The gift - Acts 2:1-41

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 7th February 2010.

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I don’t know if you remember much from your history classes at school. I like history but I don’t remember my history classes being particularly exciting. In fact, the only exciting memory that has stayed in my head is the occasion when my history teacher completely lost it. His name was Mr Knox. One day he completely patience with a pupil called Mandy. His face went red, he frog marched her out of the classroom and slammed the door in her face. She stormed off home with shouts of ‘I’m going to get my dad’. I thought there might be a punchup. I remember we studied various subjects in our classes but in all my years of history we never studied the Day of Pentecost. Did you? Historians are always selective. They pick and choose what they think is important. The Bible is also selective. God has chosen the significant events that he wants us to understand and he has preserved these for us in the Bible.

Today we’re going to focus on the Day of Penetcost. It is an event that secular history would ignore it but it is an event that God wants us to understand and appreciate.

Acts chapter 2 is a big chapter and so I thought we would dive straight into the text this evening and see if we can understand the story. Let’s begin at verse 1.

“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 as the Spirit enabled them.”

The word pentekoste means fiftieth and the day of Pentecost was a Jewish Festival that took place 50 days after the Jewish Passover. We would say 50 days after Easter.

On this day all the believers were together in one place. We don’t know where this was but all 120 (1:15) of them were in someone’s house. Obviously this was a house with a fairly big front room!

They were here because of Jesus’ command for them to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit who would empower them to be his witnesses in the world.

This is who arrived on the Day of Pentecost. We see from verses 2 and 3 that he came in a very dramatic way. They heard a sound like the blowing of a violent wind and they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

We don’t know exactly what happened on that occasion. They heard what seemed like the blowing of a violent wind and saw what seemed to be tongues of fire. All this talk of wind and fire is supposed to remind us of what frequently happened when God turned up in the Old Testament. He was often accompanied by wind and fire. This is evidence of the divine Spirit coming to dwell within the followers of Jesus.

We’re told in verse 4 that when the Holy Spirit arrived everyone in the room was given the ability to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. I think this is different from the gift of tongues that we read about in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Here tongues are identifiable human languages that were spoken on the earth. The languages that they spoke did not need interpretation, like the tongues in 1 Corinthians do. These Jewish believers were given the ability by the Spirit of God to speak foreign languages that they had never been taught.

Why did the Holy Spirit enable them to speak in foreign languages? Let’s read on and see if we can find out. Look at verse 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 them speaking in his own language.  7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?  8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?  9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13   Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

The foreign language ability was given for the purposes of evangelism. It got the attention of Jews from the diverse regions of the Roman Empire and left them with questions.

Notice that this is not evangelism to the Gentiles. The gospel will spread to the ends of the earth as the book of Acts continues. A key chapter for us to read is chapter 10 where we meet Cornelius and where we see that Gentiles can become Christians without taking on Jewish traditions.

But here it is evangelism to Jewish people. Those born Jews and those who had converted to Judaism. These were not simply Jews who lived in Israel, these were Jews who lived in many diverse places around the Roman Empire and who now spoke different languages.

As the Spirit filled the original followers of Jesus he gave them this special ability to speak different human languages. He could have just filled them with passion and they could have praised God in their own tongue. But he deliberately gave them the ability to speak in foreign languages. Why? He did this for the purposes of evangelism.

The Holy Spirit and evangelism are a perfect combination. The Spirit loves to focus on the identity and mission of Jesus. This is what we do in evangelism.

The Jews that day noticed something strange. It made them ask questions. What does this mean? But they had no real answers. Admittedly some thought they had been swigging back the cider in the early hours of the morning. At first sight this is an odd comment. When was the last time you heard a drunk person fluently speaking a foreign language they had never been taught? Foreign language students around the world do not get trashed before their big exams! Why did some in the crowd think the disciples were drunk? Well, that’s what they must have sounded like to those who didn’t speak any other languages. Those who did speak other languages couldn’t deny the evidence straight in front of them. They were hearing the wonders of God being declared in their own native tongue. But to those whose linguistic ability was very much like most UK citizens today the words of the disciples would have seemed like the incoherent murmurings of the local drunks. And so they decided to have a bit of fun.

Now it was at this point when Peter stood up and offered an explanation. “Fellow Jews,” he said verse 14, “and all you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men 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.  18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

Here is the explanation. The last days have arrived. A period in history when God would pour out his Spirit on all his people. As a result they would prophesy. The dreams and visions are a subset of prophesy. In the OT the Spirit came on particular individuals and their prophesied. There was a promise that in the future God would pour out his Spirit on all his people and they would prophesy.

This is what the first Christians were doing on Pentecost. They were prophesying. They were declaring the wonders of God to other humans. Prophecy has taken different forms in different eras of Bible history. This is what it means here.

Do you think we are living in the last days? Yes. Why do you think we are living in the last days? If you think it is because we see earthquake and hear of wars then you haven’t yet grasped what the New Testament means by the last days. Peter says that we know we live in the last days because the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all of God’s people.

The last days do have an end point. There is a last day. This is what Peter focus on in verses 19 to 21. “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

They will end with the glorious day of the Lord. This will be judgement day. But the good news is that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved from the judgement they deserve to experience on this day.

Notice how there needs to be an active calling on the name of the Lord. Even Jewish heritage does not lead to automatic salvation.

Why have the last days come now as evidenced by the arrival of the Spirit? This is what Peter explains from verse 22 onwards. “Men of Israel,” he said, “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.  23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  24 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.”

Why? Why was it impossible for death to keep its hold on him? Peter explains in verses 25 to 31. I don’t have time to go into the detail of what he does but his basic point is that the promised Messiah/Christ of the Jewish people would have to be resurrected from the dead.

If the Messiah was to rule forever after having being killed then he would need to be resurrected from the dead. Peter reasons from the OT and then gets people to match the expectations with the person of Jesus. He wants people to know that the resurrection proves that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

This is one explanation of why the last days have arrived. It was expected that the arrival of the Messiah would usher in this new age. Peter declares that the Messiah has arrived and his name is Jesus. Do you see how all this is connected? The pouring out of the Spirit tells us the last days have arrived. Why have the last days arrived? The Christ must have come. Jesus is the promised Messiah. So, you see, with a little bit of connected thought, the events of that day tell us that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Peter also wants his listeners to know something else about the identity of Jesus. Not simply is he the promised Christ, he also wants them to know that Jesus is the Lord. We see this in verse 36, where Peter says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Made is revealed him to be.

What does this mean? In the OT one of the words used for God was the word Lord. To call someone Lord meant that they were fully and utterly divine. To call Jesus the Lord meant that he was fully and utterly divine. The Trinity teaches us that there are three divine persons who are perfectly united in love and together they are one God. To call Jesus the Lord is to say that he is one of these three divine persons.

How do we know that Jesus was the Lord? Look at what Peter says in verse 33. “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.” Joel said that God would pour out his Spirit. But look who Peter says has poured out the Spirit. It is Jesus. One of the reasons we know that Jesus is Lord, fully and utterly divine, is because he pours out the Spirit on his people.

Of course this is so appropriate when you remember that the book of Acts records the continued works of the Lord Jesus, carried out by his Spirit-filled followers. Well, who better than Jesus to pour out the Spirit on his people!

The events of the Day of Pentecost show us that Jesus is the Lord of Joel chapter 2. We know this because he has poured out the Spirit on his people. But here’s the thing. The Lord of Joel chapter 2 also had two other roles. He would return as judge. All who called on his name would be saved. But wait a minute we’ve just said that Jesus is Lord. So do you see the implication? Jesus will be the future judge. And Jesus is the name that people everywhere need to call if they want to be saved. Why? Because Jesus is the Lord.
What does all this mean for people living today? Let’s finish by observing how Peter’s original hearers responded to his message. We’re told in verse 37 that, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38   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.  39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40   With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

They had to repent. Change their mind about Jesus. Recognise who he was. He was the Lord and Christ. Call on his name to be saved. Baptism was the way they showed they were calling on the name of Jesus. It happened at once. When they did they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Straight away. What happened to the first disciples is not the normal experience for all later generations. We do not have to wait and the evidence of being filled by the Spirit is not that we have the ability to speak foreign languages without any study. The Spirit is a gift when we put our faith in Jesus.

This promise was for the original hearers, their children – which I think refers to the next generation – and for all those who are far off. Perhaps Peter thought it was restricted to scattered Jews but we know it is for all people everywhere.

So tonight let me plead with you if you are not a follower of Jesus. Save yourself from this corrupt generation. You will meet Jesus as your judge. He is the Lord who will return for the day of his glorious judgement. But he is also the saviour who calls you to follow him today. Come to him and receive this gift of the Holy Spirit. The last days are here but the last day has still to come. Take advantage of your privileged position and act on what you are hearing.

For those of us who do bear the name of Christ let us recognise the days we are living in. The last days have arrived. The Lord Jesus has generously poured out his Spirit on all Christians. One of the reasons is to empower us for mission. We are to be prophets. We are to speak the wonders of God to others. We have the Spirit within us and he goes before us. What a confidence this surely must give us as we think ahead to Passion for Life!

Let us recognise again the mercy of God during these times. These are days of opportunities. There will be a glorious day of the Lord but now is the time for speaking about the salvation of Jesus and inviting people to call on the name of the Lord.

Let’s pray together.

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