No one could have ever prepared them for this day. In the few days between his resurrection and his ascension, Luke tells us that Jesus hinted to the disciples that something momentous was about to happen – Acts 1:4-5 “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” But when the day came, it was like nothing that anybody had ever experienced. It was truly a new chapter in God’s working among his people.
It was the day of Pentecost – 50 days - 7 weeks had passed since Passover, and perhaps more significantly, since Jesus’ crucifixion. They had been in a state of limbo. At first, they were in shock, then when they saw Jesus resurrected they were jubilant. But then what? They tried to regain a sense of normalcy – remember Peter and crew going back to fishing – but it wasn’t the same – normal would never be normal again. Jesus appeared to them at different times and continued to teach and prepare – and then the ascension as Jesus went finally up into heaven with the promise that he would return soon. But Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem – waiting is always the hardest part. They stayed together in an upper room – it may have been the same upper room where they ate that last supper with Jesus – some pretty powerful memories filled that room. They went about the business of selecting a replacement for Judas Iscariot. In 1:14, Luke tells us they spent a lot of time in prayer. And it wasn’t just the 12. Vs 15 tells us the believers numbered about 120.
So, for 7 weeks, 120 believers are together waiting. They don’t know for what or for how long. Jesus said wait, they wait.
The day of Pentecost arrived. Pentecost was an important Jewish festival – it was a celebration of the incoming harvest – if Passover was a somber occasion, Pentecost was the height of celebration. In fact, if a Jew was going to make a trip to Jerusalem for Passover, he would bring enough money to make it through Pentecost and celebrate the harvest. So, on Pentecost, the city of Jerusalem was packed with partiers spending the last of their money before heading home.
Nobody had Pentecost circled on their calendar with the note, “today God does something great.” Nobody was more surprised than the believers. They were together, as they had been every day.
Acts 2:2-3 “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”
Have you ever tried to imagine this scene? Imagine a self-contained hurricane – gale-force wind, deafening noise and then an explosion of fire and the fire bursts out into individual flames that come to rest engulfing each person. Each apostle (and it appears that he’s saying the 12, not the 120, since in vs 7 they are described as men from Galilee), looking like Moses’ burning bush, aflame yet not consumed.
What happened next is even more unexpected – 2:4-12 “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Luke says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other tongues.
Let’s make sure we understand the distinction between what happened then and what we see occurring today. Tongues in the New Testament was never an unintelligible gibberish – it was always a language that was unknown to the speaker, but able to be understood by somebody from where that language was spoken. Whatever the modern day religious phenomenon might be it is not New Testament speaking in tongues.
The noise and the flames create such a scene that a crowd gathers and these people from everywhere under the sun are bewildered, because they hear these Galileans speaking in their own languages – and they hear them declaring the wonders of God.
Luke tries to help us get a feel for the confusion this was causing. Listen to the words – “bewilderment, utterly amazed, “how is it?”, amazed and perplexed – they ask “What does it mean?” They have never seen anything like it. And of course there’s always the skeptic – vs 13 – “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’”
This scene of bewilderment and amazement and speculation suddenly comes to an end as Peter stands up and speaks to the crowd,– vs. 14-21 “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “ ‘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. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Peter then goes on to tell the story of Jesus, from the scriptures and prophecy, showing that Jesus was the one whom God had promised, whom the resurrection had proved, and who had now poured out his Holy Spirit as a demonstration of his power.
And then Peter proclaims their responsibility and guilt – vs. 36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” They had been there, many of them had been in the crowd shouting, “Crucify him!” They had spit on him as he was led through the streets, they had watched as the soldiers nailed him to the cross, and heard him cry, “It is finished.” And now Peter was telling them, they had not crucified a common criminal, but the very Son of God?
Do you know that feeling – when you have done something terrible – and suddenly the realization hits you of just how terrible it is? The blood rushes to your face and the fear grips the pit of your stomach. They had done something so unimaginable, so inconceivable, they could never undo it or make it right – Luke says, “they were cut to the heart.” In fearful desperation they cry out, “What shall we do?”
What follows are words so familiar, so rote to us that we can read them dispassionately and quote them in a discussion over doctrine. These words, though, were a life preserver to drowning people. They were words of salvation to people who were convinced they were about to die. “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.”
Nobody who reads these words in context could ever suppose that Peter is telling them that repentance and baptism were just a formality – steps in a 5-step ritual, or an outward sign of something that had already taken place inside. The price of their forgiveness had already been paid, but forgiveness always comes as the result of a broken heart and a surrendered life. And that surrender is expressed in repentance and baptism.
Let’s talk for a moment about repentance and baptism.
Repentance is more than remorse and sorrow. As Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 7:10, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” There are people who spend their lives feeling sorry and guilty for what they’ve done who never repent – they regret what they’ve done, they are wracked with guil, they are sorry they got caught, but not enough to quit – that’s worldly sorrow. Real repentance involves a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of life. It’s not just feeling sorry for our actions, but changing our mind about how we will live and then turning around and walking away from sin.
And baptism is more than a ritual. Baptism, as Paul describes it in Romans 6 is a participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In baptism we are dying to our self, leaving that old self in the water, and coming up out of the water a new creation. Peter, in his first epistle refers to baptism as God’s means of saving his people, just as the ark saved Noah and his family in the flood – “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism is not a work of man in order to earn salvation, it is a response of submission to the work of God.
It is in that moment, when we are plunged under the water and washed clean that our sins are forgiven – and equally as important – it is at that moment that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our life. Jesus had promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to be our comforter and guide. Paul tells us in several places that God’s Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us to say no to sin and transforms us more and more into the likeness of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who produces within us the fruit of his presence – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
We will see in Acts 19, when Paul arrives in Ephesus and meets a group of men who were baptized in John’s baptism for repentance but had never even heard of the Holy Spirit, Paul tells them their baptism was inadequate and requires them to be re-baptized into Jesus Christ and they receive the Holy Spirit.
This gift of God’s Holy Spirit is as significant and essential to our salvation as the forgiveness of our sins, and Peter says this takes place in baptism.
How do we know that Peter is not simply addressing a one-time situation – giving instructions to a desperate crowd who need a word of hope? It is what he says next that tells us his words are for a larger audience – vs. 39 “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
That’s you and me. And just as surely as we share in the guilt of crucifying the Son of God because of our sin, we need salvation just as desperately. We need to be cut to the heart and repent of our sin – and if we don’t feel the desperation they felt, the guilt of crucifying the Song of God, I’m not sure we’re ready to experience the power of God’s forgiveness. We need to be baptized into Jesus Christ so that our sins would be forgiven and the Holy Spirit would begin dwelling in us.
That day 3000 accepted his message of salvation and were baptized. This morning, will you?
Posted on Sun, March 14, 2010
by John Roberts