"What must we do?" This was the question asked by those who heard Peter preach on the feast of Pentecost. His answer? "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 gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Peter knew immediately that what Jesus had given them was for everyone. "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call" (2:39).
The prescription seems simple enough: repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus to have your sins forgiven, receive the Holy Spirit. Repent - turn away from sin. Be baptized - turn toward Jesus. In return receive a part of God himself. Not a bad exchange: give up your sin and get a share of the Divinity. The reward that God promises us for giving up our sins is so tremendous, so mind-boggling, how can we resist, how can we hesitate? What a deal God offers us!
For reflection: What sins do I need to give up?
Let us pray. Jesus, I want to give you my sins. I give you . . . . I'm sorry for hanging on to these sins for so long. They hurt you and others. Thank you for taking them from me and forgiving me.
I ask now for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Righteousness, the Spirit of Healing, the Spirit of Comfort. Come, Holy Spirit.
On fire with the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, Peter begins to preach to the multitude of Jews who have gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Finally all doubt seems to be gone from the disciples about the meaning of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and what they are now supposed to do about it. Peter, the fisherman, the guy who constantly puts his foot in his mouth, begins to preach (Acts 2:1-41).
These "God-fearing Jews" (verse 5) who were gathered in Jerusalem were from many nations (Egypt, Libya and Italy among others). The disciples baptized about 3000 of them that day (verse 41). When they returned home, no doubt they told their family and friends what had happened in Jerusalem. And so the news that the long-promised Jewish Messiah had finally come spread quickly. What joy there must have been. Was there dancing in the streets? Were celebrations held? Feasting and drinking and toasting?
For reflection: Many Christians experience great joy when they first come to know Jesus, but after a while it fades. Do I still have my first joy? If not, what is keeping me from it?
Let us pray. "Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds." (Psalm 149:2-5)
What are we to make of the image of fire in Luke's account of the coming of the Holy Spirit? Wind and fire appear together frequently in the Jewish tradition to signify an appearance of God. In Exodus 19:14-19 Moses and the people experience thunder and lightening, a thick cloud, a trumpet blast, billowing smoke and fire. The whole mountain trembled. Of course, we have the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day to lead the Hebrew people in the desert. In Psalm 50:3, God "comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages." Speaking of the last judgment, Isaiah (66:15) proclaims, "See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire." (See also Isaiah 4:4, 2 Samuel 22:16 and Jeremiah 30:23.) In these images the fire is the purifying fire of judgment. But that does not appear to be the case for Luke in the Pentecost account. It is not a time of judgment on the disciples.
Luke speaks of "tongues of fire" in Acts 2:3 and "other tongues" in 2:4. These other tongues are enabled by the Holy Spirit. There is Jewish tradition for God speaking visibly, speaking from fire also. Recall Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3). We also have Deuteronomy 4:36, "From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire". (See also Habakkuk 2:1.) People could "see" God's voice. In Acts chapter 2 then, Luke really means some visible appearance of the voice of God manifesting to others through the disciples speaking in other tongues.
For reflection: Have I seen the voice of God? Have I experienced the fire of Holy Spirit?
Let us pray. "Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, O God, as you have done before. . . . Proclaim the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel, whose power in in the skies. You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!" (Psalm 68:28-35).
Authority without power is weak. Power without authority is just show. But when you put the two together, explosive things happen. Jesus gave the disciples authority to preach and baptize at the Ascension, just before he returned to his Father, when he said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). They were authorized to do those things. Luke tells us Jesus also said, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Jesus gave them power when he sent the Holy Spirit. They now had authority and power. The word used for power in Acts 1:8 is the root of the word "dynamite" in English.
The disciples began to preach with authority and to back it up with demonstrations of power, what you might call the gospel combination. Jesus had given them the authority and the power to do what he had called them to do - go out into the whole world to spread the good news, to do the things that they had watched Jesus do for several years.
For reflection: What has God called me to do? Do I believe he has given me the gifts to do what he has called me to do?
Let us pray. Jesus, giver of all good gifts, you sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples on Pentecost to enable them to be you on the earth, to continue to carry out your mission, to bring all peoples unto you. Thank you for giving me all I need to do what you have called me to do. Help me to use that dynamite power every day for you.
In my last post I compared Pentecost to being hit by a freight train or a tornado. I wasn't trying to be prophetic, but this week in the U.S. we have a graphic example of what being hit by a tornado means. If you have been watching the news reports, the people of Oklahoma realize that what is gone is their "stuff" their "things". Those things can be replaced. What they mourn, of course, is the loss of life.
Let's return to the disciples at Pentecost. Their normal, everyday lives are now gone. Peter doesn't go back to fishing; Matthew doesn't go back to being a tax collector. Instead, they can now speak in other languages as needed, preach to great effect, work miracles, and heal people. But the price is being hounded, whipped, imprisoned and killed. These are not normal lives for the likes of fishermen and tax collectors. They are now, as Paul says, ". . . a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). That is the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of Pentecost.
For reflection: Do I want that sort of change in my life? Am I willing to let go of the old in order to have the new? If I were one of the people in Oklahoma who lost their home, what would be most important to me now?
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, inspire us to be whatever help we can to the people who have lost everything or to other people around us who are in need. Bring the people of Oklahoma consolation and peace and the energy to begin again.
Open me to change. Open me to more of the Holy Spirit's work in my life.
I grew up in "tornado country" - the area of the U.S. where every spring we hid from tornadoes. Friends of my family had railroad tracks through their farm and whenever a freight train came through we kids would run to put our ear to the ground next to the tracks. The ground shakes and the roar drowns everything else. When you hear people say the sound of a tornado is like the sound of a freight train, they are telling the truth. They sound exactly alike. It is a fearsome noise.
At Pentecost the disciples heard the sound of a violent wind. I imagine this to be like the noise of a tornado. "It filled the whole house where they were sitting" (Acts 2:2). Based on our knowledge of the disciples since the death of Jesus, and the noise of a tornado, one would expect the next sentence to be: And they were afraid. But it's not. Instead Luke says, "Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability" (Acts 2:3-4).
They got hit by the freight train, the tornado of God.
St. Luke gives us one more account of the Ascension of Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles (1:1-11). Luke summarizes very briefly what he wrote in his gospel then jumps right into the Ascension giving some details he did not put in the gospel. Jesus told them to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. . . . You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth."
They cannot receive the power of the Holy Spirit until after Jesus returns to heaven. In the power of the Holy Spirit they will boldly go where no man has gone before to preach the good news, risking their lives to bring about the kingdom of God on earth.
For reflection: Do I have the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the kingdom of God on earth? Am I using it fully?
Let us pray. Jesus, you are a God of great abundance. With you there is always more. I want to receive more of the power of your Holy Spirit to do the things you call me to do.
(Perhaps the following video will put a smile on your face so that you show the joy of the Holy Spirit to all who see you today. We should always be ready to explain the hope and the joy that we have.)
In his last words before leaving the disciples to return to heaven, Jesus summarizes for them what he has been teaching them. "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:46-48). We have had this theme of being witnesses since Easter. The women, the apostles and various disciples were witnesses to Jesus' life, death and resurrection. It was important to have witnesses so that people would not think it was just an incredible story that had been made up.
When we become Christians we too become witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, we join a long line of witnesses going back to the apostles. A Catholic friend of mine once explained it this way: I want to be able to shake the hand of the pastor, who shook the hand of the local bishop, who shook the hand of the Bishop of Rome, who shook the hand of the Pope before him, on back to the one who shook the hand of Peter, who shook the hand of Jesus.
For reflection: What kind of witness am I? Am I a strong witness or a weak witness? How can I become a better witness?
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, thank you for all the witnesses who came before me. Thank you for those who witnessed specifically to me. I want to be a better witness for you. What do I need to do?
Staying with the Ascension account, let's back up a few verses from where we were on Friday to Luke 24:44-49. "He (Jesus) said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Jesus makes his claim to be the Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He is the one who has been foretold, the one sent by the Father to bring forgiveness and salvation.
In order to understand this, the disciples needed another gift - the gift of having their minds opened to understand the Scriptures so that they can see Jesus the Christ more clearly.
For reflection: Do I read all of the Bible so that I understand how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets?
Let us pray. Jesus, I want to see you more clearly. Open my mind to understand the Scriptures.
"Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God" (Luke 24:50-53).
Jesus gave his disciples two gifts as he departed from them: joy and praise. We have not seen before that the disciples were joyful or full of praise either before Jesus' death or after. But now they are changed. His blessing to them is that they be full of joy and praise for God.
For reflection: Am I a joyful person? Am I able to praise God easily?
Let us pray. "Clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness, for the Lord, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth" (Psalm 47:1-2).
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.