknown. There is a tradition that these events took place in the Upper Room, but the Bible does not say that.

Why is the place of this day lost to history? I think it is because there was nothing about the location that was significant. The significance was what happened, not where.

Something amazing happen to a group of quite ordinary people. They had their nostalgic memories of the past (“Remember when Jesus fed the five thousand? Those were the good old days”). Then they were jerked into the future, to bring it about by work in the present life of the world. When the Holy Spirit hit them, it hit them all together, at the same time, and it blew them right out of their meeting room into the mean streets of Jerusalem and the world.

It was the transformation of a group of folks newly given something ultimate to do, to tell the entire world about Life. And they were given the ability and power to do it, the power of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason, perhaps, the place of Pentecost is unknown. The apostles did not end the day by hanging a sign out front that said, "Holy Spirit come here Sundays, join us." They carried the Good News out into the world. They did not expect the world to come to them.

If we believe that the great days of the Church are in the past, then we must also believe that the great work of Christ’s sustainment is waning. What happened on Pentecost can happen again—here and now—when we are willing to be picked up, possessed of God, and be used as God’s instruments, when we are willing to set aside the pleasures and profits of the secular world so we can be instruments of God’s love and witnesses to Christ’s salvation.

On these Sundays when we are together in one place, God comes into our lives to renew our redemption and our redemptive purpose, to heal our wounds and sustain us in our community of faith. God sends us to carry each other’s burdens, to meet one another’s difficulties, to encourage one another. God calls us to live above mundane things and to rise above despair and anxiety. God calls us to God’s self, to seek God’s face in our hearts and the hearts of others. So we meet together. May the Holy Spirit rest on us and send us out of the church as witnesses into the streets where we live and work.

Let us pray to hear a sound like rushing wind and be visited by tongues as of fire. If the Lord chooses to bless us with a new Pentecost, then may he blow us out of our comfort zones and away from the old and familiar so that we, like the apostles, will go into the world with the Good News of Christ Jesus.

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