And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.…
The crucifixion coincided with the Passover; the resurrection with the feast of the first-fruits; the giving of the Spirit with the feast of the gathering in of the harvest. There was another application of the feast which had come into force in the time of our Lord, according to which the day of Pentecost commemorated the giving of the law. Whilst Jews were rejoicing over a law which could not give righteousness, because it could not give life, the little band of Christians were being vitalised and sanctified by the descent of the Divine Spirit. The whole difference between a dispensation of hard law, with all its burdens and impotence, and that of a living spirit, with all its buoyancy and power, is expressed by the occurrence of the Jewish festival and the Christian miracle in the same city at the same hour. The incident as it lies before us has three distinct steps, the keeping well apart of which is necessary in order either rightly to conceive the external features or to apprehend the spirit and meaning of the scene. These three are the symbols and precursors of the gift; the gift itself; and its consequences. The first and the last are transient, the central one is permanent. When the symbols had prepared the hearts there came the actual bestowment, and on it followed the speaking with tongues.
I. We have, first, then, to consider THE TRANSIENT SYMBOLS OF THE ABIDING GIFT. Now the story is often somewhat erroneously conceived, and it may be worth our while to try to get a clear idea of what really was seen and heard before we ask what was meant thereby. We are to conceive, then, of the whole group of 120 disciples gathered together in their usual place of resort, possibly the very same upper chamber as that in which He had said, "If I depart I will send Him unto you"; and there waiting, with the tension of expectation, which the wondrous events through which they had passed and the closing promises of their Master had now made to be the habitual attitude of their spirits — waiting in concord, hope, and prayer. And what, I suppose, happened was this. The rushing wind came and passed, the mass as of fire flashed and glowed and parted yet remaining united, and hovered over their heads and disappeared. And then they were filled with the Spirit, and then they spake with tongues. And after that the multitude entered, and heard no wind, and saw no fire, and only discerned that the men were "filled with the Holy Ghost" because they heard them speak with tongues. The symbols, therefore, were simply intended as premonitory of what was immediately to ensue, and as preparing the disciples for the gift by quickened anticipation and attention and insight. The signification of the symbols needs little elucidation. The Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, English, and other tongues express the immaterial part of man by analogous words, having the original meaning of breathing or breath. The breath is the life, and the symbol, inherent in the word spirit, carries the truth that the gift at Pentecost was, in its deepest conception, the communication of a Divine life. We are forgiven and accepted in order that a new Divine life may be imparted to us, and we get heaven because that life has been imparted. I need not remind you how there are subordinate felicities and beauties in this emblem, which, however, must never be allowed to disturb the prominence given to the central idea in it, such. as those which our Lord hinted at when He said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth; thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth." The depth and mystery of the source, the height and mysterious glory of the end, the liberty wherewith it makes them who possess it free when the impulses of the spirit are in harmony with the commandments of the Lord — all these things, and many more, are suggested by this great metaphor. Nor must we forget how the same motion of the same atmosphere stirs the young leaves on the summer trees and fans the hot cheek, and, gathering force, devastates cities and sweeps all before it. The variety in the operations and the might of the agent are wonderfully expressed in the symbol. The fire that parted itself into flames, and yet was all one, howsoever divided, is, too, a familiar emblem which needs little expansion. Fire is death; but fire is life too. And it is the vital, quickening, purifying, transforming energy of fire, not its consuming and annihilating force, which is expressed for us in this emblem. We speak of warm affections, fiery impulses, hearts glowing, spirits flaming with zeal, and metaphors of the like sort. Where God's Spirit is there will be no coldness; where His Spirit is there will be no dead, hard obstinacy, as of black coal and green, smoky wood; where His Spirit is it will turn all into its own fiery likeness; and out of the most unpromising material will evoke shooting flames that aspire upwards to their source. The condition of all goodness is enthusiasm, and the author of all holy enthusiasm is that fiery Spirit which will sit upon each of us.
II. That brings me to the second stage here — viz., THE ABIDING GIFT. Let us take the liberty of inverting the words of the clause which describes it. "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost." "Holy Ghost." That designation, coupled with the other which is kindred to it, the "Spirit of Truth," makes the difference between the sobriety of the Christian idea of inspiration, and the extravagances and immoralities which have honeycombed all other forms of belief that God breathes Himself into men. If Christian people would only remember that all high-flying pretences to spiritual illumination and eminent religiousness and endowments are to be measured by this sharp test, "Do they make better men?" there would have been less to weep over in some pages of the history of the Church; and men would have been saved from fancying that any spirit is a spirit of God unless the manifestations of it are love, joy, peace, righteousness. Let us remember, "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost." Further, mark the abundance of the gift. The word "filled" is not to be passed lightly, as if it were merely a favourite phrase of Luke's. It cannot mean anything else than that a man, according to the height of his capacity to receive, was under the influence of that Divine Spirit, and that all the nature — thought, affection, will, practical energy — in all its manifestations, in daily life and common secular things, as well as in waiting on God in prayer and what we call religious exercises, was an inspired nature. "Filled with the Holy Ghost"! Filled? And most of us have a little drop in the bottom of the reservoir; a trickle of water down the dry bed; a cats-paw of wind that dies before it moves the flapping sails; a spark of fire in one corner of a cold grate. And we talk about being "filled with the Spirit"! And then there is the universality of the gift. "They were all." Not the eleven apostles only, as people sometimes fancy, but the whole 120 of them. Now, then, Christian people, "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
III. Lastly, notice THE TRANSIENT RESULTS OF THE ABIDING GIFT. That speaking with tongues, the supernatural expression of Christian truth and devout emotion, in languages learned by no ordinary method, lasted but for a little while. What was its significance? It was a lesson, at the beginning, of the universal adaptation and intention of Christ's work and gift. It was a lesson of the solemn duty of the Church in all lands, and to all ages. But beyond that, there is another lesson which I desire to leave on your hearts. "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak." Of course! Christian people who have learned with any passionate affection to love, and with any depth of intelligence to understand, Christ and His gospel, must needs speak it forth. Do you see to it that you, first of all, receive, and then you will not be lacking in the impulse to impart, that great gift. There is only one way to get that Pentecostal gift. The precursors of it in the upper room are the precursors of it still. Patient hope, expectance, concord, prayer. These brought Pentecost, and these will bring the Spirit.
(A. Maclaren, D. D)
Parallel VersesKJV: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.