Utterly Amazed. The people were utterly amazed at what they saw and what they heard. And I love that that Luke describes it for us like this in verse seven of our lesson. Because aren’t there some things in life that are just utterly amazing and that’s honestly the best way to describe it: “It was amazing!” “I was amazed!” And packed into that word ‘amazing’ is a sense of awe and wonder, and even a little disbelief, and no other words do it justice.
I’m sure some of you right now as I’m talking, some of you are thinking of moments or events in your life where it’s true, the first word that you used to describe your feelings or thoughts of that moment or event was the word ‘amazing’. But here is the question: Why were you amazed? What made it so amazing, and isn’t that the question we need to ask today? What led these men and women in chapter two, verse seven, of Acts to be utterly amazed – to the point that Luke recorded their amazement for us?
The answer to that is really three-fold. They were amazed by the physical signs the both heard and saw. They were amazed by the wonders of God being proclaimed in their own language. And they were amazed, utterly amazed, by what all of this could mean. And what was the situation? What led to this moment of amazement? A promise. A promise made about 10 days earlier by Jesus. He told his disciples that they “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”
After saying this, Jesus left, but his disciples took his promise to heart and so in our lesson we find them “all together in one place.” They were waiting, waiting for a Spirt and that Spirt came, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” Growing up in South Dakota, it was always windy there, always. Often at night you’d be sitting there and that wind would come suddenly and it would blow doors in the house shut, or knock over things by open windows, and every once and awhile during a windier than usual night, you’d hear a large branch whip off a tree, or even, on two occasions, I remember whole trees being uprooted. Wind can be deadly stuff.
And yet, here this was just the sound of the wind, can you imagine. You’re sitting there and suddenly, unexpectedly, you just hear this violent wind all around you, it’s loud; it surrounds you, but there is no physical wind. And just as you’re about to be like “what was that?” You see fire hovering in the air and it comes down to rest on you and all the others. “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” Luke says. Fire! Is this not amazing? The sound of the violent wind, the sight of the flames of fire – fire which fulfilled what John the Baptist said that Jesus will baptize with the Spirit and with fire. And as these believers opened their mouths to speak their amazement, what happened? “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Pause) Amazing!
All of them Luke says received the Holy Spirit. All of them on that day became mouth pieces of God to share a message of truth, to share the wonders of God, and that is what they did! We are told that God fearing Jews from 15 different nations – nations listed in your worship folder – heard first the sound of the violent wind, but then, more importantly, heard the gospel; they heard it in their native tongue. Without an accent, without any confusion, these Galileans broke the language barriers that God established long ago at the Tower of Babel. All so that the message of Christ crucified could be shared, as Jesus said, “to the ends of the earth.”
Utterly Amazing. The signs, and the message, God’s Spirit came to these followers of Jesus who had endured an emotional roller coaster over some 50 days. They had witnessed their friend, their leader, their world be led away, betrayed. They saw him die in the worst of ways – nailed to a cross! Then in fear they hid, only to have him appear in their midst alive and whole – their Savior victorious over sin and death! But 40 days later he was gone ascended into the sky, hidden by a cloud. Yet, here on Pentecost, his last promise to his disciples was fulfilled. His Spirit came to them bringing understanding and boldness to share with the world the message of the cross.
So now, here is the question, and it is a good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” You see the Jews asking this very same question in verse 12, “What does this mean?” They were there. They saw all this, they heard it, and they were “amazed and perplexed by it” and they wanted to know how this would change their lives and affect the world they lived in. But then there were others, you find them in verse 13, who, even with all the wonders and signs, just weren’t buying it, “They have had too much wine!”
For that latter group, all the noise and fire and different languages meant nothing more than a weird coincidence brought on by alcohol; they rejected the idea of a miracle even though they were seeing with their own eyes and hearing it with their own ears. And we might shake our heads at this and roll our eyes, “Come on! How can these people be so dense?” But then, if we are honest with ourselves, how often haven’t we found ourselves doing the same thing, denying, or doubting God’s clear power?
We can sit here and confess that God created this wonderful universe, the earth, us, and yet at times doubt that he really is “with us always like he says.” We can nod our heads in agreement that God so loved the world and yet find ourselves at moments wondering if he really does love me. We can in faith say that God’s Word is powerful and effective, but then question its power as we attempt to share it with others. I’ll freely admit that there have been times in my life where I have shared a message from scripture with someone and later thought to myself, “Wow, that just sounds ridiculous. Really? Why does God want us to use water and his Word, and how does that create faith?” And in that same vein of denying God’s power, isn’t it true that every time we willfully decide to ignore one of our God’s commands, that we join these men in verse 13 in making fun of God and the message his disciples shared.
So, no, it isn’t hard for us to be like those who made fun of the disciples at Pentecost, it isn’t hard for us to let our own logic and sinful thoughts take control and force out the wonders of God that we see daily. Yet, though our minds throw up objections to God’s Word. Though created logic wants to tear down its own Creator and join those men in saying “they’ve had too much wine”, faith interrupts.
“Shhhhhhh,” it whispers, “Listen! God is speaking. Do you hear him? He came to Elijah long ago in a whisper, he came to those at Pentecost in the sound of a violent wind, but to you he has come in his Word. Do you hear him speaking through Job who said, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know?” Do you hear him speaking through Isaiah who wrote, “as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts?” Do you hear him say with certainty, that “faith comes from hearing the message and that message is heard through the Word of Christ?”
This Word preserved for you is more trustworthy than our own thoughts, it is right when all else is wrong, it doesn’t bring confusion, but stillness, “Be still and wait for the glory of the Lord!” This Word, God’s Word, reveals to each of us the compassion and love of our God. We may have not seen Jesus ascend into heaven. We may not have seen tongues of flame over his disciples’ heads, but look what we do have: A promise fulfilled, a life lived in service, a death died in payment, a Savior. Your Savior, “Christ died for sinners.” How do you know that? It all comes back to that very Lutheresque question, “What does this mean?”
You know this to be true. You believe this to be true, because that same Spirit who came loudly and with fire, came to you quietly with the tinkling of water and soft Words of faith “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That is the answer to “What does this mean?” This moment in time, this moment in history, this Pentecost, meant that the Spirit of God was now at work to bring people to faith; to bring souls to Christ. For 3000 of those men and women who stood there utterly amazed at what they had seen and heard it meant a completely new life. The same is true for us, today.
We have a new life in Christ. A life where the dirt of sin is washed away and our eyes now join the eyes of Jesus’ first followers looking up waiting intently for his return. A life dedicated to the Lord. sharing with others that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, and that he died and rose victorious out of love for a world that hated him. And now, you, yes you, can lift your voice in prayer to a God “who will hear your cry and turn his ear to you.” And this all is yours because of what happened at Pentecost.
At Pentecost God came to dwell with his people forever. At Pentecost God had you in mind knowing that through his followers and the 3000 added and the next thousand and thousand on down through history his Spirit would eventually come to you to dwell in your heart to bring you to faith through the Word which has outlasted kings and nations. The Word you are hearing today. The same message that Peter proclaimed to those who stood utterly amazed before him, that “Jesus body was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay”; he was raised to life to assure you of your own forgiveness and life with him now and forever more.
So now I must ask you. Are you not amazed? Are you not utterly amazed? You and I have a message to share, a message we are living examples of. A message of power, of love, of forgiveness, of Christ the Savior of all. Trust the Holy Spirit will work through you as you share that message, and be amazed, be utterly amazed as God uses you to be his witnesses in all the world. Amen.
May the peace that surpasses all human understanding, like a holy wind breathing past our open windows, keep watch over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.