Acts 2:1–21

One in Christ’s Spirit

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

May 15, 2016

 

Introduction

Last week we considered Luke’s account[1] of Jesus’ ascension to heaven forty days after he rose from the dead, during which period he appeared to many of his disciples and even once to a crowd of 500. After presenting various of these post-resurrection appearances on Easter Sunday, Luke closes his Gospel with Jesus’ final earthly event in which he tells his disciples to go and wait in Jerusalem until they are filled with the “power from on high” (Luke 24:49) which Jesus says he will send as promised by his Father. So this giving of the Holy Spirit is in keeping with the redemptive plan and will of our triune God.[2]

Now just as to see Jesus is to see the Father[3] since he is one with the Father and does everything the Father commands, so too Jesus is one with the Spirit. He tells his disciples that he will not leave them as orphans, but will send them his Holy Spirit so that by means of his indwelling Spirit he will ever be with them and therefore they will never be alone. They will have him present with and dwelling within them both now, during their earthly lives, and forevermore. And this giving of Christ’s Spirit is what Jesus’ disciples are waiting for as they are gathered in Jerusalem.

And as Luke was the author of the Gospel with his name, so, too, he is the author of the book of Acts or, the more full title, the book of the Acts of the Apostles. As the four Gospels record the key events in the life of Jesus, so, too, the book of Acts records, in a sense, the key events in the life of the Holy Spirit, as he falls upon first the Jews, then the Samaritans, and finally (as we learned a few weeks ago), on the Gentiles as represented by Cornelius and his family. So all of this is in fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation to the Jews first but also to the Gentiles, the non-Jews.

With the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday a transition in God’s redemptive plan occurs from Judaism to Christianity, from temple and synagogue to church, as the promise God made to Abraham 2000 years earlier that one day not only would he make a nation—that is, Israel—out of him, but also that one day all of the nations of the earth would be blessed through him now comes to fruition. That “one day” is now at the Pentecost celebration recorded for us in the second chapter of Acts.

Years ago as I explained the Jewish background of Pentecost, I had a student correct and tell me I was wrong—that Pentecost had nothing to do with Judaism but was rather the birth of the church! Well, he had it half right for Pentecost does indeed commemorate the birth of Christ’s church as the good news of the Gospel of Christ spreads throughout the ancient world. However, he was also half wrong because Christianity arises from Jewish soil—from Abraham and the Scriptures (our Old Testament) that God provided the Jewish people. The word “Pentecost” literally means “fiftieth” and it began as a Jewish holiday. It’s the Greek name given to the Jewish festival of the Feast of Weeks.[4] Since this feast occurred 49 days after the first day of Passover,[5] Hellenistic or Greek-speaking Jews gave it the name Pentecost.[6] Too, according to Jewish tradition, Pentecost also commemorates God’s giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai 49 days after the Exodus.[7] And, within Christianity, Pentecost is celebrated fifty days after Easter,[8] indicating, as my student said, the birth of the church.

Now though it was probably only Jesus’ closest disciples—or the Eleven[9]—who were present when he ascended to heaven, there are about 120 of his followers gathered in the house where the Upper Room was located,[10] including the Twelve Apostles, i.e., the Eleven faithful disciples and Matthias who was Judas’ replacement,[11] Mary, Jesus’ mother, and various other women disciples along with Jesus’ brothers.[12] So when our passage from Acts opens with the statement “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place,” the “all” was quite a crowd. And, again, as we learned last week, the reason they were gathered is because Jesus told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the giving of the Spirit, the power from on high.

So as this crowd of 120 disciples are gathered together, Jesus’ promise to them to wait until they received the power from on high promised by his Father is fulfilled. As we read in verse 2 of Acts “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” It’s interesting to note that the giving of the spirit—and the word for “spirit” can be translated as “spirit” “wind” or “breath”[13]—is described as a violent wind from heaven. As I thought about this I was reminded of a scene from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in which Susan, one of the children in the series, is speaking with Mr. Beaver, one of the talking animals, and they’re discussing Aslan the Lion who is a figure of Jesus. Mr. Beaver begins by telling Susan:

“Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”

Safe?” said Mr Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” [emphases added]

No, our God isn’t safe. But he’s good. And so his Spirit doesn’t come silently but with a bang! And though the phrase “tempest in a teapot” is usually used to indicate making a big deal over a small matter, I can’t help imagining that the coming of the Almighty God upon this comparatively small house being like a genuine tempest in a teapot! God the Holy Spirit, whom the universe cannot contain, descends upon the house where the 120 are gathered. And though a Spirit, his coming isn’t simply felt as we might feel a strong gust of wind—or perhaps a nor’easter would be a better analogy here!—but is also seen as “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated” “came to rest on each of them” (3).[14] So there is a kind of anointing by fire by means of the Spirit’s coming. And as this power from on high fills them, each one “began to speak in other tongues [or languages] as the Spirit enabled them.” Again, it wasn’t simply the Eleven upon whom the Holy Spirit fell, but upon all of these men and women (including Jesus’ mother!) who had been—and still were—followers of Jesus Christ, Jesus the promised Messiah.

Now in this passage, the “tongues,” in all likelihood, refers simply to other languages. Some of you may be familiar with the charismatic gift of “speaking in tongues”—which, by the way, you would know about if you attended our Adult Ed class on the Holy Spirit. I’m just saying!—but this isn’t the “tongues” intended here since, as the passage continues, it’s evident that the Jews who were gathered from all nations were able to understand the message from God being proclaimed not in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, but in their native language (8).

And the reason that Jews from all nations had to gather—in other words they weren’t already living in Jerusalem—was because of the Jewish Diaspora, the dispersion or exile, which occurred progressively hundreds of years earlier beginning in the eighth century BC. After the nation of Israel had divided into north and south, the northern kingdom fell in 722 BC[15] as it was taken into exile to Assyria. Later, during the sixth century BC,[16] the southern kingdom of Judah fell as well and the remaining Jews were exiled to Babylon. So the most inclusive use of the Greek term Diaspora refers to the scattering of the ten tribes of Israel, or the northern Kingdom, and the two tribes of Judah, or the southern Kingdom.[17] Though by New Testament times, Jewish believers were scattered across the entire empire, they would return to their motherland, to the city of Jerusalem, for the high holy feasts in the Jewish calendar. So when verse five states “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven,”[18] this is the reason they were staying there. Along with the Jews who were living in Jerusalem, those who had been exiled returned from all the nations in which they were residing for this Jewish festival of Pentecost.

And, again, this third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, arrived with such a bang, that even the Jews that weren’t in the house where the 120 were gathered “heard this sound” and so a crowd gathered and “came together in bewilderment” (6). What could possibly have caused such a loud noise??! But when they gathered, what they then heard wasn’t an indiscriminate sound or noise, but “each one heard their own language being spoken”—again the “tongues” are actual languages. And what they heard being spoken—verse 11—were “the wonders of God in [their] own tongues!” Do you realize how important it is for people to hear God’s Word proclaimed in their own language? As many of you know, I was born in Cuba and my family immigrated to the United States when I was only eleven months old. My father, who was 47 when we moved to the United States, never quite conquered the English language. Though he could read and write fluently, his speech was marked by a strong accent. I remember him telling me once that when he spoke English, he felt like a half a man. Brothers and sisters, this is why it’s important for people to have the Scriptures in people’s native language. To hear or speak a language that isn’t your primary language is to feel like half a person. I know this is why we’ve so appreciated our International students so much—because we’re aware of how difficult it must be to worship God in a second language and culture.

But God being the God of all people—and therefore the God of all languages—to an extent undoes the judgment that occurred at the Tower of Babel when languages were first confused and enables these 120 women and men who were awaiting God’s promise for anointing from the Holy Spirit—the power from on high—to speak, miraculously, in languages they hadn’t learned so that the Gospel might be preached to all of the nations of the Diaspora that had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Look again at verse 4. All of the 120 gathered “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [or languages] as the Spirit enabled them.” Though I’ve never studied Russian, this would be like finding myself suddenly able to preach to a Russian audience.

Now the crowd that heard this noisy Holy Spirit’s descent understood that something was amiss. When these “God-fearing Jews” who had gathered and were staying in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven” “heard this sound” of the violent wind of the Holy Spirit falling upon the 120, they “came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken” (6). They are, understandably, “Utterly amazed” so they ask: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” Good question! How is it possible for these Galileans, who are not linguistic scholars, to speak in the native language of all the nations present? And notice the representative list of the nations of the Diaspora that is provided in verses nine through eleven: “Parthians,[19] Medes[20] and Elamites;[21] residents of Mesopotamia,[22] Judea[23] and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[24] [i.e., the Roman province by that name] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia,[25] Egypt[26] and the parts of Libya[27] near Cyrene;[28] visitors from Rome[29] 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism[30]); Cretans[31] and Arabs.[32]” As noted in a Study Bible,[33] the regions listed are located in the eastern Mediterranean and extend from Rome to Persia. The list begins with the east (from the Parthians to the Mesopotamians) where Jews had been taken captive to Assyria and Babylon. It then proceeds west to Judea and then north to Asia Minor (Cappadocia to Pamphylia) and from there south to North Africa (Egypt to Cyrene), then to Rome, and finally to widely separated places, Crete and Arabia.[34] And all of those present heard the wonders of God declared in their native languages—in their own tongues.

Being amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, verse 12 “What does this mean?” What indeed! There are no simultaneous translators here wearing headphones as we might have at a huge international conference today. No, each one present is hearing and understanding the Gospel in their own language. Verse 13 indicates how some present attempted to make sense of all of this, assuming that “[t]hey [had] had too much wine.” But this explanation is absurd since alcohol slurs one’s speech and impairs one’s thinking; it doesn’t enable you to speak a language you’ve never even learned.

So the Apostle Peter, along with the Eleven, takes the lead in providing an explanation of the morning’s events. Raising his voice, he addressed the crowd, beginning in verse 14: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” Peter is pointing out what would have been obvious to those present. It was customary on feast days for Jewish believers to fast until at least the fourth hour or 10:00 AM. So it was highly unlikely that these devout Jews would have been drunk, especially so early in the day.[35] Instead Peter connects this giving of the Spirit with a prophecy made the prophet Joel, probably around five hundred years earlier. Peter quotes the second chapter of the Book of Joel,[36] stating:

17 “In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[Joel 2:28–32]

What an extraordinary connection Peter makes between this Jewish celebration of Pentecost and the giving of Jesus Christ’s Spirit to the 120 women and men disciples gathered in the Upper Room!

Peter affirms Joel’s prophesy and acknowledges that these are the last days for God has now poured out his Spirit on all people. These are the “last days” for Jesus Christ the King’s saving death and resurrection have now been accomplished. As Jesus came and inaugurated his Kingdom when he came to earth, so now his ministry on earth will continue until he returns by means of his Holy Spirit in order to build and extend his church and proclaim the good news of salvation in Christ to all the world.

Peter also acknowledges that with the coming of Christ’s Spirit both “sons and daughters will prophesy” and “young men will see visions” and “old men will dream dreams.” And it isn’t only leaders who will be empowered by God, but God, that great equalizer, will pour out his Spirit “[e]ven on my servants, both men and women” “and they will prophesy”—they will proclaim God’s message of salvation to others. Peter, having gathered with 120 women and men awaiting the power on high promised by the heavenly Father—

all of whom heard the sound of a violent wind coming from heaven and filling the house in which they were sitting;

all of whom saw what seemed to be tongues of fire rest on each of them;

all of whom were then enabled by that Spirit to preach the wonders of God in languages they did not know to the Jews of the Diaspora who were gathered from every nation in Jerusalem—

recognizes and acknowledges that this miraculous event was what the prophet Joel had predicted. The giving of God’s Spirit now comes upon all who confess Jesus as their Savior and Lord,

both women and men,

both young and old,

both wealthy and poor,

both Jews and Gentiles

so that differences of gender, age, class, and ethnicity are equalized as all who turn to Christ from their sins together become children of our heavenly Father by the enabling of Christ’s Holy Spirit who seals us, indwells us, unites us, and makes us one.

Now though these last days have begun they aren’t complete for the sun hasn’t turned to darkness nor the moon to blood. This part of Joel’s prophesy has yet to occur “before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord” or the day when Christ returns to complete the Kingdom he inaugurated when he first came to earth. But for now, Peter affirms Joel’s prophesy, that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is the reason Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah came. And this is the reason he sent his Spirit to those who are his that they might continue to share this message of good news of the God who made them in his image, redeemed them by his blood, and now sanctifies them by his indwelling Holy Spirit.

Peter connects that morning’s events with the prophecy of Joel and—in the verses that follow that we won’t have a chance to consider—with Jesus himself. As Jesus stated that all of the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to him, so, too Peter interprets this giving of the Spirit through the teaching of both the Old Testament and of Jesus himself. And, after Peter shows how Joel’s prophecy has been fulfilled and completed in the person of Jesus Christ, over three thousand respond to his message that day and are baptized, verse 41, as they repent and believe in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of their sins and they, too, receive the Holy Spirit, verse 38. And believing and receiving Jesus Christ changes their lives. Notice the closing verses of this chapter that tells how all those who believed, verse 42:

42 …devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Brothers and sisters, this is how coming to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ ought to change our lives. It ought to remind us that we are not our own but have been bought with the precious price of the life of Jesus himself. And though it may not always seem like it, we are in the last days for Jesus Christ has lived, suffered and died, and risen and ascended to our heavenly Father having conquered sin, death, and the devil. And he has sent us his Holy Spirit that you and I might continue his ministry of reconciliation—of loving those around us, and proclaiming the good news of God’s love, and the bad news of what will happen if we reject his love, and of helping to heal the emotional and spiritual and physical hurts and needs of those around us.

And because of what God in Christ has done, as we continue to see again and again, you and I are eternal family to one another and we should devote ourselves to teaching—and fellowship—and breaking of bread—and prayer. We should continue to meet together—and eat together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the goal of all of this is that more might be added to our eternal family through the wondrous, unmerited, and kind love and mercy of our gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to whom be all praise now and forevermore.

Let us pray.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Luke 24.

[2] Interestingly this same language is used in the opening of Luke’s Gospel, when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her that though a virgin she will conceive and bear a son, Gabriel similarly says to her “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

[3] John 14:9.

[4] Shavuot in Hebrew meaning “weeks.” See Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10. It’s also called the Festival of Reaping or Harvest in Exodus 23:16, and Day of the First Fruits in Numbers 28:26. Jews traditionally read the Book of Ruth at Pentecost, as the story links with the grain harvest theme of the festival. Reformation Study Bible: Pentecost “was one of the tree great annual feasts of Israel, preceded by Passover…and followed four months after the Feast of Booths. Pentecost is also called the “Feast of Weeks,” because it was celebrated seven weeks after Passover (Deut. 16:10) and the “Feast of Harvest,” because the first fruits of the harvest were gathered then (Ex. 23:16) and the “day of the firstfruits” (Num. 28:26).

[5] i.e., the 50th day, including Passover itself. Leviticus 23:15–16 tells of this Festival of Weeks: 15From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Beale/Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: In the OT [sic] this feast was simply a celebration of the wheat harvest. By this time, however, the festival was associated with the renewal of the covenant made with Noah and then with Moses (Jub. 6:17–18), and in second-century Judaism it was regarded as the day when the law was given at Sinai” (Acts 2:1–13, 2:1).

16 Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord.” In Jewish antiquity dates were disputed, as in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Mishnah.

[6] πεντηκοστή, “fiftieth day.”

[7] The Talmud derives this from a calculation based on Biblical texts. There is a Jewish tradition that King David was born and died at Pentecost. In the Apostle Peter’s first sermon, recorded in Acts 2:14-39, he linked the life, death and Ascension of Jesus to King David’s death, burial and hope of immortality.

[8] The fifty day count includes both the first and last days of the week, and comes ten days after Ascension Thursday. In Christian tradition Pentecost is part of the moveable cycle of the ecclesiastical year. Pentecost is always seven weeks after Easter Day: that is to say, 50 days after Easter (inclusive of Easter Day). In other words, it falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter Day. The date of Easter may be calculated using a procedure known as Computus.

[9] In Acts 1 Luke says he is writing about all that Jesus began to do and teach “2until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” And Acts 1:12–13 states: “12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.”

[10] Acts 1:15: “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty).” NIV Study Bible says: “Evidently not the upstairs room where they were staying (1:13) but perhaps some place in the temple precincts, for the apostles were ‘continually at the temple’ when it was open (Lk 24:52 see note there)”=>” “During the period of time immediately following Christ’s ascension the believers met continually at the temple (Ac 2:46; 3:1; 5:21, 42), where many rooms were available for meetings. NIV concurs about the possibility of their being in the temple indicating the “whole house” may refer to the temple, cf. 7:47. However Acts 2:2 says “the whole house” and it doesn’t seem that “house” is the equivalent of “temple.”

[11] Acts 1:13, 26: 12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James…. 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

[12] Acts 1:14: They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

[13] Cf. Ezekiel 37:9, 14; John 3:8.

[14] NIV notes that fire is “A symbol of the divine presence (see Ex 3:2 and note), it was also associated with judgment (see Mt 3:12 and note).”

[15] 722 BC is when the northern Kingdom was destroyed under Sargon II. The original expulsion occurred in 733 BC under Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria.

[16] 597 BC.

[17] James 1:1 refers to all 12. The other three uses of diaspora in the New Testament only refer to the 10 tribes of the northern Kingdom; I Peter 1:1. Cf. John 7:35.

[18] ESV Study Bible: The presence of the crowd indicates that the setting must be the temple grounds, the only place in Jerusalem that could accommodate more than 3000 persons (v. 41). The fact that they were dwelling in Jerusalem suggests not only Jewish pilgrims but local residents as well.

[19] NIV: Inhabitants of the territory from the Tigris River to India.

[20] NIV: Media lay east of Mesopotamia, northwest of Persia and south-southwest of the Caspian Sea.

[21] NIV: Elam was north of the Persian Gulf, bounded on the west by the Tigris

[22] NIV: Between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

[23] NIV: The homeland of the Jews, perhaps used here in the OT sense “from the river of Egypt to…the Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18), including Galilee.

[24] NIV: Districts in Asia Minor. See note on 2 Corinthians 1:8: Asia is a Roman province in western Asia Minor, now Turkish territory.

[25] NIV: Districts in Asita Minor.

[26] NIV: Jews had lived in Egypt since the sixth century BC. Two out of five districts of Alexandria were Jewish.

[27] NIV: A region west of Egypt.

[28] NIV: The capital of a district of Libya called Cyrenaica.

[29] NIV: Thousands of Jews lived in Rome.

[30] NIV: Gentiles who undertook the full observance of the Mosaic laws were received into full fellowship with the Jews.

[31] NIV: Represented an island lying south-southeast of Greece.

[32] NIV: From a region to the east. The kingdom of the Nabatean Arabs lay between the Red Sea and the Euphrates, with Petra as its capital.

[33] Reformation Study Bible notes on these verses.

[34] ESV Study Bible: The long list of nations covers most of the first-century Roman world, particularly where Jewish communities existed….It provides one of the most comprehensive ancient catalogs of the Jewish Diaspora (Jews living outside Palestine)…. The only Gentiles at Pentecost were proselytes (v. 11), Gentiles who had become full converts to Judaism.

[35] NIV Study Bible: On a festival day such as Pentecost, a Jew would not break his fast until at least 10:00 A.M. So it was extremely unlikely that a group of men would be drunk at such an early hour; Reformation Study Bible: Counting 6:00 A.M. as the first hour makes this 9:00 A.M. It was customary to fast on feast days until at least the fourth hour. Thus the alleged drunkenness was most unlikely.

[36] Verses 28 through 32, in verses 17 through 21 of our passage

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