The Birthday of the Church

(Please read ACTS 2:1-13.) 

I. Three miracles announced the birth of the Church.

          A miraculous sound: v. 2 = A SOUND LIKE THE BLOWING OF A VIOLENT WIND.  In the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek, the word for WIND can also  be translated as “spirit.”

          For example, in Exodus 14 a STRONG wind parted the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptians.  In Ezekiel 37: the four winds reanimated the bones when God gave the prophet a vision of bringing new life to spiritually dead people.

          We need to note, however, that this was a SOUND LIKE THE BLOWING OF A VIOLENT WIND, an audible but invisible sign.  Not a puff of air actually moved, it was only the sound of wind.

          It was VIOLENT in the sense that it heralded a great change. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant in Matthew 11:12, “FROM THE DAYS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST UNTIL NOW, THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS BEEN FORCEFULLY ADVANCING AND FORCEFUL MEN LAY HOLD OF IT.”

          Verses 5+6 explain that the purpose of the SOUND was to draw a crowd of God-fearing Jews.  How big a crowd?  V. 41 tells us that 3,000 repented and were baptized after Peter’s message!

          A miraculous flame was the second sign: v. 3 = WHAT SEEMED TO BE TONGUES OF FIRE THAT SEPARATED AND CAME TO REST ON EACH OF THEM.

          In the Old Testament, a flame or brilliant light accompanied God’s presence. It revealed His glory.  Again, in the exodus, God lead His people with a pillar of fire when they traveled at night.  This was both physical and metaphorical: God’s voice FLASHES FORTH LIKE FLAMES OF FIRE (Psalm 29:7).

          John the Baptist said Jesus would baptize WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT AND FIRE in Luke 3:16, associating exodus imagery with the ministry of Jesus.  This sign was inaudible but visible.  FIRE is also biblical symbol of judgment and purification.  In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 Paul wrote about Judgment Day, warning that our works (our actions) will be tested by fire.  Only what is truly of God will survive the flames.

          The people who saw those flames would understand that God was purifying those people for His indwelling presence, His Holy Spirit.  They would know that this day had come as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (Joel 2, most familiarly).

          The miraculous speech in languages (tongues) not learned by the speakers is the third miracle.  In v. 4 it is written that they BEGAN TO SPEAK IN OTHER TONGUES AS THE SPIRIT ENABLED THEM.

          A careful reading of the Old Testament shows that there were numerous instances where a person temporarily received the Spirit to perform a specific task; then it was taken away.  In a situation similar to Acts 2, we read in Numbers 11: the 70 elders of Israel received the Spirit and began to prophesy.

          Though the New Testament describes other situations where believers received the Spirit and spoke in tongues, the Greek used in this passage sets it apart from all other examples; it is not used again in the NT.  This is an indication that Pentecost should be treated as a unique event.  It does not serve well as proof for the false doctrine that tongues is evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit or, by association, genuine faith.

          Following the teaching of the Apostle Paul, any repeat/subsequent/ongoing experience of tongues must be…

          …interpreted (1 Corinthians 14:5, 27-28).

          …a sign to believers, not unbelievers, as it was here (1 Corinthians 14:22).

          …done in an orderly fashion (1 Corinthians 14:33+40), contributing to good communication and unity, not detracting from it.

          What makes this Pentecost event of historical import was the fact that this began God’s new work, a new way of receiving the Holy Spirit: v. 4 = ALL OF THEM WERE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT.

          Before Pentecost, the Spirit was given to individuals on a temporary basis for a specific job, then withdrawn.  This was a comparatively limited use of the Spirit.  Starting with Pentecost, the Spirit was given to all believers on a permanent basis, for all the works God wanted them to do to build up His Church.

          The word FILLED is descriptive of the degree to which the Spirit should direct a believer’s life.  It is a measure of both quantity and quality of the life of faith.

          That Day of Pentecost is the “birthday” of the Church in the sense that the Filling of the Spirit, available in this way for the first time, is what qualified those believers to be part of the Church, the new people of God.

 

II. The newborn Church was misunderstood.

          As we have observed, a crowd was drawn to the upper room, attracted by the sound.  An “upper room” was an open-air room on the flat roof of a house; it was a more public setting than we usually picture it.

          we need to also consider that Jerusalem was still full of Passover pilgrims.  People were crowded into the city to a degree that would amaze us; avoiding a crowd might have been as difficult as collecting one!

          The point, as always, is that God acted.  He put 3,000 people where they would hear the sound, see the flames, and hear the tongues that validated whatever Peter said even before he opened his mouth

          The crowd reacted with…

          …amazement and perplexity.

          That was most of the crowd.  The rest asked the question “AREN’T ALL THESE MEN GALILEANS?” That is an ethnic slur.  Judeans saw Galileans as their rough and back-woodsy relations.  So this question could be paraphrased as “What’re these hicks doing?  How is it possible that these ignorant folks are speaking so many different languages with their hillbilly twang?”

          Luke goes into considerable detail about the crowd so we will understand two things.  One, that they were a group of “hostile witnesses.” This means they had no reason to lie in favor of the Gospel.  Quite the contrary, they had concocted some fanciful explanations.  Two, Luke wants us to see that a because a diverse crowd had gathered, diverse languages were required to communicate the Good News to them.  The primary reason for the disciples speaking in tongues was to tell the people the truth in their own language.

          In Matthew 28 and Mark 16 we read that Jesus commanded His disciples to take the Gospel to the whole world; on this Day of Pentecost, the whole world came to them!  Whether they were among the 3,000 new believers baptized that day or not, this crowd would take the news back home with them.  The Gospel had a one-day window to send the news out with the Jewish pilgrims who returned home.

          …cynicism.  We belittle what we don’t understand; that is human nature.  The text says that some of the crowd MADE FUN of the disciples.  Jesus Himself had to endure mockery while He was crucified – His followers will have to do the same.

          “THEY’VE HAD TOO MUCH WINE” is an example of the mockery they made.  It is an excuse for dismissing and mocking the message. Though it can hurt and feel formidable, the taunts of worldly-minded people have no real effect on our faith.  Those who do such things say far more about themselves than they do the Church.

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