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.’”
You’ll remember that last week I said the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is one story. We spent some time last Sunday looking at the promised return of Jesus. Again, the second coming of Jesus is just another chapter in God’s grand plan of salvation of mankind, and the story of Pentecost is no different in that sense. Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, everything that God has done, is doing and will do, is done with the same motive in His heart: to restore lost sinners to Himself.
As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:19, God is “reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
The day the Spirit came on the Church in such a dramatic fashion in Acts 2 is regarded as the birth of the Christian Church. Remove that event and the ongoing power and work of the Spirit in the Church today, and there would be no salvation, because none of us would be here today without Pentecost. The Christian Church would not exist, and the generations that have come before, our generation, and those still to come would be lost and would have no way of hearing the message of the hope of the Gospel.
Pentecost, and what it brought into the world is vital as a part of this amazing story of salvation, and is no less important than any other chapter in the story of God’s eternal plan of salvation.
So just what is Pentecost, and more importantly, what effect should it have on you and I?
Older translations of the Bible call Acts ‘The Acts of the Apostles’, and I think this describes the character of this book better than the shortened name most of us know it by: Acts. There are two main themes that run throughout the book: Firstly, the early Church was called to be witnesses of Jesus, and secondly we see how the Holy Spirit played a crucial role in the life and work of the Church. One Biblical scholar has analysed these two themes and has calculated that the earliest disciples are called to be witnesses in Acts 31 times, while the role of the Spirit is referred to 56 times. Acts is a book of action, and it provides the link between the Gospel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the life of the Church and how we are to take the message of hope into the world.
I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of people are always looking to improve and to change their lives for the better. Just have a look at the self-help section the next time you’re in a bookshop. There is a far greater awareness these days of the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and eating healthy foods.
People are always looking to improve and to change for the better. What is it about yourself that you would like to change? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Is it the way you look? Something to do with your health? Something to do with your level of expertise on a certain subject? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
God is interested in change. He’s interested in changing you. Today we are looking at Pentecost, and as we take a look at what happened on Pentecost many years ago, we see that God changed many people’s lives. And as we learn about these things, we see that God is also interested in changing you - there are certain things about you that God wants to change. What are those things? And how does God plan to do that?
One of the ways He does that is by making the transforming power of Pentecost a reality in our lives.
This is why it is such a pity that so many Christians see Pentecost as little more than a once off, never to be repeated event in history. What these people fail to understand is that the Spirit came on the Church in power that day nearly 2000 years ago, and He has never left! It is Holy Spirit power that sets the Church apart from any other gathering of people. Our prayer should not be “Come, Holy Spirit,” but rather, “Holy Spirit, remind us that you are still here, waiting to inspire and ignite your Church once more.” When a Church is just going through the motions of religion and is not witnessing Jesus to the world and making a difference in peoples’ lives, it’s not the Spirit’s fault – it’s the people in the Church who have quenched the fire of the Spirit.
Two major changes took place on Pentecost. The first change was what happened to the disciples. They had been with Jesus for three years as He taught them and prepared them to be the ones who would lead the early Church. They believed in Jesus as their Saviour, but they were still very confused about all kinds of things. They still didn’t fully understand Jesus’ mission. Even after the resurrection, they still didn’t quite get it, and we know this from the question they asked Him on the day He ascended to Heaven in Acts 1:6, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
They still thought Jesus would be an earthly king. They were confused, and as a result, they were unsure of what to do next. They really thought He was going into Jerusalem to straighten things out and take over the world. He did go to Jerusalem, but as we know, He went there for a very different purpose. He went there to die. So there was a lot of confusion among the disciples, even during the 10 days between the ascension and Pentecost. Jesus had told them that they would be His witnesses, but He also told them not to leave Jerusalem, and to wait until the Spirit was given to them at Pentecost.
So the disciples for now were confused. They weren’t confident about sharing the Gospel with others. How could they be, if they didn’t fully understand what it meant?
But then Pentecost came. The disciples were together, when the sound of a blowing wind came down from heaven. What seemed to be tongues of fire settled on their heads. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in foreign languages they had never learned before. A crowd gathered, people from all over the world, and that crowd listened as the disciples praised God and preached the Gospel. The Apostle Peter stood up and addressed the crowd. He preached an amazing, Spirit-inspired sermon that converted nearly 3000 people in one day.
The change in the disciples was dramatic. No longer were they confused. Now they understood the plan of salvation completely. No longer were they timid. Now, they were confident, speaking publicly about their faith in Jesus. Just look at Peter for example. Less than two months earlier he was so afraid that he denied Jesus three times. Now he was speaking to the crowd with confidence and understanding that he had never had before. That doesn’t come from intellect or from studying books on theology. That change comes from above.
There was another change that took place on Pentecost. It wasn’t just the change we see in Peter and the rest of the disciples, but the effect they had on those who heard their message. After Peter preached his sermon at Pentecost, 3000 people came to faith and were baptised. We don’t know much about these people. We do know that Jerusalem was packed with people, because of the Festival of Pentecost. In those days Pentecost was an agricultural festival, known by its Old Testament name, the Feast of Weeks. It was given to them by God in Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 16. Exactly 7 weeks after the Passover they were to gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest. That’s 49 days after the Passover. The Feast of Weeks began on the 50th day. So for centuries the Jews killed the Passover lamb and then celebrated the Feast of Weeks 50 days later. Jesus, the perfect sacrificial lamb surrendered His life during the Passover, and now, exactly 50 days later, we have Pentecost as described in Acts 2. Jews from all over the Roman Empire came, and 3000 of them who were not Christians, who did not believe in Jesus Christ, were changed that day. Their whole way of looking at God, at themselves, at the world, at eternal life – everything changed. And who changed them? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was the one who converted those 3000 people that day. Now these people knew how to get to heaven. Now they knew that they were at peace with God. Now they knew that Jesus was their Saviour.
Pentecost can be summed up in one word, and I believe that word is change. We see the change that took place in the disciples, and the change that took place in those 3000 people.
Our world today still needs change. There are so many people who do not believe in Jesus Christ, and who don’t know how to get to heaven. And there are also so many Christians who are just like those disciples were before Pentecost – confused, weak and timid. They’re unsure of their salvation and they are hesitant to share the hope of Jesus with others. This is why we need the power of Pentecost to change us, just as happened on that day all those years ago.
One of our major problems though, is our reluctance to be changed. There’s the old saying that people are resistant to change, and it is certainly true in the Church. It’s hard enough and frustrating enough when people in the Church oppose changes to worship styles and service times, but it is even more of a sadness when they don’t want inner, spiritual change. “I’m just fine the way I am, thank you. Please don’t ask me to do more or give more. I think this new ministry is a great idea, but I just don’t feel called to be part of it. I’ll keep coming to Church each week, but I wish you’d stop putting me on a guilt trip by saying I should be more involved in the life and work of the Church.”
We say to ourselves, “What do I need to change about myself?”
The answer is, quite a lot. Yes, it’s true, we are Christians, but we still have sinful habits that we don’t want to get rid of. We still have moments when we are selfish. We still have moments when we completely misunderstand what God is telling us in the Bible, or we reinterpret the Bible to tell us what we want it to tell us. We still have moments when we fail to share our faith because we’re too timid.
The power of the Spirit needed to change the very first Christians, and He did, and we are no different. There is much in our lives that needs to be changed, and that same Holy Spirit wants to change us too.
We still need to become more and more the people that God wants us to be. We need to be Jesus-like people doing Jesus-like things.
The question of course, is this: Do we want to be changed? God has given us a free will, and if we insist that He leave us alone, He will. But then we will miss out on so much, because we’ll be left with an emptiness that worldly things cannot fill.
Are you just going through the motions, coming to Church week after week because that’s what’s expected of you, or are you excited about what God has in store for you each day? Are you seeking opportunities each day to do something for the cause of Christ, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem? Do you feel threatened or do you feel inspired by Ephesians 2:10? “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The kind of changes that God wants to bring about in our lives cannot be done by ourselves. This is not as easy as exercising more regularly or changing our eating habits.
How does a person change his soul? You can’t do it by trying to be a better person. Someone said that’s like saying that there is something wrong with my car, but I’ll change that by being a better driver. You need someone to work on your engine, your soul. But the thing is, your soul is too complicated for you to fix yourself. You need someone to fix it for you. And that someone is the Holy Spirit.
But how? By doing the same thing He did at Pentecost. We may not see tongues of fire settling on each other’s heads, or hear a sound like a violent wind, but when God shows up and changes people from within, you can see it from a mile away. On the surface, the changes that God makes might not seem that spectacular, but when the Spirit empowers individuals and the Church, all kinds of changes happen.
When the Spirit inspires and changes people and the Church, He strengthens our faith, and He increases our love for Jesus and our love for one another.
Do you want change in your life? Not the kind of change promised by the toothpaste smiles of the self-help gurus on the covers of their books, but real, inner, eternal change.
Do you want to be more confident in the promises of God and the truth of His Word? Do you want to be more at peace with Him and yourself? Do you want to be less confused about the Bible? Do you want to understand it better? Do you want to be able to share your faith more naturally, more confidently? Do you want to be able to live the way God tells you to live in the Bible? Do you want to change your soul for the better?
The Holy Spirit can do all of those things and more. He did it at Pentecost, and He has been doing it ever since. The history of the Church is full of the stories of the most amazing transformations in people’s lives. And He can do it for you too. You’re invited to be part of that same story.
This is what the Holy Spirit does. Just as He did at Pentecost, He can light a fire in your heart, and the darkness will have no choice but to disappear. satan is powerful, and the grip of evil on our own hearts can crush us. We know that, because sadly, we’ve all seen and experienced the power and condemnation of sin in our lives. But Jesus gives us hope. Light will always overcome the darkness, and the power of the Spirit waits to fill you and inspire you once more.
Like a fire the power of the Spirit can burn away the selfishness and confusion in your own heart. That fire becomes the fire of faith, a fire which trusts and loves and serves Jesus Christ.
In a moment we’re going to sing one of Graham Kendrick’s songs, and my prayer is that the chorus of that song would become our prayer: “Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart, teach me to move in the power of Your Spirit, teach me to walk in the light of Your presence, teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart. Teach me to love with Your heart of compassion, teach me to trust in the word of Your promise, teach me to hope in the day of Your coming, teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart.”
If you could sum up Pentecost in one word, that one word would be change. May the eternal Holy Spirit, the one who came at Pentecost and remains in the Church today, continue to work in you, to change you, to fan into flame the fire that is in each one of you.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Acts 2:1-4
In verse 12 the question is asked, “What does this mean?”
The person and the work of the Holy Spirit often causes confusion among Christians. Why is this?
Many Christians believe that Pentecost was a once-off event in the history of the Church, and has not been repeated. Do you agree with this belief? Why, or why not?
How does the 21st century Church differ to the 1st century Church we see in Acts 2? What similarities are there?
Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church would be completely ineffective in the world today (in fact, it wouldn’t even exist), yet Pentecost is generally not regarded as crucial to the history of the Church and the life of a Christian as say, Christmas and Easter. Why do you think that Pentecost is somehow glossed over in the Church?
How have you experienced the transforming power of the Holy Spirit? What were the circumstances, and how did it change you?
As a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are commissioned to be actively involved in the life and witness of the Church.
In which areas do you feel we are succeeding, and where do you believe there are areas for growth and improvement?