“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4).The most important gift of the Spirit is not tongues, but enablement.
The Spirit suddenly and visibly came to the gathered believers on Pentecost (2:1–4). They began speaking in languages recognized by visitors to the great feast (vv. 5–13). Peter preached history’s first evangelistic sermon to the crowd that gathered (vv. 14–39). Some 3,000 believed (vv. 40–41), and began to meet in house churches (vv. 42–47).
Understanding the Text
“The Day of Pentecost” Acts 2:1.
Pentecost was a major religious festival. It was held just 50 days after Passover. On Pentecost the Jews celebrated God’s goodness by offering firstfruits of the grain harvest to the Lord. In the first century it was also thought of as the anniversary of Moses’ giving of the Law to Israel. Each association is significant. Christ had died for sinners: on this Pentecost the first results of that harvest of souls was seen as the Spirit bundled the believers together, to form the living church. It also ushered in a new era. The Law had come by Moses, but grace and truth by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Pentecost marked the full initiation of the age of grace, in which you and I now live. “A sound like the blowing of a violent wind” Acts 2:2–4. While some Christians tend to focus on only one, there were in fact four visible signs of this unique work of the Holy Spirit by which the Church Age was launched. (1) There was the sound of rushing wind, heaven’s hurricane. (2) There was the appearance of a fireball of leaping tongues of flame. (3) There was the separation of the fireball into individual flames, which came to rest on each of the assembled believers. (4) There was an outburst of sound, as all in the band of believers spoke in languages that were foreign to them. This was a unique event: in no other passage in the New Testament is an exact parallel to be found. Yet often in Acts Luke speaks of the Spirit filling believers, and empowering them for ministry. It would be wrong of us to dogmatically insist that the “gift of tongues” is not for today. But it would be just as wrong to single out this one of four Pentecost signs and insist that it remains the mark of the Spirit’s presence among God’s people. The exciting reality is that God the Holy Spirit still rests on “all of them” who belong to Jesus Christ, and that He is the source of supernatural power in our lives today. “Each of us hears them in his own native language” Acts 2:5–13. In the first century Jews were scattered in every country of the Western and Eastern world. Many of these Jews spoke only the language of their homeland, and did not even know the Aramaic spoken in Jerusalem or the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Yet diaspora (scattered) Jews were faithful to God’s Law and to the temple. Each year many came as pilgrims to celebrate one or more of the annual religious festivals. Undoubtedly many who were present that Pentecost had been there for Passover as well, and had some knowledge of the events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion. What was the miracle of tongues? In this passage at least it’s clear it must have been one of two things. The miracle was either in the speaking, as believers were enabled to speak in a foreign language they had never learned. Or the miracle was in the hearing, as members of the crowd each heard what the believers said in their mother tongue. Whichever it was, one thing is plain. That first use of tongues was the gracious gift of a God who wants all men to understand who Jesus is, and what He has done for us. “This is what was spoken by the Prophet Joel” Acts 2:14–21. One important characteristic of biblical prophecy is temporal distortion. By that I simply mean that time, sequence, and all those other things we use to organize information, are lacking in much of the prophetic word. Events that are separated by hundreds or thousands of years of history, may be linked in a single prophecy and separated only by a comma. So when Peter quoted Joel he expected his listeners to understand. Joel said God would pour out His Spirit on all peoples (vv. 17–18). This He has done. Joel said that God would show signs in the heaven just before the coming of Judgment Day (vv. 18–20). So the pouring out of God’s Spirit is a warning that judgment will surely follow (but not an indication of when judgment will follow!). Joel went on, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Now, then, after the outpouring of the Spirit and before the day of judgment, is the moment to call on His name. It’s the same for us today. The sun stands still for us as it did for Joshua long ago. God is lengthening the day of opportunity, this time that all may be saved. “Men of Israel, listen to this” Acts 2:22–39. I’ve known lots of Christians who have felt uncomfortable about witnessing to others. Often they just didn’t know what to say. Or how to explain the Gospel. Peter’s sermon—the very first Christian sermon ever preached—is a good explanation of the basic elements of the Gospel. We could do a lot worse than to memorize these points, and draw on them when we’re asked to share the Gospel with others.
|1. Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead||2:23–24|
|2. Jesus’ death was predicted éand explained in the Bible||2:25–35|
|3. He is Lord and Christ||2:36|
|4. Repent and||2:38a|
|5. Your sins will be forgiven, and God will give you His Holy Spirit||2:38b-39|
Effective evangelism is nothing more or less than telling who Jesus is and what He did, and inviting others to accept forgiveness. “Those who accepted his message were baptized” Acts 2:41. Baptism here is water baptism—within the tradition established by John the Baptist, but slightly reoriented by Jesus. John preached baptism as a symbol of repentance: an indication that a person confessed his sins and was turning from them. Jesus was baptized over John’s objection because it was “the right thing to do.” Jesus had no sins to confess, but it was right for Him to publicly identify Himself with John and his message. The baptism urged by Peter served both these functions. It was a confession of past failures. But more than that it was a public affirmation of faith: a step that forever identified the baptized person as one who identified himself with Jesus Christ. After that first sermon some 3,000 persons turned to Jesus, and publicly identified themselves as followers of the Lord by following His example of water baptism. The first Christians met in houses where they shared meals and “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (v. 42). Meeting in houses kept groupings small and intimate, encouraging the deep caring that characterized the early church.
Lost, or Loved?(Acts 2:22–47)
“Oh, I slip out of church during the last hymn. I just come for the preaching.” Lots of Christians feel something like this. They want to attend on Sunday. After all, it’s the right thing to do. But they want to remain anonymous. I suspect that this is part of the appeal of some of the superchurches of our day. They’re big enough for people to get lost in. You can go to church. But you don’t have to get to know anyone. Personally, I’m fascinated by the pattern I see here in Acts 2. Big? You bet. Some 3,000 people were converted by Peter’s first sermon. That’s a pretty good start on what you’d call a big church! But lost in the crowd? Never! Because that big First Church of Jerusalem immediately divided those converts up into small groups, got them to meeting in houses, and before you knew it, each of these folks found he or she was loved—and loved others. Luke described the result. They experienced unity in their house fellowships (v. 42). They expressed their love for each other in the most practical of ways (v. 44). They got together in larger groups to worship with enthusiasm (v. 46). They became such friends they spent a lot of time with each other’s families (v. 46). They felt so glad that praise kept welling up out of their lives (v. 47). And, oh, yes, everyone was favorably impressed—and more people kept on being converted daily. Of course, we’re lucky in our day. We don’t have to meet in homes. We just put up a church building on some corner, pack it with a few hundred (or thousand) people once or twice a week, and get on with our daily lives. It’s not like first-century Jerusalem. Here you can get lost in the crowd—even in a small crowd. But if you’re one of those folks who’s been lost in a large church, you’ve also lost out on a vital ingredient of real Christianity. You’ve lost out on love—on being loved, and loving, in intimate, truly Chistian ways.
Go to a big church if you want. But please, not to get lost.
“One thing about the New Testament church. There’s a climate of loving relationships. A sense of warmth and care permeates the whole, and fondness for individuals breaks through repeatedly. People knew how to love and be loved by each other.”—Norm Wakefield