[This piece continues a brief series on Pentecost premised on a sermon I preached on Acts 2 at Bethany City Church. See the first installment here.]
Jesus told the disciples just days before Pentecost that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1.8).
There are times in the Bible, especially in the book of Judges, when the consequence of having the Holy Spirit come upon you is power for battle. The power of the Spirit—power from on high—meant at times power to fight.
This Saturday my family and I drove into the North York Moors and walked up Roseberry Topping. For the 2 miles to the top, my 7-year old son led me into his imagination and we had to fight off dragons with razor sharp wings, strange creatures called “land eels” with green, poisonous saliva dripping from their jaws, bee-like people who had stingers and purple acid for blood, and giant scorpion people who could turn you to stone with a bite from their pinschers.
(The North York Moors are dangerous this time of year so you all be careful out there.)
In my son’s imagination, we needed power from on high, magical power to overcome and defeat our enemies. (These were conveniently supplied by magical jewels he kept in his pocket).
My oldest two children have begun watching the Avengers films. Central to the storylines for these Marvel heroes is some sort of extraordinary empowerment. Each Avenger possesses suprahuman capacities—strength, enchanted weapons, advanced technology, god-like skills—and all of these powers from on high are for the purpose of fighting.
On Pentecost, the earliest Christians are filled with power from on high for the purpose of… speaking.
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak…“
To speak? After all the stormy tumult, this is the sort of empowerment Jesus had in mind? There was a sound, a sound of a violent wind exploding out of heaven. There was fire, shooting like bolts of lightning and resting on each person in the room. Our cinematic, pop-cultural imaginations can see it easily as if Thor has raised his hammer while lightning from Asgard infuses him with divine might ready to take on the forces of evil.
But the first act of the Holy Spirit in and through the church is speech. The power granted to the church here, is the power to voice aloud the wonders of God. Central to Pentecost is empowerment for divine speech.
And that is one way we take down the dragons of our age.
Fundamental to our birth right as the church is the calling to sound forth divine speech into this world.
It is a loud, noisy world in which we live. A world full of sounds, full of words. It is a realm sealed off from Eden and insulated from heaven, a world full of empty speech self-directed, and self-generated. Let’s recognized that the sounds and words of Pentecost have a distinct source, a source alien to this world:
“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound…“
Pentecost-noise, and Pentecost-words, come “FROM HEAVEN.”
And though my sons may be a bit disappointed to be clothed with power form on high to speak words as opposed to swinging war hammers or enchanted swords, we should be reminded of God’s words through Jeremiah the prophet: “Is not my word like fire… like a hammer that shatters the rock in pieces?” (Jer 23.29), and from the author of Hebrews, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (4.12).
I know Thor looks awesome with his divine hammer (and I confess that I really enjoy the Avengers films). But the very syllables from the mouth of our one and only God are more mighty, “like a hammer that shatters the rock,” capable of bringing planets and suns into being, bearing the strength to form a new nation from a valley of dry bones and a new humanity from a smattering of bewildered Galileans.
We need words like these divine words voiced into our world. Adapted from TheoMedia:
“We need an external media source to crack the soundscape. We need the words of God. No other voice is more precious to hear… Into the nosiy din of our age, into the droning buzz of white noise, into the clamor of ringtones and beeps, we need the sonic boom or the gentle whisper of a word from the Lord.”
Pentecost shows us that such divine speech is entrusted to the church. We are to be vessels through which words “FROM HEAVEN” penetrate the earth…