Alfred Place Baptist Church

The Initial Response To The Signs Of Pentecost

Acts 2:5-13 “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’ Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’”

The event of the coming of the Holy Spirit was certainly predicted by the Old Testament prophets, then also by John the Baptist but by our Lord Jesus himself. The actual historical event of the baptizing of the 120 disciples with the Spirit is described for us at the beginning of this chapter. It was prefaced by the sound of a rushing, mighty wind, the 120 cloven tongues of a flame of fire each one resting on each believer, and a supernatural ability was given to them of being able to speak in a national language quite unfamiliar to them hitherto. The result of the baptism of the Spirit was that every single one of the disciples was filled with the Holy Ghost. So now we are coming to the response to this event by the population of the city of Jerusalem that day.

WHO THESE WERE WHO WITNESSED ALL THIS.

When was it that God the Holy Spirit came upon these people? The obvious thing is the huge contrast with the coming of God the Son. It was not at all like his birth. Then, ‘how silently, how silently that wondrous gift was given.’ No sound of a rushing mighty wind. Nothing of any significance occurred in Jerusalem. Only a few people witnessed the event, and then throughout Jesus’ public ministry there were his frequent “strict orders not to let anyone know about this” miracle or that miracle (Mk. 5:43). He needed freedom from political harassment to have a few comparatively quiet months in which to teach the twelve about himself and the kingdom of God. But after Golgotha and his resurrection and ascension there is no need for such a silence, quite the reverse.

What were the circumstances in which God the Holy Ghost made the decision to come and fulfil the promises of the appearance of the Spirit? They were such that gave maximal publicity to the ascension and reign of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit waited until the very next great feast in Jerusalem, when every bed in the city would be taken by visitors from hundreds of miles away, from countries to the north, south, east and west of the city. You see how this is so deliberately emphasized in the verses before us. Luke could have left it with the summary description of verse 5, that there were people from everywhere there, but he’s not content merely to remind us of this. He spells out the places they came from exhaustively and sometimes quite peculiarly in verses 9, 10 and 11.

When you consider the order of countries mentioned then you discover that it is the most thorough and odd choice of nations in the order in which Luke lists them. It has been suggested that Luke’s mind is moving from east to west, that he first mentions Parthians, Medes and Elamites, and the residents of Mesopotamia, and they are broadly the people from the Caspian Sea going west, in other words that would be the area where the descendants would now be living of those Jews who had been taken prisoner and carried off to Assyria and Babylon in the eighth and sixth centuries (the latter in Daniel’s time). Then the next cluster of places are from what we call today Turkey, but what they called Asia Minor; Pontus was in north Turkey, Phrygia and Pamphylia in southern Turkey. Then, in between two Turkish areas, Mesopotamia and Cappadocia Luke slips in Judea of all places (v.9). What’s Judea doing there? Is it all ‘stream of consciousness’ as places jumped into Luke’s mind – “Oh yes. Judea too!”? “Judea?” It’s like a geography teacher teaching the class about France – Paris, Normany and Brittany – and then without explanation he mentions Albania! There have been various explanations of why Luke would bring in Judea at this juncture. Someone has suggested that he could be referring to “the Jews who were inhabiting Mesopotamia and Cappadocia.” Whatever . . . then Luke takes us far away as his list lengthens and he tells us that people were there from Africa too, from Egypt and Libya. Then he goes to the Big Apple, to Rome itself. But he hasn’t finished. Is all this stream of consciousness again? Is it? Luke goes on to finally mention the island of Crete and the Arabs. It is a fascinating assortment of places. There is an interesting map in one commentary which is in a circle with Jerualem in the centre and then you can see, north, east, south and west, lines going out from that city to all these places, in fact out to the four corners of the known world, from where the people have traveled to get to Jerusalem for Pentecost.

So it was for the maximal international impact God chose this day for the outpouring of the Spirit, for people who finally, weeks or months later, got home from their trip of a lifetime and were besieged by questions from family and friends. Then they told them this story of the coming of the Spirit, and the preaching of Peter and many people becoming Christians because Jesus of Nazareth, to their satisfaction, had been shown to be the Messiah indeed. This was the last thing God-fearing Jews expected to hear of their family’s discovery in Jerusalem, that their chief priests had crucified their Messiah Jesus.

Luke gives us a description of these people, “There were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” (v.5). Only the really religious folk would make a pilgrimage from so far away to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks. So the city would be packed with people. In those days your wife would daily return from the market maybe with her basket of food on her head, quite exhausted as she had to push past hundreds of people, talking together in their different languages, with their different coloured skins and different national costumes. “I am always glad when feast days are over,” she would say. “There seem more people about that ever.”

That was the scene when the Spirit of God fell upon these disciples as the Lord promised he would. Are you seeing the implications of this? The Spirit did not come at the end of the day, privately, in the 120 upper rooms of these disciples, as they knelt down to pray at their beds and thanked God for the mercies of that day and confessed their sins to him. It was not that then and there, quite mysteriously and privately, the Spirit came upon them and in the morning they felt something had happened that previous evening . . . It couldn’t have been more different from that. As the 120 all sat together, suddenly he came upon them in his glory, and all Jerusalem and every visiting nationality heard the wind (v.6) and they all heard the languages (v.6), and many saw the tongues of fire. It was awesome, this advent, utterly unlike the coming of God the Son.

Here was the Israel of God publicly meeting Athens of the philosophers. Here was Jerusalem meeting Rome in open confrontation. The Lord Christ was challenging Caesar the Lord. Here was unbelieving Judaism confronted by the living God and all his heavenly hosts, and God’s Son whom they had recently murdered. Here was Jehovah breaking out of the restrictions of the old covenant land and people and language, and coming eyeball to eyeball with the nations of the world and addressing them in their own tongues declaring to them the wonders of God (v.11). That was the occasion on which God the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son.

And notice that he was not going to come via the temple and the Sadducees. He was not going to come to them through the appointed means of the evil chief priests Annas and Caiaphas. He would not appeal to Israel via the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of Israel. He would appeal to the people directly; it would be intensely democratic and very personal. It would be the pattern that henceforth for the next 2000 years God would have dealings with men, individually, one to one, the testimony of the voice of God coming and regenerating, and illuminating, and speaking to the souls of men. The Lord is talking to them as if they were the only people in the world in whom he was interested, the wonders of our God and King and the triumphs of his grace declared to these people. He was doing this there and then, at the feast of Pentecost, first to the 120 disciples of Jesus and then to thousands and thousands of onlookers and spectators in great David’s great city.

2. WHAT THE RESPONSE WAS THAT THESE PEOPLE GAVE.

i] The first response was perplexity, and conviction. Luke describes it first as one of “bewilderment” (v.6). Then he tells us that they were “utterly amazed” (v.7) and he repeats it to underline their sense of shock; “Amazed and perplexed, they asked on another, ‘What does this mean?’” (v.12). Two similar adjectives, ‘amazed’ and ‘perplexed.’ They are not saying the same thing. The first is the word from which we get our English word ‘ecstasy’  and it applies to their minds racing, to be almost besides themselves, feeling really out of their depth, deeply convicted, not knowing where to turn to understand what was happening. It was not an enjoyable experience at all. This is not the controlled fear men get in watching a drama on TV and feeling tense and being entertained by the mystery. This experience was rather horrible. They were being intimidated and convicted by some power wholly outside themselves.

Then the second adjective ‘perplexed’ means that that feeling was expressed and shared with others. It registered in their words to one another. For example, the Authorized Version begins the phrase with the ejaculation, ‘Behold!’ I don’t know what would be your cry of alarm and fear. It wouldn’t be Behold! or Lo! We Welsh people see or hear something that surprises us and we say, “Bois bach!” Or we say, “Oh no!” or “Help!” We have some common phrase to register our perplexity. But when God is dealing with us then our words are brief. We cry, “Oh God! Oh God, help me.” There was a crying out in Jerusalem. Men turned to one another as they heard these wonderful works of God being magnified with heavenly power, and they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (v.13). What did it mean for them, that they were lost men being confronted with mighty signs from a God they didn’t know whom hitherto they had thought how well they knew him. They were in the dark about getting delivered. Soon they were cut to the heart and they were crying out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v.37).

Do you see the implications of that for us today? Something has to happen here, in this church, in our services to lead to an impact out there! It has to happen in the prayers, in the preaching, in the fear of God present in our services, in the holy, loving relationships we have with one another and with new people as they are drawn in by curiosity, as the town grapevine works, as we speak of Christ and the new relationship that we have with him. People watch and listen and they are saying in their hearts, “What does this mean for me?”

I saw it clearly in a brief life I have been reading of a London pastor named Douglas Bradford. As a newly married man he passed through a deep exercise of soul as God drew near and began to deal with him. It left him amazed and perplexed. He needed to pass further exams to be a master mariner, but everything else like that went out of the window as the Spirit began to work in his life. He says, “I walked around London in great distress of mind. No one knew what I was passing through, and I’d come home weary in mind and body wondering if my health was breaking up. One night I came home and sat on the side of my bed exhausted. My dear wife said to me, “What’s the matter? You are in some trouble?” I said that that was the case but couldn’t say any more. Then the question was put, “Is it financial trouble?” I said, “Oh, no.” “Is it your work?” Again the answer was no. “Then what is it?” she asked. “I seemed for a moment to be utterly separated from all things here below and I was brought before God. I finally turned and said to her, “It’s my soul.” Then I burst into tears and for the first time in my life I knew experimentally that I was a lost man.

In Jerusalem the Spirit of God came upon 120 men and the crowd watching them wAS made aware that they were strangers to this God. Then the 120 began to preach to the people who were gathered there from all over the world the greatness of God. Their hearers were in a state of bewilderment, amazed and perplexed. What was the meaning of this? This is what happened to this London preacher Douglas Bradford; he could no longer continue with his studies. All his concentration of mind was gone. The only thing he could think of was, “My soul . . . my soul.” He said, “I tried to pray but it was only ‘chattering.’ If ever the prayer of Hezekiah was my experience it was then.” In his prayer Hezekiah had spoken about his attempts to pray to God like this; “Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes failed with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.”

So Douglas continued to walk about London as a lost man and then this is his testimony of what happened one day; “Feeling weary in mind and body I turned into a Lyons tea shop, little thinking that such a place could become a Bethel to my soul, a sacred spot, that there I was to find my God and my Saviour! But in that tea shop I seemed to lose sight of all my surroundings and like Jacob of old I wrestled with God. Still there was my cry, ‘Oh Lord, it’s my soul, my condemnation, my sins, where is the cure?’ Then the words came – ‘Search the Scriptures!’ I thought, ‘What, now? Here in this place?’ Ah! The Lord knew I had a little pocket Bible on me. “Yes, now.” Here was to be the ‘accepted time,’ now to me this was to be the ‘day of salvation.’ I took this little book out of my pocket, opened it and my eyes fell on this, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,’ and as I read on in this wonderful chapter (Romans 8) I felt the Lord was leading me into paths I had not known as he opened up those glorious truths therein, his foreknowledge and predestinating purposes, and his calling of poor sinners. Oh how wonderful the Lord Christ seemed in his precious death and the condemnation of my sins laid upon him. And then the wonderful application of those last two verses, ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’” The effect of the word was remarkable. Through the Word Douglas knew that he was a new creation, a new man, and that things would never be the same again. Now that is Acts chapter 2. There was the conviction of sin, the bewilderment and the sense of lostness. They were being cut to the heart, and then help came to them by hearing the word of God through Peter, and a tremendous deliverance that 3,000 of them experienced. But that was not all.

ii] The second response was scorn. “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine’” (v.13). How shall I turn this? Maybe to say first of all, how different is the world’s attitude to the man who loves his beer and his whiskey from that fool’s own attitude to himself. The world looks at the man who boasts about his love of real ale, who gets enthusiastic about parties where the beer flows, and how drunk he got over the week-end – the things he boasts about. The world says about him that he is a fool, that you can’t trust anything he does or says. The world makes fun of him behind his back, that he is a pathetic fellow. Here we see it perfectly. Many in Jerusalem are angry that there has been a mighty work of God through the followers of Jesus of Nazareth whom they had just killed, the rushing mighty wind, the cloven tongues of fire resting on those who are known to be the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth and their ability to speak in the languages of Turkey and Africa the mighty works of God. It was utterly extraordinary.

But these scornful men refused to look at the evidence. They would not be impressed by the religion of Jesus Christ, and so their very first response to the testimony they’d heard was thoroughly disrespectful. They dismissed it all; “Who would listen to a bunch of drunks?” They simply will not listen to those followers of the crucified Jesus any more than they would listen to drunks. Well we have heard a drunk speak gibberish but not speak fluently in a language to someone from eastern Europe utterly rationally. The words of Christians were to them worthless words. So I turn that this way; “Let not your hearts envy sinners.” The drinking gang may be very popular with other drinkers. The big spender who says, “The next round on me,” is the most loved man in town, but the world makes fun of the drunk behind his back. The world dismisses their opinion on any subject as “the drink is speaking.” When the prodigal son had money to pay for the beer he had many friends but when his money ran out no one wanted to listen to him.

Then let me turn it this way. Christians have no divine exemption from criticism or trials. Here was a crowd of youngish men, 120 of them, but there was no protection in mere numbers. They had had a flame of fire resting on their heads, and yet they were still being rubbished. They were introduced to the populace of Jerusalem by a sign from heaven of a rushing mighty wind, but they were still made fun of. They had a supernatural gift of talking to foreign people in the languages of Africa or Turkey, but with the hand of heaven on them still people were unafraid of belittling them. Though we show all the graces of meekness, integrity, honesty, kindness, love, peace, generosity, maturity and goodness our unyielding testimony – “Jesus Christ is God and Saviour and you need his grace to deliver you from hell” – that will always bring upon us hostility from the world. Our godliness will not shield us from opposition. Men will say all manner of evil against us.

Men saw the Lord Jesus heal the sick, and they heard him preach the Sermon on the Mount, and they benefited from his patience and love, and still many said, “He’s a drunkard, a wine-bibber, and a friend of wicked people. It is by Beelzebub that he gets the power to heal people.” Christ is the one who has left us an example that we should walk in his steps. He once told his disciples that they were not greater than him in being exempted from also having to take up their own cross. The way to heaven in revival times as well as in barren times is the way of thorns and blood. There is no Abel but he also has his Cain. The apostle Paul had to fight with beasts at Ephesus. Remind yourselves, “If I follow Christ I’m going to hear mockery and threats.”

This response of Jerusalem sinners is merely what Jesus had told them would be their experience; “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you.” I saw on Wednesday that someone had written on Facebook, “Geoff Thomas acts as if his was the only church in Aberystwyth.” It is not true. I frequently pray for every gospel preaching church in Abersytwth and thank God for them – as you yourselves know. But there is tongue hostility; in Psalm 55 and verse 11 the psalmist is speaking about the way someone shows his hatred towards him, and he says, “His words were drawn swords.” You may kill a man’s name with your tongue as swiftly as you can kill him with a gun. Think of these poor school-teachers or doctors who have been falsely accused of abusing boys and have been consequently suspended from their vocations for a year before a court of law tells the world that these men are utterly without blame. What a privilege to have a good name and a good conscience. But once these Christians began to speak the mighty works of God then immediately they faced a verbal backlash. Remember in Hebrews 11 we are told of those heroes of faith, “They had trial of cruel mockings” (Hebs. 11:36). That was one of the testings they had to endure. King David tells us that he was aware that he had become “the song of the drunkards” (Ps. 69:12). On one occasion John Bunyan gave a ride on his horse to a sick woman on a cold wet day and his enemies immediately suggested that he’d an untoward relationship with her. “He is the holy one? He tells us how to live? Look at him!” It will happen.

I have just read the story of Francis Whitehead, the secretary for 40 years of the preacher John Stott, and how careful and blameless the two of them had to be. She answered his phone and sieved through the letters and invitations that he got each day. They were simply two hard-working single Christians who were good friends. But all that critics needed to do was to spread an innuendo and say, “A strange relationship isn’t it?” Not at all! Not at all strange. The psalmist says, “They question me on things I know nothing about” (Ps. 35:11). Let us be careful about this. Thomas Watson says, “Many have been punished for clipping gold coins, of how much sorer punishment shall they be thought worthy, who clip the names of God’s people to make them weigh lighter.”

So immediately there was the trials and testings of the first Christians. They had been believers for only half an hour and in that short time they made an impact on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. People were asking one another what did this phenomena and these words mean? And immediately they were accused of being a gang of drunkards. You remember it was God who allowed this response. It was not that people immediately bowed down to the 120 as important servants of the Lord, or that they stood against the walls of the houses to let the children of God walk past. We can imagine rather that some of their enemies stood blocking their way, making them go out into the street among the donkeys and the carts. God will allow all such harassment today to Christians in parts of India and Pakistan. God is in part making discovery of people whether they are real Christians or not. Criticizing times are sifting times. After Job’s friends had talked to him for hours and sought to persuade him that he must have done something wrong and he needed to confess it, that he was deserving all the calamities that had come into his life then Job simply said this, “When I am tried I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Thomas Watson speaks of the difference that afflictions make when they come into the lives of Christians rather than when they come upon unbelievers. They make Christians better; they make unbelievers worse. Then he uses a typical beautiful Puritan illustration. You get an old dish towel that is dirty. If you scour it and rub it then it tears. But if you have a plate and it was your grandmother’s, and it might be a hundred years old, and you use it constantly and wash it in boiling water and Fairy Liquid and rub it with a scouring pad, then it does the plate no harm. It looks brighter. So Watson says, when unbelievers are criticized they fret about God, and they ask what does he think he’s doing in letting this happen to them, and they drown in self-pity and feel bitter towards their critics, but when Christians are afflicted then they can smile at all their foes and look brighter. In fact they get worried when no one is criticizing them.

See these apostles, so soon after being filled with the Holy Spirit, were accused of drunkenness, and not much later, in chapter 5, after being whipped and threatened by the Sanhedrin, we are told that they “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name” (Acts 5:41). You know that in the list of beatitudes – the so-called ‘beautiful attitudes’ of every Christian – how it ends with two beatitudes about the blessedness of being slandered and despised and rejected. So it is absolutely normal for the Christian to be blessed by hateful opposition as in being blessed by being poor in spirit, and in being meek, and hungering for righteousness, and being a peacemaker. In fact Jesus says, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.”

So after the first 30 minutes of being Spirit-filled believers the mud hit the fan and the disciples were introduced to criticism that would never leave them until they reached glory. “This is how it’s going to be,” said the Lord. “Reckon on it. Count on it, but be sure of the blessedness that will come you when you are spoken ill of as a believer.

I had a Christian letter sent to me by an evangelical organization this week asking for money to help their Jewish evangelistic outreach. On the appeal envelope in large letters a sentence was written. It was this; “Only Jesus can meet the longing in the hearts of Jewish people. Your gift will help us to meet them.” In other words, just money they need for staff and materials and then the longing Jews will become Christians. But here in Jerusalem God gave a gift to Jewish people. He gave the sound of a rushing mighty wind from heaven, he gave tongues of fire resting on the heads of his servants, he gave the gift of communication that explained to Jewish people his truth. With many who saw and heard those phenomena there was no longing at all to hear any more about this Jesus. They had their bellies full of “Jesus said this, and Jesus did that.” They wished that Jesus had never been born and when they heard in 30 languages the mighty works of Jesus they hated it. They wished he would go away for good and never bother them again.

There is a simple reason for the opposition and apathy we meet in the world today. People love themselves more than they love Christ. They don’t want to become servants of Jesus. They will not have this man lord it over them. They have found many other things to fill the longings of their lives rather than the Son of God. They wish we were quiet. They have no intention of coming to church on a Sunday and hearing the word of God. They will pay no more attention to a preacher than to the words of a drunk.

But we have been filled with the Spirit of God and we cannot be silent. We want the whole world to sing in perfect harmony, and we want it to sing of the mighty works that God has done in Christ.

All people that on earth do dwell sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;

   Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell. Come ye before him and rejoice.

We are debtors to “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.” They owe us nothing, but we owe them our lives and words. We have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. How can we silently go to God and his heaven and ignore them as they travel on a broad road that leads to destruction. A group of godly women of Bedford would see John Bunyan coming along to sit with them and eat his food at his midweek break and then they would talk together in a way that they believed would be helpful to him as someone very near to the kingdom of God. And he enjoyed listening to them and he believed that the reality he saw in them was the best reality and truth that he had met, that he continued to meet on Sundays and whenever he read the Bible, or when he met with his family and they read the two Christian books his father-in-law had left him in his will. So John Bunyan became a great Christian teacher and writer, and he spent twelve years in prison for refusing to be silent.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

6th December 2014     GEOFF THOMAS