Acts 2:1-4 “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what sed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
The climax of the ministry of God the Son when he came into the world was the gift to the church of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. God gave God to all of his people filling them with the Holy Spirit. The events of Pentecost were historic, and they were prophesied, and they were heralded by three mighty wonders from heaven, the sound of a rushing mighty wind, the cloven tongues as of fire that rested on every Christian, and each of them was given the ability to speak in a language that had been quite unknown to them hitherto. Those signs I say were not the Holy Spirit himself. Any more than a signpost saying ‘Aberystwyth’ actually is Aberystwyth itself. Those three signs were the heralds announcing his coming. They awakened the people, and softened up their hard hearts and gave them a sense of holy fear and conviction. They were the preparation for God the Holy Spirit coming upon them. What then was the meaning of Pentecost?
1. THE GLORY OF THE LORD WAS REVEALED IN JERUSALEM.
How dangerous to think that Pentecost is some theological issue which we are to argue about. Here is the thunder and the lightning that Whitefield spoke of. First of all it says, “God’s glory has appeared in Jerusalem, in the city that killed the prophets, stoned those sent to it and finally crucified God’s Son.” What an extraordinary event! Not that God justly concluded that his wrath was filled to the brim, and so he poured out his judgment on this recalcitrant city, but that his delight in all that his Son had done caused him to display his glory to Jerusalem sinners. God has come down in grace; God is present with these country-folk, fishermen and farmers, sons of carpenters. This insignificant bunch of men and women – disdained by the self-conscious sophisticates of the capital city – experience the glory of God in a way that had never been seen in the two thousand years of Israel’s history. And this happened to ordinary folk whose knowledge of the outside world was tiny. Most of them had lived their lives within the parameters of Galilee and the occasional visits to the feasts in Jerusalem. This insignificant band of men who had so miserably failed our Lord during the last week of his life now have tongues of fire from heaven resting on them.
How is this insignificant group of disciples going to fulfill the Great Commission and go into all the world with the gospel? How would they accomplish that? And Pentecost is the answer: “‘It’s not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.” It is by the forth-putting of the mighty power of God. And here’s a little glimpse of the glory of the Lord. The living God is going to accomplish this; the might and glory of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, the representative agent of Jesus Christ – he is going to accomplish this. He is going to come, and he is going to gift, and he is going to enable, and he is going to strengthen, and he is going to motivate, and he is going to challenge, and he is going to send, and he is going to accomplish all that gloriously. He is utterly up to it; he is omni-competent. The wind is going to blow, the flames are going to be kindled in millions of hearts, the languages of the world are going to speak forth the mighty works of the Lord Jesus. It is going to be achieved by and for God’s power and glory. Again, what is Pentecost?
2. PENTECOST WAS THE CLIMAX OF THE MINISTRY OF JESUS.
The event that had heralded the beginning of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth had not been a baptism with fire and wind and languages. It had been a water baptism in a little river when Jesus had stood in line with a crowd of sinners waiting to be dipped in the river Jordan by John. That was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The man baptizing had been a loner who now came under the spotlight after years of isolation living in the wilderness dressed very plainly, and assuring the crowds that he was not the Messiah. He was simply a voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” and that this Jesus whom he baptized was going to do something extraordinary. He was going to baptize men and women not with water but with the Holy Spirit.
The one whom John baptized was the virgin born Immanuel, God with us, but more was needed. He would live a blameless life, fulfilling all righteousness in his obedience to God, loving him with all his heart and loving his neighbour as himself, but more was needed. He would become the Lamb of God as our substitute and sin-bearer and take away all our guilt, because without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins, but more was needed. He would taste death and lie in the grave for those days, but more was needed. He would rise on the third day from the dead, but more was needed. He would ascend to the right hand of God and be crowned with all authority in heaven and earth, but still more was needed. What more could he do for us? It is essential still this very day that he baptize favoured sinners whom he has brought to hear the gospel with the Holy Spirit.
Even on the hill of ascension some of them were still doubting because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. They were looking forward to this coming event, though they had little idea of what would be involved, but Pentecost was going to be the culmination of Jesus’ ministry. The risen Lord had spoken to them about this. And then Peter stands up, faces the crowd as the languages die down, and the wind drops, and the flame over his head shrinks and disappears and there is an awesome silence. Peter preaches to the thousands who’ve been drawn to the spot irresistibly by those sights and sounds. The climax of his sermon is the living Jesus Christ now baptizing his people with the Holy Spirit: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “`The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘ “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”” (vv.32-36).
Do you see why Pentecost was the great finale of Jesus’ whole ministry for us disciples? All the benefits and all the blessings won by the Lord Jesus Christ by his life, death, resurrection and ascension – forgiveness, justification, adoption, the Holy Spirit – these are all apart from anything we’ve ever done. Making us extraordinary men and women in Christ was all the achievement of this Sovereign and Omnipotent Lord, the one who is now seated on a throne in heaven. He is inaccessible to me. Who has ascended into heaven to bring the Lord down? But I am very accessible to him, and what he now does is to apply to me all the benefits of his glorious achievements by pouring upon me the Holy Spirit of God. That was how his accomplished redemption became for me my applied redemption. Golgotha – without Pentecost – would not be an atonement to me! The engineering of redemption has all been set up by the Lord Jesus; my great High Priest has passed through the veil into the presence of God and there he is my mediator and advocate with Jehovah, but then the Saviour must set the great wheels of reconciliation into motion, the sluice gates of glory must be opened so that down upon the whole people of God world-wide for 2000 years the Spirit of God falls and it is the Spirit alone who can bring to sinners like me eternal life, forgiveness of sins, the adoption of sons, and union with Christ as the Lord Jesus directs. Hear him speak in heaven! “Spirit of God,” he says, “Hear me! There is that man in Aberystwyth. Go to him. Enlighten him. Convict him. Make him alive. Give him saving faith. Deliver him from the Lordship of sin. Testify to his heart that I am indeed his Saviour!” And the Spirit of God comes forth and falls upon that man and he is saved. That applied salvation, the baptism of the Spirit of God is the climax of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here in Jerusalem this happened for the fist time, but billions of times since then.
PENTECOST WAS A RADICAL NEW BEGINNING.
Peter in his sermon tells us that Pentecost is a part of the ministry of Jesus that had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier. It was the climax of all he’d done, but it was not a mere continuation of what he’d been doing. It is God doing a new thing on the earth. Never before has there been a single person whom the God-man Jesus Christ has baptized with the Holy Spirit. This is breathtakingly new! This year my grandson and his wife became parents. It would be the utmost folly to play down the significance of that event in thinking, “Well it is inevitable; it is natural after marriage, and life will carry on for you both.” Of course life will go on for them but it will be a radically new life. There will be another person to take into consideration every minute of every day for years and years. Parenthood is a radical new beginning; it is the inauguration of a brand new chapter in their lives which they had never experienced before, blessing and restricting and enriching and also demanding from them. That is exactly what the coming of the Spirit means to all the people of God. We are living in the new age; this is the age of the Spirit; this is something that had not been seen before, with just hints of this in the Old Testament. How is this newness highlighted in the New Testament? In a number of fascinating ways.
i] Luke’s second book begins with this event. His gospel ends with the resurrection and ascension to heaven of the Lord Jesus. Then there is a new beginning; you see it in another formal preface to the Acts of the Apostles addressed to Theophilus, a new account of the ascension of the Lord Christ and that ascension is now linked with Pentecost (which is yet to come). “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you:” (Acts 1:8). Pentecost is announced by Jesus as a coming event. Here it is not linked with what is a past event, the resurrection of Jesus. “Look ahead! Don’t look up to heaven!” This is a new beginning and what ushers in this beginning is what happened at Pentecost. A mere three verses deal with the ascension, verses 9, 10 and 11, and it is over, but Pentecost is a chapter of 47 verses. You see Luke’s literary skill? In his gospel, Luke chapter one is an account of the birth and childhood of John the Baptist, and the announcement to the virgin Mary that she is going to give birth to a son. It is 80 verses in length, and Jesus has not yet been born. It is a fascinating preparation for Luke chapter two and the birth of the baby Jesus, the God-man. Luke also chooses to begin the book of Acts in a similar way. There is a brief description of the Ascension and then the slightly curious choosing Matthias to be another apostle, and those things are the preparation for chapter two and the coming of God the Spirit at Pentecost. You find a few hints in chapter one of Acts of chapter two, in verses 5 and 8 we are told that the Spirit is going to come, but the first chapter of Acts is merely a foreword, a preface – the overture for the glorious opera that is to begin in chapter two and the events of Pentecost. How else does Luke tells us that this is a radical new beginning?
ii] Luke insists that the Ascension marks the end of one great epoch of salvation. How does he do this? There is a ten day moratorium or interregnum. There is this long ‘between times’ from the Ascension to Pentecost. What happened during that week and a half? You say, they often met and prayed together. Yes. Anything else? Does the Spirit do anything? Anything at all? We are told, he did nothing. He is nowhere to be found. He is coming; that is all. And so just one other event occurs; they choose Matthias to replace Judas, but do you notice that they do so without any guidance by the Holy Spirit. Luke is quite impartial in not passing any judgment on the disciples for this election of a man of whom we hear nothing subsequently. It is as if he did not exist. Luke simply records that this happened. But notice what was the criterion for electing a man to the office of apostle? One thing, his past status. Had he been with Jesus from his baptism to his resurrection? However, after Pentecost what is the criterion for giving office and leadership to any man? What did they look for in choosing 7 deacons? That they were full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3). Before Pentecost – “What was your relationship with Jesus of Nazareth? After Pentecost – “Are you a man who is full of the Holy Spirit?” When in Antioch they set apart Paul and Barnabas to their evangelism in the first missionary journey of Paul, what is decisive? That the Holy Spirit is there, and he speaks and says to them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). This is a new epoch of salvation when the Holy Spirit is present guiding us. There could be nothing more important to us as a congregation as we seek for a new preacher in this church than that the Holy Spirit directs us and points us to a man. That will happen as we all learn to become increasingly dependent on the Holy Spirit. Again how else is Luke pointing out to us that this is a new beginning?
iii] Luke is saying that chapter two cannot take place until there has first been chapter one. Holy heaven can do nothing with sinful earth until the Son of God has ascended there and has been invested with glory and honour, until he has been given power on earth from God in heaven. Everything is at a standstill. There is silence in heaven for 10 days. In other words, until the Lord Jesus has ascended and enthroned and given all authority in heaven and earth, the Lord of the Spirit (so designated for us in chapter one), cannot initiate others into the new age of the Spirit (as he does in the events of chapter two). We have to wait until there is this leisurely investiture in heaven of the God man. The Father’s welcome sounds forth at the ascension of Jesus; “Fling wide the gates! Be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors that the King of glory may enter in.” Then to the Son, “Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. Ask of me and I will give thee the nations for thy possession and the uttermost parts of the earth for thine inheritance.” All that is taking place in heaven with no haste. There are those expressions of delight in the Father and all the servants of Jesus in heaven when they see a new sight there, the God-man is on the throne at mission control ruling over heaven and earth for ever. The highest name that heaven affords is his by sovereign right. It is when all that inauguration triumph is over then, and only then, can Joel’s prophecy be fulfilled. Then and only then did the last days begin for the disciples. Then and only then did they enter into the New Covenant dispensation and the New Covenant experience of the Spirit of God.
4. PENTECOST WAS THE INAUGURATION OF THE NEW COVENANT.
God is a God of his word. His promise is yea and Amen and never was forfeited yet. God made a promise that one day he would make a new covenant with his people. Jeremiah chapter 31 and verse 31, “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” I remember Professor John Murray telling us students when he was a little boy accompanying his father to preach in a little church in Sutherland, and his father speaking to him – as the horse and trap clip-clopped along the country lanes – of the Christian hope and the resurrection of the body. “Our bodies are going to be raised, John,” he said to him, “our bodies!” and he slapped his hands together to emphasize the physicality of the resurrection. His son John never forgot that incident. I imagine in many a believing home in Israel and Judah when children whined a little about Old Covenant duties and demands, going up to Jerusalem three times a year, and making sacrifices for all their sins, that then the father would speak as Alexander Murray had spoken to John and the old son of Abraham sought to cheer his children by saying to them, “Children, one day there will be a new covenant and many of these shadows will go. God has promised this and he is going to fulfil it.”
Jesus gave them a very important sign that the inauguration of the new covenant was at hand. In the Upper Room at the Passover Jesus took wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” It was very near; it would be inaugurated in his blood shed on Calvary, and it would be applied to them shortly after when the Spirit of the new covenant was poured out on the disciples at Pentecost. The Father had promised that this would happen. He had said this would take place; he had given his word, and that word ‘promise’ is often used about the coming of the Holy Spirit. In Luke 24:49, the risen Christ tells them “I am going to send you what my Father has promised.” Again he says in Acts 1:4 while enjoying a meal with them Jesus told them, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” Peter preaching at Pentecost said in verse 33, “Exalted to the right hand of God he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you see and hear.” And again as he tells the convicted men what to do he says in verses 38 and 39, “Repent and be baptized every one of you . . . and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is to you and your children and all who are far off.” Well, we are far off in time and space from Pentecost but the promise of the Spirit of God coming upon Christians, and changing us is being renewed in all of us who believe – even at this very moment!
The new covenant promises that its every single beneficiary will receive the Holy Spirit. Not a believer without the Spirit of God. Or we can say that the Spirit is the agent of the new covenant relationship between God and believers. The Spirit is the embodiment of the new covenant; he is the energy and motivating power and essence of the new covenant. I have been born of the Spirit; I am indwelt by the Spirit; I have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ; I have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; I have been given the Spirit-inspired Word of God. That is the blessing every Christian enjoys, the weakest lamb in the flock of Christ has got this promise. Slaves and maidservants, young and old who trust in the Lord Christ all have the Spirit. There will be no exceptions. The blessing that is coming upon Wales and all the nations of the world today – as God promised Abraham’s seed – is the Holy Spirit. All over the globe today in a million congregations with millions of believers, probably thousands of them converted only this week, all of them are new covenant Christians and all of them have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of God.
PENTECOST WAS THE BIRTHDAY OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.
Now if you describe the church as ‘the communion of saints’ and that is what we have in the Apostles’ Creed – “I believe in the . . . communion of saints” – then no one is going to deny that the church existed in Old Testament times. Those believers met together on their feast days and in times of crisis; they worshipped God and they repented together. How they prayed! If you read the 150 psalms in the book of Psalms you are impressed and humbled by their spirituality and prayerfulness. There was a communion of saints in Old Testament times. Ever since the fall of man there has been one Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and there was only one way of being redeemed, and that is through faith in him – the one who is the Seed of the woman and who bruises the serpent’s head. He is the Christ of prophecy, who gave the law on Sinai and the spirit of doxology to the palmists. He is the Lord of Abraham, and Joseph, and Samuel, and David, and Elijah, and Daniel and tens of thousands of others who believed in his coming and were saved by the blood that he shed. Those Old Testament Messiahists saw this in type in the Old Testament sacrifices which were pointing forward to the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. When you read Hebrews chapter 11 and the heroes and heroines of faith in the Old Testament then you know that during that time there was the church, the old covenant people of God.
But those old covenant saints were not mature. They didn’t hit the ground running from the time that Abel offered his sacrifice to God. They didn’t come to maturity until the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them at Pentecost. So Acts chapter 2 is a description of the most important up-grading in the church’s history. The glory of the church under the new covenant is – of course – far greater than its glory under the old. Jesus Christ has tabernacled and templed on this earth. Men have seen his glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. I am saying this, that you could consider Solomon’s temple in all its finery – its polished cedar wood and silks and marble walls and the fine robes of the priests and its elaborate ceremonies and sacrifices – and I am claiming that what is happening here and now – today, at this moment – in our little church is incomparably more glorious than the best day that ever occurred in Solomon’s temple – even when the shekinah glory fell on it! We have the Seed of the woman actually with us as we gather in his name! We have immediate intimate access to our heavenly Father. He hears our prayers and he answers them. He helps us in our worship. He personally strengthens us, and pastors us, and prepares us for the future. He leads us into all truth.
We are not like the Old Testament saints. We are no longer like little children who are told by their teachers in reception class all the things they have to do and must not do, every minute detail, each hour of the school day. We delight in doing the will of God because since Pentecost the Lord has written his law in our hearts and moved our wills so that we must do God’s will. I am claiming that we enjoy that privilege to a far larger measure than the believers of Old Testament times.
When we read Acts chapter 2 we ask who were the people who were receiving the gospel and the Holy Spirit as they were repenting and believing? Was it the Jews alone? Not at all! It was, “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” (vv.9-11). No longer was the church restricted almost entirely to the Israelitish nation. From all those named nations men and women were being converted and added to the body of Christ. They were the first fruits of the great 2,000 year long harvest that would be gathered in from the field of the whole world, starting them and carrying on until now.
Here the new covenant church began as a witness to the exalted Jesus Christ, and so here the great commission started. Until the sermon of Peter no attempt was made to organize and plan and set out on missionary journeys to the population centres of the Mediterranean basin. They prayed together until the Spirit was given. But then, when the Spirit fell upon the body of Christ, then, and only then the world-wide commission started at full gallop. There could be no greater contrast than Jonah’s reluctance to take the Lord’s message to Nineveh compared to the eagerness of believers in the book of Acts to reach all of those who were gathered in Jerusalem. Persecution and every attempt to stop them merely hastened gospel progress as those scattered by persecution went everywhere preaching the word. It was preached to ‘every nation under heaven” (v.5) that had been brought to Jerusalem
What was its message? Certainly we preach not ourselves. Peter didn’t say, “Let me tell you about my experience. What is it like for the Holy Spirit to come upon you? I’ll tell you, it’s like being hit by lightning!” Not a word of anything like that. Peter didn’t preach himself, but Jesus Christ as Lord. Haven’t you noticed that there aren’t the pronouns ‘I’ or ‘me’ anywhere in the sermon of Peter in this chapter. What did he tell them? Here it is, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v.36). Paul told the Philippian jailer to believe on the Lord – Jesus Christ! He told the Romans, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
What gave assurance to Peter and the other Christians that Jesus Christ had been exalted and made the Lord of lords? It was the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and all the working of the Spirit in them and in their congregations and friends since that time. It was only after Pentecost that the glory of Jesus the Lord and the pouring out of the Spirit and the demand for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ that men and women could confess the Saviour as God and Lord. Only then could there be the proper teaching of the apostles, and apostolic fellowship in the Spirit, breaking of bread, prayers and baptism in the name of the Lord Christ.
Pentecost is the commencement of the church as the body of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and the appointed means and the best means of taking the gospel through the nations of the world.
Do you really appreciate what a gospel church is? It is not a gathering of perfect disciples. It is not a congregation whose leaders have no personality problems. It is not an organization brought about by human effort, like a book club, or a trade union, or a music society, or a sports team, or a political party, or a language society. All such organization and a host of others have been brought into existence by the will of man. Acts 2 is telling us that the church has been brought into being by the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit alone.
The very word ‘ecclesia’ which the Greek New Testament employs to designate the church stresses this truth. It tells us that the church consists of those who have been called out from the world. It was God who did the calling. It was the Holy Spirit that drew them out. He came upon them irresistibly and effectually. They had existed in the heart and mind of God even before the foundation of the world. God alone could have originated them, and they were not chosen as a group of individuals, like a box of pieces of Lego. God regarded them as a group, as a body, as the household of God, as a family, as a holy temple. He sent his Son to die for them; he bought them with his own blood.
At Pentecost he came upon each one of them and filled them with his Spirit. It was a supernatural, miraculous intervention. He sent the wind from heaven and the flames of fire and he gave them the gift of languages and they preached to all the nations of the world the mighty works of God. Christ keeps building his church throughout the ages and in every part of the world. Out and out the glory of God is spreading. Every time a living member is added to the church it is because of God’s activity. The most eloquent and godly minister of the gospel who has ever lived was no more than a means by which it pleased Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the one God, to build his church. Was it Peter who was the one who added daily to the church at Jerusalem such as were being saved? No! Verse 47 tells us that it was the Lord who was doing this. The church is the creation of the Triune God!
A couple of years ago Dan Walker, the television sports commentator and interviewer came and spoke to us. His parents met here in our church and he is pastored today by someone who also was once a member for three years of this congregation. He has gained notoriety in the British Broadcasting Corporation by refusing to do any work for them on a Sunday, and yet they so admire his gifts that they have accepted him on those terms. When we asked him at his meeting why he refused to work on Sundays he said simply this. “The church is the only organization that Christ has created. Membership in it has to be the fundamental priority of the Christian life, a duty, yes, but also a privilege and a joy”. Dan wants to give the day to God and his people.
We have been examining how God birthed the church, how he made it the distinct and glorious institution that it is and so the question facing us is this, “Do I have the privilege of being a member of the church of Jesus Christ which he purchased with his own blood.” Do I love it? Do I work for it? Can I sing with Timothy Dwight these words . . .
I love Thy kingdom, Lord, the house of Thy abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved with his own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God, her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye, and graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend
To her my cares and toils be given till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy I praise her heavenly ways.
Her sweet communion, solemn vows, her hymns of love and praise.
16th November 2014 GEOFF THOMAS.