The Day of Pentecost
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marvelled, saying to one another, "Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs - we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "Whatever could this mean?" Others mocking said, "They are full of new wine." But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapour of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved. '
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know -Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. For David says concerning Him:
'I foresaw the Lord always before my face,
For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of joy in Your presence. '
"Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.
"For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:
'The Lord said to my Lord,
"Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."
"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Today we read about the final stage of pre-Church preparation; that of the Holy Spirit coming upon the people and readying them for being a Church as God wanted it - in essence the birth of the Church. What is most fascinating about the passage in today's world, I find, is that everyone knows about speaking ‘in tongues' but the rest gets lost in the reading. However, what I find most astounding about this passage is that of the eloquence of Peter. In this passage he continues, as we found last week, to connect Old Testament passages to what has happened and what is happening. He has become a scholar of the Scripture, which he was not before the crucifixion. God uses this event to establish his leadership.
So what do we learn from this passage? How does it meet our study of the early church and how we can learn from, and correct problems that have seeped in over the last 2000 years, and how can we live a life that is closer to what we can see here in the Bible? What is the reason for God giving us Peter's first real exposition of Scripture, his first sermon? We know that God does not give us unnecessary words, He does not provide us with examples, and then have us read swiftly over the words and move on to something more exciting. The churches within the world today have various ‘takes' on the Bible, practice vastly different creeds, and on the whole, are based on tradition of man, not the Word that God has provided. This passage gives us a reason to be looking back on the early church, and comparing with our own, as Peter explains a phenomena from Scripture, and bases all he says on what God had others write in the Scriptures hundreds of years before.
Let us start then with this strange supernatural occurrence. The Holy Spirit came down in a physical form in what appeared to be tongues of fire, it arrived with a mighty noise from heaven itself - a rushing sound, and something that actually touched everyone - wind. There was a cause and an effect. The cause being God sending His Holy Spirit and the effect was the people being filled with the Holy Spirit. There was also the proof that something substantial, life changing had occurred, and it was something supernatural, for people heard other people talking in the language of themselves - that is, people heard a different language, and understood what they were saying without the need for translation. People also were able to speak a different language, that of someone else in the room and be understood. What is not clear, though purely an academic contemplation, is whether all the people heard and understood, therefore, the translation was multi-channel, or whether some were hearing Greek for example spoken, and even though they were not Greek literate, they could understand, and others could speak for example, Cretan, even though this may have been a language never learned, and so forth.
Compare this event with Babel - And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth." At Babel it was pride and self-indulgence, making themselves to be like God and a name for themselves; reaching to heaven. Whereas, at Pentecost is God coming among His people - no need for a tower, He is indwelling! We again have become one people, no longer scattered and separated, rather united in Christ, speaking one language - the Gospel, worshiping the same God towards one purpose - His Glory, and for ourselves - to be united with Him in heaven when that time comes.
The symbols shown with the Holy Spirit coming into the assembly are also of great importance. First was the fire that sat above each person's head. When Jesus was baptised, a dove sat above his head, but when we, the human race are baptised, tongues of fire - why, because we need purification before the Holy Spirit can indwell. Peter returns to this in his book - 1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Here we see the fire at work as the Holy Spirit comes upon us, symbolising the purification that has taken place.
The rushing wind is that of God Himself coming into the space so His presence is there, everywhere within the room; God has no bodily form but His presence is felt. The people could both feel this and hear it - God is not some mythical being surrounding us, and spreading across the universe - no, He is real, and His movement can make a mighty sound as He makes His presence known.
Why did this occur? What does this mean to us today? Should we be speaking in tongues to demonstrate the Holy Spirit? We do know the phenomena was very much something of the early church, and by the time Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, the use of tongues was being quashed, as it was being abused. It is noteworthy to look at the Corinthian passage, as it shows a little more of what occurred later. In the Acts passage we can see that the room was filled with varied nationalities, noting that they are carefully listed in geographical order (- take a look and map it), everyone could either speak or understand words from another language. However, by the time of Corinth, people were speaking tongues no-one understood, and Paul got tough, and set boundaries. The error at Corinth continues today - people speak in tongues that are just gobbledegook, and others say they can translate. Paul was very right in saying what he did, God recorded the message for posterity, and we would do well to follow - we being the modern Church.
1 Corinthians 14:18 - 31: I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature. In the law it is written: "With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me," says the Lord.
Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
Here in Corinth it is obvious that the same understanding was not occurring in that they now need interpreters because not all understood as occurred at Pentecost. The words: ‘Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe' is our first point to note in this passage. The Lord gave tongues as a sign to unbelievers. As we move further into chapter 2 of Acts we will note that 3000 people believed. The speaking of tongues was a strong sign of the work of God in the room because people needed something tangible to enable what Peter had to say have the impact that it did. By Corinthian times tongues were being used inappropriately, as was prophecy. The person had to have an interpreter; otherwise they were to keep silent. What was being spoken had to be understood by all, or not to be said at all. Prophesying was only to be used amongst the believers, and here we see that use tongues and prophecy are being separated out here from normal worship practices.
The most important words in the Corinthian's passage I think though are these: Let all things be done for edification. This seems to indicate that people were, if you like, showing off. Pride was inflicting people to try and demonstrate their spirituality through one or both of these things; speaking in tongues or prophesying. However, Paul clearly states that unless it edifies, then stop it. This warning has not been heeded across the centuries as we find that churches across the world, virtually ever since the Church came into being has split and re-split, usually over the individual not understanding the Word of God and teaching false doctrine, or not obeying the Word of God inciting others after them. And most definitely not following these words - let all things be done for edification. This passage relates to all things of the church, and it can be highlighted as mentioned - where strange doctrine is taught that fails to edify, and instead disrupts or causes trouble. Often it is ideas or thoughts being spoken about that do nothing really for a person's relationship with God, as it is all about personal intellect and personal pride. So, let us take heed of the words of Paul, here about prophecy and speaking in tongues, which is just as easily applied to other things, and preach the Word, and only do this with the Holy Spirit's leading.
Of note, if we go back to our study passage, we can see that God uses this physical and overtly visible entry of the Holy Spirit into the believer to quickly make an impact, and to move people to listen to Peter, and come to know and understand what the previous few months and years of Jesus's ministry was all about. God knows the pathetic people that we are, and sometimes uses the best wow factor for a purpose. Now in today's world, He does not need to do this the modern Christian world is different, so God does other miracles, depending on where and when. I see also that sometimes He returns to this original miracle when needed, or allows prophecy to occur, usually in a new place for the gospel. For us, all we need to know is that the Holy Spirit indwells when we believe. We need to learn to listen for, and hear our guide, our personal direct link to our Father in Heaven, through the Holy Spirit within. We need to act in faith, not search for overt signs.
One last point that I would like to make, and I will borrow someone else's words, but the facts appear correct: Not long after Pentecost, the apostles were praying for God's help. After they finished praying, "the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly" (Acts 4:31). The apostles had already been filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Here they are filled again. Miraculous shaking is mentioned, but speaking in tongues is not.
There is no mention of tongues when the Holy Spirit came on converts in Samaria (Acts 8:14-17), when the Ethiopian eunuch was converted (Acts 8:38), when Saul, who became Paul, was converted (Acts 9:17-18), when he confronted a sorcerer (Acts 13:8-11) or when Paul first preached in Asia (verses 44-52). This doesn't prove that tongue-speaking did not occur, but it does indicate that it was not important to mention it. if we look at one further verse - 1 Corinthians 13:8 we can complete this discussion point: ‘Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease'.
Did the coming of the Holy Spirit have the desired effect? Absolutely, and it has continued throughout history to today, the Holy Spirit works in the heart of all believers, giving us insight into Scripture, providing us with insight into the will of God, and allowing us to walk the pathway God wants us to walk. The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever and unlocks the last door, to enable them to see, and gain the free salvation as offered by God through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But as I have said earlier, the episode that we have read tells us so much more. It gives us some very clear teaching that shows without doubt the connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and allows us to see that without one we cannot understand the other, without the former, the latter does not help us a lot, especially when we truly wish to get to grips with God, His plans and His purposes. The endowment of God's Holy Spirit is a special gift to believers, which brings spiritual life - Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:10, 11), and: Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Your Spirit is good. Lead me in the land of uprightness. (Psalm 143:10), [the Holy Spirit brings] power But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him (Judges 6:34), [it brings] wisdom and understanding - The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah. 11:2), and divine revelation which leads to a better understanding of God's Word and His perfect ways - That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth. (Joel 2:28); or as Isaiah says (61:1, 2) “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.
All these characteristics are of the Holy Spirit, as shown in the Old Testament. Any scholar in Peter's days would have known these Scriptures, even those that would have attended the Synagogue. Therefore, Peter, uses Scripture to show what had happened, and proves it was from God; for God had prepared the way, with the event prophesied, documented, and the Holy Spirit's characteristics defined in scripture as we have just seen.
Peter was challenged by mockers in the room. Is it not still the case, a miracle of God is mocked? Here the people hearing such a linguistic display through the miracle of God, said that the people were drunk. Not so says Peter, rather than mocking turn to Scripture. The only Scripture they had back in the day was the Old Testament and in this example, the book of Joel. It read as we read. Peter joins the knowledge shown in Joel with what the mockers, as well as the others at that place, knew, had seen and had heard. It was not that many months since Lazarus had been raised from the dead, and Jesus had been performing miracles for three years. The people would also have known of the crucifixion death of Jesus, so they would be well aware of the reason that these people, the 120 followers of Jesus were meeting, and would have heard that these people had seen Jesus after death, and that He had now been seen going into heaven. However, the old adage, 'I won't believe til I see' was undoubtedly present, and seeing this fantastic phenomena of the Holy Spirit descending, and the noise, along with the sudden linguistic abilities of the believers, that they themselves did not have, they did what people do, they mocked.
Note that Peter does not state that the prophecy in Joel was being fulfilled at this point, "'But this is what was uttered' is what he says, not, "this is the fulfilling of the prophecy of Joel" though verse 17 was occurring right then and there, however, the main emphasis of the Joel passage is to come still, yet Peter shows how the Joel passage is being fulfilled, and we can look to that passage to see what is to come.
Peter went on to tell the mockers that this act, this event was from the Lord Jesus Christ, the one that they themselves may have been mocking and jeering and shouting crucify him as the mob rule took over just fifty days earlier. They knew that there was something special about the man as they were still there on the peripheries of the apostles, but they had stayed unbelievers rather becoming believers. Peter tells them clearly that this all came from the one that they had ‘taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death', yet Peter in the same breath says: but, one God has taken Jesus into heaven. Peter has commenced spreading of the Gospel and this is what he preaches.
Peter makes this point, for Joel reminds them that the Holy Spirit can only come from the risen Christ, and Peter proves the risen Christ by quoting two sections of two Psalms, Psalm 16 and 110. He reiterates that when Jesus goes to heaven the Holy Spirit is given. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. Peter says to the people - it is all written in the Book, God has told us all about this event. Jesus will rise again; it was prophesied 1000 years ago by David. Quoting from a commentary:
[Peter points out that] because David had been buried and had not come back to life, the psalm had to be speaking about someone else, David's heir. Peter pointed out that this heir is Jesus, who was put to death and resurrected. Not only had Jesus been raised from the dead, He is now at the right hand of God. As further proof of this Peter quoted David again. According to Psalm 110:1, the Messiah would sit at the right hand of God. David had not ascended to the heavens. But the apostles declared themselves to be witnesses of the very ascension spoken of in this psalm, the ascension of Jesus. Based on these points, Peter's conclusion is clear: Jesus, the One who had been crucified, is both Lord and Christ.
The mockers become fearful, knowing that all Peter has said is true. They cry out and the Lord heard their prayers. They repented and were baptised, and 3000 were saved. This was one of God's main purpose of the event. He wanted to make a statement for a very good reason. He had promised the Holy Spirit, and He uses the coming of the Comforter for a secondary purpose - to deliver the gospel.
He needed a critical mass of believers to push the gospel out to the whole world. He needed that mass quickly so He made sure the coming of the Holy Spirit and through the new abilities of Peter in preaching and discerning the word, would persuade 3000 people that everything they had seen and heard was real. That is, the Messiah had come, that he had risen from the dead. It is written that 500 witnesses would testify to this event (resurrection) as well, along with his ascension into glory, as the presence of the Holy Spirit in the people now attested. He we see God got His critical mass and the Church was founded so the Gospel was able to go forth resulting in an exponential expansion of the Church.
So what does this mean for us today? Is it relevant, apart from a nice story? The first thing I think we need to take note of is the time frame between promise and action. No matter the length of time, when God makes a promise he will always keep it. So we can read the Word and notice all sorts of promises, some prophetic, others just a promise - for example: 1 Corinthians 10:13 ‘No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.' Because it is there, it is true, and it is something we can trust in. God will look after us and not let anything be so overwhelming we cannot bear it. Scripture is filled with many prophecies that we see have happened, from Jesus riding a colt of an ass into Jerusalem, to that of Jonah being in the fish's belly for three days and three nights as with Jesus in the grave, as we can see in our passage that what occurred was the fulfilment of prophecy too.
The next thing to notice is the power of God. He can make an ordinary occurrence into something extra-ordinary. Today we pray, we get saved, the Holy Spirit is with us. Jesus Christ, through the promise of the Father as seen in verse 33, can send the Holy Spirit into whoever it is saved, and change their lives. It is incredible how God works, and in this piece of history, as through the Son, did it with sound effects, visual effects, and physical effects. God's power is also evident in Peter's transformation. He is now a scholar, a preacher and a man of great words. If God can do it for Peter, can He not do it for us? Can we not reach out to God, for His will, but still ask for understanding and wisdom. If we ask with the right motive, I am sure we will find ourselves growing daily in the Word, and knowing God. Why? Because God's power has been evident throughout the Bible days, since the Bible days, and is no less effective today than it was in Peter's day.
The third lesson is about the substance of the Old Testament. The Old Testament has much to show us about the New Testament. The Old Testament can help us understand what is going on in the New, why God did what He did, and also show that nothing in the New is really new. It was the same a thousand years before, or promised a thousand years before, or was a shadow of what was to come two thousand years before, or talked about three thousand years before. We need to be like Peter, utilise the Old to learn of the New. Note that Peter did not make up his words, He borrowed them from God's Word, and utilised God's Holy Spirit, to know the right words to say. We need to be like Peter and choose the verses that are actually applicable to the passage we are reading, we need to be discerning, and that is only through the Holy Spirit. Because of Peter's faithfulness to God, and His Word, God established his leadership right then and there. His words could be authenticated, for he was using Scripture. When we preach, if we do not use Scripture to back the arguments, then, either you the listener need to go and test them in that very way, or send the preacher off with a flea in their ear to do so.
There is one final aspect that I need to touch on that gets to the very bottom of the Old Testament's connection in totality to the New Testament. I am not the best scholar in the types found in the Old Testament, so borrow from the old writers. What we find about the Pentecost is also shown in Leviticus 23:15-21:
"And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two- tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord. And you shall offer with the bread seven lambs of the first year, without blemish, one young bull, and two rams. They shall be as a burnt offering to the Lord, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma to the Lord. Then you shall sacrifice one kid of the goats as a sin offering, and two male lambs of the first year as a sacrifice of a peace offering. The priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. And you shall proclaim on the same day that it is a holy convocation to you. You shall do no customary work on it. It shall be a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
This the greatest connection between the Old and New for our passage of today, the change from the covenant of old to the new covenant and is the reason we no longer need to celebrate the different feasts. Here we see 50 days after Passover a new grain offering is offered. At Pentecost, 50 days after Passover we see the new phenomenon, that of the Comforter coming into the hearts and lives of every believer. In Acts we see a group of believers, witness to the event. In Leviticus we see the need for two loaves - for two witnesses are required of Scripture, so the loaves represent us - why? Because they are baked with leaven - so the fine flour - that is from God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and ourselves leaven, are baked and offered as a sacrifice - we are as Romans 6:4 tells us: buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. We see that there is a peace offering as part of this in the Leviticus verses, and a wave offering. Here in Acts we see that as a believer we have peace with God, through the blood of the Lamb, we are to be cloaked in Christ, and at Pentecost, God could see Christ cloaking us, hiding us, enabling us to be seen as new creatures, our sinful selves done away with crucified with Christ. We were, as at Pentecost, ready for God to enter into us, as His children - His new creation. The Children of Israel followed this pattern of sacrifice for thousands of years - off and on, never really understanding that this was to be done away with, nor that it was pointing towards the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Nothing in the Bible is there for its own sake. We have seen two great events occur simultaneously; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and prophecy being fulfilled. We see the sacrifice becoming a real event, not a symbolic event, we see the fine flour being mixed with the leaven (which is baked and the leaven put to death), and through the sacrifice, peace is made with God. We see Christ's work in Peter, transforming him from a mere fisherman with an interest in this ‘holy man', to that of His true disciple and apostle, an orator, a preacher, a teacher, the leader in the new Church born at Pentecost. We can see that this was not just an event of then. Although the gifts have changed, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is now without its visual effects, God's power remains never changing, and so we too can have the same amazement of being filled with the Holy Spirit. We too can have the same transformation as Peter had in our relationship, knowledge, and communion with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and God the Father.