Establishing the Church: Pentecost and the Promised Messiah
Text: Acts 2:1–41
We're turning our attention now to the day of Pentecost. The day that the Spirit descended. This is one of the most significant events in all the world. If there's no Spirit, there is no Christian life. Okay? No one believes in Christ unless the Spirit fills him. No one can honor and rejoice in the gospel unless the Spirit dwells inside of him, works in him to give him a new heart. No Spirit, no believers.
This morning we're going to see when the Holy Spirit fell upon God's people in a way that he never had before. Sure, the Old Testament believers, those who trusted in the Christ to come, had the Holy Spirit, otherwise they wouldn't believe. Sure the apostles, when they're walking with Jesus had some of the Holy Spirit, but this day, this marks something different now. The Holy Spirit comes in ways he never could come before. It's because not only has Christ died and rose again, he has now ascended. He is the glorified Christ. Now, the Holy Spirit exalts and makes much of the glorified, risen Lord.
So we're going to look at the day of Pentecost. We're going to see this in three scenes.
The descent of the Holy Spirit
The explanation where Jesus gets the spotlight
The crowd responds
Let’s look at the first scene in the day of Pentecost—the descent of the Holy Spirit. We see the descent of the Holy Spirit from verses 1–13.
Let me set the stage. We're at the day of Pentecost (which means fifth). It has been fifty days since the passover and now the Jews celebrate this feast as one of the three annual harvest feasts. Many Jews have come to Jerusalem to celebrate God's provision and the pouring out of his grace by providing for his people in this celebration. Right in the middle of this feast, God sends his provision, the provision of the helper.
So the apostles and disciples are gathered at the day of Pentecost and verse 2–4 says,
“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.”—Acts 2:2–4
Put yourself there for a moment. You’re in Jerusalem. Maybe you are reading the Old Testament Scriptures and praying. You are surrounded by a handful of other believers and all of sudden a mighty rushing wind “from heaven” comes. Jesus had recently said to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and you don’t know what that is going to be like. But now you are surrounded by an unmistakably “heavenly” wind.
Then, fire begins to fall down on you and every other individual person. This is the moment. There are few other Scriptures in all the Bible like this.
In fact, this is exactly what John the Baptist predicted would happen years earlier. He said,
“John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”—Luke 3:16
Furthermore, Luke is using these keywords that trigger for his readers that this is God coming in his fullness. Wind and Spirit are the same words in Hebrew so they have been closely associated from the beginning. Then you have fire, which has constantly been associated with God’s presence—from Moses’s burning bush, to fire coming and leading God’s people through the wilderness by night, to fire falling on Mount Sinai.
God’s very presence is falling on the people, but this time it’s not falling simply on a leader like Moses or in this case perhaps Peter. Look at verse 3 again:
“And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.”—Acts 2:3
It is now, at this moment, that all—all who believe—all of God's people are marked by the Holy Spirit. Every one of them. This is the moment. This is what they were waiting for. To be immersed, to be baptized, in God's presence, for the descending of the Holy Spirit.
And what happens?
Well, they begin to speak in these other tongues that are not their native language, but they're the languages of other people's hometowns. According to Acts 1:15, we have about 120 people. They're all gathered in a room and then thousands of other Jews, we found out later at least 3,000, are outside because of the feast. They come in and these hundreds of people are speaking in different languages. But they are quickly amazed because these Galileans are speaking the language of their hometown. Luke mentions that there are Jews from all over the world all the way from Mesopotamia to Egypt to the Cretans to Arabians. They're all hearing their own language.
The Holy Spirit gives this gift of speaking, not a gift of hearing, but speaking these languages they didn't know. And they weren’t uttering gibberish, but look at verse 11:
“We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”—Acts 2:11
They are preaching the gospel.
The Saliks, back in Minneapolis, lived in the neighborhood where we all went to school. It’s called Phillips neighborhood. In that neighborhood, there were over a hundred different languages. I mean, I can't even brainstorm a list of 25 different languages. I would still have 75 more to go.
So just picture this room full of people and there are hundreds of languages going on at the same time. So what is their response? Look at verse 7–8:
“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?”—Acts 2:7–8
They just can't explain it. We find out here in just a little bit, some of them are just very crude in trying to evaluate this event so they think maybe everyone's drunk because they hear all this babbling going on. But they are amazed. They're in awe. How is it that we can hear our own native language from these Galileans?
So notice that's their question. But many of us, when we come to a text like this, don’t ask that question. We have our list of theology questions that we want to work through: should everyone speak in tongues, what would being slain in the Spirit, should every Christian prophecy—on and on they go.
I’m not saying these questions are bad by themselves. I’m just saying that is not their question. But maybe many of you come in and when you saw we were talking about the Pentecost came in a little unsure? Is Don going to speak in tongues, or is he going to expect all of us to speak in tongues by the end of this? Are we going to have a baptism in the Holy Spirit's service? What about prophecy and healing? Is that still real? How do we think about being filled with the Holy Spirit?
But if I left you last time with some spoilers, this time I’m going to leave you with some cliffhangers. We think those are important questions, and we're not afraid to ask them and tackle them. But we're going to preach a dedicated sermon to questions like that. We are going to talk about why we think tongues and prophecy and healing are still happening today. We’ll probably address some of what that looks like and doesn’t look like.
But today we are not going there. We aren’t going there in part because the text doesn’t go there. As we are going to see in a moment, Peter doesn’t go on to answer their theological musings but to point to Christ. But for now, we can just remember that many people’s response was amazement and awe and they wonder how this was possible.
Don’t let theology and debates cloud your awe of God. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t have those questions and seek out the answers. We, as a church, believe you should, which is why we are dedicating an entire sermon to it. What I’m saying is, “don’t let that theology-talk numb you to the glory of our God.”
Thousands of people are hearing their own language being spoken by someone who doesn't know it. God is working this miracle. However you feel about speaking in tongues today, pause and look at what God is doing in this moment. Jacque and I spent years learning Spanish in Nicaragua. It was hard, hard work. God breaks through all of that work and just gives them the language. And people hear the truth of the gospel in their own hometown language.
And this trap of theology blinding us can rear its ugly head all over the place. Many have been wrestling with the role of men and women in the church. But oh, don’t let those questions stop you from being amazed that God made man and woman in his image. Again, answer the question, dig into the theology, but pause and just think for a moment how amazing that he gave us each gifts that glorify him.
Just by way of example of how we can let some of our baggage, our own questions, cloud some of what's going on. Let me just give you one example of one thing we might miss if we try to jump to some of these questions like, “what does all this speaking in tongues mean.”
Go back with me to this scene at Pentecost. All of these people are gathered, the Holy Spirit falls on them, and they all begin to speak in new languages and now everyone can understand in their own language. So when we start to think of languages and many people coming together and now understand each other, we think back to Genesis chapter 11 the Tower of Babel. Only the Tower of Babel in reverse. All the people come, and they begin by speaking their own unified language. But God, because he sees their pride, breaks them up by giving them different languages. They have to go their separate ways because they can't understand each other.
Now, here we are on the day of Pentecost, and there is a partial reversal of the tower of Babel. There's not a universal heavenly language that now everyone understands, rather there is a fulfillment of Babel that points to many nations and many peoples worshiping God. All of a sudden all these people can understand each other in their own languages. And now we can see how this moment is a beginning of the gospel going global. Here is the Holy Spirit empowering his people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.
It's a foretaste of when the curse of Babel will be reversed on a global scale and as Revelation puts it:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”—Revelation 7:9
Okay, so that was point one—the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Now let’s go back to our scene and see point two—The explanation where Jesus gets the spotlight. The people back at Pentecost are still confused about what's going on. And Peter is now going to take up the task of describing what is happening. He is going to explain this descent of the Holy Spirit.
He begins this sermon starting in verse 14. He stands up, and he refutes the fact that they are drunk. And instead this is what he says. He quotes Joel 2, and he says,
“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”—Acts 2:17
He continues to talk about visions being poured out in these signs of blood and fire and smoke and the sun turning into darkness. His point is, “No, these people are not drunk. No, God is fulfilling what he has promised by the prophets of old.” Here's Joel talking about this day when God's Spirit would be poured out on his sons and daughters and they would begin to speak God's word. That's what is happening in this moment.
Now notice what he does as he ends this quote from Joel.
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth,”—Acts 2:21–22
And just like that Peter gives the spotlight to Christ. You've seen the descent of the Holy Spirit. And now we turn to point to Jesus. Jesus gets the spotlight. And the reason that Peter turns there is because Christ is what makes the coming of the Holy Spirit so different this time. Now the Messiah has come. He has died and rose again. And now he has ascended and is seated at the right hand of God. The Holy Spirit’s job is to point to this now risen Lord. So Peter begins to unpack for them the significance of this man Jesus. He begins by reminding this crowd of the Jesus, whom of course they would have heard of. He's probably the talk of the town. But although Peter can begin by calling their attention to the fact that Jesus did all these signs and all these miracles in verse 22, he moves quickly to talk about Jesus’s death.
One of the first things that Peter and all of these other disciples had to explain is the death of Jesus. After all, Jesus had fed this large crowd of 5,000 people, walked on water, caused Lazarus to walk out of the tomb and arise from the dead. So why is it that he dies?
But Peter goes to show that it is the death and then victory over death that confirms that Jesus is who he said he is. These miracles pointed to something far greater—they showed that Jesus is Lord and Christ.
So Peter hints at where he is going in verse 24:
“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”—Acts 2:24
Death doesn't hold. Death doesn't possess Jesus. Jesus possesses death. He declares victory over death. The fact that Jesus died and rose again makes him unlike any other prophet before. And Peter plans to prove that by quoting from David. In verse 27, David, quoted from Psalm 16, says:
“For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”—Acts 2:27
Peter points out to this crowd that David is in this tomb that they all know about. They can visit the tomb if they want. So he says,
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.”—Acts 2:29
So David wasn't talking about himself when he said this. If you were to take his word seriously, if it really is that God would not abandon his soul to Hades or let his holy one see corruption or let his body decay, David just doesn't fit the bill.
Sure, God might have done that on a short term basis and so David could pray like this, but when you get in the details and you take what David said seriously, then he’s not your guy. The Bible is full of men of promise who died. Abraham died. Moses died. David died. And none of them rose again like Jesus. Their bodies saw corruption. They are corrupt, decaying, dying.
But Jesus died. So the pressing question is, “Is he just like all the other ones?” Peter says, “no”.
David was not talking mainly about himself, but of Jesus. He was talking about Jesus’ death resurrection. Look at verses 31–32
“he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”—Acts 2:31–32
Then in case they don't get the point yet. Peter then quotes Psalm 10 where David says,
“The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”—Acts 2:34–35
David is the Lord of the land. So who's he talking about? He's talking about Jesus, his Lord whose Lord is God the Father.
Jesus is Lord over all. So then we get to Peter's main point in verse 36.
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”—Acts 2:36
We know it's his main point because he addresses everyone directly “all the house of Israel.” When someone in the middle of their speech says, “Hey, everyone, listen,” you know they are about to say a main point.
In addition he says this word therefore. Peter is saying, “In light of everything I've said, therefore, hear this!” So here's Peter's main point. And it's not about the Holy Spirit. It's not about speaking in tongues. It's not about prophecies. This is Peter's main point.
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”—Acts 2:36
That's the point of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit falls on God’s people. It gives them the power they need, and it does a hundred things. But the main point is that it shows that this Jesus who they have killed, who was crucified and buried, rose and ascended into heaven—he is Lord and Christ.
When the Spirit comes, he puts the spotlight on Christ. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen:
“He [the Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”—John 16:14–15
So this morning, one of the things you can know about the Holy Spirit, is that it always glorifies Christ. If someone's claiming that something comes from the Holy Spirit, if they claim that the Spirit is doing X, Y, and Z, here's the litmus test, “Does it exalt Christ? Does it point to Christ?” Because if it points to their own power, their own significance, or if it does anything but point to Christ, you can be sure it is not authentic. The Holy Spirit's job is to put the spotlight on Christ.
I hope you are starting to feel that in a sermon about Pentecost—a sermon on the day when the Spirit fell—that we are spending a lot of time talking about Jesus Christ. That is, in fact, supposed to be the way Christians operate. We have one note to sing over and over, and it is that Christ is Lord.
There was a preacher named George Whitefield who preached from 1739—1770. He was part of the Great Awakening. He would preach outdoors to large crowds almost always in the thousands. There is a story of him “in the Fall of 1740, for over a month he preached almost every day in New England to crowds of up to 8,000 people. That was when the population of Boston, the largest city in the region, was not much larger than that (Noll, The Old Religion in a New World, 52).” [quote from]
Well George Whitefield became famous for preaching over and over about Jesus Christ and the need to repent and be baptized. He was famous for saying this over and over, specifically using the phrase, “You must be born again.” Over and over he would say, “You must be born again.”
“A lady once asked George Whitefield why he so often insisted on preaching on these words: ‘You must be born again.’ Whitefield replied, ‘Because, Madam, you must.'” [Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2007), 127.]
We are to have one note that we sing—Christ is Lord, and you must be born again. Some of us can get distracted thinking about Christians and politics. All of a sudden we have lost the center of our message because we are off talking about side issues. Or maybe we get so distracted by the end of the world or speaking in tongues for that matter or whatever issue there is. It’s easy to sound intelligent and learned and like someone who has a special knowledge when you dive really really deep into these side issues. But that is not our calling. We are called to be Christ-focused. We are called to sing this note over and over and over. My point is not to say you can never think about those side issues, but don’t make them your main issue.
So we’ve seen movement one, the falling of the Holy Spirit. Movement two is the explanation, which puts the spotlight on Christ. And now finally movement three, the crowds response.
Here's how they respond. They're cut to the heart but wanted to know what to do next. It says in verse 37:
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?””—Acts 2:37
Peter’s response is very simple:
“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”—Acts 2:38
The promise is that if they would put their faith in Christ, if they would trust in the Lord, the Holy Spirit would be theirs.
“For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”—Acts 2:39
And what happens? 3,000 people are added, look at verse 41,
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”—Acts 2:41
That is a lot of people from all over the world. Let's recall the sentence from week one. The Holy Spirit empowers his people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people with all boldness and without hindrance. We see that it is indeed the Holy Spirit who empowers people. The crowd spoke in tongues by the Spirit and proclaim wonders of God. Peter is preaching his sermon in the power of the Holy Spirit and 3,000 people come to know Jesus with saving faith.
So, specifically the Holy Spirit empowers people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. And then it's to all people with all boldness and without hindrance. And if you missed the all people, look at that list at the beginning of chapter two, starting in verse 9. Look at how it ends in verse 39. It's for all whom the Lord God calls.
There is no spot in the world where the gospel can be hindered. There's no neighbor that you have, there's no sinner that you know, there is no race, gender, ethnicity out there, that this is not available to. If this morning that might be you, you might have come saying, “I didn't know him before, and I want to know him.” We would love to pray with you that you would repent and be baptized and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit this morning.