This is not meant to be a trick question. How many of you know that there was a wildly anticipated royal wedding in London England yesterday? … That is what I thought. It was almost impossible not to know about it, right? But just imagine what it would have been like yesterday for someone who happened to be traveling to London or vacationing in London and had absolutely no idea that some special wedding was going on and therefore had no clue at all as to what all the commotion was about – especially maybe what all the sounds were all about. The church bells rang for hours on end; hundreds of thousands of people yelled toward a couple of people in a carriage with deafening shouts of adulation; the clomping of horses’ hooves resounded on the pavement of the streets with a haunting precision. If people only heard the sound – and didn’t know the “What does this mean?” — they probably would have thought that in England Saturday must really be a day to party!
What did the people who had traveled to Jerusalem from all over the world for the annual Pentecost festival think when they first only heard the sound – the sound of a violently blowing wind and the sound of simple people from the countryside speaking in languages of people from over twenty countries and three continents? Those who didn’t yet know the “what does this mean” thought that all those people with those tongues of fire had had too much to drink, something that the apostle Peter said was simply a ridiculous thing to say or think.
But to those people who were genuinely amazed and perplexed and did ask, “What does this mean?” the apostle Peter gave them the sound of something else to hear – the sound of God’s Word about the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s world – the sound that I pray we can echo for a few minutes right now as we reflect on this section of Acts 2 and ask the question in our lives and in our world today, “What If People Only Hear the Sound?”
What if people – whether they are out there or whether they are you and I right in here –what if people only hear the sound of our absolutely beautiful singing and instrumentation? What if people – whether they are others or you and I — only hear the sound of our voices saying we should be nice to one another and give help to one another and show love to one another, but they don’t know the what does this mean – the what does this mean of what we are singing about and why we are singing about what we are singing about – or they don’t know the what does this mean of our statements of love and kindness because they don’t see the actions of love and kindness. Then they are just sounds, right, really of not much good to anyone? The people at that first New Testament Pentecost long ago thought the disciples at that time were full of too much wine, not really worth listening to; people today could think we are just full of wind and smoke, not really of much value for this life or some life to come that we keep talking about.
But in verse 17 near the end of our lesson Peter begins a sermon that goes on for many more verses beyond what we have written here. And in these introductory words of that sermon he makes it clear that if we listen to the sound of what he says, we don’t have to worry about what it will be like if people only hear the external sounds – the things we can hear with our ears and see with our eyes. The apostle Peter speaks the sounds of God’s Word which speaks to the places we can’t see – the places of our heart and soul – the places where God the Holy Spirit lives in the people he has given the faith to believe what Peter was saying. And the way he gives people faith to believe what Peter was saying is by having people saying to others now the same things Peter was saying to others then, because, as Peter said at the end of our lesson, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Let’s think about what was going on that day for a moment. The Pentecost festival was one of the three festivals that God told the Jews in Old Testament times they were to celebrate. It was the first festival after the Passover festival, which took place fifty days earlier – in this case, the fifty days earlier when Jesus died and rose again from the dead. Thousands and thousands of Jews came to Jerusalem for these festivals. That was the reason so many people were in Jerusalem the weekend of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that is why so many people were in Jerusalem fifty days later when the sound of the rushing wind caught their attention. The main reason God told the people to gather at Pentecost was so they could express their thankfulness for the spring harvest. To show their gratitude they would bring offerings to God, just as we do today, as a way of thanking him for what he had done for them in the past, and as a way of expressing their confidence that he would take care of them in the future. That is why they could be – and that is why we can be – generous. We have such a generous God.
On this particular day God’s generosity was shown in the fact that this was the day he had chosen to fulfill a prophecy he had made through one of the Old Testament prophets named Joel hundreds of years before – a prophecy that continues to be fulfilled among all of us today – and which will continue to be fulfilled among God’s people after us until Jesus returns for the final harvest on the final Pentecost. That’s what those verses 17-21 at the end are talking about, when we hear Peter talking about “in the last days” and God “pouring out his Spirit on all people” and our “sons and daughters prophesying” – that means, sharing God’s Word.
The “last days” are all the days from the time Jesus lived until the time Jesus returns. You and I live in the last days, as has everyone who has lived since the time of Jesus. During the time of our lives God has given each of us the gift of the Holy Spirit. He gave a special gift to those people on the first Pentecost so that they could speak in other languages. In many ways that gave their mission work a jump start, as so many people came to faith in Jesus as the promised Savior and then took that message back to their homelands, where they could tell still more – and they didn’t need to know a foreign language to do that – just like is being done in an increasing way today when people from other lands come to this land and go back with the gospel message that someone here told them. And all that is because many generations after that first Pentecost some man or some woman – a mom, a dad, a grandma, a grandpa, a friend, a relative, a teacher, a pastor – someone – in fact, many someones – told – and still tell – you and me about the great things Jesus has done in forgiving our every sin and in promising that he will come again someday when it is just the right someday to let us live in the place where he now is.
It’s that someday – especially the last someday – Judgment Day – that Peter is talking about at the very end when he switches gears a bit and talks about wonders in heaven above and signs on the earth below – things like blood and fire and billows of smoke. Those are ways the Bible talks about the very last times, the end of the world – the time that can come at any time, which means we can be so thankful that the Holy Spirit has given us the faith to believe in Jesus so that we don’t have to be afraid of that but can look forward to it — and which also means that we can be so motivated to ask the Holy Spirit to use us in whatever way possible to let someone else know the what does this mean of what they hear when they hear things that we say or when they see things that we do, but they don’t yet know the forgiving love of Jesus that leads us to speak and to act as the people of God. We have the same message of the Holy Spirit that Peter had; we are all fulfillments of the same prophecy of Joel that Peter preached about; we have the words that can lead everyone who believes them to join us in making the best sound possible – the sound of calling on the name of the Lord in worship and praise just like we are doing today — because everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
What if people only hear the sound? That will never be the case when the people making the sounds know in their hearts the sound of God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord, the one who lives and reigns with the Father and Holy Spirit as one God, now and forever. Amen.