For a celebration like Pentecost, Jerusalem might swell to as many as 500,000 pilgrims. I don’t know how many came running up to us, but there was a huge crowd, too many to count. They were from all over the Roman world, this scattered Jewish nation of ours.
I realized they could understand everything we were saying, and in their own native languages. The languages we were all speaking were perfectly designed for our listeners. None of us had ever spoken these languages before, nor have we since. We did not know what we were doing or saying, but the Holy Spirit did.
He planned it all and executed it to perfection. And each ensuing experience with the Spirit has been as moving as this one – in different ways, of course, and not always as public as this one. But nevertheless, any time the Spirit is moving the results are always the same: “Immeasurably, abundantly more than all we could ever ask, or even imagine to ask.”
If we get out of his way and allow him to lead.
By this time my mind was settling down and I could hear the crowds murmuring, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” They were amazed and perplexed – who wouldn’t be? – and they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of us and said, “They have had too much wine.”
I can understand their reaction, it felt a little like being drunk. But instead of being filled with wine, we were filled with the Spirit. I had this new sense of clarity. I knew what to do. I knew what to say to the crowd approaching us.
And suddenly I felt myself walking to the front of the crowd, and without any thought or preparation, I just started … preaching … to the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. We are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! Don’t be ridiculous. No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Here I was quoting the prophet Joel like a Pharisaic scholar! I would ordinarily ask, “Where did that come from?” But I know where it came from: the Holy Spirit.
“Fellow Israelites,” I continued, “listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know
Many of those in the crowd had witnessed Jesus’ miracles. They should have known he was special. But of course I had witnessed many more, and although I knew he was indeed special, I had previously been as blind as this crowd was as to just how special.
Until the Holy Spirit indwelled me.
As the Spirit swelled within me I started to drive my point home, and let them see how badly they had missed it. Perhaps I was actually condemning myself for my own part in Jesus’ crucifixion. Either way, I continued, my voice rising with passion:
“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
Yes, I know now I was including myself in my accusations, because I know now it was my sinful nature – my insistence on being king of my life – that nailed Jesus to that cross. Not so much my actions, although that is certainly part of it, but it was primarily my sinful heart. And so it was with this crowd, and so it is with you.
You helped nail Jesus to that cross just as surely as this crowd did, just as surely as the Jewish leaders did, just as surely as the Roman guards did. Your self-seeking heart, like mine, pushed Jesus away from your throne and towards the cross.
As I felt myself coming to the end of this talk, I concluded with, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”
Witnesses – Eyewitnesses: more on that next.