Have you ever been going along and everything is working, you have a lot on your plate, but you’re getting it all done, problems come up, but you can meet the problems, you have about 60 balls in the air, it’s hard, but somehow you’re juggling them, when, out of the clear blue sky, whammo, a cannonball blows half your head off, and you just know you are going to die.
Maybe you are suddenly facing a colossal loss. Maybe you have been caught out in some terrible wrongdoing. Maybe one of your deepest secrets has just been exposed. Maybe someone who really knows you, whom you love and trust, said something to you that absolutely crushes your heart and spirit.
Whatever it is, as you were humming along perfectly happy, a huge hole ripped into you.
At that moment of brokenness and vulnerability, that chaos, God’s Spirit can begin to work.
So it was with those in the Upper Room, shredded with grief over the loss of their beloved Jesus. The roller coaster of emotion, from the cross, to the grave, to His astounding resurrection, and the sweet, sweet days of being with Him again, and then the shocking, and seemingly sudden, ascension, where He truly had left them bereft.
He had told them to wait. Go to the Upper Room, He had said, the room where He and His followers had eaten of their last Passover meal together, the room where they had laughed, and sung, and drunk wine together, until He had lifted that last cup, the Cup of Hallel, the Hallelujah cup, representing the world to come, and said, “I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
So, stunned, numb, they had taken themselves to Jerusalem, taken step after heavy step up the stairs to that room full of remembered love and joy, and anticipation. And, there they had sat. And prayed.
It was the time of Pentecost, similar to our Thanksgiving, the first ingathering of the wheat harvest. Jerusalem was filled with about a million people, or maybe even more, from all over the known world to celebrate this Feast together at the temple.
Often in scripture when God is doing a new thing or proclaiming a new message He gives a sign that this is from Him, so God accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit with three signs.
Acts 2:2 First Symbol, Wind
In Hebrew and Greek, the languages of the apostles’ day, the word for “spirit” and the word for “wind” or “breath” were the same. Must have been like a gale, or a hurricane! All the people in the streets could hear the sound of the wind.
In Geneses 1 think of God’s divine life-giving breath moving over the void at the beginning of creation, out of which came all life. Genesis 2 God formed ha-adam out of the dust of the ground and breathed into this person’s form, and the human became a living being. Apart from the breath of God, the source of life, ha-adam was just a pile of dust
Ezekiel watched as a God breathed over a valley of dried bones and transformed the bones into a vast army of living people.
In John’s gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus “The Spirit gives birth to spirit. No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Jesus was saying new life or spiritual life, that all people need, must be breathed into them by God’s breath or spirit just like the first time, from above. Apparently, people can be alive physically but dead spiritually. God must breath His Spirit into a person for her to come alive in her spirit.
The coming of the Holy Spirit like a violent wind symbolized the creative power of God bringing in a new age of women and men brought to spiritual life.
Acts 2:3 Second Symbol, Light
The wind was for everyone, but the flames were personal. Each person could see the others’ flame, but not her own. Seeing the flame on others helped to explain his own experience of inner transformation, passion, excitement, that wild, wonder-working power of God.
Scripture often uses fire as a symbol of God’s holiness, and of God’s presence. In Genesis God made a covenant with Abraham, passing through the sacrifice Abraham prepared, in the form of a fire. God called out to Moses from a bush that appeared to be in flames, but it wasn’t burning.
God touched Isaiah’s unclean lips with a coal from the altar’s fire, making his mouth pure to speak God’s word.
If you think about fire, you can see how the symbolism works:
1) Fire produces light, and light always illumines dark places. The Bible is just thick with examples of this metaphor of God’s light providing guidance, revelation, wisdom, and clarity. But it’s a metaphor that cuts both ways. If you are in the shadows, and you’d like to stay there, the light becomes an unwelcome exposure of what you’d like to keep hidden.
2) Fire produces warmth, though this metaphor cuts both ways, too. For some, this is the warmth of love and acceptance, the warmth of encouragement and inspiration. For others, this is a warmth that’s way too hot, what the prophets liked to call the “refiner’s fire.”
Psalm 19 does a great job with this metaphor, by the way.
Acts 2:4 Third Symbol, Speech
All those gathered in the upper room began to speak in other languages “as the Spirit enabled them.” These were not ecstatic utterances but actual languages, in the dialects and language groups of the nationalities then in Jerusalem for the feast.
Luke’s account doesn’t emphasize the miracle so much as the result. The people heard. In fact, Acts 2 says “hear” or “heard” six times. This is the first of countless encouragements Jesus gave to His followers as they began to live out the commission He’d given them.
So, why did Peter choose Joel’s prophecy to explain what was happening? Yes, yes, he was saying what the Spirit was giving him to say. But, why Joel, in particular?
Because of who were in that upper room, praying and waiting. Because of who were pouring out into the streets of Jerusalem, publicly prophesying and evangelizing in foreign languages.
Along with inaugurating a new era in which God would literally dwell among, and within, His people, Jesus was inaugurating a new era in which women and men would realize the equality of partnership God had originally intended. No longer would the Fall’s affect be a necessary experience. Jesus had indeed and in literal fact restored and reconciled all to Himself.