A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on May 23, 2010.
I suppose some of you found a bit of humor in the title of the sermon for today. Last weekend, I lost my voice because of an ear and throat infection. I borrowed Kristy Eggert’s voice and she superbly delivered my sermon for me.
I told some people a few days later that listening to my sermon that someone else preached was like having an out-of-body experience. I knew what she was going to say before she said it and that was a weird feeling.
I also noticed that some of the people who normally doze off, I mean pray, during my sermons had no problem staying awake. Maybe I need to let Kristy deliver my sermons each week!
In many ways, I believe our text today is about finding your voice. Peter certainly lost his voice during the crucifixion, which is ironic. He never seemed to be at a loss for words when he wasn’t under stress. All that changed when his life was threatened. Yet, on Pentecost, he found his voice, never to lose it again. Let’s look at the story in more detail from Luke’s perspective.
When you read Luke’s account of what happened to the disciples on Pentecost, you cannot miss how important he considers this event to be. One of the themes that he highlights throughout his gospel and the history of the early church in Acts is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit guiding people, for the most part ordinary people, along their journeys. God’s concern for and involvement in this world is unmistakably clear according to Luke. It is the foundation upon which he built his faith. I think it is a good place for us to begin, too.
Just what did happen at Pentecost? Luke says the disciples had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Jewish festival known as Pentecost.
In many ways, Pentecost is like our Thanksgiving. It was a one-day celebration of the spring wheat harvest. Leviticus 23: 15-16 states, “From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.”
Tradition has also connected this festival to an observance of the time Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, establishing a covenant between God and the Israelites. Perhaps this is true, but it appears the major emphasis focused upon expressing heart-felt gratitude to God for his many blessings, especially daily bread.
Jews from all over the world came to Jerusalem with grateful hearts to worship the Lord, including the followers of Jesus. Actually, more attended this festival than Passover because it was later in the year when the weather was better for traveling.
It was while these disciples were gathered in a room somewhere near the temple that something remarkable occurred. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received power through the Holy Spirit. At this gathering during Pentecost, the Spirit came. Listen to Luke’s description.
“When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning, there was a sound like a strong, gale force wind. No one could tell where it came from and it filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. At this sound, the crowd gathered and was bewildered because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” Acts 2:1-8.
Luke goes on to record Peter’s sermon that day to the masses. He shared the story of Jesus with them and concluded by saying, “Let all of Israel be assured of this. God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” Acts 2:36.
Upon hearing this, the people asked the disciples, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord will call” Acts 2:37b-39.
Of course, not everyone embraced Peter or his message, but Luke records that 3,000 responded to Peter’s plea by being baptized. You can only imagine how that made him and the disciples feel. They had to be euphoric!
How does this story speak to us today? What is Luke’s message for us? I’ve pondered this for several days and want to share with you how it speaks to me.
Before you can make a difference in the lives of people around you, something must happen inside you. The leader of the disciples that we see at Pentecost is not the same one who denied Jesus three times at his trial or hid out of fear behind locked doors after the resurrection. What happened?
I believe Peter did a lot of soul searching and praying between Easter and Pentecost. He must have realized that the future of the movement that Jesus started was now dependent upon him.
He must have also realized that he could not do what needed to be done using merely his intellect and strength. He had to have help, especially God’s, and opened his heart and life to Him perhaps as he never had.
God did not disappoint him and he did not disappoint God. Fortified by a new purpose, passion and power, Peter unlocked that door and threw caution to the wind. He found his voice as he put his faith into action.
Who needs to hear your voice? Who needs you to speak on their behalf? Who needs you to come out of hiding and put your faith into action? Who needs you to throw caution to the wind and take risks you have previously avoided?
What will happen if you don’t do it? What will happen if you do? Where do you find this kind of courage?
I think I know how Peter would answer that last question. Courage comes from soul searching and praying. Courage comes from listening to the cries of those who are struggling to survive in a violent, uncertain, confusing and ambiguous world.
Courage comes from making yourself available to God to be an instrument of change. Courage comes from relying upon God to give you wisdom, understanding, guidance, strength, courage, determination and even patience. Courage comes from linking arms with others who are on this journey.
Courage comes from within and compels you to move out of your comfort zone. And when you do, you find your voice and your purpose.
I’ve thought a lot about what Jesus told the disciples moments before his ascension. “Stay in the city (Jerusalem) until you have been clothed with power from on high” Luke 24:49.
Why did he tell them this? He knew that they were not ready to rub shoulders with the masses and face the stiff challenges awaiting them. Fear, not faith, dominated them, and he understood. Had they faced the level of opposition that awaited them, similar to what he faced, they would have crumbled.
After ten more days of soul searching and praying, they were ready, though. At least Peter was. So, he opened that door and became a street preacher with a prophetic voice.
Don’t overlook what Luke wrote about the reaction to Peter’s message. Some were amazed and perplexed while others sneered and accused the disciples of being drunk. How did Peter react to his critics? He kept on preaching. The man who lost his voice around a charcoal fire six weeks earlier found his voice because a fire burned inside him that could not be extinguished.
What challenge are you facing today? How frightened are you? Is fear paralyzing you? I challenge you to take the next ten days to pray and search your soul. I encourage you to make yourself available to God while you ask Him for wisdom, understanding, guidance, strength, courage and determination. I ask you to put your faith into action and find your voice as you fling the door open and come out of hiding.
Tom Ehrich says that faith is an invitation to grow and make a difference. Pentecost demonstrates this, doesn’t it? It reveals that Peter and the disciples grew a lot. I hope we will, too.