Good news for all

May 23rd, 2023

The story of the church, and the articulation of the church’s mission, begins with Pentecost. Last Sunday we noted that something like Pentecost was predicted in Acts 1:8. The disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem where they would eventually receive the Holy Spirit and be told what they are to do. So they were waiting. But what happened next was not at all the product of expectation or planning. A new thing happened to them, which they were forced to interpret to the mocking onlookers. 

The crowd out in the street mocked the apostles at Pentecost saying, “They are drunk!”

Peter comes out on the street and explains, “We’re not drunk—yet. It’s only ten in the morning!”

Then Peter says, “No, this is what was promised by the prophet Joel. There was a day when God’s Holy Spirit 
descended on just a few people—prophets. But there will be a day when God’s Spirit will be effusively poured out on all, young and old, rich and poor. All.”

Then Peter preaches, “Repent! Join us! This promise is not just for the first twelve to show up, it’s for all!” All. That day three thousand signed up, responding to the good news that what Jesus did in the cross and resurrection, he had done for all. All.

Pentecost’s impact is universality. It is the nature of the Holy Spirit to refuse containment, to resist confinement. It is poured out at Pentecost on all.

Some interpreters connect Pentecost and the Tower of Babel story. At Babel, as a result of sin, tongues were scattered, and people could not understand each other. In Genesis, this story of confusion and separation laid the groundwork for world history. In Pentecost, by contrast, we have an event that lays the groundwork for a story of universality and unification. Maybe those who were separated by language, custom, and culture are now being brought together by the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit puts constant pressure upon the church, causing the church never to be content in being the stable, select few of the spiritually elite but rather keeping the church in motion, always reaching out, always on the move with the good news for all.

Down through the ages, there have always been Christians who ask, “Will all be saved”? In one sense, such speculation is none of our business. Only God does salvation. And yet this Pentecost account tells us that God’s gracious intent is to save all. From the first, right from the day of the birth of the church, the Gospel is public good news, not to be kept a secret for the inner circle but meant to be actively shared.

Christ has been given, not for some, but for all. God was in Christ, reconciling the whole world to himself. Paul says that just as all have sinned, so has God shown mercy to all. All. As in Adam, all die, so in Christ will all be made alive. All.

Will all be saved? In a way, that’s not only a question about God but also about us. Pentecost suggests that the salvation of all, while up to God, is also an assignment that God gives to us. God has not given to us the power to determine everyone’s ultimate eternal destiny. To us has been given the ability to work with the Holy Spirit in being sure that everyone gets the news. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit, not as a private possession but rather as the empowerment to move out and share and show the good news to all.

Only Luke tells the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15). Remember that parable? The younger son demands his inheritance and travels away from the father’s house so he can be on his own in the “far country.” But when all his inheritance is gone and he is starving and in rags, the son returns home. The waiting father has waited and yearned for the son to return but doesn’t force the prodigal to return home or coerce the older brother to loosen up and join the father’s welcome home party. Maybe this suggests that God enables, encourages, empowers human response to God but if God coerced us to return God’s love, would it be love? 

But this Sunday, with Pentecost and the descent of the Spirit, I don’t want you to focus on the wastrel son’s return. I want you to focus on the father. When the returning son finally comes into view, the father doesn’t wait for the son; the father, Jesus says, runs to meet and greet him, welcoming him home, not with reprimand but with a party.

So Peter announces to the crowd, the uninformed, mocking crowd in the street. We’re not drunk. This is what the prophet foretold. There will be a day when God’s Spirit will come to us before we come to it. This promise of salvation is not just for us; salvation is for all. Hear the gospel, the good news that Jesus is determined to reach out, rescue us all.

Question for you to ponder on your way home: Where might the Holy Spirit be pushing you to give witness, over what boundary or barrier are you being prodded to leap so that the good news may make its way to all?

This article is an excerpt from Will Willimon's Pulpit Resource, a weekly partner in your preaching journey. Learn more about subscribing to this resource here.

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