What a privilege it must have been to walk with Jesus in those days, to see him act, teach, and then witness as he defeated death and accomplished what no one else could. What a moment it must have been to stand with him in the moments before the ascension when one last time he pointed the disciples away from earthly concerns (when will you restore the Kingdom) and commissioned them their heavenly concern of witnessing to him. Then as he ascended and they went and waited for the coming power of God, what they must have wondered what was ahead in those moments. Yet, on this day of Pentecost, the wait was over, and soon the work would begin. The Spirit of God descended on them and brought them the equipment they would need for their work of witnessing. Furthermore, Pentecost would begin the new age of the Spirit, when God would work through his people to witness his Glory in the world. It may have been a privilege to walk with Christ, but now an even greater privilege had been placed upon this group, to witness Him and carry on his work in the world. A privilege and work that is still ours today in the world.
1. The Wait is Over (ACTS 2:1-4)
Sometimes faithfulness is in the waiting. We can sometimes lose ourselves in the dreams of being used by God for something majestic and mighty; yet, there will be moments in life when the greatest miracle will be obedience in the waiting. The disciples have been through the most disruptive of seasons, the baton is being slowly passed to them as Jesus fulfilled the call that was placed on his life by going to the cross and paying the price for sins of humankind; dying so that we might live, then rising so that we might know the victory of his act. In the aftermath of the Cross, Jesus appeared and worked with his disciples to help them understand all that had happened; and to lay the foundations of his work that would change the world as they knew it and we have known it. In his last moments, he reminded the Apostles what they had been called to as he commissioned in the moments before his ascension:
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.”1
What a call and commission for the followers of Jesus, and after everything that had been through, how keen they must have been to get on with the responsibility that was placed on their life – the witnessing of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Yet, even though they were called to work, they were first tasked to wait. The waiting was not active, but a season of preparation as they committed themselves to God in prayer and worship, dealt with some things that needed sorting out (Judas’ replacement) and sought the Lord. In that season of unknown and waiting, God was working in them so that they would be ready for Him to work through them.
The wonderful thing about the work that God calls his children to is that he does not call us to the task alone or prepared: we are called together (the body of Christ) to live out the mission of God in work, yet, more profoundly and beautifully we are empowered for the work of God by God the Holy Spirit. How amazing? So good and loving is God that he works in his Children to work through them in the world. All that we may do for the Kingdom of God is an act of God himself; we are tools in the hands of the almighty. He does the work. The disciples knew that God had called them, and they knew that they were to wait for the counsellor, the Holy Spirit, to help them in work, yet, I wonder in those ten days of worship, prayer, and fellowship did they grasp the significance of what was ahead.
Last week, we considered the fullness of their waiting; now we find ourselves with the 12 and presumably the wider circle of Jesus as the moment they have been waiting for has come. The power of God, the Holy Spirit, has come down on them to empower them to the work of God. Pentecost would be the day that would change this ragged group of faithful followers into a spiritual body that would change the world then and continues to change the world today as the same Holy Spirit works through them to empower all followers of Jesus to the work of witnessing him. What a day it must have been, they were all there waiting to receive the power of God from on high, and they did: then, in a day, they experienced the wonder of the work and width that followers of Christ would be called to.
The Feast of Pentecost
Jersulam is still buzzing some fifty days the Passover, as the city moves to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost (50 days). Historically it had been a feast to mark the completion of the grain harvest, yet, towards the end of the inter-testamental period (the 600 odd years or so between the Old Testament and John the Baptist), the feast had been adapted to celebrate the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, tradition held that this transaction happened fifty days into the Exodus.2 Some people when thinking around Pentecost will draw attention to this double symbolism, that there would be a great spiritual harvest of 3000 people who had the law put into their heart (Jeremiah 31:33). Yet, Luke does not seek to make explicit reference to this symbolism; he seeks to draw the eye of our mind to the majesty and privilege of the moment as he uses three phenomena to describe the coming of the Holy Spirit: wind, fire and voices.
The Wait is Over
They have been gathered for ten days, and they remain together when things begin to change; Luke again reminding us of the togetherness of the early church – untied in purpose and vision and awaiting the coming promise of God. Yet, in a moment, the wait is over as God acts and the Holy Spirit descends. Luke seems to struggle to capture the majesty of the moment; you almost sense that he does not have the words to describe how the events of Pentecost unfolded. Luke uses three events to describe the coming Spirit of God unto the Apostles: wind, fire, and voices. First, those gathered are overcome by the feel and sound of what seems like a violent wind (even though they were inside), the waiting is over, and God is speaking loudly and clearing to those gathered that something is happening; the wind representing the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 37:9). Luke makes clear that what has arrived is all-encompassing when suddenly the Spirit of God that has been made known in Sound and Feel is made known by sight as what appears like Tounges of Fire appear and rest upon all who were present.
The Wait is over, and the Holy Spirit has come in the fullness of heaven. I love this moment that it represents the birth of the church and the last stage of Gods redemptive plan for the world. Yet, we must be careful to not look too far beyond, for we may miss the present; I love how the Holy Spirit comes in a way that is both corporate and individual. Corporate in that every one person present shares in the surrealness of the moment, as the wind is noticed by all and the fire hovers above them: individual, in that the fire of God settles on everyone there. A reminder for us today of how the Holy Spirit works that we are filled both corporately as Church, the body of Christ to fulfil the work of witnessing to Christ and individually to the same end. These three signs together represent the beginning of the new Era of the work of the Kingdom; the wind perhaps representing the power of which Jesus had promised the church, the fire representing the purity of their witness, and the tongues a foretelling of the universality of the Kingdom they would advance: it would be a place for every tribe, tongue and person who would submit to Christ through faith. The disciples had waited as Jesus had commanded them; they had been obedient to his command: verse 4 makes clear that the Holy Spirit had come upon each them, their speaking in tounges a clear sign of this new Spirit reality as Luke notes ‘as the Spirit enabled them. Their obedience had been rewarded, their waiting fulfilled, and their prayers answered as God came upon them in power. It was a moment that would not free them from obedience, but that readied them for greater obedience as the Spirit moved them to fulfil the commission Christ had placed upon their life and all who would choose to follow him. The power had come; now it was time to get to the work of the Kingdom: the work of every disciple.
2. The Witnessing Has Begun (ACTS 2:5-13)
Jesus told the disciples that they would bring the Gospel message to the corners of the earth. I love how God works in the world and through his people is that he leaves nothing to chance – the timing of the coming of the Holy Spirit was no different. The wait was over, and the work had begun, and the Apostles would have little chance to get used to this new spiritual reality and power because the world had taken notice of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the work had already begun. Luke tells us that there are God-fearing Jews from every nation on the earth in Jerusalem, probably the aftermath of the Passover as well as people remaining to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Yet, regardless of them why they are there, the point is clear that the whole world is about to hear about what Jesus has done. The witnessing has begun!
Whatever way the Spirit of God came upon the Disciples, it was noticeable to the world around them; Luke tells us that a crowd had gathered in reaction to the distinct sound that was heard coming out of the place the followers of Jesus were gathered at that time. The work had begun, and the disciples probably had not even realised it. Furthermore, this global crowd is even more perplexed because each of them hears their own language being spoken, thus in response, they question: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is that each of us hears them in his own native language?” Luke then lists the breath of all who was gathered, listing everyone from the Greco-Roman world, gathered from every corner of the known world. Yet, the point is clear the work of witnessing to Jesus has begun; however, the crowd are surprised about the witnessing because of who this group is – ‘Galileans’, a people who had a reputation as unlearned and uncultured. A reminder to all who might read this passage today that God calls people not because of their background or skill set but because of their willingness through faith to act, and if he calls them, he equips them.
The Crowds initial reaction reminds us how the world will react to Gods powerful and saving presence challenges our comfortability; there will always be surprise and intrigue. Yet, eventually, there will also be dismissal and insult. People may be confronted by the work of God, but often they would rather find ways to dismiss it and keep worshipping their own God than act in any way it requires them to change. The crowd are amazed and perplexed by the obvious coming of God and the supernatural reality of what is happening, hearing their own language; thus, in duality, we have some asking the right question: “What does this mean?” Then we have the visible reaction of the world – dismissal: “They have had too much wine.”
The Witnessing Has Begun (ACTS 2:14-21)
What is the biggest miracles we can witness in the world? Sometimes I think we wish that God would do something mightily, then people would come to see him as Lord – Write something in the sky, bring fire down from the heavens, appear and roam over the earth in some sort of Spiritual form. We long for something big that will leave the world utterly convinced of the sovereign rule of God! Yet, we are reminded of the folly of such longings as Pentecost unfolds: one, the world literally witnessed such a majestic moment and moved to dismiss it by convincing themselves that at 9am in the morning, the disciples were enjoying too much wine; two, it is not how God has chosen to work in the world. What is the biggest Miracle we can witness in the world? The work of Grace in the people of God! The miracle at this moment was not that God revealed himself audibly and visibly to the wider world but that he chose to reveal his message through a group of people who would normally be unseen and dismissed by the world. It is a challenge to each of us to consider how we have responded to the work of God in our lives and the responsibility of God on our lives. Do we see the privilege and wonder of Grace? Are we living out the call of Discipleship in response to the Grace of God, trusting the power of God the Holy Spirit?
Consider Peter, who not long ago, when asked was he one of the followers of Jesus, denied him three times. Yet, now because of the Grace he has received and the dwelling power of God, the Holy Spirit, when the world attempts to dismiss the coming of God, peter stands to confront them with the truth of Christ. He gets on with what he had been called to – witnessing to Jesus. Peter stands and dismisses the dismissals of the world: “Listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk… it is only nine in the morning! It is a beautiful moment because the work of every disciple has begun, yet, more personally, we see the transformation of Peter from the denier to the proclaimer. He has been transformed by the grace of God and empowered by the presence of God, and nothing is going to stop him.
Peter states: ” Now this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel” and then goes on to quote from Joel 2:28-32, where the pouring of Gods Holy Spirit was foretold. The assurance of Salvation by faith was given when Joel concluded by saying: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Joel and Peter, in these words, remind us of the decisiveness of the last days, days that we are in until Jesus comes again. The signs on earth and in heaven will point out the weakness of humanity and the folly of where we place our trust (in things other than God); think about how quickly an unseen virus has brought our world to its knees. Think about how unprepared the great powers of our world were to deal with one virus. That is not to dismiss the cost or burden of these last fifteen months but to highlight that we live in a rapidly decaying world. A world in which our morality is fluid, our foundations shaking, and our social structures ever-changing, a world gripped by the unknown environmental chaos ahead, the realities of economic and political inequality and the corruption of those in power. If we are honest about the world we live in, then we can resonate with Joel’s vision of the end. Yet, Joel’s vision for the coming of the Spirit and then ending of the world is not one without hope; it ends with the hope of all hope: all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved! Thus the question we must ask ourselves: Have we trusted in the Lord? Then, are we calling the world to know our hope in the same name? As Larkin challenges: “We live in the time of the Spirit’s life-giving presence—and there is the challenge: will we call on the name of the Lord and be saved?”3
Witnessing in the Power of the Spirit
There is much that we could write about The Pentecost moment, yet, our focus this morning has been simply on the empower of and then the calling of every disciple. John Piper captures it perfectly when he writes: “Every Christian should be helping unbelievers become believers by showing them, Christ. That is making a disciple. And every Christian should be helping other believers grow to more and more maturity. That is making a disciple.”4 If we are followers of Jesus – those who have called upon the name of the Lord – then we exist to witness to God as we enjoy the presence of God. The wait is over, and the work has begun; the Spirit of God that was at work on the day of Pentecost is still at work today in the body of Christ corporate (The church), and each of us individually (Disciples) to the same end – witnessing to Jesus.
The Disciples waited on the coming of the Holy Spirit, and when He came, they were moved naturally into witnessing to the Lordship of Jesus, both in word and deed, the model of all faithful ministry today. Word, in that Peter got up and spoke about the reality of the world, and their need for Jesus: Deed, in that the Spirit acted through them in a way that was noticeable to the world today. Why did the Holy Spirit come? To continue the work of God in the world and the building of his Kingdom until the day the King returns. Thus, today the same Spirit is at work in the church and Disciples regardless of context to the same end. If we find ourselves socially distancing because of covid, living in a city in a country that is not our own, or in the debts of the Jungle and we claim the name of Christ as ours, then our purpose remains the same to witness to Jesus as we strive to know him more by the power of the Holy Spirit. How do we witnessing to him? By our words, specifically through Scripture and proclaiming of his name just as Peter did; then by our deeds, that is living out the Kingdom by the direction of the Spirit in a way that confronts the world, just as the 120 did. Furthermore, let us remember that the Holy Spirit qualities us for the work, not the standards of the world. Thus, we have no excuses not to join in because it is not about our bloodline; the influence of gifting is about our spirit empowered faithfulness in response to what God has done.
What is our hope in a hopeless world? The Name of the Lord! Frustratingly the Lectionary passage stops just as Peter starts, but it would be a disservice not to mention the verses following as Peter declared:
“Fellow Israelites, listen to these words: This Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through him, just as you yourselves know.5
What is our hope in a hopeless world? The name, person, and work of Jesus! So let us make sure it is the name we profess and the name we proclaim in the power of the Spirit so that the world around us may know the Beauty and hope of Life with him. Let us get on with the work of the Kingdom, trusting the Spirit where he leads us as we seek God’s direction through prayer, worship and his Word. Knowing that as he was fruitful in the Harvest then: “Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”6 So he will be fruitful in the harvest of those disciples who are faithful to the leading of the Holy Spirit today. Today in the power of the Spirit, let us witness the beauty of Jesus; this is our privilege and works today.
- The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., Ac 1:8). London: Hodder & Stoughton. ↩
- Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 62). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ↩
- Larkin, W. J., Jr. (1995). Acts (Vol. 5, Ac 2:14–21). Westmont, IL: IVP Academic. ↩
- https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-discipleship-and-how-is-it-done ↩
- Acts 2:22 CSB ↩
- The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., Ac 2:41). London: Hodder & Stoughton. ↩