“Waiting is the Hardest Part”
One of the many great songs by Tom Petty is called The Waiting. A lyric in the song is, waiting is the hardest part. For people, the lyrics are generally true—people do not like to wait.
A perfect example of what I am getting is the time between an engagement and a wedding day. It’s hard to wait because the expectations are heightened. Hopes and dreams appear to be within reach, but you can’t quite take hold of them. Waiting for the wedding day can be the hardest part. In Acts 1-2, we read Jesus told the disciples to wait. After the ascension of Jesus, I imagine that waiting was the hardest part.
Waiting in Jerusalem
After His ascension into heaven, the disciples were hanging out in Jerusalem at the direction of Jesus. Right before Jesus punches his roundtrip ticket, he says to the crew,
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”– Acts 1:4–5
Ten days went by, and at least 120 people, including the apostles, were hanging out, casting lots, playing euchre, and perhaps creating a missions strategy. Who knows. Whatever they were doing, we know Jesus told them to wait. And out of obedience to their Lord, they did wait. And then the Jewish holiday of Pentecost arrived. The wait was over.
Corn = Penecost?
Let’s talk about Pentecost for a moment because you might not know its significance. Pentecost is originally a Jewish holiday celebrating the harvesting of food.
I live in Iowa, and across my gravel driveway is a cornfield stretching as far as the eye can see. My living situation seems to fit all the Iowa stereotypes. At the end of the growing season, farmers go out into the fields to harvest corn and sow beans.
And the Jews celebrated that moment by giving God the first fruits of their harvest. The best of their harvest. Here are a couple of other interesting facts about Jewish Pentecost. It was celebrated fifty days after the Passover and took place during the peak traveling season. This means Pentecost in Jerusalem had a cosmopolitan feel because Jews from outside of the region could attend the feast.
Here is one more interesting fact about Pentecost in the 1st century. In addition to celebrating the harvest, the Jews commemorated the time God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses. The recognition of the 10 Commandments was developed later in Jewish history but was established in the 1st-century. The short story is that the Jews wanted to remember the time God gave them the Law. I find this point fascinating when considering what God was about to give his disciples while waiting in Jerusalem during Pentecost.
Between the Passover and Pentecost
A lot had happened between the Passover, when Jesus celebrated the Lord’s Supper with his disciples for the last time, and Pentecost. As I stated, fifty days had gone by. Here are some of the events that took place between the Last Supper and Pentecost.
- Jesus was betrayed by his “friend” Judas.
- Jesus was then unjustly condemned to death by the Jews and Romans.
- Jesus endured suffering.
- Jesus endured carrying a cross up a hill to Calvery.
- On the top of this hill is where Jesus broke His body, enduring the pain and punishment that should be on you and me.
- It is on the top of this hill where the wrath of God was satisfied.
And there is more.
- Jesus was taken down from the cross and put into a tomb.
- Jesus was buried.
- Jesus rose from the dead.
But there is more that happened between the Passover and Pentecost. For many days after his resurrection, Jesus intensified his teaching and discipleship. So with the holes still in his hands and feet, Jesus went about preparing the apostles and disciples to take the baton from Jesus. Jesus was calling the apostles to bear witness to the world about the good news. Well, the day came, and Jesus ascended into heaven. And the passing of the baton was almost complete. Listen to what Luke records in his gospel. The scene is when the prophet John the Baptizer was baptizing, and people began to ask John if he was the Messiah. John’s prophetic response directly connects with Acts 2.
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”– Luke 3:15-16
I’ve read Luke 3 many times, and I’ve thought to myself, “Why does John mention fire?!” We read why in Acts 2.
John’s response is awesome. He says, “nope, I am not the chosen one. As a matter of fact, you will know the chosen One because he is going to baptize you – not with water – but with fire.” On the fiftieth day, we read about this promise being fulfilled. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to His people in the form of fire.
The Mystery of the Scene
The wait is over. Acts 2:2-4 says,
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.– Acts 2:2–4
Charles Spurgeon said this about the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
From the decent of the Holy Spirit at the beginning, we may learn something concerning his operations at the present time. Whatever the Holy Spirit was at first, he is now; for as God, he remains forever the same. Whatever he did then, he is able to do still; for his power is by no means diminished. We would greatly grieve the Holy Spirit if we supposed that his might was less today than in the beginning.– Charles Spurgeon
The work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is unique, but the same Holy Spirit is still at work in our day. Therefore, this passage should not cause us to speculate but to put us into awe.
Let’s take a closer look at what was going on. We read about a sound like a mighty rushing wind (v. 2). In my mind, I picture a mini-tornado taking place in this upper room, whipping everything around. It is interesting that wind in the Bible frequently represents the Holy Spirit. Even if we go back to Genesis 1:2, it says the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. The word Spirit in Genesis 1:2 is often translated out of Hebrew as wind.
And then we read about fire resting – I assume on the top – of each person’s head (v. 3). The fire symbolized the presence of God. Um, consider for a moment the times in the Old Testament when a fire is used to symbolize the presence of God.
- In Exodus 3, Moses goes up the mountain to speak with God, and God speaks with Moses through a bush that is on fire but was not being consumed by the fire.
- In Exodus 13, God leads Israel through the wilderness in the daytime by a pillar of cloud and leads them at night by a pillar of fire to light the way.
- In Exodus 19, we read how the Lord descended on Mount Sinai like a fire.
- In Deuteronomy 5, the Lord speaks through a fire.
And the list goes on.
Since Pentecost, the power and presence of God are now with his people, which is what fire represents. Here is what I mean. In the Old Testament, the presence of God was really with a few select people. But now, with Pentecost being a seminal moment in redemptive history, we see that the presence of God rests on anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ. And we read this happens by the filling of the Holy Spirit (v. 4).
So Now What?
Hit the pause button for a moment. Pentecost is genuinely historic. And beyond the importance of the history of Pentecost, consider the practical implication for your life. If you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, God is with you. God knows you better than you know yourself. If you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, then God’s power and presence reside with you. John Stott punctuates the importance of the Holy Spirit.
There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from his fruit, and no effective witness without his power.– John Stott
It is helpful for you to see just as the apostles had the empowering presence of God within them, so does every person who is a follower of Jesus Christ. So through the highs and lows of life, you tap into the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s make it really practical for a moment.
- Have you had a bad week? Tap into the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
- Tough day at home with the kids? God, through the Holy Spirit, is there to help you.
- Are you facing a major life decision? Lean into God the Holy Spirit to guide you.
- Do you want to be bolder to your evangelize? The Holy Spirit can give you boldness and the words to share the gospel.
Back to the scene in verses 2-4. What is going on in these verses does challenge our modern sensibilities. I mean, when’s the last time you saw fire rest upon your head? But I would like to submit to you that the events in Acts 2 took place just like the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Further, I think Pentecost is a unique moment in history that belongs in the same category as the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. I am going to grant that there is a bit of mystery wrapped up with Pentecost. My imagination cannot fully grasp the scene. But perhaps that is part of the point of verses 2-4. There is beauty when we embrace the mystery. I also think the inclusion of wind and fire points to the unique nature of the moment. It is as if God is putting in a signpost in the ground to mark the significance of the moment. The wait is over, and the baton has been passed on.
Redemptive History and Pentecost
Pentecost is the moment in redemptive history when Jesus and the church are together holding the baton, and then finally Jesus lets go of the baton. Now, the church is running with the baton while empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The passing of the baton is from Jesus to the disciples and from the Son of God to God the Holy Spirit. Even though Jesus is not physically people, his Spirit is with his people. We live in the reality that Jesus is alive, in heaven, and the active work of the Holy Spirit testifies to that reality.