Acts 2:1-21 "Surprises Still Today

Pentecost Sunday

 

Do you expect to be surprised anymore? Can the Holy Spirit do today what we read

about on the Day of Pentecost? Of course, Pentecost was unique. That day happened once, 50

days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Resurrection was certainly surprising to

those who didn't believe Jesus' words, and followed only what their eyes saw! What more could

God do?!

 

Well, He could and He did send the Holy Spirit! And God still surprises us.

Are we Christians, however, satisfied with the way things have always been? Satisfied,

with the memories of the past? Do we expect to be interrupted by the Spirit of God and

empowered with the kind of faith and love that moved the early disciples.

 

It takes something like a pandemic to make us miss our normal routines. We like

"normal." It's comfortable. Now we hear talk about a "new normal." Whatever that may be, I'm

sure it will soon become a "comfortable" routine.

 

But, maybe, and too often, our religion simply becomes part of our routine. Church we

might say "at the usual time." Or, "There will be church as usual, this morning." Church as

usual! Christianity as usual! How well this describes our usual expectations. Note again, how

the pandemic has changed even the phrase, "Church at the usual time." For the time being we

have several "usual" times.

 

But God will have none of that.

 

God is constantly taking people by surprise. We see it over and over again in the Bible.

The very word, gospel says it: here is good news, totally unexpected and overwhelmingly glad.

The birth of the Christian church stole upon a world off its guard and left people struck

with wonder. Recall the familiar details of that first Pentecost after the Lord's resurrection: the

little band of disciples gathered with one accord for prayer. Suddenly a sound from heaven. A

rushing like a mighty wind. Tongues like flames of fire. The apostles filled with the Holy Spirit.

Their speaking in other tongues—a speech understood by the people gathered from the corners of

the earth. Mockery. Peter's sermon. The conversion and baptism of 3,000. Their joy in the

common life of the church. (Acts 2:1-43)

 

Although we have heard the story many times we would be hard put to describe in

sober, scientific language what actually happened.

 

What did people really hear and see and feel? Many of us must confess that we would

be quite uncomfortable in circumstances like those described in Acts 2. Talk about surprised!

That's just the way the author describes the Pentecost situation.

 

The multitude was bewildered, amazed, astonished, perplexed. God had taken them

completely by surprise. They really did not expect Him to intrude upon their lives that early

morning in the Spring. But even more shaking, they did not expect the strange things that He did

that day. The account of the first Pentecost is the story of people surprised by the Holy Spirit.

Isn't this the message that comes through to us from the life of the early church? We

are at a loss to say what really happened regarding the wind, the fire, the tongues. And yet the

essential point is perfectly clear to us.

 

The story of Pentecost dramatically focuses the typical action of the Holy Spirit—

overwhelming God's people with new realizations of his grace in Jesus Christ, His universal

redemption, and the community He creates through forgiving love.

 

Such a realization awakens within us gratitude for the overflowing mercies of God and a

readiness to receive the blessings of the Spirit which He is ever eager to bestow upon the people

whom He has called.

 

Let's consider a little longer the familiar stories of the early church in the Book of Acts.

The whole book might well be called the Book of surprises—surprises by the Spirit.

The book begins with a little band of believers clinging to a memory and huddled

prayerfully over a hope for their Lord's return. The Spirit comes upon them, and to their surprise

they find themselves proclaiming with power Jesus Christ as Lord in the living present. Their

word is understood by hundreds. The small company of believers becomes a joyful host.

At the gate of the temple some days later, a crippled beggar is surprised. He asks for

alms, but in the name of Jesus he is commanded to walk. (Cf. Acts 3)

The temple officials call in the apostles for investigation. They, too, are taken by

surprise, for the boldness of Peter and John, untrained laymen, becomes a Spirit-powered witness

to the gospel, (Acts 4:1-20).

 

We must hastily pass over many who were taken by surprise: those wretched pair of

liars, Ananias and Sapphira, were surprised by the judgment of God, (Acts 5:1-11);

the jailers, with the apostles under guard were surprised at their joy and singing, (Acts

16:25-34);

 

the Ethiopian treasurer of Queen Candace puzzling over an ancient prophecy was

surprised when Philip appeared to ask about what he was reading and to tell him the good news

of Jesus, (Acts 8:26-35);

 

the persecutor Saul was surprised by the ascended Christ confronting him powerfully on

the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:1-9);

 

the servant girl Rhoda tiptoeing out of the prayer meeting called on behalf of the

imprisoned Peter to answer a knock on the door and finding Peter himself standing there, (Acts

12:1-14).

 

The surprises of the Spirit bring new realizations of the meaning of the Gospel.

Consider the surprise that Peter received in a vision at Joppa. In a dream, he saw a great sheet

filled with all sorts of livestock and heard the command to kill and eat. He protested in shock: it

would not be kosher. No thing common or unclean had ever passed his lips. Then the voice

"What God has made clean, do not call common," ( Acts 10:15).

The dream was interrupted by strangers asking for Peter. When they took him to the

Roman centurion Cornelius, the message of the dream was clear. For as the apostle told of Jesus,

the Spirit fell on Cornelius, (Acts 10).

 

In that moment Peter understood what the early church had to struggled so hard to learn:

the church of Jesus Christ is a fellowship open to all people of faith: Jew or Gentile. For those in

church last week, I made a few comments on Psalm 47. That beautiful Ascension song ends with

a prophetic announcement of just such a fellowship, where the "princes of the peoples" (the

Gentiles) gather as the "people of the God of Abraham." Surprise!

Surprised by the Spirit, the church discovered its universal character. The universality

foreshadowed at Pentecost flowered into fact.

 

The surprises of the Spirit have not ceased.

 

Again and again, as our Lord kept reminding His hearers, the overflowing mercies of

God take us when we least expect them. He comes like a thief in the night, (1 Thessalonians

5:2), like the bridegroom suddenly appearing as the wedding party sleeps, (Matthew 25:1-13),

like the master returning unexpectedly from a long journey, (Matthew 25:14ff),

like the friend arriving at midnight, (Luke 11:5-8).

 

The point of half a dozen parables is that God, not man, chooses the time of His coming.

Perhaps that is what it means, after all, to say that He is God. He rules the universe, not we! He

determines times and seasons.

 

We think we know where He is. We settle comfortably into our familiar patterns of life.

And, all at once, He confronts us anew. Whether in blessings which we immediately recognize

or in judgment, which is the preparation for His blessing, the Spirit takes us once more always by

surprise.

 

Now, we should notice also what the disciples were doing at the time they were

surprised by the Spirit. They were doing nothing unusual!

And after the great surprise of Pentecost, look what they went back to do: "THEY

DEVOTED THEMSELVES TO THE APOSTLES' TEACHING AND FELLOWSHIP, TO

THE BREAKING OF BREAD AND THE PRAYERS,"( Acts 2). They did what for

Christians of all times is something very ordinary. It is our "routine!"

 

So, what are we to do? How should we expect the surprises of God? Do we chase after

every new fad that comes along, in the church or in the world? Where do we look for answers

that not only we, but all people have, concerning the most important questions of life itself?

Friends, the path of hope for Christians is not a frantic chasing after every new thing

that comes across our path, but a new attitude of expectancy, as we follow the familiar patterns.

So...FIRST...We still search the Scriptures, the apostles' teachings. These are those

familiar words of the men who were with Jesus. They are a source of unending surprises.

Through them we meet a living Lord.

 

SECOND.... We still continue in Christian fellowship—not just the sharing of a cup of

coffee and a doughnut (as good as they are ...and they are good!...and I am looking forward to

getting back to "normal" on Sunday mornings where we can gather around coffee and "eats."),

but the sharing of one another's burdens, joys and sorrows. And we are constantly surprised by

the power of love to unite and to heal hurts.

 

THIRD... We still continue in the breaking of bread, the Holy Communion, and there as

we receive the bread and wine, which are the Body and Blood of Christ...and so we are surprised

to find we have received also the power of faith, the comfort of Christ's own Presence with us.

 

FOURTH...We still continue in prayer. Our prayers themselves are not so surprising.

We ask for quite ordinary and similar things. We bring to God quite ordinary and similar

problems. But what is surprising is the way God answers our prayers.

To each one of us He gives a life that is quite unique. His answers are as personal and

special as the fingerprints He has given us. We are wrong to expect our life to be like anyone

else's. Our life is the surprise God has prepared for us alone, in answer to our prayers.

But then, some Christians don't want to be surprised. They think of surprises

negatively: as an ambush, a complication in our plans, and interference from an unexpected

place.

 

If we are inclined to think that way, we stand in need of our Lord's admonition to

become as a little child. Not only does a child trust his parent, but a little child loves surprises!

For the word means to him sheer delight, a gift he did not expect, offered by the hand of love.

Even the divine interruptions of our familiar routines which most chill us to

contemplate, prove to be God's way of adding new dimensions of gladness to our lives.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;

 

The clouds you so much dread

Are big with mercy, and will break

In blessings on your head,

(LSB 765 v. 3, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way")

 

And, God's greatest surprise will come to us all, when one day we close our eyes on all the

glories of this world, only to open them on the greater glories of heaven.

Then we will know the unending joy of being in the presence of Him Who has surprised us so

often in this life with His unexpected but joyful presence. And we will now the truth that only in His

presence is life everlasting. Amen.

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