Acts 2:1 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.”
The Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven where he received what the Father had promised him as the God-man, the Holy Spirit. And he promised he would give that same Holy Spirit to all his people, which he did on the day of Pentecost. So it was a most notable and vital day for the Christian church. This was one of the great turning points in the history of the world. The events of this day are one of the greatest proofs of the existence of the God of the Bible. Also, without understanding what Pentecost is, it is quite impossible to have any correct notion as to the character and nature of the Christian church and the Christian message, and so it is of unusual importance” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity, Volume 1, Acts 1-3, Banner of Truth, 1999, p.34). So I want to introduce this chapter written by Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and I intend to say a number of things to you about it, two things in particular about Pentecost today.
- PENTECOST WAS AN HISTORIC EVENT.
It happened on this planet, in the city of Jerusalem, where a degree of latitude crosses a degree of longitude, in true space and time. Most Christian scholars believe that the Lord Jesus was born in the year 4 B.C, or 5 B.C. The reason for believing this is that Herod the Great died in the year 4 B.C. which fact was unknown to those who compiled the calendar and determined what they considered to be year 1, the birth of the little Lord Jesus. They were four or five years inaccurate. Then Luke tells us in the third chapter of his gospel and in verse 23 that Christ was about thirty years old at the start of his ministry. His ministry we assume lasted about three years. So this particular feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem would have been in the year 29 or 30.
Pentecost is the New Testament name for the Jewish ‘Feast of Weeks.’ This was principally one of three harvest festivals. This was the middle one which lasted one day. On it there were special sacrifices to be offered to the Lord. These are referred to in such scriptures as Leviticus chapter 23 and Deuteronomy chapter 16. The bigger picture was that of the renewal of the covenant that God had made with Noah telling him that springtime and harvest would not cease in the world, but that God would sustain our planet until the end. Believing disciples went to Jerusalem and they thanked God for that. “We are still alive and have been provided for. God is still faithful to his covenant.” Then there had come about another development, that the feast of Pentecost came to be celebrated as the anniversary of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. I don’t know why that was. Anyway, what was in the minds of the crowds gathered in Jerusalem at the feast were the themes of harvesting and law-giving.
But that was scarcely the first thing on the minds of these people at this particular occasion. Something ugly and shattering had happened at the previous feast seven weeks earlier, at the Passover and this is what buzzed in their conversations. You know that the word ‘pente’ is Greek for ‘five.’ You think of the Pentateuch – the five books written by Moses, or the five Olympic events – the Pentathlon, or the famous five sided building in Washington – the Pentagon. So fifty days after the Passover, five times ten, came this Feast of Weeks, otherwise known as the feast of Pentecost.
There was going to be a harvest of men and women in Jerusalem at this feast. 3,000 believers were going to be added to the church, the first fruits of the spreading kingdom of God. We find one of the church fathers named Chrysostom preaching about Pentecost a couple of centuries later and saying, “The time had come to put in the sickle of the word. For here, as the keen-edged sickle, the Spirit came down.” The sickle of the Spirit is the preached word of God. The law was also there, declared by Peter with his warnings to those who with wicked hands had crucified the Son of God. So these events described for us in Acts 2 took place in Jerusalem at the ‘Feast of Harvest,’ seven weeks after the crucifixion of Christ. It was a time when there was a great harvest of people and much conviction of sin, men cut to the heart for their breaking of God’s law especially their killing God’s Son.
So what we read in Acts 2 is not to be interpreted as we understand the imagery of the pictures – the diorama – of the book of Revelation. They are images which we call ‘apocalyptic.’ Compare them to cartoons, to the stories advertisements tell as they sell a conviction. Revelation is announcing various themes in symbols. In other words, there were no literal three frogs as we find mentioned in Revelation, or a woman who literally sat on seven hills, or a literal red dragon with a woman sitting on its back. Those were pictures of certain truths not intended to be taken in any way other than as figures of speech. When we say that it was raining cats and dogs we don’t mean that literally. So I am saying that Luke’s description of the events of the day of Pentecost is a plain history of God working on this calendar day, and the literal interpretation is essential. There was indeed a sudden shocking sound from the heavens of a mighty rushing wind, and there were tongues of fire that separated and rested on each of the disciples, and they all spoke in different languages, languages with which they were unfamiliar but known to people in the crowd who heard in their mother tongues the mighty works that God had done through Jesus Christ. Acts chapter 2 is a history of the miraculous, of God perforating a huge crowd of people in Jerusalem at one of the annual feasts held in that city. So what we call the ‘hermeneutic’ of interpreting the opening verses of Acts chapter 2 is that we understand it as it is recorded for us.
Now let us turn for a moment and remind ourselves of the author of this account. Luke was an educated physician, who was to become a traveling companion of Paul for a certain time, and a resident in Palestine for two years. He had interviewed people who were present at those events where he had been absent. He asked them exactly what had happened. He tells us in the opening verses of the first book he wrote, the gospel of Luke, how carefully he had been in gathering these accounts together, saying, “they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account” Luke 1:2&3). There is nothing excitable or bubbly about that introduction is there? It is reasoned and low key and quite humble. This scientist, Luke, who wrote these two New Testament books, had investigated everything he possibly before he committed the narrative to writing. He tells us that he was at peace with himself in the whole enterprise . . . “it seemed good to me to write this.”
So when you read his two books then you might be impressed by what you discover, the stylish Greek, the vocabulary, the observations he makes. The account of the storm in the Mediterranean is classic reportage. The language is of a man well acquainted with Greek medical schools – there are terms and words he uses instinctively. He traveled far and wide across Palestine and later across the Middle East by land and sea accompanying the apostle Paul. He interviewed the people whose lives had been touched by Jesus such as the virgin Mary, Jesus’ half-brothers, his disciples, the people he healed and those who saw Jesus many time during the six weeks he was risen from the dead. Over a hundred years ago there was a famous German scholar, Dr. F.C. Baur, who began his studies of Luke unpersuaded that the gospel writer was in any way accurate concerning the truth, rather Baur’s mind was unfavourable towards Luke. But after exhaustively examining what Luke had written he tells us that he “placed the author of the Acts among the historians of first rank.” Luke is a first rate historian. The truthfulness of what he carefully records is overwhelming. The 24 chapters of Luke and the 28 chapters of Acts are full of supernatural and divine activity. So I am saying that what we have before us in this chapter is an exact record of what actually happened on this unforgettable day.
Now that presents us with the most momentous consequences. It is telling us that we are living in a supernatural, created world that was designed and made by a personal God, one who deals with us men and women whom he loves and would redeem. That in all men and women who believe in the same Lord Jesus Christ God’s Spirit takes up his dwelling place, the same Spirit who first came from the ascended Jesus upon these men and women in this remarkable way described here by Luke. I am seeking to ground your faith in the absolute truthfulness of the coming of the Son of God and coming of the Spirit of God into this world. The reason that many of you are Christians today, Spirit-filled, and forgiven men and women, is because of such events as this one recorded in Acts 2. Our faith is grounded in the history of the coming of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit into our world.
Let me look at this fact from another angle. I am going to repeat to you some words from another physician and scientist, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Back in 1935 I had the privilege of taking part in a summer school for ministers. One evening we had a discussion which I was leading, and I was most interested to notice that certain men, who were arguing from the same position as I was, were almost giving me more trouble than the people with whom we were arguing. They got up one after another and they said something like this (and how often one has heard it!): ‘Now it doesn’t matter what you say, I don’t care what scientific evidence you produce, you can argue as you like, you can ridicule my Bible with your learning and take most of it from me, and maintain that science can prove this and that, but you will never take my experience from me.’
“These men thought that in that way they were actually answering the scientists, but they were simply delivering themselves lock, stock and barrel into the arms of the psychologists! ‘Quite so,’ says the psychologist. ‘That’s exactly the trouble with you religious people. You shut your eyes to the facts. You say, “my experience”, but of course, we can explain your experience quite simply. Think of the man who says he has had an experience of God and has felt awe in his presence. Now if you were to psychoanalyze that man, you would probably find that as a child he was once terrified by his own father. He had done something wrong, so his father had reprimanded him very severely and perhaps smacked him. This began to rankle and to build up until it became his idea of God.’ That is the kind of response you may get when you base the whole of your position upon your experience. Yet so many Christians do that.
“Do not misunderstand me (says Dr. Lloyd-Jones), I believe in the objective validity of religious experiences. All I am trying to show is that you cannot base the Christian message on experiences because people explain them away like that. Sometimes they go further and say, ‘Of course, you say that the only explanation of these experiences is your Christian message, but of course we know something about the cults. We’ve heard similar things about Christian Scientists, for example, who claim that whereas they used to be worried and troubled, now, since they’ve taken up this teaching, they are no longer ill or worried.’ So if you put the Christian case in terms of some wonderful experience you have had, they will explain it away, or if you put it in terms of an appeal that you responded to, like, ‘Come to Jesus and you will find a friend,’ or, ‘Come to Jesus and you will get physical healing,’ or, ‘Come to Jesus and you will receive guidance,’ or, ‘Come to Jesus and you will discover peace and joy’ if you put it like that, you are just opening the door to a psychological explanation of your faith.
“Or again, some people may say that though they are very glad to know that others have had these experiences of healing and deliverance from various troubles, but they themselves have never been worried by such things. ‘I’m very glad that you are better than you used to be,’ they may say, ‘I’m thankful for any kind of agency that can deliver people from their troubles. I think you may be wrong in your explanation, but as long as it makes you feel better, well and good, carry on. I’m obviously a different kind of person and I don’t need what you’re talking about. Life is going very happily and smoothly. I’ve a good job, I’m earning good money, I’ve a wife and children, we’ve a wonderful home, there’s nothing that I desire. So when you come with your great stories and ask me to take this, that and the other, the answer is, thank you, but I don’t need it!’ And many people are in precisely that position” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, op cit, pp. 37&38).
One answer to all these comments is the facticity of Pentecost, the uninvented and supernatural occurences that took place on that never to be forgotten day, and the sermon of Peter explaining its meaning, and the response it brought about among the thousands who heard it. I am saying that the foundational reason that we become Christians – every one of us – is because Christianity is true. God loved his world and he gave his Son to make atonement for our sins, and it is true. Christ died for our sin and he rose again on the third day for our justification, and it is true. He is at the right hand of God, the advocate and mediator of all his people and it is true, and to all those who turn from their sins and trust in him he gives rest; his yoke is easy and his burden is light and it is true. And there is no better reason than that to believe in him. All the other promises of peace and joy and better marriages and hope in death are true, but prior to all of those things the events of Pentecost took place as Luke describes them, the Spirit came upon the apostles and early disciples. Miracles occurred and as Peter preached, thousands of men were convicted, repented, trusted in Christ and were pardoned of their sins, and for the rest of their lives they lived trusting in Jesus Christ, his Father and his Spirit, the one true and eternal God, and all this is true. Ordinary fishermen and country folk from Galilee were empowered and spoke with extraordinary wisdom and boldness so that within their generation there were Christians throughout the Roman empire. In fact we have evidence to believe that Christian sailors and tradesmen had even reached the beach here in our town by the 60s or 70s of the first century. Near to this very spot on which we are gathered today those plain men had spoken to the local people the news of Jesus the Lamb of God risen from the dead. Pentecost had impacted them as it has impacted us 2000 years later, and it is on the basis of the facticity of these events that we urge you to come from your hunches and opinions and attitudes and ideas and stand on the foundation of truth. “On Christ the solid rock I stand,” says the hymnist. We all need to come to Acts 2 as it stands and to take it with full seriousness and as an authority for what we believe today and for the rest of our lives.
- PENTECOST WAS PROPHESIED EVENT.
You know how it is possible to prejudice people against the truth by simply describing events that took place without presenting any explanation of why they occurred, and so they seem ludicrous and shocking. Some of the poems and plays and novels of the First World War are astonishing because they describe one group of men killing another constituency of men, women and children. There is no explanation of why this particular war had started, for what had these men been risking their lives? It all seems so pointless and foolish. That is exactly what those who began the war want the rest of the world to feel, that all men on every side of the conflict are equally to blame, and any defense of your country is simple prejudice.
So there were supernatural events that occurred one feast day in Jerusalem around the year 30. Left to themselves they are brute facts, uninterpreted facts. But the Bible doesn’t allow us to read this chapter and come to the naïve conclusion that ‘truth is stranger than fiction and what a bizarre world we live in.’ That is not the explanation of what happened at this feast day in Pentecost. Rather this event was the fulfillment of divine prophecy, a promise given by God our Creator, that this would actually happen. It is all a part of God our mighty Maker’s plan for his world and for us today. God had said that this very event would one day occur.
Where do we learn of this? God says it in general terms in such prophesies as Isaiah’s words in chapter 32 and verse 15 of the Spirit being poured upon the people from on high. Or again there are Ezekiel’s words; “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ez. 36:26&27). A Christian is not a merely some moral and religious man who believes in God. A Christian is a man into whose life God has sent the Holy Spirit. God has taken away from these favoured people those old stony hearts of theirs. They have new hearts that love and follow God. Ezekiel was speaking of a future event that had not yet occurred but it certainly would when God made a donation of grace to people whom he loved and had chosen to be his people. Such verses as those give a general expectation that something remarkable is going to happen one day to the people of God.
Then a little known prophet named Joel spoke in the name of God and this is the promise God made through him; “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:28-32). This is what is happening on the day of Pentecost. Peter says, “This is that.”
When you read those words of Joel you begin to see how the events accompanying the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost are linked with the events that had already occurred in the life of the Lord Jesus – the giver of the Spirit. For example, Joel prophesies wonders in the heavens above. When did they happen? At the birth of Jesus when the star in the east led the wise men to meet the infant Christ, and again when Jesus spoke a word and a mighty tempest ceased its blowing, or again when it was darkness at noon at Golgotha. “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon blood red.” There were wonders in the heavens and on earth as he bore our sins and hung in the anathema of God on that “great and terrible day of the Lord.” It was there that the Lord Jesus bought for us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And he was granted dominion in the highest heights of heaven as a reward for his obedience to the death of the cross and authority to give the Holy Spirit and to save. Pentecost was prophesied by Joel.
But Pentecost was also prophesied by John the Baptist. Men came to him and John on a number of occasions said to them words like this, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (Jn. 1:32-34). John was the forerunner and herald of Jesus who spoke many times of the coming one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
So we have general prophecies of the gift of the Holy Spirit as a mark of the new covenant, and then in Joel the Lord speaks and says that God is going to pour out the Spirit on all kinds of people. Then John the Baptist also speaks talking of the contrast he felt so deeply between his own water baptizing – a mere sign – and Jesus baptizing with the Spirit of God – the reality.
Then the Lord Jesus spoke of his giving the Spirit to his people. Once he was preaching in Jerusalem at a feast and this is what he said with a loud voice so that the vast crowd could hear him, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Then John interjects his own comments, under the inspiration of God. He writes down these words, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:38&39). Fascinating words! Literally John writes, “The Spirit was not yet!” Now he does not mean that the Spirit was not yet in existence or at work in true believers. What he is saying is that the Spirit of the immanent kingdom of God comes as a result of the work that Christ was doing and would complete perfectly. Until that time the Spirit had not been given in the full Christian sense of the term. First, Christ must reconcile a holy God. Christ must propitiate his wrath against our sins. Christ must deal with all our guilt and shame. Christ the God-man must be highly exalted to the throne of God and be given all authority, and then he is able to pour out his Spirit on the whole church.
How often does Jesus speak of this in the Upper Room, recorded by John in chapters 14, and 16! Again and again he returns to it. This is the most important event in their futures. After this has occurred nothing will be the same for them ever again. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth . . . the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name . . . I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father . . . I will send him to you. When he comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment . . . when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth . . . the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you ” (John 14:15 and 25, John 16:7&8, 13, 15). Jesus spoke about him so often in the upper room the night before his crucifixion.
Then the Lord who was resurrected from the dead, the risen Jesus also spoke of this event. He gave the coming of the Spirit a chronological reference – it was to occur not on some unspecified future day but during their lifetime, in fact quite soon. He said to them, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit . . . 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” (Acts 1: 4,5&8). This particular promise that the Spirit would come was not psychological, or moral, or devotional. The promise was geographical. It was not ‘spiritual’ it was spatial. ‘In Jerusalem you are to wait,’ the promise said. It was an unstrenuous promise. It was non-subjective. It was unconditional – there was no ‘if’ on the lips of Jesus, that ‘if’ they stayed there then certain things would happen. There were no demands. There were no uncertainties. This will happen, they were told. Jesus spoke to them of what the Father had promised. It was a gift, and a gift of grace. It is not dependent on their fulfilling a law. They were told simply one thing don’t go home yet. Don’t return to Galilee yet because the next great redemptive event in your lives is immanent. It is going to be the fulfillment of the promise of God’s word, made by prophets and by John the Baptist and by Jesus himself. God intends to baptize his entire church with the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the baptizing is in a few days’ time here in Jerusalem.
So this was not merely an unusual event, and a historical event but it was a predicted event that they were to prepare themselves for by simply waiting in Jerusalem because it was in Jerusalem that it was going to happen. It was not going to occur for each of them individually wherever they happened to be, in Dan or Beersheba, at their beds or in the fields where they would be individually empowered all on their own. No. Look at the opening verse of the chapter, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place” (Acts 1:1). This baptism was corporate; they had obeyed their Lord. A week had gone by and nothing! Eight . . . nine . . . ten days had gone by since the promise. And some might have been muttering. Maybe some of their parents were elderly and sick back in Capernaum. Friends were looking after their flock of goats. There was the fishing business that needed attention, and so on. Ten days was a long time. It was expensive for them all to live a few days journey away from home in Jerusalem. Surely they could go back and be blessed there? But their Lord had said one thing to them, “Don’t leave Jerusalem: in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If they had gone to Bethlehem, or if they had gone to Caesarea or gone to Bethany then they would not have received the Spirit.
They were deeply convinced of this. They had to obey the Lord Jesus. That was non-negotiable. The disciple is not greater or wiser than his Lord. He would make the delay plain, and so no one had broken ranks. They had all stayed in Jerusalem. They were living in one another’s pockets, talking, fellowshipping, shopping in the market, eating and praying together, and then, suddenly, as they were sitting and waiting it happened just as Jesus had promised them. The Holy Ghost came upon every one of the people whom the Lord had died to save. Not one, not a single one, missed the blessing, not a very mature believer, an apostle who did not need the Spirit, not the weakest, youngest believer who was too raw and inexperienced to be filled with the Spirit. They were all together there, and then we are told in verse 4 that every single one of them was filled with the Holy Spirit just as the prophets and John and Jesus had said they would be. God kept his word.
In the entire Acts of the Apostles the comings of the Spirit of God are always to all who were present, without exception and without qualification, from the 120 at Pentecost, to all the Samaritans who had been baptized by Philip, to all who were in the centurion Cornelius’ house, to the twelve at Ephesus. There is no record in Acts of any believer in a group of believers failing to receive, or partly receiving, the promised Holy Spirit when he descended. He comes inclusively and he comes unconditionally. There is no record in the book of Acts of the Spirit filling or coming upon a person according to the subjective measure of his faith, or according to his personal obedience or according to the degree of his own consecration. They all had the Spirit without exception. It is God in grace who gives the gift of the Spirit and it is a glorious gift, not given according to merit or to works. It is a free present from heaven to every single believer from their loving Father. There is no partial filling of the Spirit in the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit is a person, and therefore where he is, he is fully; there is not two-thirds of him anywhere in anyone. There is not three quarters of him in a congregation somewhere. The church is the fellowship of God the Holy Spirit, and every Christian is in the grip of the person of God the Holy Spirit just as every believer has Christ his prophet, priest and king. If any man has not the Spirit he is none of his. He is not an unspiritual Christian; he is not a Christian un-filled with the Spirit. He is simply a man lacking in the Spirit, and his great need is to be born of the Spirit. So Pentecost was historical and it was a prophesied event. It is a very dangerous frame of mind t think, “I am not a Spirit-filled man and so I can live at a sub-Christian level. I can please myself what meetings I attend, what degree of holiness I can pitch my life, what personal devotion I render to the Lord, what mortification of sin I am committed to, because I am not Spirit-filled.” You can see what a theology of compromise that encourages. The Spirit of God comes upon every Christian and every part of him in regeneration, his mind and his thinking, and his heart and his affections and his very body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Pau challenges the sinning Christian in Corinth with the horror of taking the temple of the Holy Ghost and joining it to a harlot.
The same Lord is telling us that life consists of listening to the words of our Lord and of doing them. The same Lord still says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” His great apostle who speaks in his name says to us, “Go on being filled with the Holy Spirit.” I have you. Praise God! But I want you more and more. I need to be filled by you. Fill every part of my thinking and my affections. A Christian is someone whom God has baptized by the one Holy Spirit into Christ. Are you such a Christian? There is no other true Christian than that. Cry to him that he will give you the birth of the Spirit and nourish and nurture you by the Spirit so that you grow in the graces of the Spirit and in all wisdom and knowledge. And never stop asking God that you may keep in step with the Spirit all your days.
2nd November 2014 GEOFF THOMAS