Google+ Followers

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Acts part 4: A Gift beyond all expectations?

Building the right foundation part 4

Acts 2:1-13

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
A gift accompanied by signs and wonders:

What really was happening on that day of Pentecost?

A number of things were happening in a particular sequence. The single most important factor in the passage is declared in the first half of verse 4.

They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

This as we will discover next time was the fulfilment of the prophesy of Joel. (2:28-32) Joel promised that one day God would pour out His Spirit upon people. In regard to this day Jesus had promised that One would come who had the same qualities that He had. The coming One therefore had to be in essence the same as Jesus who was fully God. The promise made by Jesus was of God's Spirit to come and be amongst His people. In many ways this was to be a return to what it had been before the birth of Jesus when God by His Spirit dwelt amongst His people but now He would be with people from all nations and not the Israelites alone.

When the children of Israel were in the Wilderness God by His Spirit was within the pillar of flame and smoke. When they were established in the promised land He was present with them in the temple where His people worshipped. Now ever since that day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit of God is present with His people who are the church which is the gathering of all people of every nation who are saved by grace through the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross.

The Holy Spirit of God is the gift to the church. It is the Holy Spirit who leads God's people to Christ for salvation and worship and continues to lead God's people into all righteousness until the time comes when they are glorified and in God's presence eternally.

The gift was in effect given on that day of Pentecost once again for all believers and for all time; therefore it is no surprise that the event comes accompanied by signs and wonders.

Before we move on to considering what the signs and wonders accompanying the coming of the Holy Spirit mean we must consider what God's gift means for us today:

  • As with Jesus who was never changing so is the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit of God is never changing, He always points people to redemption found through the Son of God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever therefore what God intended to achieve through His Spirit is consistent with how He is working in the church today. His ways are the same, His power is the same and so we need not look for new things but ought to expect a continuing work of God with His people across the generations. This does not mean that we become Hamish in our ways by clinging on to the old days. God is forever relevant and His gospel preached continues to be powerful for the salvation of all who will repent. The work of the Holy Spirit is to equip the church to present gospel truth He also brings sinners to the point of repentance and empowers them to believe and trust in Jesus. That work is unchanging, what did change on that day was the group of people who would be the recipients of the gift it was from then on to be the church and no longer the nation of Israel alone.
  • This point might be rather basic but we must always remember that the Holy Spirit is fully God; he is God with us. Therefore He is a person and not an it! As with the Father and the Son He is to be revered and worshipped as God almighty. We must guard against an over familiarity with God the Spirit!

  • In the old order God dwelt in a particular place, cloud, tabernacle, temple etc. He did empower individuals also but He especially was amongst His people in the place of worship. Israel was a signpost to what was to be the church. Notice on that day that the Spirit came down upon individuals as they were together but that they then unitedly spoke words that were understood by all who were witnesses of the event. All of the people heard words as if they had been spoken in their own language and by one person! The work of the Spirit of God is immediately being demonstrated, the gospel is from this moment on to be for all people. No longer for one nation but for every nation.

I am surprised that the disciples never guessed on what day the gift would come:

Pentecost simply means fifty days and refers back to the Old Testament feast of weeks which signified God's Spirit coming upon His people at the time of the barley harvest. This happened fifty days after the feast of the firstfruits which was three days after the passover. Jesus died at Passover, He rose from the dead three days later as the first fruits of God's harvest. Forty days after His resurrection Jesus promised the gift of God to come to His friends. The timing should really have come as no surprise to the disciples because the pattern had been laid out in scripture in Leviticus 23, Numbers 28 and Exodus 23. It had also been part of their religious tradition all of their life to celebrate the harvest of souls in the passover and the first fruits of the harvest followed by the in-gathering of the harvest at Pentecost.
On the Day of Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks, the “firstfruits” of the church were now being gathered. The world is now the harvest field and the church is the in-gathering of the harvest!

With the promised coming of the Holy Spirit, the first fruits of God’s spiritual harvest under the New Covenant had begun.

That was the gift now let us briefly look at:

The purpose of the signs and wonders:

This amazing event begins with the friends of Jesus being gathered in one place expecting the gift as promised by the Lord Jesus. To them it all began in the most normal of circumstances. They were sitting in a room together and waiting. I can imagine their reaction to what took place. Onlookers were bewildered by it but the followers of Jesus were changed forever:

for them nothing would be the same again.

Their faith had taken on a whole new dimension. They knew Jesus but now a power was coming upon them that is without compare. The power of the Holy Spirit that converts and works in Christians according to scripture is the same as the power which raised Jesus from the dead. These believers experienced the power of God suddenly and at first hand. In this they were the prototype of all believers to come, they were the pattern of the way that Christ from that time would build His church. The church is not built by might or power but by God's Spirit. This was a whole new concept from what they would have understood before, they were about to embark upon a whole new learning curve. Our bibles reflect what happened on the day of Pentecost, the Old Covenant or Testament closed on that day and a New Covenant or Testament began. From that point on the church would be built and it would be according to the pattern being set down.

For this reason this event was accompanied by signs and wonders. This was authenticated as a work of God by what accompanied the event. For this reason we must beware when we claim the accompanying signs to be normative for the church today. I will hopefully put some of you out of your misery by telling you that because we are looking at the events of the day of Pentecost in isolation and I am applying the signs specifically to that single event does not necessarily mean that signs and wonders are not ever in evidence today. We will be coming to that in the weeks to come, but to set up a theology of spectacular gifts in the church for all time from this event is doing a violence to what the passage is really all about!

Let us consider the signs that accompanied the event:

  • Firstly there was the mighty rushing wind that filled the whole house. Clearly this was a unique event, it was unusual and brought attention to what was about to take place. The question we have to ask is why did God use wind as a sign or wonder? It should not surprise us that the wind has been a sign before on a number of occasions:

In 1 Kings 19:11 when the prophet Elijah had run away from Jezebel and was hiding in a cave. God told him to stand outside the cave in the presence of the Lord and the Lord passed by. The Lord was accompanied by a wind so powerful that it broke up rocks. The scripture tells us that the Lord was not in the wind. That is equally true in our passage today. The Lord was not in the wind, as at the time of Elijah the wind was merely a sign that authenticated the presence of the Lord.

In Job 38:1 the Lord spoke to Job out of a whirlwind, the wind was not God but was the vehicle that made job pay attention.

Ezekiel 1:4 records Ezekiel having had visions of God seeing a storm brewing up preceded a mighty wind that was the beginning of a vision of the glory of God.

Then of course there was the parting of the Red Sea, Moses stretched out his hand and the Lord drove back the sea by a strong east wind and the Israelites were rescued from slavery through the sea Ex 14:21-22. God on that occasion used the wind to proceed His act of salvation.

On the day of Pentecost God was about to come upon His people by His Spirit and so He authenticated the work not by a random sign of a blowing wind but in the way in which He had previously done. This makes the sign even more powerful and with greater meaning. Pentecost fits with God's order for this to happen, remember that the passover was instituted and then the firstborn was consecrated. The firstborn was symbolised by the firstfruits following on from this some days later came the crossing of the Red Sea which was a gathering in or harvesting of the people of God. It is not only fitting that God should on that occasion use the wind as a sign but maybe it ought to have been expected. For this reason we should not expect a mighty rushing wind whenever we preach the gospel, it was a specific sign for that specific occasion.

Why the fire?

In the desert God revealed Himself to Moses through the fire of a burning bush Ex 3:1-6.

He led His people through the pillar of fire or smoke whilst in the desert Ex 13: 21-22. The fire went before His people as a guide and now the fire descends upon His people as individuals but also corporately. The fire signifies God leading His people.

Remember also the prophetic word of John the baptist in Matthew 3:11 said that Jesus would come and baptise His followers with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This event is a direct fulfilment of what John promised. A fascinating study you can easily do with a simple concordance is to look at all of the references to the fire of the Lord throughout the bible.

The sign of tongues of fire resting upon God's people is symbolic of His presence with His people in the same way that the lamp which was always alight in the temple signified God's presence with His people. The fire as a sign speaks clearly that God now dwells with His people the church by His Spirit! The church therefore unsurprisingly must be s lamp set upon a hill revealing the glory of God. We are a guide for all who will follow on into the promised land.

Why tongues?

To understand what happened on that day of Pentecost we must once again go back to Genesis: When Adam sinned it had a catastrophic effect upon the whole of nature but particularly upon man. He was immediately divorced from relationship with God and so all men of all time became enemies to God. Sin brought about disunity amongst mankind except for their unity in their general disrespect for God. Man will readily unite to oppose God's truth. This was first evidenced as far back as Genesis 11: 1-9 where man thought that he could together build a tower that reached to heaven. By their own effort they thought that they could get into heaven. They were united in this until God confused their one language into a multiplicity of different languages which was a sign of the separation from communion with God. From that day on their languages were to be as diverse as their many attempts to reach heaven.

But on the day of Pentecost God momentarily reversed that situation. Language became united once again and everybody heard in their own language about the mighty works of God Acts 2:11. This left them both amazed and confused. Something remarkable had happened and they did not know what or why. Babel was momentarily reversed as a powerful sign of God's new covenant with man.

This was a sign for all of mankind to know that there is now a new way to heaven, it is not by man's ability but through a people. A very special people who are blessed by God's Spirit. They are the church and they have a united message which points to the way to heaven. The gospel is for all people of every nation tongue and tribe and the message that needs explaining in the plain language of the hearer, just as Peter did following this event.

On this occasion this gift of tongues was for the benefit of outsiders to know that God had made a way possible for them to find salvation. Our gospel must be perfectly understandable, it is not meant to be in the language of yesterday however poetic it might be. We need in Britain to herald the good news in modern English. Apparently the Apostle Paul was capable of speaking and writing in classical Greek but he chose to use the language of the people. God opened a way for the gospel and has given the church the mandate to deliver the message plainly and simply. This remarkable sign not only authenticated the work of the Holy Spirit and the foundation of the church but it also reminds us today that our gospel message should be presented in a way that is clear and understandable to our hearers.

What do we learn from our passage today?
  • The Holy Spirit is God's gift to the church for all times.
  • His work is the same as it has always been.
  • The signs on that day accompanied the gift in order to authenticate that this truly was the work of God.
  • The Holy Spirit empowers His people to present the gospel but we must do that in an clear and understandable way.

No comments:

Post a Comment