By Simon ManchesterSunday 16 Oct 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 17 minutes
This morning, we are looking at the Pentecost event, when God’s Spirit fell on the early Church, and you will find recorded in Acts Chapter 2.
It’s a story of major significance, because, in some ways, it exposes what only God can do. It tells us that in the end, we are not very good as a human race at getting unity. We are not very good at getting it together as a family. We are not very good at getting it together as a Church. We are not very good at getting it together as a community or as a globe. And we, of course, are able every now and again to engineer some superficial or transient structures of unity, but it is only God who can produce a unity at the most profound level which will increase to perfection, rather than steadily fall apart.
So I don’t want you to think that I would stand up this morning and say, ‘Look, the world is hopeless at unity, but we are great at unity’. All that we have to say is that God, by His Spirit, can in-dwell the human heart and create a family which begins very falteringly, but continues for eternity into perfection; whereas the rest of the world clamps a structure over things and tries to force a unity and eventually, of course, it crumbles and breaks apart.
It was very sobering, a few weeks ago, to drive through Belfast and to see the famous Shankel Road and the Falls Road, the war zones of the Catholics and the Protestants and of course, to remember that the real issue in Northern Ireland is not that there are two religions (because Sydney has plenty of Protestants and Catholics). It’s not to realise in Northern Ireland, that there are two political parties (because we live in this city with two major political parties), but that the problem in Northern Ireland is more profoundly that there are two cultures. There are two heartbeats, there are two systems, there are two passions which are so difficult to bring together.
And you get the same thing in a family. You may have a family which in a hundred areas, has great happiness, and yet one particular person in the family is not in-dwelt by God’s Spirit and so at the most profound level, there is not the same heartbeat for the things which will last. You can get the same in a Church committee. You can have a committee sit round, all working on the same project, but one person deep in their heart just wants their will to be done, and the others with the best will in the world want God’s Will to be done almost impossible to harness a unity.
Well, what God does we cannot do, and what we cannot do, God can do. And Acts 2 is the great news for the world that there is a profound change which He can work, bringing people into a family which is united, profoundly united, and increasingly united. Now we may not get the excitement of the Day of Pentecost – the rushing wind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking in tongues – but we can certainly have the experience of God’s Spirit which was preached about on that day. And that will spill over into various areas of excitement.
So I want to look with you at this section this morning under three headings: what took place on the day. I have had to wrestle with this. Some people think that it was a miracle of ears on that day – one bloke got up and preached, and everybody could somehow hear something special. Others, of course, take the view that it is a miracle of tongues. It’s not quite as simple as it looks. What took place on the day of Pentecost.
Second, what was said on the day? Because that really will interpret the day. And thirdly, what does it mean for us… when you and I walk out of here today, what are we going to say the Day of Pentecost tells us?
What took Place on the Day of Pentecost
So, first of all, what took place? It was 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was 50 days after the Jewish Passover. Do you remember that Jesus died around the time of the Jewish Passover? And for the Jews, in Deuteronomy 16 it was time to celebrate (50 days after the Passover) the harvest of God. Now, what an appropriate time to have a brand new harvest, not of wheat, but of new believers being gathered in, which is of course what took place on the Day of Pentecost. And there were the early believers, you see in Chapter 2 of Verse 1, and they are all together in one place. We don’t know where the place was, but it must have been big. And they were waiting for what Jesus had said that they must wait for – that is, the coming of the Spirit – and suddenly whoosh.. there was this mighty wind from Heaven, rushing wind sound. Tongues of fire falling, what looked like tongues of fire on the heads of the believers, and this outburst of speech in other languages. A triple experience – a sound, a sight, and then this speech.
Now the sound was the sound of rushing wind. Why? Well, very appropriate that there would be the sound of rushing wind because the word ‘rushing wind’ and ‘Spirit’ is the same. And here is this rushing wind from Heaven. Why was there the sight of tongues of fire on people’s heads, the appearance of tongues of fire? Well, again, very appropriate, because God Himself is described in the Bible as fire. And John the Baptist says that when Jesus comes, He will baptise with Spirit and fire. And what is taking place on the Day of Pentecost is Jesus is pouring out His Spirit, as you will see in Verse 33, on the believers.
And then there was the speech, the speech of other tongues (Verse 4). All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues. First of all, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. What does this mean? Here are 120 people in the early Church, and they are in a unique position. Why are they in a unique position? Because they have pretty well believed in Jesus for up to three years. And now comes the Holy Spirit. So they are in a kind of a time-warp. This is a 1st Century unique sequence. They believe in Jesus and then, weeks, months, maybe a few years after believing in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes. That is the unique 1st Century experience of that 120. From that day on, there would be no time-lag. When a person believes in Jesus, they will receive God’s Spirit. And you see this in Verse 21, that when you call on the Lord (that’s how you become a Christian, Verse 21, you call on the Lord), that is the moment when you are saved. And the moment you are saved is the moment that you are in-dwelt.
And so although this 120 had a kind of a time-lag between believing in Jesus and then receiving the Spirit, after Pentecost (except for a couple of echoes in the Book of Acts) that time-lag is over. The day you call on God, to be saved, is the day that you are adopted into His family immediately, forgiven by Jesus immediately, and in-dwelt by His Spirit immediately. From Pentecost on, you have a Trinity faith or nothing. It’s Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Now every Christian, therefore, is in-dwelt by God’s Spirit. What does it mean to be filled with God’s Spirit? Interestingly in the New Testament, we are only told once to be filled with the Holy Spirit, although it is obviously a very important truth. Some times in the New Testament, people are described as being filled with the Holy Spirit. And I presume what it means is that the believer who is in-dwelt by the Spirit comes to the point, by God’s initiative, of really surrendering to Him, of, as it were, being opened up to every part of His influence. That’s something of what it means to be equipped.
Now, what’s the speech that takes place? Well, first of all, it is not the same unintelligible speech of 1 Corinthians 12-13-14. We are told in Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, Verse 2 that when a person spoke in the tongues, no-one understands him, ‘he speaks in some prayer or praise to God, and nobody understands the language’. But this is intelligible speech. Look at Verse 11b, ‘We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our tongues’. This is probably a one-off miracle that takes place on the Day of Pentecost and, as I say, a couple of echoes in Acts 10 and Acts 19. But what is being described here in Acts Chapter, 2 is the coming of the Holy Spirit, filling the believers (the receivers), expressed in speaking in other languages. And if you want to know what you should expect of the Holy Spirit, well, it’s no good reading what did happen on the Day of Pentecost in the Book of Acts, you need to read, and I need to read, what Paul and others tell us in the letters. And what Paul and others tell us in the letters is that when we put our trust in Jesus, we receive God’s Holy Spirit, in all His many and various functions.
Well, the second thing about this speech – first, it’s not the unintelligible speech of 1 Corinthians 12-14, because it is intelligible. But second, it seems to be a temporary reversal of what took place at the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament. And those of you who know your Old Testament will know that at the Tower of Babel, God decided that He would split of the speeches, the languages, of the people, to protect them from being united against Him. And so God did something very powerful, and really, very gracious and that is, He protected us from ourselves by dividing us. And paradoxical as it may seem, we are safer by being divided in many senses. And where God split up the languages, because of this antagonism towards Him, here, under the influence of His Spirit, He unites or reconciles the languages, because He’s the only one who can create the unity. And so here, in Acts Chapter 2, we get a little taste of Heaven. God speaks to all the language groups. And of course, He speaks in all the language groups because He wants all people in all the language groups to hear and to believe.
And these people gathered in Jerusalem, the Jews, from every local nationality, rushed to the scene and, as I say, probably the temple, or something like that, and they listened to the Christians, and what are the Christians talking about (Verse 11 of Chapter 2)? They are talking about the wonders of God. And as they listened to these Christians speak about the wonders of God, every single one of them, from whatever language group they come from, hears exactly their language. It’s a miracle of communication.
So, if I could give you a sort of homely illustration of this, imagine that you got on an aeroplane tomorrow, and you travelled to Egypt, and you went out into an outdoor rally, and you expected that you would be standing there listening to Arabic. But as the person stands up and speaks on the soap-box, you find that the person is speaking English with an Australian accent. The person beside you is American. They hear the voice in an American accent. The Chinese man on the left, he hears Chinese. The Italian behind you hears the Italian.
What Was Said on Pentecost
And here is this great miracle of communication taking place. Well, what is it that we need to secondly ask that was said about it? This is my second point. What was said?
Are Verses 3-4 the miracle and the message of Pentecost? Is the message of Pentecost – violent wind, tongues of fire, and speaking in tongues? Because if that’s the case, it’s all over. The rushing wind, the tongues of fire appearing on people’s heads and this miracle of communication (being able to speak and be heard by everybody). It’s gone. But thankfully, in 2:14, Peter stands up (and this is the second miracle of the Day of Pentecost), he stands up and in the power of the Holy Spirit; he begins to preach, or proclaim, what Pentecost is all about. In other words, he interprets it, so that we will know the ongoing abiding significance for us. And Peter preached from 2:14 a sermon (we will only look at the beginning of it today, the rest of it next week) which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, has been put into the Scriptures. We get our sermons out of the Scriptures. His sermon went into the Scriptures.
And he explained the Spirit’s coming (you see from Verse 17) as being the fulfilment of the prediction of the Prophet Joel. When God spoke through Joel, back in the 8th Century BC, God (through Joel the Prophet) said, ‘When the last days come, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions and your old men will see dreams’.
Now it’s a remarkable thing, when you think about it, because what should God have done for that crowd? And remember, the crowd was now a huge, huge crowd and it consisted of many, many people who had turned-on, attacked and arranged the crucifixion of Jesus. So what should God have poured out on that crowd? He really should have poured out His Judgement. But because, in the providence of God, Jesus was crucified and paid the price for sin, and rose up to the right hand of God, He is now able to pour out, in His grace, His Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit comes in great power to all (Verse 17), without distinction. Is it just going to fall this time on the prophet or the king or the priest of the Old Testament? Is it going to fall on a select group? Well, look at Verses 17-18… no, it’s going to fall on – male, female, young, old, servant, powerful. It’s going to fall on all, without distinction, who believe and receive.
And the response of people who believe and receive is that they will begin to (in the words of Verse 17) speak, prophesy, tell the vision, tell the dream. And God will work (Verse 19) great wonders.
Now you may think, as you sit in an Anglican Church on a Sunday morning, with everything very much under control, things are not quite as exciting today as they were on that day. We could do with a rushing wind and some tongues of fire and few dreams and visions, you may say. But this is apocalyptic language. And apocalyptic language (and I am not just down-playing this, I am just telling you the truth – you will be very disappointed if you just sit round, waiting for rushing winds and tongues of fire)… no, what Peter is describing is that when God’s Spirit comes, all people, without distinction, who respond to Jesus will receive His Spirit and they will begin to declare in their life and their speech, the message of God (the prophesy, the vision, the dream)… it will be a day of telling very great things, and God will do very great works. And this apocalyptic language is the way God describes ordinary things in shocking language. And He does it so that we won’t dose off, you see – that’s why the Book of Revelation is so helpful, because it takes all the stuff that’s in the New Testament, and just restates it in shocking language… and says: do you know about heresy?… well, just before you dose off, the heretic is a dragon. And, do you know about persecution? Well, just before you dose off, the persecutor is a dragon.
And here, you see, as Joel speaks, and Peter quotes Joel, he is describing very great works which will be uttered through the very ordinary believers like you and me, through which God will do very great work on the world. So don’t, whatever you do, underestimate the importance of being in-dwelt by God’s Spirit and being His representative in the world, because if you underestimate that, and you think that you really need (if you are going to make any impact on the world) some rushing winds and tongues of fire and something like a miracle of communication, we will be very disappointed. We will just have to sit around and wait, and of course, wait forever, because it is something which happens uniquely.
But what is happening in an ongoing way, is what Peter describes here and interprets, which is that God’s Spirit comes in and lives in God’s people, so that God’s people would be His representatives to pass on a very great message.
Somebody has said that many Christians are like children. You offer them a cheque for $1,000 (the child), or you offer a chocolate bar, and you know what the child will take. The child will take the chocolate bar. Now many Christians have got the same faulty grasp of what is really important. They keep thinking that what is really important is something exciting. Some people, even in Churches, they only respond if a talk is riveting as though something extremely exciting has to happen. But when you ask them afterwards, after the riveting talk, what was said, they can’t remember. They just remember the experience! No, what we need is not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord. The steady, steadfast work of being God’s people, believing in Jesus, in-dwelt by God’s Spirit, through Whom God, does supernatural and abiding work. And if of course, in your great weakness you are still able to help somebody turn to Jesus, that is a priceless contribution. There is nothing more wonderful than that. And that’s what Peter describes as will happen in the last days.
But then he says, in Verse 20, there is also going to be the great day. This great day, Verse 20, which is still to come is described in cosmic terms, where the creation begins to fall apart, and there is the glorious day of the Lord. We live between the Day of Pentecost – that happened, and we live waiting for the great day of the return of the Lord Jesus – that will happen. And in the today, our greatest privilege and our greatest priority is summed up in Verse 21, which is that we have the privilege and the priority of saying to people in this world, ‘Call’. If God has come by His Spirit and offers new life, and if you are going to meet Him one day and without it, you will not survive, but with Him, you will wonderfully rejoice, call. We live between the day and the day. And everybody we mix with lives between the day and the day. They do. They do live between the Day of Pentecost and the day of Christ’s return. And the only hope they have is to call.
What Is the Significance of Pentecost
Well, let me then, thirdly and lastly say, what is the significance of this event? We have seen, first of all, what happened. We have seen, in some way, what it is interpreted to mean. And now let’s finish by asking what does it mean today?
I suggest four quick things. First, this Pentecost Day tells us that God is a very kind God. Let me ask you if you could finish this sentence, how you would finish it, ‘The greatest thing that God can give to me is…’ how would you finish that?
The Biblical answer – the most wonderful and real answer – is this: the greatest thing that God can give to us is Himself. And here on the Day of Pentecost, we are reminded that God, who gave His Son, whom we did not deserve, now gives His Holy Spirit to the receiver and the believer, in order that he or she might live in the family of God, forever with God, at the expense of God. You cannot have a greater kindness than that, can you? We need to remind ourselves of this, because every now and again, we are tempted to believe that God is not kind. But here is another proof from the Day of Pentecost that God is extremely kind, extraordinarily, amazingly kind. And that’s why, of course, we do want people to respond by calling. We know that God’s Son has come down. We know that God’s Spirit has come down. Now I want to know, has your call gone up? Have you called on Him and said, ‘I need to be saved’? That’s what we hope for our family members, isn’t it? I mean, we want them to be healthy, okay; we want them to be happy, okay; but we want to know that they have called. And that call is so rare. What is the matter with our country? Down has come the Son of God, down has the Spirit of God and it is so difficult, isn’t it, to get a call to go up from the person who lives in this country. ‘Because’, they say, ‘I don’t need to call. I am so wonderful. And everybody tells me how wonderful I am, so why would I need to call to be saved?’ And what does it mean to be saved – isn’t that an old-fashioned Church joke, “Are you saved, brother?” Why would I want to be saved?’
Well, maybe these people say I am sympathetic to the Church, I’m sympathetic to God… I don’t need to be saved. But no, Pentecost tells us that there is a life to be received, and without the life, we will just perish. It’s no good just being spiritual. Spiritual means that you are needy. No, you need God’s Spirit, through God’s Son. You need God’s Spirit to live in you, and He comes because Jesus died for you.
Second thing Pentecost tells us is that God is a great promise-keeper. We need to remind ourselves of this also because it is tempting to forget the promises. It is tempting to believe, every now and again, that God is not faithful, but God is utterly faithful to all His promises. And here in Joel, you see, Peter quotes Joel and says, ‘He kept His promise to send His Spirit’… and He did. And He will keep His promise to send His Son to return… and He will. And if you call on Him… He will keep His promise to save you today, and He will. God is a great promise-keeper.
Matthew Sleeman, who used to work here and a greatly loved ex-member of the Church. He said to me that Pentecost is not the birthday of the Church; it’s the 21st birthday of the Church. It’s not the beginning of the Church; the Church has its roots back in the Old Testament. No. It’s the coming of the age of the Church. And God has kept His promise to bring this new life. Now if that part of the prophesy of Joel came true (and it did) and if the coming of the Lord Jesus is true (and it is) and if you are given this great option of calling to Him and being saved, why are there people still in this building who have never called? Because there are.
And what will we say to our loved ones? Primarily, we will pray and help them to know that their simple response to God’s kindness is to call.
Then this Pentecost also tells us that God is the great unifier. He doesn’t unite like an institution unites, sign on the dotted line until you get pushed out. He doesn’t unite like a football – isn’t this great until the competition is over. He doesn’t unite like a law – you must be united. He inspires from the heart. He puts His Spirit in us, and we live with His Spirit for eternity.
We need to remember this also because we are tempted, every now and again, to think that God is incapable and incompetent and is losing and that the world is fragmenting. But no, God is uniting His people. And there is a unity in the hearts of God’s people which is going to increase until the day dawns, and suddenly, we find ourselves perfectly united.
And the last thing is that Pentecost tells us that there is this great process of God underway, this historical process, which is moving through history. He did pour out His Spirit. He will come in His Son.