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?”
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
I think it’s generally true that people are always looking to improve and to change their lives for the better.
Just browse around a bookshop and you’ll see how big the ‘self-help’ industry has become.
People want to be changed for the better, and generally speaking, that’s a good thing.
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 in the Christian Church we recognise Pentecost, and as we take a look at what happened that day nearly 2000 years ago, we will see that God changed many people’s lives. And as we learn about these things, we will 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?
Many of the answers can be found in what happened at Pentecost.
Two major changes took place that day.
The first change was what happened to the disciples. The first disciples certainly believed in Jesus as their Saviour, but they were still very confused about all kinds of different things. They still didn’t fully understand Jesus’ mission and why He had come to earth.
They were still wondering if Jesus would be an earthly king, even after the resurrection.
Before the crucifixion, they thought He was going to Jerusalem to get rid of the Romans. That’s why there was so much excitement on Palm Sunday. But, as we know, Jesus went into Jerusalem and was killed instead.
He rose from the grave three days later, and then ascended into Heaven some forty days later, saying that He would send someone to them after He was gone. This is where we pick up the story. They were waiting, but they weren’t quite sure what or whom they were waiting for, or how long it would take, so there was still much confusion. 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 heard 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 a powerful sermon that God the Holy Spirit inspired him to preach, a sermon that converted around 3000 people in one day.
This was a dramatic change for the disciples. No longer were they confused. Now they understood the plan of salvation completely.
There was no more fear as they spoke boldly about the grace of God. Just look at Peter – less than two months earlier he was so afraid that he denied Jesus three times. Now he was speaking to the crowd with a confidence and understanding that he had never had before.
There was another change that took place on Pentecost, and you could argue that this change was more spectacular than what happened to the disciples. After Peter preached his sermon, 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.
God had told the Jews to gather in Jerusalem 50 days after Passover to celebrate the harvest. Jews from all over the Roman Empire came. It was a huge event in the Jewish calendar.
Pentecost was a Jewish festival which celebrated the provision and gifts of God. The word Pentecost literally means “fiftieth,” and the festival fell annually on the fiftieth day after Passover.
Pentecost is also referred to in the Old Testament as the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Ingathering.
At this time of the year, between Passover and Pentecost, the wheat harvest was brought in.
Agriculture was by far the largest industry in those days, so harvesting season was an important time.
Pentecost was one of the three great pilgrimage festivals of Israel. The other two festivals which people would travel to were Passover and the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles.
Pentecost was a big social event, and people came from all over. This is the background to Pentecost, and it is in this setting that God chose to send His Spirit. In Acts 2 we’re told that there were people from all over in Jerusalem. Long distance travel then was nowhere near as easy and commonplace as it is today, so the Lord, in His wisdom, chose the Festival of Pentecost to pour His Spirit into His Church.
3000 of those people who were there 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 had changed.
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: Change. We see the change that took place in the disciples, and the change that took place in those 3000 people.
It’s all very well to look back and to have some understanding of the history of Pentecost, and the birth of the Christian Church, but the question we need to ask is this: What about me? What role am I, and what role should I be playing in the Church?
Our world today needs change. There are so many people who do not believe in Jesus Christ, who do not know how to get to heaven.
And there are so many Christians who are like those disciples were before Pentecost – confused, weak, and timid.
We need the Holy Spirit to come to us, and change us.
The task that Jesus gave those first Christian disciples has not changed. What He said to them just before He ascended to Heaven He still says to us today: “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 teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Our problem is that very often we don’t really see a need for much change, and there is a sense of spiritual complacency in the Church.
We are not nearly as devoted to the Great Commission as we should be.
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 God. We still have moments when we fail to share our faith because we’re too timid.
While it is true that as Christians we will be going to Heaven when we die, there is still much in our lives which needs to change.
We still need to become more and more the people that God wants us to be. We need to be Christlike people doing Christlike things.
Paul reminds us of the dramatic change which takes place in our very inner being the moment we come to faith: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
How does a person change his soul? You can’t do it by trying to be a better person.
Self-help doesn’t work when it comes to changing the real you.
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.
God has always been in the business of changing people.
The world is obsessed with changing outside appearances, but the only change that really matters, the only change which has eternal consequences is spiritual change.
But are we willing to be changed by God and for His purposes?
The point is that the salvation we have in Christ is ultimately about eternity, but the task of the Church is ongoing, and it is ongoing here and now, and we are duty bound as Christians to be part of it.
If Pentecost is going to be a once-off event which happened in ancient times, then nothing will really change. We need to understand and believe that God’s Spirit is still very much alive and at work in the Church today.
He can strengthen our faith, and He increases our love for Christ and our love for one another.
2 Corinthians 5:17 is a crucial verse in Scripture: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
But we can’t stop there. Paul goes on to say something of equal importance to us: “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
What is the biggest industry in the world today? Information technology? Sport? Mining? Entertainment? Transport? Tourism? I suppose it all depends on where you live and what’s important to you.
I said earlier that agriculture was the biggest industry 2000 years ago.
It still is.
At the ancient festival of Pentecost there was a great celebration as the wheat harvest was brought in, and there is an even bigger celebration now as the harvest of souls for Christ is being brought in.
The task of the Church continues today. Are you part of the life and witness of the Church?
Do you want to be more confident in your life of faith? Do you want to be more at peace with God 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? Do you want to change your soul for the better?
If so, submit to the power of the Spirit of God in your life, and He will do all these things, and more.
The significance of Pentecost is as important to the life of the Christian and the Christian Church as Christmas and Easter.
The birth of Christ was essential to our salvation, because had Jesus not been born, He would not have been able to save us. Good Friday and Easter is also crucial in God’s plan to save us because Jesus, through the cross, purchased our salvation by His blood.
But Pentecost stands with Christmas and Easter as equally important.
Why? Because, beginning with Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fills believers and spreads the Gospel.
By the Spirit’s power, all are made aware of the Gospel’s saving power, and this is what inspires us to Christian action, faith and service.
There could not have been a Good Friday without the advent of Jesus’ coming which we celebrate at Christmas. Good Friday would have been a meaningless martyrdom without the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ which we celebrate at Easter. But it is Pentecost that enables the gift of faith by which you and I can know that the birth, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are for us.
Jesus was not finished when He rose from the dead and ascended to be glorified. He came back to give the greatest gift of all - the gift of His own Spirit to live in us.
John Stott wrote about the importance of the Spirit in the Christian life, “Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be inconceivable. There can be no life without the Life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of Truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and no effective witness without His power.”
The Holy Spirit is the source of power for Christian faith, life, and growth.
In Acts 2, we see that God wanted the Gospel to be easily understood, and this is what He did that day. Knowing the Gospel message and receiving Christ in faith was of crucial importance, just as it is now.
The Spirit of God continues to blow into His people all around the globe.
Are you listening? Are you hearing His voice in your own heart?
If you could sum up Pentecost in one word, that one word would be change.
May the Holy Spirit continue to work in you, to change you, to fan into flame the fire that is in you.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Acts 2:1-12
Pay particular attention to the question asked in verse 12.
What does Pentecost mean to the Church, and what does it mean to you as an individual believer?
Discuss some of the radical changes we see in the first disciples in the book of Acts.
How have you experienced the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit?
Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church would be completely ineffective in the world today, 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?
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?
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?