Pentecost Sunday is less than a month away! As we look forward to this wonderful feast, I thought I would share with you an excerpt from my book, Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ, that explores what happened on that first Christian Pentecost!
As recorded in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, the apostles proclaimed the Gospel for the first time on that day. When all was said and done, 3,000 people had been added to the church. That must have been some proclamation!
What accounts for its power? The crowds who gathered to hear the apostles weren’t “wowed” by healings or miracles or impressed by soaring rhetoric. Rather, what captured their imagination was the total lack of inhibition displayed by the apostles; so much so that the crowds commented that perhaps these followers of Jesus had been drinking too much wine. And in truth, the apostles were preaching while intoxicated—not with “spirits,” but with the Holy Spirit. The crowds saw a group of men who should have been terrified to set foot in public instead taking to the streets filled with uninhibited joy and enthusiasm for Jesus Christ. It was this dramatic and observable transformation in the behavior of a small group of former fishermen and tax collectors that caught the attention of thousands and led them to “sign on” that very day.
In Jesus’ time and culture, wine was a staple of daily life—a natural product of an agricultural economy and an ordinary element of meals and social gatherings. Its centrality to everyday life is reflected in Jesus’ choice of wine as the material of his first miracle at Cana and as one of the two elements of the Eucharist, as well as in the New Testament authors’ use of wine imagery to capture the effects of the Holy Spirit on the mind and heart. While the effects of alcohol can be harmful and even deadly, however, the effects of the Holy Spirit are life giving and transformative. And as both Jesus and the Scripture writers knew, inebriation by the Spirit is what we humans most deeply crave.
Somewhere along the way, unfortunately, we lost this robust and ebullient approach to proclaiming the gospel, as if the church had instituted some kind of “prohibition” against the inebriating influence of the Holy Spirit. The goal of this book, Under the Influence: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ, is to send a message, loud and clear, that the time has come for this prohibition to be lifted. The New Evangelization—a renewal and refocusing of the church’s mission in the twenty-first century—is a clarion call for Christians all over the world to drink deeply of the Holy Spirit and begin living a transformed life under the influence of Jesus Christ. Being inebriated in this way will not empower us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through miracles or to mesmerize large crowds with our silver tongues. As it did the apostles on Pentecost, though, it should enable us to demonstrate on an obvious level that the experience of encountering Christ has transformed us into new beings on fire with his message—and that it can likewise transform others.