Tongues of Fire

Scripture: Acts 2:1-12

Before we get into the sermon, I want to set the stage a little and remind you folks of some things. The disciples – not just the apostles, but others as well, were in Jerusalem. They were there for the Festival of Booths, or the harvest festival, it is true. But they were there primarily because they were being obedient.

A few weeks before, when he had ascended, Jesus had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the promised Spirit. So they went. One hundred twenty disciples, it says, in an upper room, quietly, and maybe fearfully, worshiping God and Jesus, and waiting.

And waiting. And they had been waiting for a while. Wondering, perhaps, when God was going to move. And as they sat there waiting, on that fateful Pentecost morning, and worshiping, they discovered something amazing. The Spirit is in the house!

There was this sound, like a rushing wind. The closest we could come to it, that I could imagine, was a tornado. How many of you have lived through a tornado? I’ve lived through six. Spending time around Omaha, in Tornado Alley, can give that to you.

I have to say, it mentions in the Scriptures that the crowd came rushing to see what all the noise was about. That always amused me as well. When I was in college, an undergraduate at University of Nebraska, a tornado touched down in Lincoln.

I worked in a lab, and we had a lab-mate there, a graduate student, a post-doc, who was from India. We’re all heading for the basement of the lab building, and Kumar starts to go out the door to the parking lot. We said, “What are you doing, Kumar?” And he said, “I’ve never seen a tornado. I’m going to go find it.”

The people were drawn by the sound. God had shown Himself in the power of the wind. The wind blows where it will, and no one knows where it goes, but you can feel the effects. You can feel the force of the wind. You are touched by it, whether you see it or not.

Yesterday was pretty cold and wind. Pauline and I went and visited a friend of hers who is currently laid up in a nursing home. She had fractured her femur in seven spots. She wanted to go out into the garden in the center area, and I questioned the wisdom of that, because she was in shorts.

She said, “Don’t worry. I handle the temperature just fine.” And of course I have lots of padding, so I’m not worried about it. But the whole time we were there, Pauline is sitting there hugging herself against the cold. Finally I said, “I’m seeing goosebumps on everybody. Maybe it’s time to go in.” The effects of the wind were seen and were known.

God had made His presence known to His people with this kind of display throughout history. Jewish tradition has always associated storms, fire, and a voice with the presence of God. And here they are again.

A mighty wind like a storm, a fire that looked like tongues resting upon each person there, and other languages speaking God’s word to different groups of people. Although, I would note that the Scripture, if you look at the original Greek, there is something fascinating there.

It talks about tongues of fire above the disciples. Then it says, “and it rested on each one of them.” It uses the singular pronoun. So there may have been tongues of fire, but it was one Spirit. There was one God who was the source and the power of everything that occurred after that.

It wasn’t spirits. It was Spirit, the Holy Spirit. You could say that Pentecost here was kind of like Mount Sinai, though there were some differences. On Mount Sinai, if you remember, that was when the Israelites got the Ten Commandments.

God came down on the mountaintop. It says that there was thunder and lightning and clouds and fire. The mountain burned, and the glory of God shone, and God said, “Come here,” and the people said, “Noooo! We aren’t coming near that. Moses, you go. You go up, then you come and tell us what God said.”

And Moses went up alone, and he came back down, and his face reflected the glory of God in such a way that he actually had to wear a veil.

So they had this event to work from, this memory. Pentecost, you might say, was an update of Mount Sinai. But it was also upgraded. That fire on Mount Sinai was only for Moses. Everyone else, by their own choice, stood at a distance. Only Moses got the power of God in his life.

Only Moses got God’s power. Only Moses understood God’s presence. But not anymore. Since Acts 2 and Pentecost, God’s power, God’s purity, and God’s presence are for all believers. The Spirit touched each one of them, filling them.

The Bible says that things happen in our lives by the Spirit and with the Spirit. But more than these, the Bible says that the Spirit now lives within Christians as well. Ephesians 2:22 says “In Him you are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”

In Corinthians it talks about us being a temple for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has taken up residence in your heart and soul as a believer. The Spirit doesn’t just show up occasionally as the need arises. Rather, the Spirit abides in our inner being.

This was another one of those upgrades. The prophets in the Old Testament had experienced the Spirit. Every one of them spoke and said “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” or “this is what the Lord says” and the rest of the people listened.

But now the Spirit was upon each and every believer, and they all spoke different languages, that they didn’t know. That is kind of a reversal of Babel. The Tower of Babel was where they were trying to build something tall enough, a ziggurat, so that they could reach the heavens, because they had become kind of arrogant.

It says they all spoke on language, so God confused their languages. So they couldn’t speak to each other, and then the whole project kind of fell apart. Now you have the opposite occurring, as the disciples speak and everyone understands. And the message is the same, that they praised God for His goodness.

It shows that God is not just for the occasional believer, either. He is not just for the ones with monumental tasks to accomplish. He is not just for preachers or pastors or evangelists or missionaries. No, the Spirit means to bring power for each person, whether a so-called church worker or not, to live a life that is pleasing to God.

I can think of no greater task for a regular person than living a faithful and obedient life, day in and day out. To me, that is a task worthy to be accomplished and desperately needed in the world today. It is our calling. It was their calling back then and it is our calling now.

So even as the power of the mighty rushing wind is for each of us, how do we do this? How do we use this power? How do we sense God’s presence? There’s a fire in each one of us, as well, and that fire is the refining power of God.

The Spirit, and sometimes the trials of this world, changes us. The Spirit cleanses us. It makes us like Him. The refining fire will burn away the excess stuff in our hearts. John the Baptist described Jesus’ ministry with these words: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

Jesus has a lot more to do with your life than just to forgive you. He wants to cleanse you and change you too. There is a point to that fire and that changing.

There were three ladies who had a Bible study, and they were reading the Old Testament where it talks about being refined by fire. They didn’t understand about being refined by fire like silver. So one volunteered to go to the silversmith and see what that meant.

When she went, she did not tell the silversmith why she was really there. He proceeded to tell her about being sure the silver was put into the hottest part of the fire. He explained that was so all the impurities and dross would be burned away.

But he also noted that he had to watch it at all times, to make sure that it was not in there too long. Because if it was in there too long, it would be ruined.  The lady asked, “How do you know when the refining is done?”  His answer was, “Oh, that’s easy. When I see my reflection in it.”

When He sees His reflection in us. The refining fire that is within us is there to make us more like Him. So I ask, since Jesus has the desire to change us, and the Holy Spirit has the power to change us, then why are we so much as we have always been? Why are we still so stubborn, so unforgiving, so bitter, so selfish, so easily displeased, so much of two minds and divided hearts? Brothers and sisters, this should not be. As the Spirit refines us, He also makes us one, in Him.

Rick Kirchoff says: “When God sends forth the Spirit amazing things happen: barriers are broken, communities are formed, opposites are reconciled, unity is established, disease is cured, addiction is broken, cities are renewed, races are reconciled, hope is established, people are blessed, and church happens.”

As I read that, I have to tell you that the last thing that he says is what caught my eye, why I put it in there, why I find it fascinating. “Church happens.” Today, Pentecost, we celebrate the birthday of the church. But the church is not this building, as gorgeous as the windows are, and the pews, looking all nice and everything, and us all wearing red.

The church is not the one in Morning Sun. The church is not the big cathedrals that are off in Europe, that have been there for centuries, even though Michelangelo did a wonderful thing on his back there, painting the Sistine Chapel. That’s not the church.

The church is the people of God, doing the work of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit is given by God, church happens. Church happens. Each one of us, feeling the breath of God and the wind of the Spirit, being impassioned by the fire and the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, living a life that witnesses to God, impacting the community with your presence in it.

Some of those people there, when they heard the disciples speak, were amazed and awed and said, “How did they do it?” Others said, “Well, they’re filled with new wine.” There are always going to be skeptics. There are always going to be opposers. There are always going to be people that challenge you. But the Spirit, and the power of the Spirit, can overcome them.

Peter, in his sermon that he gives right after that, in answer to that comment – I wish I could say the same words he did, and convert three thousand people, that would just be really cool – but he summed up his sermon, and they said, “What must we do to be saved?” He answered their question. He said, “Repent, and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”

It was a simple message. And the message is simple today, as well. It hasn’t changed. How can man be saved? Repent, and believe on the name of Jesus Christ. And these disciples, these 120 to start with, and then the three thousand, they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. They were given, not just this message, but they were given insight into the people. They were given power, and fearlessness in their hearts.

There were those that stepped up and tried to stop them. There were those that tried to beat them. There were those that tried to make them stop. And they refused, because they had to answer to God, and they were filled with the fire of God.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t have their divisions, they didn’t have their problems, they didn’t have their complaining, they didn’t have their struggles. All you have to do is read through Acts, and then Paul’s letters, to know that. Because people are people. But they were filled with the Spirit, and despite their shortcomings, God did extraordinary things, with ordinary people.

God hasn’t changed. The same is true today, as it was back then. God does extraordinary things with ordinary people, when the fire of God is in people’s hearts. I would challenge you, on this Pentecost, as we celebrate the birthday of the church and the Holy Spirit’s falling upon God’s people in its fullness, that you would search for, feel the wind, and listen to hear it. Experience the presence of God.

Then be warmed by the fire of God, and experience the power of God, and live the purity of God, so that you can witness faithfully, and impact lives, sharing with them the good news of Jesus Christ, that in Him is eternal life. And may God be praised for the wondrous things, not just that He has done, but that He continues to do.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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