Signs of Life (Acts 2)
“Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
I love the season of spring! When the days get longer and warmer, everything “springs” to life. Even as I write this, my backyard is splashed with sunshine while the chirps of birds create nature’s melodious soundtrack. I know that sounds a bit “poetic” but that’s also a point I hope to make: Spring does crazy things to people.
My favorite sport is baseball and the genius of the game is it follows the seasons: from the first crack of the bat in spring, through the dog days of summer to the final out of fall. Like all of nature, baseball then hibernates and waits during winter’s cold.
In the spring hope emerges.
Outside of “tax day” (and the hope of a refund), the spring of season is all about hope. March comes in like a lion but departs (usually) like a lamb. April showers bring May flowers. May romances produce June weddings. The hope of a better year, a fresh chapter or a new lease is what makes spring so wonderful.
Just ask a Chicago Cubs fan. Every March in “spring” training these “lovable losers” anticipate “this is the year” and hope for a World Series ring that’s escaped them since 1908. They haven’t even been to a World Series since 1945.
Now thats a long winter of discontent.
What truly springs in spring is life. New shoots of green grass. Buds of leaves. Baby birds. It’s as if all of nature takes a collective yawn and then jumps out of bed. With warmer days, come picnics in the park, children playing in the yard and scores of other outside activities.
Signs of life are everywhere.
Maybe it’s no accident that God launched His Church in the spring, a mere 50 days after Passover. The Day of Pentecost (or 50) was the birthday of the Church. On this Sunday, seven weeks and one day after the Passover celebration, God showed up with a Spring in his step.
The signs of His Divine activity were a trinity of three images that the Jews knew all too well.
The first sign was a powerful, rushing and violent wind. The Scripture is silent but we can easily speculate that such a sound produced fear. The key here is the “sound” of a violent wind. There was no wind! It was an audio event only.
For the Jew the arrival of a “violent wind” (as described here) meant Judgment was at hand. Throughout the Old Testament, scores of Scriptures speak to God’s Divine Judgment through “a violent wind” that blows out the chaff (Psalm 1:4), destroys the proud (Isaiah 17:13) and removes the unrighteous (Jeremiah 30:23).
In many ways, this wind experience would invoke a well-worn Jewish memory: The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
The second sign is little flickers (tongues) of fire that appeared on the heads of the Twelve Apostles. This is a visual cue and it’s no accident that Luke describes them as “tongues” because a “tongue” miracle is about to happen: these poor, uneducated redneck men are going to speak eloquently in languages and dialects they had never studied.
Like wind, the presence of fire to the Jew was a clear indication of God’s Presence. It’s no doubt, they learned story after story in synagogue school about Moses and a “burning” bush (Exodus 3:1ff), Israelites following a “pillar of fire” (Exodus 12:21-22), Elijah’s “chariot of fire” (2 Kings 2:11) or even the miracle of a “fourth man” in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego (Daniel 3:1ff).
When the “sound of the wind” awoke the crowd, gathered to celebrate Pentecost and they heard the Twelve speaking to them in their own language, even dialect (Acts 2:8), the people asked a very perceptive question:
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN (2:12)?
What does this spiritual phenomenon symbolize? What life applications can I draw from this Divine activity?
Peter, the leader of the Twelve, now stood and spoke a pointed, yet poignant message that what they were experiencing was no accident nor the result of too much wine. After all, when was the last time a drunk started speaking eloquent Swahili or French or German?
No, Peter says, what this means is God is in the House and the Church is now His vehicle for salvation. To the Jew, God’s chosen people, simply their ethnicity showed God’s favor. However, Peter fingers the Jews as the ones who killed the Messiah (2:36). This realization horrified this Jewish crowd and they asked “what now?”
Peter then describes a third sign–really a new sign of Covenant between God and His People–immersion in water. We call it “baptism” today but that’s a KJV transliteration of the Greek “baptiidzo” which means to “plunge under” or “immerse.”
Like circumcism was a sign of the Old Covenant, baptism would be the sign of the New. Paul writes to the Colossians using this imagery (2:9-12):
For in Christ all the fullness( of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head (over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
So now, it’s our turn to ask: WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN? What do the signs of life (wind, fire, water) mean to us?
First and foremost, God’s Divine Activity is always around us. We just have to open our ears and eyes. The sounds of Judgment still resound. The flashes of God’s Presence still catch the eye. Whenever a person is baptized the Church can rejoice in a new brother or sister.
Second, where are you? The signs are also a sequence: we are judged, God shows up and then we’re cleansed. Each of us are living out one of these symbols.
Wind. Fire. Water. What do they mean?
They mean you are ALIVE. Vertical. And the Church is on the Rise!