“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine'”
(Acts 2:5-13 ESV
We come to the point in the book of Acts and see what, to us in 2018, looks like just a very interesting event. But let’s not understate this. Should this rate higher as just ‘interesting’? Yes! Aside from creation and the resurrection, what happened here at Pentecost ranks up there with both of those events in their impact on world history. It is here that a harvest was brought in.
Did God intend this to happen during Pentecost?
Yes. Leviticus 23:15-22 speaks of the Festival of Weeks that took place seven weeks after the “Sabbath,” or after the Passover (or for us in the Christian tradition, Easter). As we see from the map up top, all the nations would come together to celebrate and observe this, making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
It’s in verse 22 that’s interesting: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”
So even in the OT, which was geared primarily to the people of Israel, God also gives a glimpse for his heart for those outside of God’s covenant people. But they were to take care of the poor and disenfranchised and those who were not part of the people of Israel.
That’s Pentecost. Hold that thought. Let’s go back to Acts 2. Where the disciples of Jesus “were all together in one place” (v.1) Why? They were waiting for God to fulfill the promise of the Holy Spirit’s arrival (Acts 1:4). But God was about to fulfill that promise by unleashing something (Someone?). A sound like a rushing wind, filling the place. Tongues of fire rested on them.
In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for when Jesus would soon show up on the scene, told the crowd, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
Fire! This passage has brought about a lot of confusion. I’ve had very dear friends who have said to me, “The way you know you have a deep walk with Christ is speaking in tongues.” And they reference this passage. But 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 speak of tongues as one gift among many. Even when spoken of in 1 Corinthians 14, the goal is to build up the church, not simply build up ourselves.
So how does this fit here? Simply put, the purpose here was not for their own personal edification, but to build the church. Jesus made this promise that he would build his church. Do you see?
Go back to Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” I imagine them sitting there saying, “Jerusalem? Sure. We live here. Judea? Our province–yes, I could see us going there. Samaria? We’ve never gone there, but it’s close by. Ends of the earth? How will we do this? We don’t know any other language. No Duolingo or Rosetta Stone existed. No airplanes or automobiles. It will take us years to get there!
We’ve all had bosses give us projects that seemed impossible to finish on a deadline. But we would work hard and make it happen, or decide to walk away. But this seemed like an impossible task, no matter how much time you would have. But they had faith, God provided the ‘fire,’ and now what.
This baptism of fire is just that. And do you see what happens? They began to think about and move forward toward those who had never heard. Acts 2:5-8 shows the purpose of the tongues and the purpose of this happening at Pentecost: Harvest not of crops, but of souls, right to the edge of God’s field–all the world!
Take a look at the map up top again.
What are we seeing? We are seeing that, as Peter will preach in the verses that come up, they will take the name of Jesus back to their homeland. How amazing is this? This would show that God would empower them to preach, and that He is active in bringing about his own promises and purposes. Yes, they came together. Yes, it may have been unbearable waiting. Yes they may have been scared because Jesus ascended back to His Father and were left alone. They did not know what was around the corner, but they had His power and His promises.
We have lessons for us here, don’t we?
God cares about those who are not here yet, and so should we. When churches start looking at signs and websites and greeter ministries and learning how to share the gospel, it’s a way for us to remember we are caring desperately and urgently for those who are not yet among the people of God yet. The Festival of Weeks brought that to mind. Pentecost in Acts 2 brought that to mind. It needs to be in our minds as well.
God cares about not just our nation, but every nation, and so should we. On whatever side of the political aisle you are when it comes to immigrants and refugees to our cities, remember God brought the nations to Jerusalem for a reason, just like he’s bringing the nations to our cities–as an opportunity to share God’s message of rescue so they could take it to their hearts and then possibly take that back to their people.
This happening at Pentecost was not a coincidence, but a fulfillment of the original intention of that Festival–a harvest of souls into the Kingdom. May that be our heart as well!