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Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, May 24, 2015

What Does This Mean?

TEXT: Acts 2:1-13

This spring, there has been a huge outbreak of violent weather in the heartland of our nation. Tornadoes by the hundreds have hit parts of Oklahoma, Texas, and a number of other states. On several occasions, I have heard people describe what it was like being in their house when the tornado roared through. It sounds like something other-worldly, something louder and more frightening than they are able to describe. That is probably the sound the Bible is talking about when it tells us of the day of Pentecost. It was ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven. The disciples were together in a house in Jerusalem, waiting, as Jesus had instructed them. He had said to them:

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” [Acts 1:4-5]

As we read this morning in the Book of Acts, that day arrived on Pentecost. God kept His promise and sent His Holy Spirit upon them with power. The house was engulfed by the sound of a mighty rushing wind. And it was as if tongues of fire came over each of their heads, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And that day, the Church and its mission took off like a wildfire, blown by a rushing wind.

The people in the crowd weren’t ready for this. They weren’t prepared for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t expect it. They didn’t recognize it. They didn’t grasp what was going on. Notice in verse 12, how the people reacted, “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’”

Jerusalem was a crowded city that day. People had come to observe the Pentecost festival. It was a feast day to thank God for the springtime harvest. Jews were required to come to Jerusalem for this feast day. So the text tells us that believing Jews from all over the known world had come. It names some of the places from which they had come. If you look at an ancient map, you will see that these places represent every direction of the compass, and take in the whole Mediterranean world and the Middle East, from Italy to Turkey to Iran, the Arabian Peninsula and across north Africa. And, of course, they spoke different languages in those far-flung places. What astonished the people in the town square that day was the wind and fire that hit the room where the disciples were gathered, sounding like a tornado undoubtedly. And then the disciples spilled out into the streets proclaiming the greatness of God. Everyone there could understand what they were saying, because they were speaking all those languages. It was clearly a supernatural event. And so their response was, “What does this mean?”

Today, I’m going to talk about the answer to their question. But first, let me point out what a good thing it is that they asked in the first place. People don’t always think that analytically. They often just take in an experience and say, “Huh. How about that,” and move on. Or they will filter it through their presuppositions and biases and give it a false meaning, rather than thinking seriously about what is really going on. That is what we see in verse 13, where it says, “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’”

We see that today, don’t we? We live in a time when people react to supernatural phenomena in both these ways. It is a highly skeptical age, and so we see some giving everything a naturalistic explanation, as if it is foolish to assume that God had caused anything. On the other hand it is a highly spiritual age, when people are open to the transcendent. They are the ones who will ask, “What does this mean?” Of course, there are also those who go around in a fog, and who will see a supernatural event and their only response is, “Whatever.”

But when God does something dramatic like He did that Pentecost, He intends us to ask, “What does this mean?”

To answer their question, let’s look at the Pentecost outpouring in terms of three frames of reference:

•   What did it mean in the history of the world?

•   What did it mean in the moment?

•   And what would it mean for those people’s future lives?

ONE    History is about what God is doing in the world. So what this moment meant is that God was on the move. This was the beginning of the next phase of His plan.

It was Peter who undertook to explain it to the huge crowd. He said,

These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by 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.

What you are witnessing, he was saying, is the power of the Holy Spirit, being manifested in your midst in the eleven men you see speaking in tongues. God is on the move. This was prophesied long ago. It’s in the Hebrew Bible. They should have been expecting this day. And what was God doing? He was launching the next phase of His glorious plan to save the world. He was inaugurating the last days.

God’s plan for the redemption and salvation of the world is in phases. Phase 1: He chose a people to be His own. He gave them leaders. He gave them His law. He trained them and protected them and led them. He revealed His Word to them.

When the time was right, God brought forth from those chosen people, the Savior—(Phase 2)—His only Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin, to be the Messiah. He also had been prophesied in God’s Word. And the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was crucified at the hands of sinners, died and rose again from the dead.

And before ascending into heaven, He commissioned His disciples—the Church (Phase 3)—to be His witnesses to the end of the earth. He promised them power from on high to do the extraordinary things He had been doing. And this was the day. The power had come. And the scripture tells us that three thousand people became believers that day. And when they went back home to all those points of the compass, the message of salvation went with them, to spread like wildfire, blown by a mighty rushing wind.

God is on the move. And there is much more to come. He has revealed that to us as well. He has told us there is great day on the horizon when Jesus will come again in glory, and He will gather the faithful from the four winds, and He will judge the earth, and establish His eternal city of joy.

What does this mean for the history of the world, they asked? This meant that God is sovereign, and He is in control, and there are great things coming.

TWO     What did this mean in the moment? It meant that this was their moment. God was reaching out to those few thousand people gathered in that square with a personal invitation. He couldn’t have been more obvious. He did a supernatural thing so that they would not say,


or “These guys are drunk,”

or “There must be a natural explanation.”

Those Apostles, those witnesses for Christ, were speaking in foreign languages with a persuasive power that was capable of softening the hard heart. It was a moment when the proverbial two-by-four hit that crowd between the eyes. It was decision time for them.

We know that 3,000 people responded and were baptized that day (Acts 2:41). We also are pretty sure, based on our experience, that there were some in the crowd who did not respond by believing. We know that no matter what God does, some will resist Him. Romans 1:19-21 tells us:

...what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. [And yet], although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for [idols.]

Sadly, that is just the way it is. I recently watched Ben Stein interviewing the famous atheist, Richard Dawkins. He asked Dawkins how life on earth came about, and Dawkins said, “We don’t know. No one knows.”

Dawkins is a scientist.

•   He has seen the glorious things God has done in the heavens.

•   He lives in a time when we have learned that the atom is much more complex and exotic than we ever imagined.

•   He lives in a time when we have learned that the cell is not just a blob with a nucleus, but is full of intricate activity and systems and mechanisms.

•   He has witnessed the discovery of the elaborate information system in DNA which tells every cell how to repair itself, and create new parts that perfectly match.

God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly visible. And yet, Dawkins says that belief in God is a delusion. In this interview, Stein asked him what he thought of the possibility that all this was created by intelligent design. Dawkins answered that—

It is possible it came about in this way. It could be that at an earlier time somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, probably by a Darwinian means, to a very, very high level of technology, and designed the form of life that they seeded onto this planet.” (interview on

It seems that the mind of some is simply closed to the possibility of God. But there come moments, as there did on Pentecost, when those who are present get the best chance they will ever get to believe. How they respond has an eternal significance.

THREE       The third level of the question “What does this mean?” was in the lives of those who heard the message and responded. What was going to happen to them? What is going to happen to us?

The answer is in God’s promises, and in our own experience as believers.

•   We are going to be initiated into a large, close, supportive family with whom to share the rest of our lives. (John 1:14; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

•   We are going to begin a relationship with Jesus that cannot be destroyed. (Romans 8:39)

o No one can snatch us from His hands. (John 10:28)

o He will be there with us and for us in all circumstances. (Hebrews 13:5-6)

•   We will be able to pray to Him for guidance and for His help with our problems. (James 1:5)

•   We will begin a relationship with God’s Word that will get progressively deeper. We will never exhaust the depths of the knowledge and wisdom He has for us there.

•   We are going to be confronted with choices other people don’t have to make—choices based upon what God wants for our lives.

•   We are going to suffer some consequences from those choices.

o They will sometimes clash with the popular opinion of the culture.

o They will be opposed by people we love.

o Some of our choices will be painful, because they will deny us some of the things we crave.

•   As believers, we will have a life filled with purpose and meaning as we accept God’s invitation to partner with Him in what He is doing in the world.

•   Being a believer is going to open us to all kinds of adventures that we won’t otherwise have.

o We will have friends in other parts of the world.

•   In serving the Lord, our members have made friends in Nigeria and Uganda and Kenya and Tanzania,

•   in India and Cambodia and Russia and Kazakhstan,

•   in the Dominican Republic and Haiti and Brazil and a dozen other places.

o We have also made friends right here at home as we have shared God’s love with people we would otherwise have ignored: people in prison, school children, mentally handicapped people, people in nursing homes.

•   Becoming a believer means that we will be amazed by what God will do through the Holy Spirit.

o We will experience miracles. (John 14:12-14)

o We will do things we don’t think we are capable of.

o We will overcome our fears. (Romans 8:15)

o We will endure past our breaking point.

Those are all things every believer can expect God to do. And most of us have seen that in our lives. But there is more. Responding to God’s invitation to belong to Him opens us to hope that otherwise escapes people. He has promised eternal life with Him to everyone who believes that Jesus is Lord. (John 3:16; John 6:38-40) That means that death has lost its sting. (I Corinthians 15:55) We may still fear dying painfully; we may still be concerned for those we might leave behind. But gone is the existential fear that humanity feels over the dark and unknown future after life’s end. We have something to look forward to that is so far beyond wonderful, and so far outdistances the things we love on this earth, that words cannot describe it.

I don’t know if you think of all these things on Pentecost. But this is what it means personally for us. And this is what it meant personally for those people gathered in Jerusalem that day. God was on the move. This was the beginning of the next phase of His glorious plan. And it was their moment to believe. God was doing something that could hardly be misinterpreted. It was clearly supernatural, and clearly from God. Take it or leave it. The choice was theirs. And it is ours.

And when we take that step, when we accept that invitation and believe, it is as if we have died and been born again. That’s how Jesus described it to Nicodemus in John’s Gospel. What we are reborn to is a new life—a new way of living on this earth from day to day—a way of being that draws on the love, and power, and grace of God.

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” It means everything. Accept the gift, and you will never be the same.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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