Pentecost: God Comes Unexpectedly by Maxie Dunnam

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The New Testament Book of Acts tells the story of the birth of the Church. Here is an exciting part of the story.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4 NIV)

This was the first Church plant in Christian history. At first blush, that certainly was not a good way to start a church. There was the disturbance of a roaring wind that would drown out any speaking. Then uneducated persons speaking in languages they had never heard. And not only a roaring wind, and strange speaking, but what was described as “tongues of fire” resting on each of them.

Unbridled excitement and strange acting. What a way to start a church! The question has to be, ‘What was happening here, anyway?’ It was PENTECOST, and the Holy Spirit had come unexpectedly. 

This Sunday, May 19, is Pentecost Sunday, the day that begins a season set aside to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.

Pentecost. What was happening? God came unexpectedly. Even as I note that, I remind us that is nothing new. God seems to make it a habit of sneaking up on the human race, appearing unexpectedly. When no one is looking, or knows what is going on, God is in their midst.

The kind of thing that happened at Pentecost had happened before. Moses was out in the field alone, taking care of his father-in-law’s flock. And there it was … a burning bush that was not consumed and a voice coming out of the bush, and Moses was called to lead God’s children out of Egyptian bondage.

Now, here at Pentecost, is this little band of frightened disciples whose leader, Jesus, had been crucified. They are stunned, confused, and unable to figure out what to do. The only instruction they had was stay; “just stay in Jerusalem, until you receive the gift the Father has promised.” ‘What gift?’ they must have wondered. Then along comes God unexpectedly. 

That kind of God-action has not ceased. I have seen dramatic witnesses of it. One of the joys of my life was to chair the Evangelism Committee of the World Methodist Council for 20 years. This gave me the opportunity to travel the world and meet extraordinary Christians. Two of those were Nelson Mandela and Stanley Magoba. You probably know something about Mandela, but have not even heard of Stanley Magoba. He was the first black person to be the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa.

About the time Nelson Mandela was sent to prison, Stanley met with a group of angry students and sought to dissuade them from violent demonstration. Just for that – trying to avert violence – he was arrested and imprisoned for six years on the notorious Robben Island. Mandela was already in prison there. He and Magoba became friends. 

One day someone pushed a religious tract under Magoba’s cell door. Parenthetically, don’t ever forget: most people become Christian not by big events, but by relationships and simple actions like a person putting a tract beneath a prison cell door. By reading that little tract and responding to the Holy Spirit, Mogoba became a Christian. He quoted the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn to describe his experience:

“Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off; my heart was free,
I rose, went forth and followed thee.”

God showed up, in a prison and, in a simple gospel tract, something unexpected happened. A person who was to lead the Methodist Movement in South Africa was converted.

It’s Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes, often unexpectedly. Stay open and welcome his coming.

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