Below is the manuscript for the opening address I gave at this past weekend’s Hearts of Fire Conference for the various house churches that meet across the Denver metro area on Saturday, May 22, 2010. The address is titled “Pentecost Today: When the Church Welcomes this Message” and it was meant to be a challenge based on Acts 2.14-41. The conference was attended by Christians from a variety of backgrounds, including Churches of Christ as well as other Christian traditions. The message and challenge was well received and I am thankful to God for being able to “preach” a bit. I also taught a break-out class titled “A Christian Response to Suffering” that fostered a guided conversation on how Christians should respond to others who are enduring suffering. It too went very well.
Pentecost Today: When the Church Welcomes this Message
Tomorrow will be fifty days from Passover. For most, it was probably quite uneventful. In fact, many don’t even think of that weekend with the terminology of Passover. We call it Holy Week which gives birth to Easter Sunday. On that Easter Sunday, many around this world gathered together in celebration of God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ. To be clear, many gathered because of a deep fidelity to Jesus but I suspect many, perhaps many more, gathered together because it is a family tradition or a misunderstood religious conviction that reveres Jesus as an occasional blurb to an otherwise pretty secular life.
But Pentecost did not begin that way. Nearly two millenniums ago Pentecost began, I suppose, as a strange day in Jerusalem. Strange not because anyone person present anticipated the exact events of that day unfolding as they did but strange because of the events that unfolded seven weeks earlier. Seven weeks earlier Jewish authorities, in conspiracy with the Roman power, finally got rid of that blaspheming man named Jesus from Galilee by resorting to false accusations, accusing him of inciting rebellion against Rome (cf. Lk 23.14). Yet even for the Jews, what they witnessed that weekend – one of their own being beat and whipped, publicly humiliated, and viciously crucified – was a vivid reminder of how much power Rome had, how much contempt they had for Rome, and how much they longed for God to be faithful to his covenant promise and deliver his people.
But the strangeness of this particular Pentecost took an interesting turn when another Jew named Peter spoke up after he and his friends were accused of being drunk. The day took a strange turn because Peter began to quote from the Prophet Joel and David, quoting passages of scripture every devout Jew was familiar with to say that this is the day Israel has longed for, the day of salvation because Jesus has not only been crucified but also has been raised from death. To which Peter concluded with this declarative pronouncement, “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (2.36).
Now I try to imagine what it must have been like for those three-thousand that believed Peter’s testimony. What are they to do when they discover that everything promised to them and everything they have hoped for to be ushered in by a messiah seems to have been destroyed by their own hands at work against God? Perhaps that gives some understanding when Luke tells us that those who believed were “cut to the heart,” asking Peter what could be done (2.37). Peter’s response was simple: “…‘Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’” (2.38-39, NIV).
I realize that in Christian history, verses 38-39 has resulted in disagreement as to how Christians ought to interpret and put these instructions into practice. I have no interest in trying to solve the disagreement but I do want to say that the call of repentance and baptism cannot be reduced to the simple aspirations of “getting saved” (however we understand that) or “becoming a member of the church.” Though important, the repentance and baptism that Peter instructed was also about realizing that God’s mission was actually being fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who is Lord and Christ. Therefore repentance and baptism was about joining that mission, surrendering to Jesus and aligning oneself as his disciple, believing that hope and salvation – the kingdom reign of God – was a reality in Jesus alone, who reigns as Lord and Messiah (the Christ). Thus repentance and baptism were instructed in the name of Jesus Christ.
That raises a question for us today as we gather on this Pentecost weekend which has become a rather mundane and mostly forgetful weekend for much the Christian community, at least so in North America. N.T. Wright observes that in a span of one-hundred years, from AD 25 to AD 125, history emerged from absolutely no hint of a Christian movement to a movement large enough and significant enough that a pagan philosopher named Aristides regarded Christians as a fourth human race among the Barbarians, Greeks, and Jews. Think about that…how does a dream, a hope, a mission emerge from a small group of ordinary Jews in an upper room to three-thousand additional disciples to the eventual emergence of disciples all over the Greco-Roman world consisting of both Jews and Gentiles?
I want to suggest two reasons for this revolutionary growth. First, these followers believed that God was truly at work in Jesus alone. They truly believed that Jesus alone was Lord and Messiah. We only need to read the rest of Acts to see how tightly they held this belief. While I believe it to be a safe assumption that this belief continued to be formed through apostolic teaching, what we know is that their belief not only led them to radical acts of love and service but it also led them to show no compromise between Jesus and Caesar for some form of a nationalistic civil-religion which is so common place among much of Christianity today that it has become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between church and state and where Christian allegiance truly lies. Second, these followers lived by the power of God’s Spirit at work among them. Again, if we continue reading Acts, it becomes clear what source of power fueled their continued mission. They did not live by the power of conventional reason and wisdom that has dominated – and dare I say hijacked – much of the contemporary church into chasing every trendy gimmick in an effort to take the world for Jesus and grow a larger church as if mission is something we do rather than participating in what God does.
No…these who heard and believed the testimony of Peter lived by the radical promise that God had been at work in Jesus and would continue to be at work among them through the Spirit as they lived in the name of Jesus. And in doing so, they became a revolutionary missional movement that flooded the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I titled this Pentecost reflection “Pentecost Today: When the Church Welcomes this Message” because this is what I believe will happen when the church welcomes the message of the gospel without compromise to the radical claim of Jesus or the substitution of the Spirit’s power for our own human ingenuity.
I am still learning what it means to be a radical uncompromising disciple of Jesus by the power of the Spirit alone. Too often I fail. But today I appeal to you as my fellow “aliens and exiles” (cf. 1 Pet 2.11) to welcome this message of Peter’s so that God can use us as his revolutionary and missional people flooding the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is taken from the New Revised Standard Version.
 See C. K. Barrett, The Acts of the Apostles: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, The International Critical Commentary, vol. 1., 2nd ed. (Edinburg: T & T Clark, 2004), 151; who points out that the use of onoma in 3.16 means that “…in baptism it indicates that the person baptized becomes the property of, is assigned to the company of, Jesus…”