1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs - we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
22 “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. 24 But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. 25 David said about Him: ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”
Just before His crucifixion Jesus was talking to His disciples. In John 14:16 He said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth.” And in John 16:7-15, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
Today we celebrate the day when that promise was fulfilled – the Day of Pentecost - the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.
Luke, the author of the book of Acts, explains what happened on the day of Pentecost. The disciples were gathered in one place to worship God and to have fellowship with one another.
Luke begins this story with the words “When the day of Pentecost came.” The day of Pentecost was a day of profound religious importance to the Jews. The Passover celebration had a specific connection to the time of the Exodus and the freedom from slavery in Egypt. In Israel’s history the Passover Feast became associated with the Day of Atonement as well as a feast that marked the beginning of the harvest season. Pentecost was the Greek term for the Jewish feast of Weeks. It is called Pentecost because it falls on the fiftieth day after the Passover. Even today, Pentecost Sunday is 50 days after Good Friday. Pentecost marked the beginning of the offering of first fruits. The New Testament uses the term Pentecost to refer to this established Jewish feast. But since the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church occurred on the day of Pentecost, we now recognise and celebrate the events described in Acts 2 as Pentecost – the birth of the Church as God’s Spirit empowered those early Christians to impact their world.
The Day of Pentecost was of such great importance in the Jewish calendar that every able-bodied Jew was required to go to Jerusalem for this occasion. Historians have estimated that up to a hundred thousand people would journey to Jerusalem from all parts of the world to participate in these annual festivities. This explains why so many people were gathered in Jerusalem at this crucial time of the Holy Spirit’s intervention in the life of the Church.
It was at that crucial time in history that God chose to empower the Church to become agents of His grace and redeeming love for the salvation of all mankind. By sending His Holy Spirit, God spoke in a language that humankind could understand. Even today God speaks to us in a language that we can understand.
Luke explains the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit in a way that would spark familiar images for the people in the early Church. For example, from the Old Testament Creation account we understand that the Spirit of God was present. The dynamic and divine power that was present from before the foundations of the earth were laid is also referred to as the Breath of God (from the Hebrew ruach). It was when God breathed His Spirit into Adam and Eve that a living relationship between the Creator and His creatures came into being.
The reference to the sound of the blowing of a mighty wind sparks images of God breathing new life into His Church. The breaking in of God’s Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was felt by “the whole house” - that is, everyone who had come to share in fellowship, prayer and worship.
Luke also makes reference to the tongues of fire that were seen on the heads of the people that day. Fire has special significance in the Bible. For example, we are reminded of God’s call and commissioning of Moses when the Lord spoke to him through the burning bush. We’re reminded of God’s presence and guidance through the pillar of fire when the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness.
However, fire also reminds us of God’s wrath and judgment. We see the images of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And we also hear the prophesies of the end-time judgment that will bring the purifying fury of an unquenchable fire.
We’re also told in Acts 2 that those who were there at Pentecost came under the control of the Holy Spirit. This was not just a brief feel-good session with no lasting consequences. Rather, it was the event that set God’s historic plan of salvation into action for all people, regardless of race, gender or any other difference. And, everyone who was gathered there surrendered completely to the Spirit of God. Can you imagine how different this place would be if each of us here today surrendered completely to God? How different would our congregation be? How much more effective would we be as instruments of God’s grace?
The reference to speaking in tongues is a testimony to God’s forgiving grace and acceptance of all mankind through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Many years earlier we made a futile attempt to reach into the heavens and to take the place of God. You’ll remember the story of the Tower of Babel, and the confusion of languages that took place as a result of human pride and arrogance. The breaking in of the Holy Spirit’s on the Day of Pentecost hints at a reversal of the confusion of languages that took place in Babel. This is a picture of God’s grace and forgiveness. Many of you have been to worship services in other countries where you don’t understand the language, but you have felt a spiritual connection and a unique oneness with other Christians that cannot be understood in human terms. That connection you felt is no coincidence - that’s the Spirit of God at work.
All these powerful signs of God’s intervention in humanity on the Day of Pentecost point us to the nature of God’s grace and love for us. What we made a mess of through sin and selfish pride, God is putting right through the work of His Spirit. God is reaching out to us and reminding us of this new life which is ours through Jesus.
Many of the Old Testament prophets spoke about the Day of the Lord. That day has now come. The Kingdom of God, which was the main focus of Jesus’ ministry, began at Pentecost as the first generation of Christians took the message of salvation into the world. In the first Christian sermon ever preached, Peter points at the signs and says: “This is what the prophets have spoken to you about.” Peter quoted from the prophet Joel when he proclaimed, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, 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 glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And that day had now finally come.
The impact of the Holy Spirit’s work on the early Church in Jerusalem was unprecedented. As the breath of God breathed new life into the Church, peoples’ lives were totally transformed. Commitments for Christ were made. Several thousands of people were baptised into this new life. Forgiveness and reconciliation with God, and forgiveness and reconciliation with each other took place. To the early Christians the Holy Spirit became a source of divine wisdom and guidance. Through the work of the Holy Spirit ordinary men and women became amazing instruments of God’s grace and love. Through the intervention of the Holy Spirit the early Church was given courage and the power of conviction to endure persecution and torture. Acts 2 ends with these words: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Amazing.
The power of the Spirit was at work on that Day of Pentecost, but we need to understand that He remains active in the Church today. Ever since that day, every single time the Church has done anything of any significance, each time a person’s life is impacted by the truth of Jesus Christ – who He is and what He does – it is always happens in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now we can look at the story of the Church in the New Testament and we can marvel at the incredible work done by those early Christians as they were swept along by the power of the Spirit, but if we don’t see the relevance of Pentecost in the Church today, we have missed the point entirely.
Today the Holy Spirit continues to breathe new life into the Church. The life-giving breath of God still touches us. The Holy Spirit is with us on this Day of Pentecost, and He continues to convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. He continues to guide us into all truth, telling us what is yet to come, and bringing glory to Jesus.
The Spirit of God empowers us to be God’s tools of grace, hope and love in our community.
That is the kind of Church we should see in the world today, but sadly, in many cases we don’t. And the reason is because of the shameful negligence of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the lives of so many Christians today. Too easily we fail to recognise and understand that we are still living in the age of Pentecost, and therefore we should be experiencing the continuing power of Pentecost. I quoted from John 14 earlier: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth.” The key word here is forever. This is the age of Pentecost – it did not end when the first generation of the Church died. We shouldn’t be praying for a new Pentecost. We should be praying that by the power of His Spirit that God would open our eyes and wake us up to the reality that Pentecost is still with us.
We cannot read the book of Acts without being impressed with the fact that the members of the early Church were supernaturally filled with the Holy Spirit. That was why the early Church of Christ was so effective and made such an astonishing impact on the contemporary world of its time. The tragedy is that so many Christian congregations all over the world today are not making themselves available to the power of God, and instead are kind of sleepwalking along, completely oblivious to the desperate need of lost people to know the truth and the hope we have in Christ.
And our congregation is no different. We have also been negligent, as there is so much more we could and should be doing for the Kingdom. Is this merely a place we come to for an hour a week, or is this a place where we are connecting with our Christian brothers and sisters, praying for each other and encouraging one another to be faithful to Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and are we teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us?
The real message of Pentecost is not that it was a wonderful day and the official birth of the Christian Church. The real message is that we are duty and honour bound to seek God’s face, to rediscover the secret of those early Christians, and in so doing make ourselves just as available to God so that He can fill us with Pentecost power and use us to bring glory to Himself.
Jesus told His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth.” That message has not changed, and it still applies to us today: It is not a repetition of Pentecost or a new Pentecost that we need, but rather the realisation that Pentecost has never ended.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Acts 2:1-12
The person and the work of the Holy Spirit is certainly the least understood of the Holy Trinity.
Why do you think this is so?
The transformation which took place among Jesus’ disciples after Pentecost is well-documented.
In the Gospels they are unsure of their faith, they argue amongst each other, and of course we find them deserting Jesus at Calvary.
After Pentecost they have a new boldness.
What caused this dramatic change?
How have you seen or sensed the Spirit working in your own life?
Many Christians believe that the pouring out of God’s Spirit at Pentecost was a once-off, never to be repeated event, but the history of the Church does not support this theory.
Discuss some events where the Holy Spirit has been active in the life of the Church.
Can you identify occasions in our own congregation when there has been a supernatural moving of the Spirit?
What were the circumstances, and what changes happened in the Church?
Close by praying for Upper Umgeni.
Ask that the Lord would pour His Spirit into our Church, giving us a sense of urgency and boldness as we share the peace of Jesus with others.