The Promise Arrives

The Promise Arrives

The Promise Arrives
Text:  Acts 2:1-13

Main Idea: The day of Pentecost demonstrates that Holy Spirit is the necessary and active power behind the effective ministry of the local church.

Sermon Outline:

I. The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1)
II. The Events of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4)
III. The Pattern of Pentecost

Good morning church. As we return to our study in the book of Acts this morning, I’d like to begin with a question. What single thing do we need the most as a church?  What single thing, if it was lost or removed, would utterly derail our effectiveness as a church and doom our every attempt at ministry to certain failure?

  • Is it sound doctrine and the faithful proclamation of the Word?
  • Is it powerful and well-planned worship?
  • Is it active evangelism?
  • Is it weekly ministries for children and youth?
  • Is it community outreach and engagement?

Well, even though each-and-every-one of these things plays in important role in the life of a healthy, gospel-centered church; there is something more fundamental BUT often overlooked OR completely ignored in the daily life and ministry of countless churches— the active power and presence of the Holy Spirit. And few passages point us to this truth like Acts chapter 2. And that is because, more than any other moment in history…

Main Idea: The day of Pentecost demonstrates that Holy Spirit is the necessary and active power behind the effective ministry of the local church.[1]

The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1)

 The “Arrival”

Notice, what are the disciples doing at the beginning of chapter 2? They are obeying Jesus! The 120 disciples from Acts 1:15 are “gathered together in one place,” waiting in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit to come as Jesus promised. And where is this “place?” Well, we don’t really know… It could be the upper room, a larger home in Jerusalem, or it could even be in one of the many meeting rooms in the Temple itself.[2] Luke just doesn’t seem to think it’s an important part of the story. But there is a detail that seems to be rather important to the story: The fact that the promised Holy Spirit arrived on the day of Pentecost…

The Day of Pentecost

Biblical scholars and historians tell us that the Jewish feast of Pentecost had two meanings, one agricultural and the other historical.[3]

Originally, it was the 2nd of the 3 annual harvest festivals that God had established for the people of Israel (Leviticus 23:15). And throughout Israel’s history this particular festival was called by three different names: It was called the Feast of Harvest, because it celebrated God’s provision in the final completion of the grain harvest. And it was called the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, because it took place seven weeksOR fifty days after the feast of Passover, which marked the beginning of the grain harvest (pentēkostos means ‘fiftieth’). So, Passover marked the beginning and Pentecost the conclusion of the grain harvest. But over time, Israel’s religious leaders began adjust the focus of Pentecost from the grain harvest to the anniversary of the Old Covenant in God’s provision of the law at Mount Sinai. Because Passover marked Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and Pentecost corresponded with Israel’s arrival at Sinai (Exodus 19:1).

So, even though Luke does not go out of his way to emphasize these historical connections in the text, the overall account in chapter two seems to point us to at least two implications.

First, there was a harvest on the day of Pentecost, but it wasn’t wheat. It was a significant harvest of souls — 3,000 people believed and were baptized.

Second, and even more significant, given that Jesus had already reinterpreted the Passover to signify the inauguration of the New Covenant in his own blood in Luke 22:15–20 (cf. Je. 31:31–34), the day of Pentecost marked the historical arrival of God’s New Covenant Promise.[4]

The Event of Pentecost (Acts 2:2–4)

The Description of the Spirit’s Arrival

Notice here that Luke doesn’t provide us with a scientific description of the Spirit’s arrival. Rather he describes the Spirit’s arrival in terms of similarity and likeness. Three experiences that seemed like natural observable events (wind, fire and speech); when they were, in fact, entirely supernatural in both their origin and their character. The noise was not wind but sounded like it; the sight was not fire but resembled it; and their speech was in languages but at the same time, they were in some way uniquely different as well. Yet for Luke, there is a far more important similarity in the wind and the fire, in that, they typically accompanied God’s arrival and redemptive activity throughout the OT.[5] Let me highlight just a few passages in Exodus.

Exodus 3:2–4 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Exodus 13:21–22 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

Exodus 19:16–19 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.

Exodus 40:38 For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

This is what it has looked like when God showed up in his glory among his people. And it is what it looks like when the Spirit arrives at Pentecost. But there is a significant difference as well. The fire doesn’t remain distant. Does it? It settles on each and every disciple just like the fire of God would rest on the tabernacle. This is a monumental change between the Old and New Covenant. God is not distant; he is with his people in a new and dynamic and intimate way. But even more, when Luke says the tongues like fire separated and came to rest on each of them, the implication is this: The blessing of God’s Spirit is not reserved for a select few or the so-called spiritual elite. No. The tongues of fire were a visual indication that God was filling each-and-every member of the believing community with his Holy Spirit.[6]

The Result of the Spirit’s Arrival

Yet, as we turn back to verse four, we are reminded that this unexpected arrival and personal filling of the Holy Spirit produced the most audacious and conspicuous result.

Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now, I know that this event raises any number of questions this morning.

  • Does speaking in tongues prove that we are truly saved?
  • Does speaking in tongues prove the Holy Spirit’s active work in a person’s life? And does it prove they are more “spiritual”?
  • Does speaking in tongues have a normative place in the church today?
  • Is the modern practice of speaking in tongues really in line with record of the New Testament?

Well, we will be addressing many of these questions as we study our way through Acts. But the first thing that we need to understand about verse 4 is that it reflects a very similar account in the OT.[7]

Numbers 11:16–17 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.

Numbers 11:25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.

Numbers 11:26–29 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

What is the purpose of their filling? It’s so that they can help Moses bear the burden of leadership and ministry.

What is the evidence of their filling? They “prophesied”— the Holy Spirit empowered, in fact, compelled them to speak things about God that they could not know or speak on their own.

2 Peter 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

And yes, it is possible that this speech in Numbers 11 was not comprehendible to everyone else. But, even more, this episode demonstrates that Spirit is not hampered by obstinate humans or spatial constraints. God filled the men he chose whether they showed up to the meeting or not.

Now, if we compare this passage to the day of Pentecost what do we see? We see that the outcome of the events are surprisingly similar:

One, just like the elders were empowered and equipped to prophecy in the book of Numbers; the disciples were empowered to loudly, boldly, and intelligibly declare the “might works of God” in languages that they had never learned.[8]

Two: For everything that we see throughout the book of Acts, the disciples’ experience in these verses appears to mirror the elder’s experience in Numbers 11:25 … “And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.”[9]

In fact, let me tip my hand in regards to the function of tongues in the book of Acts. While Paul has a lot to tell us about the use of tongues in the local church in 1 Corinthians, the book of Acts does not record a single account of tongues in the context of the local church or even evangelism after Acts two. Rather, whenever tongues show up in Acts it is to convince the apostles and the Church in Jerusalem that Jesus has welcomed former outsiders and enemies (Samaritans and Gentiles) into his church. After all, how can they reject someone who has experienced the very same manifestation of the Spirit that they did on the day of Pentecost?

What I want you to see is that there is so much more going on in these verses than we often realize. But, how would you respond if I told you that the pictures of Sinai and the pattern of the Spirit’s filling in the OT, and speaking in tongues are not the most important thing to Luke in these verses? What if there is pattern that is far more concrete and exegetically certain? Well, there is. The most important pattern of Pentecost is that it mirrors the life ministry of Jesus Christ himself.

The Pattern of Pentecost

The Ministry of Jesus Christ

Just think about it, what singular event marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry? It’s not his preaching. It’s not his miracles. It’s not his choice of the disciples. It’s His supernatural anointing by the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:21–22 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus is the ultimate pattern. Jesus —even though he was and is truly God and truly man— didn’t begin his public ministry until after he was anointed by the Spirit! This helps us see that as we read through the gospels, that Jesus never pulls the “God card” even though he is truly God. He never ministers out of his supernatural strength and power. No. He humbled himself and ministered in the strength and the power of the 3rd person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

This is the fundamental reason why the disciples needed to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit arrived. They needed to follow the pattern of their master so that they could boldly and effectively proclaim the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit AND effectively minister to the ever-changing and challenging needs of the local church.

Three Implication for the Church Today

Pentecost isn’t primarily about speaking in tongues by the Spirit; it is about Jesus empowering his disciples by the Spirit to boldly proclaim his name.

Before the day of Pentecost the disciples were an inconsistent mess. But after they were filled by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost everything changed. Their faithless was transformed to passionate conviction. Their fear was transformed to boldness. Their self-centeredness was transformed into a radically new God-centeredness that naturally overflowed into every are of their life.

I’m raising this first because too many Christians are so focused on defending their view of tongues in this passage, that they often miss the fundamental importance and true power of Acts 2. The risen and exalted Jesus is sending his Spirit upon all of his people (men and women alike) so that they might witness and preach and minister in the very same power that he did.

Pentecost is an ever-present reminder that the Holy Spirit is the necessary and active power behind the effective ministry of the local church.

Yes, at times he moves in overwhelmingly powerful ways, like Acts 2. But more often that not, his activity is seemingly imperceptible and virtually undistinguishable from the work of the men and women who are faithfully serving Christ. The Spirit encourages, convicts, and admonishes as the Word is faithfully proclaimed on Sunday morning or in any other ministry setting. The Spirit reveals the beauty and glory of Jesus in the lyrics we sing and the affirmations we proclaim so that our hearts and minds can respond in true worship.
The Spirit actively works through the proclamation of the gospel, opening the blind eyes and deaf ears of sinful humans to the true gravity of their sin so that they can grasp their desperate need for Jesus. The Spirit enables us to willingly set aside our personal desires and goals so that we might serve others and build unity in the body of Christ.

In fact, the most important thing for those of us who lead and teach is to make sure we make every effort to rely on his power NOT our personal planning, giftedness, or efforts.

Pentecost underscores the significance of every believer in the local church.

Christian, you are not just saved from the wrath of God and restored to a right relationship with God. No. You have been supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the majesty and worth and glory of Jesus Christ.[10]

Does it always go as like we want it too? Of course not. The Spirit is free to do as he pleases and it is his greatest pleasure to glorify Jesus Christ.

So, step out this week and share what Jesus has done in your life. You never know when the Spirit might intervene in the most sudden and unexpected way.

[1] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Expanded Digital Edition., Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 2012). “With the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Jesus, the crucified, risen, and exalted Lord and Messiah, sets in motion the promised restoration of Israel, equipping his disciples with the power of God’s presence for their task of witness and mission.”

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 61.

[3] Schnabel, Acts; Stott, The Message of Acts, 61–2.

[4] David Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 131.

[5] Wind and fire often accompany and symbolize the presence of God (Exod 3:2; 13:21–22; 14:20, 24; 1 Kgs 19:11–12; Ps 104:4. In Deut 4:24; 9:3 and other passages fire is linked with judgment).

[6] Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 133.

[7] CF. 1 Samuel 10:9–10; 2 Samuel 23:2; Isaiah 61:1–3.

[8] Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 134–35. (Cf. Schnabel, Acts. On 2:4).

[9] “The imperfect (ἐδίδου) does not necessarily imply that the ability to speak in unlearned languages was a permanent gift; it expresses the continuing inspiration of the Spirit during the speaking in unlearned languages on the day of Pentecost;” (Schnabel, Acts).

[10] Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1-14:28 (Grand Rapid: Baker Academic, 2012), 1 & 2:780.