Acts 2:4 “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
They were sitting together, about 120 men (Luke has told us in the previous chapter and verse 15), when out of the blue came the sound of a mighty wind from heaven filling the house where they were sitting, then what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and it rested on each of them. Then all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. Not one was omitted. He filled everyone without exception, not filling those alone who had engaged in some special act of consecration, not the leaders only or the more forceful personalities. They were all there, the younger Christians too, those who limped a little and had brought their past problems with them into the kingdom of God, yet they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke uses other terms to describe what happened to them. Chapter one and verse 5, they were all to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Chapter one and verse 8, the Holy Spirit was to come upon them all. Chapter 2 and verse 28, they had all received the Holy Spirit. Or in Acts chapter eleven and verse 15, Peter says that the Holy Spirit fell on them. Different terms are used to describe this same event. We could also say that on this occasion the Holy Spirit took up his residence in these people.
So what does it mean that these men and believers like ourselves today are filled with the Holy Spirit. I would want to explain it in a number of ways.
THEY ALL BECAME BELIEVERS.
Now Luke calls them ‘believers’ in the first chapter and the 15th verse, “In those days Peter stood up among the believers.” This is what they would claim to be, his disciples; people who believed in Jesus Christ the Son of God, but if you asked them when they became real believers then they would tell you, “At Pentecost we became real believers.” Let me show you this in chapter 11 of the book of Acts in the words of Peter himself. You must have asked yourself when did Peter become a believer? Was it when he heard Jesus say to him, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men” and he left his fishing and followed Christ? Or was it in Caesarea Philippi when he confessed to Jesus, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God!” Or was it when he told Jesus that he loved him and Christ told him to feed his sheep? What does Peter say in Acts chapter 11 when he is speaking to his sending church and giving them his experience of speaking to the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house? He says to them, “The Holy Spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning” (v.15). Pentecost was ‘the beginning’ as far as Peter was concerned, and then he says in the 17th verse, “God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.” It was at Pentecost when they were filled with the Spirit that they became real believers.
Let’s just remind ourselves about the indispensability of the Holy Spirit indwelling us for us to have true saving faith in the Lord. We all know that God tells us that “whosoever believes in him does not perish but has everlasting life.” The Philippian jailer was told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” But none of us thinks that we work up that saving faith all by ourselves. What are we believing? That we need a Saviour because of our guilt and helplessness. We believe the most appaling facts about our hearts and lives in the sight of God, that they are deceitful above all things – desperately wicked, that we go astray from the womb telling lies, that we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and that we deserve the condemnation of God in hell. Do you think that a man without the Spirit of God comes to bring that terrible indictment against himself? When he is come he convicts the world of its sin! But we believe more than that to be saved, that God loved us and that he sent his own Son to become the Lamb of God to go to the cruel cross and there to suffer the judgment that we deserve. He bore our sins in his own body on the cross. He died, the just and holy one, for us sinners to bring us to God. He dearly loved us so that he would ransom us – not with silver and gold but with his precious blood. We believe that we were involved in Golgotha, that there the Lord was laying on his Son the iniquity of us all. For us he suffered the abandonment of a sin-hating God. We believe that! What is utter foolishness to the world is for us the love of God and the power of God. We believe right into the Lord Jesus Christ. We must have him because we believe we are lost men without him.
Do you think we came to believe these incredible matters by our own wits, through some clever brain-washing, that forceful personalities had manipulated us, because we were naïve and stupid and foolish people? We don’t think that we came to believe because we were smarter than others who choose not believe? Do we pat ourselves on the backs for believing – that it was our efforts and our smartness that made us believe in our lostness and in Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life? I tell you that that was not the case, that we would have gone on believing that the gospel was foolishness and we’d never have believed it unless the Holy Spirit had filled us.
This saving faith is a gift given to favoured sinners by a merciful God. Let me show you where this is plainly told in the Bible; Ephesians chapter two and verses 8 and 9; “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast.” And again in Philippians chapter one and verse 29; “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” Who gave them the gifts of believing and suffering? God gave that to them. Or again when Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God then our Lord said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” God was responsible for this sea-change in Peter’s understanding of the nature of Jesus of Nazareth, that he was not merely a great healer and rabbi, the very best man he had ever met. He was the Messiah, the Son of God! But it was the power of God that had created that assurance in Peter’s heart.
Our hearts are evil and produce evil fruit. A bad man out of the evil treasure in his heart produces evil fruit, the Lord Jesus said so clearly. But here is something different, the most delicious fruit, tasty fruit of eternal life. What has caused this heavenly fruitfulness? God has given new life, a radical new beginning, to these people starting from the inside. He has created conviction of sin and righteousness and judgment in them. They believe that they are lost and dying and need Jesus Christ to save them because he is God and he alone can deliver and redeem them. That faith is not of their works, so they cannot boast about it. It is a gift of God. It has been given to them. It has been revealed to them by God.
So at Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled them and they became believers in Jesus Christ. That is Peter’s explanation about the change that had taken place. Before Pentecost Peter had believed as the other disciples had believed, as Judas had believed. Many believe like that, and they will say in the last day, “Lord! Lord! Did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons, and perform many miracles?” (Matt.7:22). Jesus will not deny it. Judas did all those things, but his faith was the faith that demons also have who also believe those truths. Judas didn’t have a faith that saw his own sin and his need to cast himself on Christ alone for redemption. It was not an adoring faith, and a cross-bearing faith, and a repenting faith, and a self-denying faith ready to give his life for Jesus. That God given faith came at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled them.
In other words all these 120 men needed the Holy Spirit to fill every part of their lives, their intellects and thinking, their judgments, their affections, their wills, their hearts, their every disposition and attitude. All needed to be brought under the influence of the Holy Spirit. They needed to be renewed in every part. There was to be no forbidding part of their lives which had a sign over it, “No Entry to the Holy Spirit.” He must invade every room in our lives. There is no part of our lives which the Holy Spirit is forbidden entry where faith is debarred from entering. He comes and changes our values and become the driving force and the motivating power in our lives. The Holy Spirit comes as Sovereign God over our lives, filling every part of us. My soul and spirit must believe, my heart and mind must believe. My affections must believe. My body shows it believes by presenting itself as a living sacrifice to God. That is what becoming true believers entails, as the 120 men became believers in the Lord Christ at Pentecost. Are you that kind of believer? It is not enough to make a decision in your will that Jesus is God. The demons have come to that conclusion long ago. Saving faith affects every part of a person. Heart, mind, conscience, powers of observation, moral judgments and your thoughts are chained to Jesus. You sing to him,
“Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.
Take myself and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.”
It is not a super-Christian, a hyper-Christian, who sings that. It is not someone who speaks or sings in tongues who sings that. It is not someone who’s had the second blessing who sings it. The mere believer has to sing it from his heart for his profession of faith in Christ to have any credibility at all. Was your faith given to you by God? Do you say that that is your only explanation of why you are a believer today? Was it faith that comes from a new birth? So being filled with the Holy Spirit means that you now have saving faith in the Lord Jesus. But being filled with the Holy Spirit has another meaning too . . .
2. THEY ALL WERE GIFTED FOR THE WORK THEY WERE CALLED TO.
We are told that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (v.4). Luke tells us that the consequence of being filled with the Spirit was that that were given an enabling by the Spirit. They were given a competency, a power, an ability that they had not had before the Spirit came upon them. They became qualified for the task that God was asking them to do to speak to the nations of the world the gospel. They did not know that the answer to this challenge was being filled with the Holy Spirit. But God knew. They did not agonize to receive him, but God knew that they had to have him, and so God gave him to them. Think of this filling of the Spirit as resulting in an overflowing in reaching out to the world.
We know the Greek word for this gift of the Spirit; it has passed into our language. It is called a ‘charisma’ and its plural is ‘charismata’ the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some were foundational gifts, like those possessed by apostles and prophets that enabled them to fulfil that office, and speak and write the gospels and the letters of the New Testament which were the very words of God. That was a foundational gift that passed away when the last apostle died. There was no longer anyone alive who’d been a witness of the resurrected Christ. But what the apostles had done was to lay a great foundation for the church, even for us in this congregation 2000 years later, that enables us to build our Christian lives on the teaching of the apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and Peter. We live our lives on what they have written down. I preach from what they have written down, and we believe and obey their written words. There is no need for a man to suddenly emerge in a town in Argentina or in China today and claim that he has the gift of being an apostle. We do not believe him; we do not obey him, and we do not need him. He is not an apostle. The apostles failed to omit anything any Christian needs.
There are many other gifts – besides apostles and prophets – that the Spirit gives us that this congregation will never stop needing and that God will never stop giving to us. For example, in Romans 12 we are given some sample gifts of the Spirit that are found in many of us today. We read there in verses six, seven and eight; “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”
Now every one of you possessing saving faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit from the time you became a Christian have also many spiritual gifts – every one. For example, preaching, serving other church members and even the church building, generosity concerning church finances, exhorting, encouragement, interceding, leadership, showing mercy and forgiveness, anticipating the needs of others, speaking kindly and lovingly, communicating, writing letters, parenting, using your singleness cheerfully and wisely, suffering bravely, bearing others’ burdens, supporting your elderly parents, being godly grandparents, and so on. You can see how many are the gifts that God gives to us all, and that some gifts will develop in the years to come only when the Lord in his providence puts us in places where those gifts are needed. But alleged ‘gifts’ that really cost nothing – like tongues speaking and giving a prophecy – and that cannot be exercised and cannot develop and grow are worth nothing. Every true gift needs divine energy from the indwelling Spirit to continue to go on functioning in the slightest way and maturing the believer. Without him you can do nothing.
So here were 120 men, all of whom had had a ‘Great Commission’ from the lips of the risen Lord. They were to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everybody, and ‘all the world’ meant literally that. God was no longer going to deal exclusively with one nation, Israel and speak just in the Aramaic language. God was going to speak in Parthian, Mede and Elamite; in the languages of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia. The good news of Jesus was going to be heard in Egyptian and Libyan, Latin and Greek and the Celtic languages and whatever languages was spoken on the island of Crete and in the Arabic languages. God was going to fill the world with the knowledge of the glory of Christ as the waters cover the sea. And so on the day of Pentecost he filled the 120 with the Holy Spirit and he gave them miraculous ability to preach in languages that they’d never heard before, and in which speaking they had an incredible fluency. They didn’t have to go to language schools and learn grammar and syntax and vocabulary and figures of speech and all the nuances of another language. The Spirit filled these 120, every one without exception so that they were able to declare the wonderful things of God in these other tongues. You know that God has immediate access to our tongues. There was Zechariah the priest, father of John the Baptist, who had had his speech taken from him for his doubts when he did not believe the messenger from God who came to tell him that his wife was going to have a child in her old age. Then when John was born we are told of his father Zechariah, “Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed and he began to speak praising God” (Luke 1:64). God worked in his mind and larynx.
So it was with all these 120 men at Pentecost when they spoke in foreign languages. Their mouths were opened and their tongues were loosed and they began to speak in other languages praising God. They were manifesting a miraculous gift which was a judgment gift on Israel and Jerusalem for crucifying the Son of God, but which was also a blessing to the nations of the world who were ready to manifest a network of gospel churches everywhere in which Christ would be exalted. Do you know that within twenty years Paul is writing a letter to the Colossians and he is saying to them in the opening chapter and verse 6, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” He tells Titus of the mighty power of God; “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Tit. 3:5&6). That was the explanation of the wild-fire spread of the gospel. It was not at all that this sign-gift – the ability of speaking in languages you had not known before – was to continue in the next two thousand years and that missionaries didn’t have to diligently and painfully learn a new language. They have, and they did, and still do today like our friends the Killers in Japan. I’m sure they long that that Pentecost miraculous sign-gift of speaking the mighty works of God in the twinkling of an eye in a new language had not along with the rushing mighty wind and the tongues of fire vanished after the apostolic age. How they wish that it was not a foundational gift. But it is, and so off to language school you’ve got to go. And to learn to translate the New Testament into a new language takes many years, even for a brilliant linguist like William Carey.
But what is important is that at regeneration, when the Holy Spirit comes into you life, then the seeds of many spiritual gifts in rich abundance are planted in all our hearts. You remember that Zechariah was told that his son (John the Baptist) would be “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” (Lk. 1:15). That does not mean that he was regenerate from birth, but certainly intellectually and emotionally gifted from birth. He was prepared for a life of ministry from the very beginning of his conscious life. So when other boys said they wanted to become fishermen or farmers or soldiers John always had just one ambition and one gift, that he might be a prophet and spokesman for God. The God who has a plan for your life will put you in places where the gifts he has given you – which perhaps you never realized you possessed, that have been lying long dormant – now are needed and they flourish. When Christians ask me what their own gifts may be then I tell them to consider where they are just now in their Christian lives and what openings and demands are being made of them for the exercise of dormant gifts. It is an insult to the Holy Spirit if the church asks you to do something and you refuse to do it because you feel your inadequacy.
See how it was manifest in the book of Acts. In chapter four and verse 8 we read, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them . . .” Here is Peter preaching to the Sanhedrin that had condemned Jesus months earlier to crucifixion. What a challenge! Peter must not think, “I was filled with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost and so I don’t need another filling.” Of course we need to be filled with the Spirit again and again. Peter was enabled in Acts 4 by a filling of the Holy Spirit to boldly and wisely address the Pharisees and chief priests. Then further on in the chapter we meet the same circumstance again. Peter and John return from the Sanhedrin to the Jerusalem congregation and they have a prayer meeting and we read these words in verse 31, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” They were under threat; they were living in dangerous times but again the Spirit filled them, giving them a new enabling as they faced new challenges. Let me pray at 8 a.m. every Friday for the preachers of the gospel in Aberystwyth upon the next Sunday that they will be given this enabling, to be filled once again with the Spirit. Then let us thank God as we pray here every Tuesday at 7.30 p.m. and look back on the Sunday that the gospel came to us not in word only, but with power and with the Holy Spirit and with much assurance, and we cry, “God do it again next Sunday, and next Sunday,” and so on. Think of what the apostle Paul experienced as it is recorded on Acts thirteen and verse 9, “But Saul who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on him [Elymas the sorcerer] and said . . ..” Wisdom and power given at a time of need.
So I am speaking to you about the 120 at Pentecost all being filled with the Spirit, and that this gift was given to them so that first of all they could truly believe in Jesus Christ. He was the only name under heaven given among men whereby they or anyone must be saved. Then by the Spirit at the same time they were “enabled” to exercise a spiritual gift of speaking in another language.
3. THEY WERE SEPARATED AT PENTECOST TO BE HOLY PEOPLE.
That is what the filling of the Holy Spirit does. Our Lord Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth and they are the light of the world, and that they are to let their lights shine in the kingdom of darkness. Today we are to shine by the oil of the Spirit of God. That is what we are praying for when we sing the children’s chorus, “Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning.” We are asking God that we never run out of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. So the phrase to be ‘full of the Spirit” is a description of a regular, mature believer, not an inquirer, not a church attender, not a novice but an ordinary growing Christian. He is Spirit filled. We are told about Stephen in Acts six and verse 5 that he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” We are told of Barnabas in Acts eleven and verse 24 that “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” That was his permanent character. He didn’t lapse. He never declined. He never fell away. He remained habitually under the influence of the Holy Spirit. His whole character, his relationships, his emotions, his ambitions, his reactions remained under the Spirit’s control. That is Christian maturity and so we can be like John the Baptist not merely lights but burning and shining lights.
There are some congregations in the New Testament and they are described as having left their first love. Others are described as being neither cold nor hot but luke-warm but the church in Antioch was not like that. There, we are told in Acts thirteen and verse 52, “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” That is the mark of a living body of Christ, or a real, ordinary church. Every one who attends brings the Holy Spirit with him or her, and then we sing and pray and listen and speak to one another in the Holy Spirit. There is a joy and praise.
So what is God saying to us today? “Don’t stop. Don’t rest on your laurels. Yesterday’s blessing is a day late for today. Go on being filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). We simply cannot rely on past experiences. Every crisis creates its own need and the Spirit is omni-competent to meet those needs. Be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. Constantly appropriate the Spirit. So you sit still at the side of your bed in the morning and you present your body to God, your mind, your heart, your affections and your strength. Then you become conscious of what lies before you in the day ahead, the challenges, the meetings, the deadlines, the tasks and duties, overwhelmed with responsibility or faced with special trials, then you pray, “Fill me with your Spirit today Lord.” We need an unending succession of replenishments. Continually and growingly we must go on being filled with the Spirit, our minds and our hearts and souls and affections. You see the context in Ephesians 5 which describes the fruit of that daily filling – we worship together with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, we give thanks to God always for all things, and we submit to one another in the fear of the Lord.
Let me say the same thing but in a Christ-centred way for there is no difference between being filled with the Spirit and being filled with Christ. Each Christian is in Christ and is a new creation. There is no condemnation for him at all because of this reality. But Jesus urges all who are in him to abide in him. In John chapter fifteen and verse 4 we read “Abide in me.” The background to that, surely, is a distinction between being in Christ (or coming to be in Christ) and abiding in Christ. The initial receiving the Saviour into your life and your commitment to him are obviously indispensable. But these first steps need to be re-enacted, repeatedly and continuously. The cross is taken up not simply once for all, but day by day. Consider the life of Christ himself. He not only made the decision to become man but, as man, ‘he humbled himself,’ he went down further and further into the abyss of nothingness. Spiritual fruitfulness is not the automatic result of coming to Christ. It is the result of adhering – of clinging – to him by faith and prayer. Abide in him! The original context of the Lord’s words was the metaphor of the vine and the branches: “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, no more can you unless you abide in me.” There must be a permanently close bond between graft and stock if the sap is to flow freely.
Think of all the ways that exhortations to spiritual growth and maturity are phrased in the New Testament. Be filled with the Spirit! Abide in Christ! Put on the whole armour of God. Present your body as a living sacrifice to God. Take up your cross and deny yourself and follow him. Live a life worthy of the gospel. That is the spiritual life of a disciple and the way of usefulness in the church and being lights in the world.
30th November 2014 GEOFF THOMAS