One word could just about sum up many of the news stories this week. Whether it’s to do with the Home Secretary’s driving ability, Boris Johnson’s integrity, Brexit’s waning popularity, global warming’s intensity, EV battery sustainability, or Apple’s security. The word is ‘revelation’. We are fascinated with exclusives, when secrets are revealed in the media – except it seems when they are, our own. Those deeply personal things that matter to us the most – our children, our family, our bodies, our emails, our text messages, our age, our photos, our income, our bank accounts, we keep these private, and in many cases wisely so. The more important, the more personal, the more sensitive the information, the more likely, we will want to keep them private, confidential, or concealed. And many people feel the same way about their religious faith. Its personal. Its private. And it remains concealed. How ironic then that Jesus commanded us to do the very opposite.
On Easter Sunday we celebrated the birth of the Church. At Pentecost we celebrate the baptism of the Church. Let us explore acts 2 under three headings: the context, the message and the experience of Pentecost.
1. The Context of Pentecost: A Unique Event
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” (Acts 2:1-8)
To make sense of Pentecost we must see it within its biblical and historical context. The most obvious is:
1.1 The Confusion of Languages at the Tower of Babel
There is clearly an obvious parallel with the Tower of Babel. In Genesis when people tried to make a name for themselves and build a tower reaching to heaven, God cursed them by confusing their languages and scattering them across the earth (Genesis 11:1-9). On the Day of Pentecost people “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) came together in Jerusalem and were able to hear the same good news of “the wonderful works of God” in their own languages (Acts 2:11). At the cross of Jesus, the curse of the Tower of Babel has been removed. The good news of Jesus is for all peoples. He is building a church of all nations. The Tower of Babel.
1.2 The Giving of the Mosaic Law on Mount Sinai
The Day of Pentecost, or Festival of Weeks is the 50th day after the Passover. It was also believed to be the day Moses received the law on Mount Sinai. There are clearly parallels between Moses and Jesus. Between the giving of the Law and the giving of the Spirit. On Mount Sinai, God’s presence was revealed by smoke, fire, and thunder (Exodus 19:16-19). God’s presence at Pentecost was accompanied by the sound of wind, fire, and the cacophony of different languages (Acts 2:1-3). Both Moses and Jesus ascended to meet with God the Father. God’s people were told to wait for their return. While Moses was absent the people disobeyed and 3000 were slain (Exodus 32:19-35). While Jesus was absent His disciples obeyed and 3000 were saved. Mount Sinai and Pentecost. There is a third parallel in:
1.3 Isaiah’s Prophecy of Foreign Languages
Pentecost was clearly a sign of God’s blessing, but it was also a sign of God’s cursing. This is because the gospel is good news to those who believe in Jesus, but it is bad news for those who reject the Lord Jesus. The prophet Isaiah who revealed so much about the coming of Jesus as the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), also foresaw that the Day of Pentecost would be a day of decision and judgment. When the people had rejected the plain message of the prophet delivered in Hebrew, God warned in Isaiah 28,
“Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people … but they would not listen. So then, the word of the LORD to them will become: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there–so that they will go and fall backward, be injured and snared and captured. Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers who rule this people in Jerusalem… So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” (Isaiah 28:11-16)
“Do and do, do and do, rule and rule” is Hebrew for gobbledygook – meaningless babbling like a baby. God had previously spoken plainly to his people through the prophets in Hebrew. Because the people rejected Jesus, Isaiah warns that God will speak to them in foreign languages. That is why the apostle Paul cites this passage from Isaiah in his letter to the Corinthians. He insists that unlike the other spiritual gifts which were given to build up the church, “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22). Pentecost was then a sign of great blessing but also of great judgment. One final parallel.
1.4 The Old and New Temple in Jerusalem
Where were the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost? Somewhere a crowd made up of at least 15 nationalities and 3,000 people could come together quickly after hearing the Apostles praising God.
What time of day was it? 9:00am. Where could you find thousands of people at 9:00am in the morning? Remember this was their Harvest Festival. What happened at 9:00am? The Temple doors were opened at 9:00am. Morning prayers were offered in the Temple at 9:00am. Where did the Apostles pray? Acts 3:1 tells us “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.” Where else would the Apostles be praying and waiting for the gift Jesus had promised? (Acts 1:4). The Apostles were very likely meeting in one of the courtyards of the temple praying like every other pious Jew at 9:00am on the Day of Pentecost. Remember God’s presence was symbolized by a cloud and fire, when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. Later, the pillar of cloud of God’s presence entered the Temple of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5:7-8, 13-14). The prophet Ezekiel records how the glory of the Lord filled the temple (Ezekiel 43:5). On the Day of Pentecost, God’s presence represented by the fire moved from the now redundant temple, whose curtain had been torn in two when Jesus died on the cross, and rested upon the “new temple,” the followers of Jesus (Romans 8:9). The parallels are clear then: The Tower of Babel. Mount Sinai. The foreign languages of Isaiah. The old and new temple in Jerusalem. This is the context for Pentecost.
2. The Message of Pentecost
“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” (Acts 2:14).
Some of the bystanders mocked the disciples suggesting they were drunk. They were not. They were perfectly sober, speaking about God in known languages. That is why Peter could not allow people to misunderstand Jesus or misrepresent the Holy Spirit. Peter’s sermon contains three parts: An introduction, the message and an application. Each of these parts carries a pronoun for its title. The introduction explains “This” (Acts 2:16); the message proclaims “Him” (Acts 2:23); and the application concerns “you” (Acts 2:36). He corrects their error. He convinces them of Jesus. He challenges them to make a decision. Correction: Conviction: Challenge. Here is a model for how to tell others about Jesus.
2.1 Peter Corrects their Error from Scripture
“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams… And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Acts 2:14-21)
Peter explains first of all that the manifestations they had witnessed were predicted by the prophet Joel and corroborated in Jesus Christ. When you love people you will want to correct their misunderstanding of what God is doing. He corrects their error from scripture.
2.2 Peter Presents the Facts about the Lord Jesus
Peter did not speak about religion, a creed or about morality. Peter emphasizes the life of Jesus, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, the salvation he offers and the new community he is building. Peter spoke about a living person, God’s own Son and his saving work for the whole world.
The Incarnation of Jesus
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)
Jesus was both God and man, for He was the man “accredited by God”, a phrase indicating his deity.
The Crucifixion of Jesus
“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23)
Both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are stressed. Our Lord was born to die. His death was no accident. It was purposeful
The Resurrection of Jesus
“But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:24).
In verses 24 and 32 Peter showed that the resurrection of Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament (2:25-28).
The Ascension and Exaltation of Jesus
“Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear… “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:33, 36)
Peter corrected their view of the Holy Spirit. He convinces them concerning Jesus Christ and,
2.3 Peter Challenges his Hearers to Repent and Believe
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”(Acts 2:37-41)
As a result of Peter’s preaching about 3,000 people believed and were baptized. Peter’s message consisted of just 520 words. There is no repetition, no wasted words. It was directed to the mind, giving instruction; to the heart, producing enthusiasm; to the conscience, resulting in conviction; and to the will, leading to decision. 200 words – nearly half – are quotations from the Old Testament. Peter knew God’s word well enough to share it. Peter’s message was succinct, scriptural and Spirit-filled. That is the context of Pentecost and and the message of Pentecost. But what of today?
3. The Experience of Pentecost
Why was the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost? As we heard in our Gospel reading, Jesus had explained before his ascension.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.” (John 16:13-14)
And after his resurrection, Jesus again promised,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The Holy Spirit was given primarily to make our witness for Jesus effective. We are His hands and feet, his ears and lips. The unquestionable emphasis of Pentecost is evangelism – the proclamation of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit was not given primarily to inspire worship but to impel evangelism. People heard the good news of Jesus Christ in their own language. Those who heard returned to their own countries to share the good news of Jesus. That is why we are here today. When the people asked “what shall we do?” Peter replied
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us of sin and convinces us of the truth of the gospel. When we trust in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit brings us to new birth and indwells us. In the Bible this is described as baptism in the Spirit or renewal in the Spirit. They are synonymous and equivalent to being born again. In Titus 3, God says,
“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Titus 3:5-6)
In 1 Corinthians 12, God says,
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
Notice it is universal “all” and past tense “were all” and synonymous with being given the one Holy Spirit.
In Romans 8, God says,
“And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ… For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:9, 14-16)
But there is a difference between baptism of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit. Whereas baptism is past tense and universal, in Ephesians 5, God commands us “Be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Here his command is passive and continuous. Literally, Let the Holy Spirit fill you and keep on being filled. The filling of the Spirit is linked to living by the Spirit and demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”(Galatians 5:22-23, 25)
As we follow Jesus and confess our sins, God will keep on filling us with his Spirit. He will help us become more like Jesus and make our witness both fragrant and fruitful.
Every week when we recite the Apostles Creed and say “I believe in the Holy Spirit…” we are really saying we believe in the Living God who willingly enters our human personality, heart, soul and mind, makes us more like Jesus, so that we can be his witnesses. Were the events of the Day of Pentecost unique? In the historical sense – yes, Pentecost was unrepeatable. But experientially, no. God the Father has made you, the Lord Jesus Christ died to save you, and the Holy Spirit breathes His life into you. He has a wonderful plan for your life. He used other people to bring you to himself and he wants to use you to lead others to himself too, by your words and actions. There is no greater privilege. He equips you with all His good gifts to do it. No matter how insignificant we may feel, empowered by His Spirit, we can have a life changing impact in the lives of others. Let us pray.
“Blessed Spirit of the Living God, forgive us for neglecting you, and grieving you by our proud self-sufficiency, by resisting your influence and quenching your fire. Make our hearts tenderly impressionable, then turn us as wax to the seal, and stamp within us the beautiful image of the lord Jesus, Amen.”