How it started / How it’s going. This is week two of our series exploring the book of Acts.
Today we’re going to look at the moment where it all began. The spark that lit the flame of the Church. The giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Now I want to acknowledge something right off the bat. What we’re about to read - the whole Pentecost account - comes with a lot of baggage.
Entire theologies and denominations have been based on how people interpret these ideas - baptism in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, spiritual power…
There have been misunderstandings, sensationalism, and even abuse because of it. In some ways the credibility gap is wider because of how Christians have used (or mis-used) these verses.
Our temptation might be to just avoid the subject altogether, but as we’re going to see today, I don’t think that’s an option.
Because this moment in Acts is the key to helping us understand the movement we are a part of. If we approach it with humility it can be a source of great encouragement, hope, and even joy.
So let’s dive in and see what happened when God’s Holy Spirit took up residence within his people.
Go ahead and grab a Bible and turn to
Now, gear up. Because what we’re about to read may seem all kinds of weird if you’re not familiar with it. But I promise everything in this passage makes sense in light of the rest of the Bible.
(This is why we take biblical theology so seriously at Grace. Understanding the whole story.)
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
This is the moment when everything changed for the people of God.
Throughout the Old Testament there are examples of people being filled with God’s Spirit for an individual moment or a specific purpose, but it’s always a temporary thing.
But starting here, at Pentecost, something different has happened. God’s Spirit has taken up residence within these followers of Jesus. And he doesn’t leave.
From this point on in the story, the presence of God’s Spirit is the indicator of whether or not a person is truly a follower of Jesus. And these Spirit-filled disciples are able to extraordinary things in Jesus’ name.
Prophecy, healing, supernatural discernment… It all started at Pentecost.
But what’s with all the wind and fire and noise? Well this is where things get interesting.
When the people of Israel were rescued from slavery in Egypt, God led them to a mountain called Mt. Sinai, where he gave them his law. The Torah. Captured on two stone tablets.
As I’ve talked about a lot before, the Torah was not just a set of rules. It was a way of living that would allow the people of God to experience his blessing - a return to an Eden kind of life: God’s presence with them, his abundance, his peace… God’s intentions for the world realized.
And the people of Israel living out God’s Torah - his instructions - was the key to bringing God’s blessing and salvation to the rest of the world - to the nations.
So God gave them the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Obviously, the Israelites didn’t do a great job of this, but they dreamt of a time when it would finally stick.
I will put my [Torah] deep within them, and I will write [it] on their hearts.
One day, Jeremiah dreamed, God’s intentions for this world would spring up from within his people.
So what does this have to do with Pentecost? Well, when God gave them the law on Mt. Sinai, listen to how it happened.
Thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain… the LORD had descended on it in the form of fire.
Hmm… roaring winds, descending fire… that sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? It’s supposed to!
Pentecost was a second Mount Sinai. God’s presence descended to bring about his intentions for the world.
But this time, God’s Torah wasn’t written on tablets of stone; it was written on his peoples’ hearts, just as Jeremiah dreamed.
And get this: Jesus was crucified on Passover, right? The Jewish festival celebrating God rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
Well, that was on purpose. Because in many ways Jesus’ death and resurrection was Passover 2.0. God rescuing the world from slavery to sin and death.
Well, guess what Pentecost was. A Jewish festival celebrating God giving the law on Mt. Sinai. The giving of the Spirit was Mt. Sinai 2.0! Wind, fire, and the presence of God coming down.
Through the cross and Pentecost a second Exodus had begun. And the world was being saved not from slavery to Egypt, but slavery to sin itself. God was planting his Spirit - his Torah - in our hearts.
God’s intentions for the world could now be lived out, and the door was open for Israel and the nations to come back to God. A return to Eden starting right here.
It’s mind blowing stuff. Ok, but how are the nations going to hear this good news?
Well, let’s keep reading.
At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
I find it kind of funny. Luke goes kind of overboard describing all the places where these Jewish people were from.
What he’s describing is called the
Diaspora - the people of Israel scattered across the world
They were scattered because of the exile. The people of God had so neglected God’s Torah - his instructions - on how to bring blessing to the world, that they experienced the curse of consequence.
God allowed Assyria to invade Israel, followed by Babylon, and the people were scattered into the nations. The diaspora.
But the prophets of Israel always held onto hope that in the end, during what they called “the Day of the Lord,” or “the time of the Lord’s favor,” God would bring them home.
In that day the heir to David’s throne
will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him…
He will raise a flag among the nations
and assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
from the ends of the earth.
Here on Pentecost, that promised reconciliation had begun.
How? By God’s Spirit within these disciples, empowering them to preach the Torah – the truth - in every language to a group from all over the world!
Think about it. You’ve got people of Israel from every region of the known world gathered in Jerusalem, hearing the gospel in their own language.
Undoubtedly these people were the first to bring the good news of Jesus back to their hometowns. This is why Christianity spread so quickly over the Roman Empire.
The second Exodus had begun, God’s Spirit was within his people, and, thanks to Jesus, now all humanity was welcome to join in this return to Eden.
GOD’S RESTORING PRESENCE
Of course, not everybody is impressed right away. Some roll their eyes. Let’s keep reading.
But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!” Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
In those days I will pour out my Spirit
even on my servants—men and women alike—
and they will prophesy.
And I will cause wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below—
blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
The sun will become dark,
and the moon will turn blood red
before that great and glorious day of the LORD arrives.
But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD
will be saved.’
To explain what is going on here, Peter quotes the prophet Joel talking about the last days - the day of the Lord. “In the last days… I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.”
If you look at Joel 2, where this is from, you realize that this quote is part of a much bigger prophecy all about God’s intentions finally coming to fruition in the world.
In Joel 2 the Israelites are rescued from darkness. Evil is abolished. God dwells with his people again. It even talks about the dry land becoming green and trees loaded down with fruit. It’s a return to Eden for humanity. A return to blessing.
This is exactly what Jesus was saying when he kicked off his ministry in Luke 4. He quoted the prophet Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”
The time of the Lord’s favor has come. The gates to Eden are open again! Oppression is finished, captivity is over, healing is here…
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus said. Well, here in Acts 2 Peter is basically saying, now the Spirit of the Lord is upon all of us. This good news is now all of ours to share. The time of the Lord’s favor is here.
And by the way, all this stuff about blood and fire and smoke in v.20… I know it’s a bit jarring. We don’t usually think of salvation in these terms.
But throughout Scripture, this is common imagery for God ridding the world of evil and abuse and corruption. Just think about the plagues in Egypt in the Exodus. The sun goes dark, the river Nile turns to blood…
Now, the moon turning red may not seem like good news to us, but in the prophetic imagination, it’s an indication that the time of the Lord’s favor has arrived. That he is setting this world free from the curse of sin once and for all.
And he is bringing this to fruition through his followers, now empowered by the Spirit.
So that’s what Peter is saying here in Acts 2. Just like the moment of Pentecost itself, Peter is tying these developments into the whole story of the Bible. If I had to sum it all up, I’d say it this way:
God’s restoring presence is now within us.
His Torah - his intentions for this world - embodied in his people. His power to restore, to bring life, to set people free… it is now shared with us. This is the Day of the Lord and the Church - the body of Christ - is now healing this broken world in his name.
God’s restoring presence is within us. It began on Pentecost and it continues today.
One final note from Acts 2.
Peter’s powerful speech cuts to the heart and 3000 people in the crowd choose to follow Jesus.
Can I just remind us that Peter was an uneducated, blustering fisherman and now his TED Talk is going viral. This is what the Spirit’s power can do.
These 3000 new Christ-followers repent of their sins, they’re baptized, and they, too, receive the Holy Spirit.
Then they devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to koinonia - to fellowship - like we talked about last week.
The rest of Acts tells us what happened next. These Spirit-empowered believers went out into the world.
With God’s Torah – his instructions – written on their hearts, they healed the sick. They freed prisoners. They released the oppressed - sometimes even those being oppressed by evil spirits.
Just like in ancient Egypt, the chains of bondage were being broken.
Because of the Spirit, ordinary, uneducated followers of Jesus spoke truth with supernatural insight. People of all ages were filled with dreams and visions of a world restored.
In the name of Jesus, they began a movement of restoration that would change humanity forever.
God’s restoring presence was now within them.
And here’s what I don’t want you to miss. God’s restoring presence - his Holy Spirit - is still within us.
The movement that began on Pentecost is still continuing today. If you have surrendered your life to Jesus, then you, too, have the Holy Spirit inside.
So let’s talk a little bit about what that means.
Again, I know this whole idea of the Holy Spirit within us is a complicated one.
Some in the Church have taken it to extremes and they’ve systematized it and packaged it and they claim to have all the answers. Others downplay it or ignore it. And some have abused it and used it as a tool of control.
Getting deep into the practical specifics of the Spirit’s presence or spiritual gifts is way beyond the scope of this message, but there is one thing I want you to understand.
The Spirit is real. The Spirit is powerful. And through the Spirit within us, you (and I) can restore and heal this broken world even as we are restored and healed in the process. God’s restoring presence is here.
I said this last week, but we are at a turning point as a church. A new beginning.
And I believe the Spirit is going to move here in some fresh ways. I want us to be prepared for that. Here’s what I mean.
Just like the promise of Joel 2, which Peter preached from on Pentecost, God will fill our young people with visions for how to heal our world, and we would do well to pay attention to them.
He will give our elders dreams and discernment that can guide us in a morally ambiguous time. It is time we learn to respect and listen to God’s Spirit speaking through them.
Men and women alike will prophecy - speaking God’s truth into our community. They will bring God’s healing touch - emotional healing, physical healing.
Let us be a community that encourages and supports the expression of these gifts.
And for that matter, let’s be prepared for God to equip YOU in these ways. God’s restoring presence is right here. The kingdom of God is waiting for you to spread your wings and live into the Spirit’s power.
I encourage you to ask God’s Spirit to reveal what giftings he wants to awaken in you.
Let’s be prepared. Because I believe this will be a time when we are in “awe” of how the Spirit is moving through this community.
But with all of that said, we also need to be prepared for what else this new beginning will mean.
If God’s restoring presence is alive and well within us, God will bring us those who need restoration.
• People broken by this world.
• Victims of abuse and trauma and addiction.
• Those oppressed by dark spiritual forces.
This will not be a neat and tidy place to worship. This community will face the unexpected and the uncomfortable as we face down evil and oppression with the authority that comes from Christ.
That might be a bit scary for you. But if we are called to restore in Jesus name, let’s be prepared to love and welcome those who need restoration. Be prepared.
And one final thought for those of you who would say, “That’s me. I’m the one who needs restoration. I’m the one who needs healing.”
I want you to understand: God’s restoring presence is here. Here in us as individual Christ-followers, and here in us as a church. God’s Holy Spirit is within us and has the power to bring healing into your life.
Would you trust us with your pain and brokenness? Would you give us an opportunity to pray over you? You don’t have to go thought this alone.
The gates of Eden are open again. All are welcome in this movement. God’s restoring presence is here. Let’s be prepared for a bit of awe.