Last week Carla and I watched The Poseidon Adventure. It is a movie about a passenger ship that is hit by a huge wave and is flipped over and begins to sink. While it is sinking, a group of passengers follow a person who is a minister. They go the opposite way of everyone else and with effort a group of them manage to escape. The minister who leads them is not the type of person you would expect a minister to be. Early in the movie while the ship is still floating, on a Sunday, he preaches and what he says is, “don’t bother praying, just work hard and you can help yourself.” Of course in the movie, that is the philosophy that is followed as they make their way through the ship to the one place where they hope to find a way out.
Whenever his ideas were expressed, I found myself thinking, “no, no, no help comes from God, He is powerful to save and to help, do pray.” But the ideas of that minister are not that far from the way we often think and live. How many of us have not tried to figure things out ourselves? How many of us live as if we will succeed by trying harder? Sometimes I wonder, “Do we trust the power of God?” “Do we let God lead us?”
An event happened 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead that introduced a new way of living for everyone who is a follower of Jesus. It reinforced that God is present among His people and at work in their midst. Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember that event and so this morning, I would like to invite you to examine Acts 2 in order to be encouraged and challenged. As a way of looking at this passage, I would like to focus on two questions which are found in the text. In verse 12, the people asked, “What does this mean?” and in verse 37 they asked, “What shall we do?”
Let us read about what happened in Acts 2:1-12.
We need to remember that the day of Pentecost follows the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Jesus died on what we have come to know as Good Friday. Then three days later he rose from the dead. Forty days later, he ascended into heaven and ten days after that this event took place. All of these events are critical events in salvation history.
What an unusual time! The day of Pentecost was a Jewish festival which occurred fifty days after Passover. It was a celebration of the beginning of harvest. Many people were in Jerusalem for this celebration. It is uncertain where the disciples were. The text says they were in a house, which would be an unusual way of referring to the temple. They may have been at the home of one of the disciples, somewhere not too far from the temple.
While there, the sound of a strong wind came into the house. We notice that it wasn’t necessarily windy, but the sound of wind was heard. Then tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of them. The tongues of fire remind us of several other times when fire manifested the presence of God. For example, we think of the burning bush when God met with Moses in the wilderness and the pillar of fire after Israel left Egypt and were traveling through the desert. But what is unique about this fire is that the flames “separated and came to rest on each of them.” The presence of God was not only present with the whole community, but was present with each of them. This is an important new development.
As this happened, we read that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and the manifestation of the presence of the Spirit was that they spoke in other tongues as the Spirit enabled. It is important to note that the ability to speak in other languages came from the Spirit of God and was controlled by the Spirit. The miracle of speaking in tongues seems to have been both a miracle of speaking and of hearing. In verse 4 it says they were able to speak in other tongues and in verse 8 we read that those listening heard them in their own language.
In verse 6 it says that people heard the sound and gathered together to the sound. Was it the sound of the wind that brought all the people together or was it the sound of the disciples speaking in other languages? Since the same word, “sound” is used of the wind and what brought them together, I suspect it was the wind which brought the people together and then as they gathered, they heard the disciples speaking. What the disciples spoke was praise to God. We read in verse 11 that they heard them “declare the wonders of God.”
They came from all over, from Mesopotamia, Judea, Asia and even Rome, but they were all people who belonged to the Jewish faith. They recognized, because the speakers were all from Galilee, that this was something unusual and amazing. Twice it says that the people who heard “were amazed.”
Then we read that they asked, “What does this mean?” That is a good question!
Peter stood up to answer the question and we see the effect of the power of the Spirit immediately in that Peter was not his usual rash, impulsive self, but spoke with confidence and Biblical accuracy. He first of all addressed the mockery of some who thought that this was an evidence of drunkenness. How interesting that people can be so blind to a divine event! Are we ever blind to a divine event?
The answer which Peter gave comes in two parts. First of all he indicated that this was the fulfillment of prophecy. Secondly he made a connection of this event to Jesus.
What does it mean? It means that what God spoke about in the Old Testament has been fulfilled. God didn’t just make these things up as he went along. He had a plan that reaches back to the beginning of human history. He prepared people to understand the plan and announced it and now it was being fulfilled.
It means that the last days have come. Today people often wonder if we are in the end times. Well, according to this verse, we are. How is that true? Before Jesus, there were still important things that had to happen before the final events happened. Now that Jesus has come, there are no more events that need to happen. Jesus could return and the world could end at any time. These are the last days.
What does it mean? It means that the Spirit of God is being poured out. In the past, the Spirit of God had always been present. The Spirit of God was present at creation, involved in the work of creation as we read in Genesis 1:2 that "…the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." The Spirit of God had been given to various people in the Old Testament in order to accomplish God’s purposes. For example, in Judges 6:34 we read that, "… the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon…" But something significant was happening now. The Spirit of God was being “poured out on all people.” When we read “all people” we should make sure we read all of the passage and recognize that “all people” means, as verse 21 says, “those who call on the name of the Lord.” But the broad distribution of the presence of the Spirit to all those who follow the Lord is a new thing, a unique thing and a powerful thing. The presence of the Spirit is not limited only to those who were special servants of God. He was going to come on all. The presence of the Spirit of God was not limited to men. He was going to be poured out on “sons and daughters,” “men and women.” That tells us there is equality for all in the kingdom of God. The presence of the Spirit of God was not limited to mature believers, but would come on “young men and old men.”
What does it mean? It means that God is personally present with His people from now on! The Holy Spirit is identified as a “gift” from God. We need to distinguish between the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is the presence of the Spirit, essentially the presence of God with all God’s people. The gifts of the Spirit are the abilities, the things the Spirit gives us to use for His service. The gifts of the Spirit are great, but the truly great blessing is that God has given us His presence. What an awesome gift this is! It means that we are never alone again. It means that the power and presence of God accompany us in this journey we call the Christian life. It means that whether we are trying to make the name of Jesus known or serving Him even in some menial task or walking through the most difficult time of life, God is present with us. What a gift!
What does it mean? It means that Jesus has won!
Peter goes on to describe the sequence of events and their meaning in relationship to Jesus. He first of all reminds people of events that had happened less than two months previously. Many of these people had been in Jerusalem when these things had happened and they would have remembered them. They would have remembered that Jesus had done many amazing things. These amazing things were a sign that God was with Him and working through Him. He reminded them that they had done nothing to stop the religious leaders from putting Jesus to death on the cross but were implicated together with the wicked men who were the Roman occupiers. He announced to them that God had raised him from the dead. He reminded them that the resurrection of the dead was something that the Old Testament had spoken about. The passage he quotes is from Psalm 16:8-11. He tells the listeners that this passage is not speaking about David, who died and was buried. At that time, there was still an identifiable site of David’s tomb. Today, we don’t know where that site is, but we still know that David died and was buried. Since the passage wasn’t talking about David, it must have been talking about someone else. The promise of God was that one of David’s descendants would sit upon the throne of David eternally and it is that descendant, Jesus, whom this Psalm is speaking about. Peter again affirms the resurrection by the fact that He was seen alive by many of them. He also speaks of what happened in the ascension of Jesus and the important victory implied in being exalted to the highest place. All of this to affirm that Jesus is, as verse 36 says, “both Lord and Christ.”
Why is it important to connect Pentecost to the events surrounding Jesus? Because, as Peter explains in verse 33, it is on the foundation of all that Jesus has done and the victory He has gained that the Spirit has been poured out. We read in verse 33 that because of all of this, Jesus “…has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Dodd says “The Holy Spirit in the Church is the sign of Christ’s present power and glory.”
After Peter had explained everything clearly – the whole history of the work of God in salvation through Jesus and the event which had just happened, the people recognized that this demanded a response, so they asked in verse 37, “What shall we do?”
Peter’s answer is clear and direct. First of all, he calls them to repent. What did they have to repent of? Peter had leveled a pretty direct accusation against them in verse 23 telling them that they had been responsible for the death of God’s Son. Imagine the embarrassment if you were gossiping about someone just as they walked into the room! That can’t compare with the sudden deep shame and deathly guilt which would have come upon these people as they realized that they had made the worst mistake of their life. The text says that “they were cut to the heart” or as the Good News Bible says, “they were deeply troubled.” For this terrible act which was more than an error in judgment, they needed to repent.
But his call to repentance was not only for their guilt for being involved in the events that led up to the death of Jesus. All people, even those who weren’t there are guilty of the death of Jesus. Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned.” Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death.” 1 John 2:2 tells us that Jesus died in our place when it says, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." That is why repentance is necessary. We need to accept the fact that Jesus died because of me. We need to acknowledge that we fall far short of what God has created us to be. We need to acknowledge that we have not trusted God and that is our sin against Him. We have to recognize that we have disobeyed God and so have sinned against Him. No matter who we are or how good we may appear to others, in the eyes of the one who in the end will be our judge, we have failed. Anyone who comes to God must begin with repentance.
The second call is a call to be “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”
The Bible is very clear that we are not saved by baptism, but by faith. Ephesians 2:8 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith..." John 3:16 tells us that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Therefore we understand that baptism is a symbol. It is a symbol of the cleansing that takes place by the power of Jesus to forgive our sins. It is a symbol of the faith we have in Jesus. It is a symbol that we have begun a new life. Romans 10:9, 10 tell us that salvation is a two stage process. There is something that must happen in our heart – we must believe. There is something that must be declared – we must confess. There we read, "That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." When Peter says that we need to be baptized in the name of Jesus, it is that two part path to salvation that He is talking about. What Peter told the people on the day of Pentecost to do is the same thing we must still do today. These are the things that are necessary in order for us to enter into a relationship with Jesus. These are the things we have been invited to do and if you have not put your faith in Jesus or have not repented or declared your allegiance to Jesus, I invite you to do it today.
The promise is that if we repent and believe, we will have our sins forgiven. This is an important part of what must happen. Sometimes when I visit someone at their workshop or on their tractor, I change my dress pants and put on my jeans. These places are dirty and I don’t want to get my good pants dirty. It isn’t that God doesn’t like to go into a dirty place. He can’t. Jesus put on his jeans and came into our dirty world, but not only to visit. He died on the cross in order to make us clean because God can’t come into a dirty place. God can only live in a clean place. Our heart and life must be cleansed God can come in. Jesus cleansed it by His blood and because He did, God can enter in. In order for the Holy Spirit to come, God has to first of all make a place that is ready for His coming.
The promise is, that when that has happened “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The promise of God, our hope is that when we become Christians, the Spirit of God comes to live in us.
A lot of people have confused this issue, but we need to listen to what the Bible says. Some have confused the issue by saying that you have to wait for the coming of the Spirit. They point to the fact that Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit was poured out on them. But that is not why they were to wait. They were to wait until God’s right timing for this event. That is also not what the text says. Peter says that repentance and baptism are the means by which the Spirit comes to indwell us. From the day of Pentecost on, the Spirit comes to indwell all who will repent and receive Christ.
Some have suggested that we need to pray for the coming of the Spirit. They point to the fact that before the day of Pentecost the followers of Jesus were “constantly in prayer” as we read in Acts 1:14. But that is not what Peter says. Peter says that if we become followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will come to live in us.
Some have suggested that you will know when the Spirit has come upon you because you will be able to speak in other tongues. But that is also not what the Bible says. The manifestation of being able to speak in other languages was an event unique to that day. Although God has given the gift of tongues at other times, it is not the only evidence of the presence of the Spirit of God. There are some other evidences of the presence of the Spirit. There is the evidence which is within our hearts, as Romans 8:14 says, “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit.” There is the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit as we read in Galatians 5:22, 23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." So we need to be careful that we do not look for some particular sign before we know we have the presence of the Spirit. The promise of Peter is that if we repent and receive Christ, we will receive the Spirit of God.
Therefore, this is a cause for great rejoicing. Joel’s prophecy was that the Spirit will be poured out “on all people.” On the day of Pentecost that happened and since that time, the Spirit is active in the church and in each believer. In verse 39, Peter assures us that “the promise is for you and your children and all who are afar off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Therefore we know that this promise is also for us. We, who know Christ, whose hearts have been cleansed by His blood are indwelt by the Spirit.
Has the day of Pentecost made any difference in your life?
Have you received by the gift of the Holy Spirit?
How have you lived with that gift?
Ajai Prakash writes, “During our ministry in the Middle-East at one of the underground churches a gentleman used to walk around 5 miles to attend that worship and fellowship. He had a lowly job at a remote construction site in the wilderness and could not afford to buy a conveyance for himself. He did not know any other languages other than his mother tongue and the local language of the country. Whenever he used to attend the meeting, it would be a powerful time for all of us. I believe, more than him, we would be blessed. He brought with him the right Spirit, his heart was in the right place and carried no guile or guilt upon his life. Whenever he would praise or pray, it would be in English which was foreign to him; apparently he had no clue or idea about. He did not know a word of English. After the worship service, we would spend time fellowshipping and I would communicate with him only in the local language as that was our common ground. What was happening there? Because there was no human intervention, I could sense and comprehend that it could only be the wonderful work of God.”
Because of the presence of the Spirit of God, we can expect God to work.
Let us rejoice at that God has given His Spirit! Let us be open to what the Spirit will do!