'All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’ Acts 2:4
Brothers and sisters, during Covid-19 one of the main efforts of the government was to ensure their message was clear. From the beginning, from the Prime Minister down they strove to make sure that the message was understood, and that there is no confusion. We all remember the catchphrases stuck to the podiums: ‘Stay home; save lives; protect the NHS’. Clarity was sought not just in words—though words are vital—but also in actions. Which is one reason why when the actions of key member of the government was out of line with the message there was such anger. All members of the government were briefed to spread the message. They were tasked with an evangelism of sorts. To witness BY their words and through their deeds to get the message out; and we see something similar in the passage we just had read from Acts.
Today, we finally arrive at the Feast of Pentecost, fifty days since Jesus rose from the dead, fifty days of celebration, and fifty days being reminded of our hope that one day we will rise with Christ. And now we find ourselves in a transition. A transition from enjoying the triumph of the resurrection to spreading the message, of witnessing to the world, that Jesus has risen, not just for us, not just for our families, but for each and every person across the world. We are reminded today, on this great feast, of the call to each Christian, to witness by our words and through our deeds, to get the message out. However, I don’t know about you, but speaking to people about Jesus scares me. Mention evangelism and I go cold. Mention witnessing and I get twitchy. What if my non-believing friend doesn’t want to know me if I start to talk to them about Jesus? What if my non-believing family member asks me a question and I don’t know the answer? What happens if people laugh at me, and I look foolish. Oh yes, speaking to people about Jesus scares me. One of the things which I find remarkable in our passage today, is that the disciples—those who would go on to change the world—feel just like me. They too are scared. They are scared of speaking about Jesus. Look with me at verse 1: ‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.’ That’s a polite way of saying they were hiding together! They know the great news that Jesus is risen but they are hiding because they’re scared. Just like me, and I suspect just like you.
We’re also told in verse 1 that it’s Pentecost. Pentecost is a Jewish festival which takes place fifty days after the Passover. Why? Because the Passover remembers the escape from Egypt, and then it then took the Hebrew people fifty days to get from Egypt to the mountain of God. So the Jewish festival of Pentecost reminds the Jewish people what happened at that mountain. Briefly, Moses ascended the mountain to be with God, and then descended with God’s Law. And these events—the Passover, the ascending of Moses, and the descending of the Law—are preparing God’s people for what would happen when God came to earth. The Son of God, died on Passover to save His people, and then ascended, not just God’s mountain but up into the heavens. And before He ascended Jesus, God the Son, told His people to wait. To wait for what? Someone to help them to be brave. Someone to help them to witness. Someone to help them to speak. Now the great Jewish feast of Pentecost has arrived—the feast where the Jewish people remember that Moses descended with the Law—and what happens? Verse 2:
‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’
God descends, not sending the Law this time, rather coming Himself to fill their hearts with His love, and enable them to complete their mission. You see, God knows how we feel: He knows His people are scared, scared of what others will think, scared of getting it wrong, scared of looking foolish, so He does not leave us to do it on our own. He comes Himself; He comes to be with us; He comes to live within us; He comes to help us. Here is the great truth of our passage today: Witnessing is hard, but God goes with us! If we are God’s people, then God the Holy Spirit is with us, God the Holy Spirit is in us, and God the Holy Spirit goes with us as we speak to the world about Jesus. ‘But, I don’t know how to convert people’ you say, good that’s not your job, that’s the job of the Holy Spirit. ‘I don’t know how to convince people’ you say, good that’s not your job, that’s the job of the Holy Spirit. ‘Well what is my job’ you ask? Your job is to speak, to tell people what Jesus has done, and how Jesus is with us now. That’s it. ‘So what do we need to do?’ you ask… pray! Pray, just like the disciples were doing in verse 1. Pray and ask God for courage, for strength, and for the right words to say, and then just speak. For we know, that God loves the person you are speaking to, and wants them to know Him; we also know that God loves His children, and so He will help us as we speak to those who don’t know Him yet. Now you will get it wrong, I will get it wrong, we will make mistakes just like a baby learning to walk falls over. But no one ever learned to walk any other way, and no one will learn to speak for God, if they worry about occasionally taking a mis-step. God the Holy Spirit, is there helping our legs to move, helping our lips to speak, holding out His arms to catch us as we tentatively try to speak of what we have found. Witnessing is hard, but God goes with us!
During the Covid-19 epidemic, the government strove to share it’s message with the people of this country. They did so to save lives, and to help the people of the UK. However, we as the Church have a far more important message than the government. Our message is not just to protect our nation, but to save our world. Our message is not just for now but is for eternity. So, I maybe scared, you maybe scared, but the people of the UK need the Good News now more than ever. I need to remember, and maybe you do too, that witnessing is hard, but God goes with us! Amen. (from Fr Mike).