There are specific Sundays marked out on the yearly Church calendar where you know certain truths will be focused on. For example on Palm Sunday you’ll most likely hear a sermon on the Triumphal entry. On Good Friday you’ll most likely hear a sermon on the cross of Christ. On Easter you’ll hear of the resurrection, near the end of October you’ll hear of the Reformation, and during the Christmas season you’ll hear of the birth of Christ. But most of us (especially those of us in the reformed protestant world) do not know that there are two other celebrations in our calendar around the beginning of summer.
The first is Ascension Sunday where we remember and rejoice Christ’s ascent to sit on the throne of God to rule and reign at the Father’s side until He comes again in glory and power. Ascension Sunday is known to us here at SonRise, we’ve talked much about the ascension in years past. But I do wonder if we know the second celebration at all. After Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, the Spirit of God descended to indwell the Church Jesus purchased with His blood. So today we’re taking a break from our series in John’s gospel to remember and rejoice in the events of Pentecost Sunday.
Our text will be Acts 2:1-13 as you heard read just a moment ago. But in order to see the full scope of what took place at Pentecost we must return all the way back to Genesis 1 and slowly progress towards Acts 2. So let’s take a journey shall we?
We first meet the identity and see the activity of the Holy Spirit in the first few verses of Scripture in Genesis 1:1-2. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” From reading how the Spirit hovered over the dark void we get a sense of expectation, that God through His Spirit is about to do something. And of course He was about to do something in making everything from nothing. How did God do this? Through His Word. So in the first two verses of the Bible we have the coupling of God’s creative power in His Word and Spirit.
Moving ahead in redemptive history we come to Exodus 19 where God descends on Mt. Sinai in fire. This is another scene where God’s Spirit descends to His creation, and by God descending like this in thunder and lightning and thick cloud surrounding the mountain the people were terrified. What happened after God fell in fire on this mountain? He gave the Law to His people. Again we have the imagery of God rescuing His people, descending to them to meet them in both Word and Spirit.
Move ahead a little bit to Exodus 28 where instructions are given for making Aaron’s priestly garments. It says in 28:2 they were designed for glory and for beauty. Then in 28:3 it says God filled Bezalel with His Spirit to make these clothes. Then in Exodus 31 God gives instruction on how the tabernacle is to be built. And in 31:1-3 God says He fills Bezalel and Oholiab with His Spirit to make all that is required for the tabernacle’s construction. In these instances we again see Word and Spirit united in operation. God filled certain people to make certain things, things that would be used in the ministry of God’s Word to God’s people.
Move much further ahead to the histories and prophetic books of the Old Testament and we find that the normal operation of the Holy Spirit was one of a temporary filling. Prophets, priests, and kings would be filled with God’s Spirit for a certain time, for a certain moment, for a certain purpose and then the Spirit would move on. But the further we progress into the prophets we find a new reality and new operation slowly coming into view. One day the Spirit would no longer function in a temporary filling but would Himself be the very Person who raises people from Spiritual death to spiritual life, who recreates the heart into a soft and moldable heart, and who then permanently fills the soul causing us to submit to the Word of God and walk in the ways of God (Ezekiel 36-37). Again notice Word and Spirit coupled.
Move ahead now a little bit to Joel 2 where we find the grand promise given concerning the Spirit of God. As Joel is prophesying about the events that would usher in the kingdom of God, the age to come, the last days he says in 2:28-32, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke (notice the similarities with Sinai?). The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.” This grand prophesy concerning the activity of the Spirit of God has to do with the events of the last days. Specifically, it’s about the moment the last days begins. During this time the Spirit of God will fall on and fully fill all those who call on the name of the Lord to be saved as they hear and respond to the preaching of the gospel. Once again, see here the same elements of Word and Spirit being coupled together.
Now, as we move out of the Old Testament where God has made promises and move into the New Testament we see firsthand how God has kept those promises.How has He kept His promises concerning His Spirit? We see it first in Jesus, specifically at His baptism, where He the very Word of God was empowered by the Spirit of God to do the will of God in His redeeming work. And during that redeeming work, specifically in John 14-16, Jesus promises that He and the Father will send the Spirit to them and by the power of the Spirit they will be able to do greater things than they’ve ever seen. Notice Word and Spirit are coupled once again in the gospels.
And now, in Acts 2 we find the events that occurred on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost, to say the least, was a very important day for the Jews. The word Pentecost itself means fiftieth in Greek being that it was exactly fifty days after Passover when the people would, each year,celebrate God giving them the Law on Mt. Sinai. It was also called the Feast of Weeks, or the Feast of Harvest because it was held at the beginning of harvest season. As Luke explains this event he describes it in two parts. In v1-4 we see the events of Pentecost, and in v5-13 we see the effects of Pentecost.
The Events of Pentecost
v1 mentions all the disciples were present and gathered together. This group included the disciples, Matthias (who was chosen to replace Judas in v26) and all the other believers, which 1:15 told us was around 120 people. When the day began they had planned to celebrate Pentecost, God’s giving of the Law and the formation of His covenant people at Sinai, but unbeknownst to them they would end up celebrating the formation of a new covenant people. Notice the four elements resounding from these first four verses include similar elements of all the Old Testament texts we began with today: a mighty rushing wind, tongues, fire, and a filling.
First, a mighty wind in v2, or in the Greek a mighty pneuma (Spirit). This mighty and sudden wind that blew was no mere weather event. It was the strong breeze of God’s Spirit that no man could resist. It resembles the Spirit hovering over the dark void in Genesis 1:2, it resembles the storm surrounding Sinai in Exodus 19-20, and it resembles the wind/Spirit that rattled through the dry bones in Ezekiel’s Vision to recreate them anew as a vast army fit for the Lord of hosts. Just as the wind of God’s Spirit hovered over, filled, and consecrated the Old Testament temple, so too here the wind of God’s Spirit is consecrating the new temple made up of the new covenant people of God.
Second, tongues in v3. Recall it was in Babel that the people desired to make a name for themselves by building a large tower reaching into the heavens. The reason they were able to build such a wonder of the world is given in Genesis 11, they had a common tongue. The text says God came down from the heavens to see it (which means it wasn’t really that tall at all) and confused their common tongue because they were laboring for the glory of man. The curse of Babel was immediately felt as all those present dispersed over the entire world. The curse of Babel and the curse of sin in general began to diminish at Pentecost as those of many nations heard the gospel, not in a common tongue, but each in their own native tongue. This meant the new covenant people now being created would be a people no longer made of one nation but made of many peoples and many nations.Therefore, the tongues present at Pentecost were given by God primarily to show us the formation of a new covenant global people, not to prove that speaking in tongues is a proof of being filled with the Spirit.
Third, fire in v3. Fire often indicated the presence of God with His people. It was a smoking fire that walked through the animal pieces in Genesis 15 confirming the Abrahamic covenant, it was a burning bush that God spoke to Moses out of, it was fire that thunderously fell at Mt. Sinai, it was a fiery pillar that led them by night, it was wonders of fire that Joel spoke of long ago, and now it is fire appearing above each believer. God is, after all, a consuming fire is He not? That the fire of God’s presence symbolized here is present over each individual believer rather than over the whole of them means each believer is himself or herself indwelt by the very presence of God and yet is not consumed, as the bush of old.
Fourth, a filling. v4 says all the believers that day were “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Before the Ascension Jesus told them in 1:5, “…John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” This of course happened a few days later as Jesus filled, or baptized, these believers with the Holy Spirit. 1:8 speaks of the same thing when it says the Spirit ‘comes upon’ us. 2:38 also does this speaking of how we ‘receive’ the Spirit upon believing the gospel. This Pentecost moment marks a unique change in how the Spirit operates with God’s people. David experienced the Spirit coming on him and leaving him for various times and purposes, which is why he said in Psalm 51:11, “Cast me not away from Your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” Now, in the New Covenant we experience, not a kind of second blessing experience of the Spirit after conversion, but a one time full and forever filling of the Spirit at conversion. Ephesians 1:13-14 speaks of it like this, “In Him you also, when you heard the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” Notice once again the pattern of Word and Spirit continues.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in one of his daily devotionals, tells the story of attending a political meeting where two politicians were scheduled to speak. He said the first spoke brilliantly about politics and was clearly a very articulate man. But the second, though not as polished or formal, spoke with a power that surprised Lloyd-Jones. When thinking over why this second man affected him so Lloyd-Jones said, “The first man spoke as a educated advocate, but the second man spoke as a man who experienced and was deeply persuaded in his cause, because of this he came forth not merely as an advocate but as a witness!”Think about this. The disciples knew Jesus, walked with Him, heard His teachings, listened to His sermons, watched His miracles, they saw Him die, and they saw Him rise. If anyone were able to testify to these things it was them. “And yet, Acts 1:8 tells us they would be quite unable to do this until they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit.”Or we can say it like this, without the Spirit in Acts 1 they were held back, but with the Spirit in Acts 2 they were sent forth.They were filled then and we are filled today that we would be, not mere spectators – onlookers – observers, but witnesses! This Pentecost moment begins the same steady theme throughout the entire book of Acts. When one hears the gospel and comes to the Lord by the power of the Spirit, what happens is that person begins preaching the gospel in the power of the Spirit. Just as God once filled and gifted Bezalel and Oholiab with His Spirit to make the priestly garments and build tabernacle, so too God now fills us and gifts us with His Spirit to build the Church of Jesus Christ. Just as those former things were made by the Spirit for beauty and glory, now we work by the Spirit to spread the beauty and glory and of Christ!
An intentional parallel and contrast are presented to us here. At Sinai the Spirit thundered mightily and the people were filled with fear as they backed away from God though God was making them a people and entering into covenant with them by writing outwardly on the tablets of stone. Here at Pentecost, the Spirit blew mightily as God wrote inwardly on tablets of human hearts and the filled the people with a holy boldness as they drew near to God and preached the gospel courageously before a hostile crowd.What was the result of this? In one day more people were converted and added to the Church than in the entire earthly ministry of Jesus. Remember Pentecost was called the Feast of Harvest because the first fruits of the crop would be brought in? This suggests that the 3,000 converts that became part of the new covenant people that day were only the first fruits of more gospel harvest to come!Derek Thomas describes this saying, “Pentecost signaled that something had been done (the atoning work of the Messiah) and that something had not yet been fully accomplished (the gathering of the people of God into the visible Church of Jesus Christ).”Question: how are God’s people going to be gathered in? Answer: by the Spirit empowered gospel preaching of Spirit filled disciples of Christ. Once again, it’s Word and Spirit in view. They were together there at creation, they were together at Sinai, and they’re still together in God’s work of new creation at Pentecost. What God joins together let not man separate!
All of this means the Pentecost event is unrepeatable. Or as the Gospel Transformation Study Bible says, “Luke’s focus in Acts 2 is on the fulfillment of prophecy, not on paradigms for personal experience.”Peter will soon bear witness in just a moment (2:17-18) and tell us that this Pentecost event is what Joel’s prophecy was all about! That Joel 2 was being fulfilled here means Pentecost marked the beginning of what is known as the last days. Jesus had come announcing the arrival of the Kingdom throughout His earthly ministry, and now by sending His Spirit He emphatically declared that the last days had now fully come, that the old was gone, that a new era had dawned, at a New Sinai, where a New People were created, called into a New Covenant, and given a new commission to be carried out “not by might, nor by human power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.” (Zech. 4:6)
The Effects of Pentecost
We then see the crowd react in v5-13,“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.”
The large crowd that was already assembled, it seems to tell us, hadn’t seen the tongues of fire land on the disciples in that room but they indeed heard the great and mighty wind and saw the effects of that fire as v11 says, the mighty works of God were proclaimed. The response was varied, words all throughout v5-13 show us what they were ‘bewildered,’ ‘amazed,’ ‘astonished,’ and ‘perplexed.’ In v12 many of that group believed asking ‘What does this mean?’ But others sadly mocked, and concluding all these folks were drunk at nine in the morning! Many may similarly mock today and say all this is hogwash and nonsense! But praise God that not everyone will mock, some will be amazed and will look into the meaning of these things…and find the very fullness of God in the gospel of Christ through power of the Spirit.
So Church…may you, when you hear the Word of truth, the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, may you repent and return, may you believe in Him, and from believing may you know and experience the one time full and forever filling of God’s Spirit, and find all the strength, to live all of life, to the glory of God.
I have often found Mark Dever’s two volumes Promises MadeandPromises Kept very helpful in understanding many of these whole Bible images and types. Along with Leonhard Goppelt’s book Typos.
Tony Merida, Acts – Christ Centered Exposition, page 24.
Mark Dever, Promises Kept, page 132.
I think the same argument is in view in the other ‘filling passages’ in Acts 8, 10-11, and 19.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, A First Book of Daily Readings – May 15, page ??
John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, page 38.
Augustine, Acts – Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, accessed via Logos Bible software.
Derek Thomas, Acts – Reformed Expository Commentary, page 28.
Gospel Transformation Study Bible, notes on Acts 2:1-13, page 1453.