Arguments and Miracles

Please read Acts 19:8-12 in your Bible of choice.  I chose the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

Even though a majority of Americans claim to believe God exists and claim to be “spiritual,” the numbers of those who believe in supernatural things like heaven, hell, and miracles have been in decline.  This is an illogical position to take, but accurately reflects the belief that religion is self-made.  It is illogical to believe in God and yet maintain the idea that His actions in this world are always along ordinary, natural lines.

Ask somebody if they believe in miracles and you will get an answer along these lines.

– An intellectual response: “No, I only believe in things I can perceive with my five senses.  As miracles claim to violate the laws of nature, I don’t believe in them.  I believe in science.”

– An emotional response: “I totally believe in miracles and they happen every day.  Just being alive is a miracle!”

Neither of those persons believes in miracles. I want to encourage a biblical response instead: “The Bible says that God did things outside the so-called ‘laws’ of nature.  These things happened to give glory to God and to give people more reason to believe.”

We will continue our study of the ancient church in the city of Ephesus by looking at how God used ordinary teaching and extraordinary miracles to get the Gospel of Jesus to Asia Minor.  What we can learn from this passage is that we must rely on God to use us and a variety of means to get the Word out to Sioux Falls.  The Word of God will change lives and renew our fellowship!  God has not limited this experience to ancient Ephesus: it can be true in our place and time as well.

  1. Paul argued with the obstinate.

Paul’s typical strategy was to begin in the local synagogue (8+9).  Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” but he still chose to reach out to the Jewish community in each city where he founded churches (see Romans 1:16; 2:9-10).  We’re told several things about Paul’s ministry in the synagogue.

– He spoke BOLDLY, “freely” or “openly.”  Paul was there to give them the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

– He argued PERSUASIVELY.  Paul was not a people-pleaser: he worked toward convincing the listener to repent.

– Paul’s subject matter was THE KINGDOM OF GOD, announcing – as Jesus did – that the KOG was “at hand” (see Matthew 4:17).

– This lasted THREE MONTHS.  Lasting that long indicates some level of acceptance at the beginning, but not much patience.

The synagogue time came to an end when the “religious people” in the synagogue opposed Paul.  This was not a mild kind of opposition.  The text explains; SOME BECAME OBSTINATE.  That word literally meant “hardened.”  The fault for their refusal to believe did not lie with God or with Paul; it was all on them.

So THEY REFUSED TO BELIEVE.  They would not accept the reality that the Kingdom of God had come; that Jesus was the Messiah.  And worse, they PUBLICLY MALIGNED THE WAY.  In Acts, those who opposed the Church invented slanderous lies and used them in an attempt to stir up public opinion against the disciples of Jesus.  This name for the Church – THE WAY – sounds unfamiliar to most of us.  It was a name once used to refer to the followers of Jesus, possibly based on John 14:6, where Jesus proclaimed Himself to be “THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.”

Meeting opposition, Paul changed venues and continued bringing the word (9-10).  Instead of the synagogue, he used the LECTURE HALL of TYRANNUS.  The Greek word for LECTURE HALL meant “school,” a refuge of sorts for philosophers to address one another and crowds of interested listeners.  We’ve no other biblical info on TYRANNUS, but evidence has been found proving he lived in Ephesus at that time.

Verse ten mentions both Jews and Greeks heard the word, so we can assume the LECTURE HALL proved to be a more public forum than the SYNAGOGUE had been.  What the enemies of the Church intended to be a roadblock instead paved the way for greater exposure.

Luke is careful to assure the reader that Paul TOOK THE DISCIPLES WITH HIM.  It is reasonable to assume this group included both Jewish and Gentile converts; the people who had accepted Paul’s teaching as true.

He held DAILY DISCUSSIONS.  One of the things that marked first century churches was their DAILY meetings.  They also enjoyed unrivaled success in bringing people to Jesus.  A coincidence?

The Greek word for DISCUSSIONS is the basis for our word “dialogue.”  However, this Gk word included both lecture and conversation-based teaching methods.  The means of teaching isn’t nearly as important as the object of teaching: God Himself.

Paul used the LECTURE HALL for TWO YEARS (10).  One indication of “success” at that location was both Jews & Greeks HEARD THE WORD.  Nowhere is the number of converts mentioned.  This implies “Success” can be measured in faithfulness, leaving fruitfulness up to God (as in 1 Corinthians 3:5-8).

Another indication of success in verse ten is that the ministry at Ephesus facilitated the spread of the WORD OF THE LORD all over Asia Minor, reaching both Jews and Greeks.  Having a two and a half-year stay and reaching an entire region was a great success!

  1. God used Paul to do miraculous healings.

The line of agency could not be clearer than Luke drew it in verse eleven: GOD DID EXTRAORDINARY MIRACLES THROUGH PAUL.  When these miracles were accomplished, they might’ve been misunderstood as having been powered by Paul or by special magical items.  These miracles consisted of healing from illness and deliverance from demons.  The people of Ephesus were superstitious and might have misunderstood Paul as being a magician.  Luke made it clear that God healed and delivered those people: Paul was merely the man through which the miracles happened.

To counter this, ordinary items were endowed with healing power.  The only thing different was that had come into contact with Paul.  They were not specially-made magic items; there was nothing special about the item itself.  The point here is that the real power came from God.

The word for HANDKERCHIEF is borrowed from Latin and refers to a cloth used to wipe perspiration from a laborer’s brow.  The word for APRONS is also Latin and refers to protective cloths worn by workers and also scraps of cloth used as rags.  The power was not resident in the cloth, nor did it come from Paul; all of it was means God used to display His power.

There are parallels elsewhere in the writings of Luke; in Luke 6:18-19, Jesus healed people without touching them at all.  In Acts 5:12, 15-16, people were healed when Peter’s shadow fell on them.  In the Bible, supernatural healings happened in just about every way you can imagine, with very few of the accounts agreeing in the details.  The emphasis is never on how the healing occurred, but on who did the healing; God was the One who did the healing.

One of God’s purposes in the Spiritual Gift of Miracles is to validate the ministry of someone claiming to speak in His name.  While Luke doesn’t use this account to prove that point, there’s no doubt that reports of miraculous healings created additional interest in a magic-obsessed community and gave Paul’s message added authenticity.

The result expressed in verses ten and twenty was that the WORD OF THE LORD – the history and teachings of Jesus – became more widely known, more widely accepted, and grew in the power of influence.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

One reason people might be reluctant to believe in miracles is they don’t want to be deceived.  Since the word was invented, claims of miracles and particularly miraculous healings have been used to trick people.  Take this story from Jokes4us.com, for example:

A Rabbi and a Priest get into a car accident and it’s a bad one. Both cars are totally demolished, but, amazingly, neither of the clerics is hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the rabbi sees the priest’s collar and says, “So you’re a priest. I’m a rabbi. Just look at our cars. There’s nothing left, but we are unhurt. This must be a sign from God. God must have meant that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace the rest of our days.”

The Priest replies, “I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God.”

The Rabbi continues, “And look at this. Here’s another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of wine didn’t break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.”

Then he hands the bottle to the priest. The priest agrees, takes a few big swigs, and hands the bottle back to the rabbi. The rabbi takes the bottle, immediately puts the cap on, and hands it back to the priest.

The Priest asks, “Aren’t you having any?”

“No… I’ll wait for the police.”

http://www.jokes4us.com/religiousjokes/carcrashmiraclejoke.html

Paul made it his aim to declare the truth as persuasively as possible, but without manipulating either the Gospel or the people hearing it.  He did not want anyone’s response to the truth to be based on human salesmanship or anything less powerful than the Holy Spirit.

That should be our desire as well.  We need to adopt Paul’s motto in 1CT 9:22 = I HAVE BECOME ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN SO THAT BY ALL POSSIBLE MEANS I MIGHT SAVE SOME.  May we have that heartfelt desire to tell others about Jesus and may we act upon it with the same integrity.

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J.

Bradley Chance.

O         Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New

            Testament: Acts, Eckhard J. Schnabel

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A Fishy Story

Please read Matthew 17:24-27 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land.

  1. The problem as the tax collectors saw it. (17:24)

The tax collectors saw Jesus and Peter as being delinquent on their taxes.  That was the presenting issue anyway.  I suspect this was a trap set for Jesus.  The passive aggressive way the question is framed supports this view.  Also, the Gospels mention several occasions when Jewish leaders tried to catch Jesus in an error or taking sides in a hotly-debated issue.  Kind of like our media!

This event happened in Capernaum, Jesus’ usual home when in Galilee, the province north of Jerusalem in Judea.  The word “tax” doesn’t actually appear in verse 24.  It literally says “two-drachma coin,” which was the temple tax rate.

This was the only tax collected by the Jews not the Romans.  The Romans were historically lenient when it came to religious observances that did not compromise imperial taxes and/or loyalty to the empire.  Interesting fact: even after the Jewish temple was destroyed in 72 AD, the Romans continued the tradition of the “temple tax,” but they used it to find their temple to Jupiter!

We might call this a “head tax;” if you’ve got one, you’ve got to pay it.  It was commanded in Scripture: see Exodus 30:11-16.  It is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:6+9, where it is called “atonement for your soul.”  That sounds important!

One drachma was a day’s wage for a typical worker.  Imagine me showing up on your doorstep once a year and hitting you up for two day’s income.  It might not bankrupt you, but it wasn’t painless either.

Commentator William Barclay explains the need for the tax:

“The temple at Jerusalem was a costly place to run.  There were the daily morning and evening sacrifices each of which involved the offering of a year-old lamb.  Along with the lamb were offered flour and oil.  The incense which was burned every day had to be bought and prepared.  The costly hangings and the robes of the priests constantly wore out; and the robe of the High Priest was itself worth a king’s ransom.  All this required money.”

(The Daily Study Bible Series, Matthew, p. 168.)

  1. The problem as Jesus saw it. (17:25-26)

Jesus’ saw the problem as being the tax collector attempting to collect from Peter and Himself a tax from which they were exempt. The encounter started with the tax collectors jumping Peter at the door.  Maybe they were trying to surprise Peter and intimidate him?  Peter may’ve been intimidated or surprised and he blurted out, “YES, HE DOES,” then went inside to make sure He did.

Jesus overheard; I imagine the tax collectors made a loud accusation, trying to make Jesus look bad in front of the folks that typically gathered outside any place He settled.  When Peter came inside, Jesus commented: “WHAT DO YOU THINK, SIMON?  FROM WHOM DO THE KINGS OF THE EARTH COLLECT DUTY AND TAXES – FROM THEIR OWN SONS OR FROM OTHERS?”

The answer was obvious, and Peter got it; “FROM OTHERS” he replied.  This was true; it was the habit of kings of the day to excuse members of their family from paying taxes.  Jesus’ first point is that the king’s kids are excused from paying taxes.  This was one of many examples of the powerful oppressing the needy.

His next point is that He is Son to a much greater King; the very God who commanded the tax be collected!  Jesus’ knowledge of His unique place came early in life.  In Luke 2:49 we see that Jesus, as a 12 year-old, referred to the temple as “MY FATHER’S HOUSE.”  As God’s Son, He was not – according to usual standards – required to pay any taxes.

A third point is that if this tax really was “atonement for the soul,” He needed to do no atoning, because He was not guilty of sin. There was no separation between God the Son and God the Father. No offering was needed.  Just the opposite; Jesus IS our atonement!  In His sacrifice on the cross we find our sin forgiven and our relationship with God restored.

He turned the occasion into a teachable moment, revealing two things about Himself.  First, Jesus is LORD.  “THEN THE SONS ARE EXEMPT” Jesus said to Peter, continuing the dialogue (26).  As the Son of God, Jesus was not required to pay that tax.

When we accept the Lordship of Jesus, we accept His right to rule over our lives and offer ourselves in service to Him.  Ironically, it is in this surrender that we realize true freedom.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:17; NOW THE LORD IS THE SPIRIT, AND WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS, THERE IS FREEDOM.

Second, Jesus revealed that He is LOVE.  Jesus went on to say, “BUT SO WE MAY NOT OFFEND THEM…” (27).  The Gk word for OFFEND is skandalizein.  It meant to be a “stumbling block, a reason for sin, an obstruction in someone’s path.”  We must carefully guard against bringing offense or scandal if it’s at all possible.

A basic moral principle is the “preciousness of others.”  It’s based on Phillippians 2:3; DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES.  Jesus was under no legal obligation to pay their tax, but He did pay it, out of love.

  1. Jesus’ solution to the problem. (17:26-27)

The customs of the day did not require Jesus to pay the tax – the law did not apply to Him.  However, He voluntarily paid the tax because of the greater law of love.  Even though it was just tricky tax collectors setting a trap, He voluntarily paid the tax.

He performed a miracle to prove His legal exception and His true nature.  This miracle drives some people crazy.  The whole coin and the fish thing sounds like – well, like a fish story!           After all, why not just reach in His pocket and give Peter two coins?

First, pockets hadn’t been invented yet.  The French did that hundreds of years later.

Second, when we do what anybody can do, how does God get any glory out of that?  Miraculous and supernatural things serve as better evidence for God than everyday things.

Third, I picture the crowd outside waiting on the results of this confrontation and understood it to be a demonstration that will literally show them who is boss.

Jesus sent Peter out to the lake, which was probably nearby.  “Go fish” He said.  The first fish to bite would have something special in its tummy.  Peter was to take the coins he found there and use those funds to pay their taxes.

People who are troubled by these verses have not taken time to think it out or have a nutty predisposition against miracles.   Some think they are too smart – too “scientific” – to believe in miracles. Others think it depicts Jesus as misusing His divine power.

They’re both wrong.  Every Gospel miracle had a shared purpose: to show people Jesus is God’s Son.  The purpose of this miracle is no different.  Only the occasion is different.  Jesus claimed to be God’s Son and then proved He was by means of this miracle.

  1. How does this help you pay your taxes?

Go fishing – what can it hurt?  You will likely find this is a one-time event and won’t be repeated for you.  Notice that the fish had exactly what was needed, no more.  God supplies our “daily bread” without wasting any extra “dough.”

He supplies our needs, not our “greeds.”  Biblically, the ideal is that we can be self-sufficient enough to be generous with those in need and support God’s work too.

It can help with your attitude if you follow Jesus’ example of  humility and love.  Love for others is the second greatest command.  Jesus showed love by sincerely attempting to avoid causing offense to the legalistic crowd hung up on his taxes.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land

I’ll admit: on the outside this story reads strangely.  One commentator wrote that he’d been ashamed of the story because it felt so contrary to our reasonable and scientific culture.  It can feel silly to moderns who are so proud of their brains and have put their trust in science.

It is my prayer that we’ve looked more deeply.  With God’s Spirit we’ve seen this event through the eyes and ears of the people on the scene when it happened.   Hopefully it will make more sense and be visible to us as a time when Jesus used an unusual circumstance to teach very typical lessons on who He was and how we are to live like Him.

While it is a “fish story,” it is true and a parable of sorts that reminds us about God’s provision for us, our provision for each other, and our responsibility to see God in the details of daily living.

Last Supper, Last Words, (3 of 5)

opposition-300x239

Retrieved from http://www.newlife4kokomo.org/unfazed-how-to-deal-with-opposition/.

Please read John 15:18-6:4 in your version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Opendoorsusa.org compiles a “World Watch List” that reports on countries where persecution of Christians is strongest.  According to their most recent report, the top five worst places to be a Christian are, in order, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Pakistan.  Probably no one is surprised to hear those names.  You may be surprised to hear that India is 11th on the list, Ethiopia 39th, our neighbor Mexico is 39th and Columbia is 49th.  When you see them on a map, these countries circle the middle part of the globe, with more tolerant countries to the north and south.

Christians have established and enjoyed freedom in America for so long we find it hard to imagine state-sponsored or societal persecution of the Church.  In our own country, what I would call “practicing Christians” number only 20% of the population.  Given our cultural situation, this is not a statistic we can just ignore.  It is not impossible to believe that persecution is ever more than a generation away.  Whatever form it may take, Jesus’ followers should expect opposition from the devil and his people.  At the Last Supper, Jesus was preparing His eleven disciples to deal with opposition on a worldwide scale and to a lethal degree.  His teaching?

Don’t be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

  1. God’s people will be opposed by the world. (15:18-25)

We can be sure the WORLD will oppose Jesus’ people as it opposed Jesus.  He gave us six reasons for this persecution.

#1 – IT (the world) HATED ME FIRST (v. 18).  Jesus is first in all things, including being hated.  In the Gospels we see hatred being directed at Jesus, not the disciples.

#2 – You don’t belong to the WORLD (v. 19).  This word for WORLD in New Testament era Greek does not refer t0 this planet, but to human culture and systems that set themselves against God. Commentator William Barclay has a great definition of the world: the WORLD is “human society organizing itself without God.”

When we are born again we are born into God’s heavenly rule and our primary citizenship is there.  This is why the Bible tells us that we have been called “out” of the world though we still live in it (see John 15:19).

#3 – The relationship between SERVANT (us) and MASTER (Jesus) in verse twenty.  They persecuted Jesus; they will PERSECUTE us.  The SERVANT (or disciple) identifies with the master and shares the master’s life, so what the MASTER faces, the SERVANT does also.

That can work advantageously too.  If they had OBEYED Jesus’ teaching, they would obey ours too.  Saved folk don’t immediately go to heaven because God wants to use us to bring others to faith.

#4 – They don’t know God the Father or recognize God the Son (5:21+6:3).  Sometimes it’s hard enough to remember the names of people you’ve met, say nothing of recognizing people you don’t know.  What’s true in earthly life can also true in spiritual life; it’s impossible to know God without faith in Jesus (see John 14:6).

#5 – Because Jesus exposes their sin, they are GUILTY (22+24).  In John 3:19-20 Jesus taught that evil people prefer the darkness because it hides the evil they do.  We’ve all seen how hypocrites hate to be exposed for what they really are.  They react negatively and strongly to the one who has exposed them.

Jesus exposed their sin indirectly in His teaching.  He set forth God’s righteous standard and they fell far short of that.  He exposed their sin indirectly in His living, as His moral and spiritual life was in perfect conformity with God’s standard.  Jesus exposed their sin directly by publicly condemning their hypocrisy .

His most vicious enemies were hypocrites who resented His teaching because it blew up their self-deceptions and their public perceptions.  Ironically, hypocrites don’t feel guilt because their self-deception goes so deep, but Jesus said in both these verses that they are, in fact, GUILTY people.

#6 – Because they hate God the Father and we are related to Him (vs. 23-24).  There is no separating God the Father from God the Son; nor is there any way to separate God the Son from His people.  The hypocrites would soon display hatred of God the Son by having Him nailed to a cross.  Jesus wanted them to know hatred of Him was the same thing as hating the Father.

The WORLD will HATE God’s people.  To HATE means to dislike so much persecution is the result; detest or abhor.  The tense of the verb indicates the WORLD’s hatred is ongoing.  In this case, Jesus and His Church are hated undeservingly.

They HATED Jesus even though He did MIRACLES among them (24).  In the Bible, one of the purposes of MIRACLES is to validate the message of anyone who claims to speak for God.  Jesus’ MIRACLES validated His message and still some people HATED Him.

Let’s go one further: most of Jesus’ MIRACLES were acts of kindness.  He did healings and exorcisms by the dozens.  He raised the dead and fed thousands.  These were never displays of power intended to impress.  Jesus used divine power to help people.  What kind of a person is going to HATE Him for that?  Not a good or godly person.

Their hatred fulfills prophecy (v. 25).  Jesus quoted Psalm 35:9 & 69:4.  We don’t normally refer to that part of the Old Testament as LAW, but Jesus saw it that way.  It was a “law” in the sense that you could expect hypocritical people to behave this way just about every time.  Notice Jesus said “THEIR LAW” to make it clear that the hypocrites do not even keep their own standards, say nothing of God’s.

  1. The Holy Spirit helps us keep our testimony in spite of opposition. (15:26-16:4)

He is the SPIRIT OF TRUTH (26).  The Holy Spirit gives us opportunities to TESTIFY to the TRUTH, the words of testimony, and courage to speak them.  Our part is simply to follow through and do it.  The Holy Spirit also helps us under-stand and apply the Bible to our own lives and use it to help others.  To what the Spirit provides, we add our personal experience, Bible knowledge, personality, and inner convictions.  Put it all together and we are a witnessing MACHINE!

The Holy Spirit will TESTIFY about Jesus and with His help, we will also TESTIFY about Him (26-27).  We can and should use the communication tools and technology available to us, within reason.   However, we tend to think that mass media is going to be sufficient for our outreach.  I have said this before, publicity and programs will never replace people.

The vast majority of people (more than 80%) who are in church are there because someone invited them personally.  God has chosen you and me to make personal invitations and I fear we are not keeping up our end of the deal.

As we saw in 14:29 and in 15:19, 16:1+4 are part of Jesus’ purpose in these last minute instructions: to prepare His disciples to stand firm in the face of what was about to happen to them.  Jesus’ teaching here is for His disciples in the first place.  We do well to note the original context, as always.  But we also need to understand the principles and apply them to our own context.  This means Jesus’ words prepare us for two things: to be a witness and to suffer worldly opposition for our witness.

Opposition will even come from seemingly religious people (16:2-3).  Jesus’ strongest opposition came from the Pharisees, people who were highly esteemed in their culture as scrupulously religious folk.  But it’s not hard to be very religious yet not possess a bit of love: that’s hypocrisy.

Jesus warned His disciples that violent opposition will come from people who’ve convinced themselves their violent acts are a form of service to God.  In the book of Acts we see how Saul persecuted the Church until Jesus confronted him on the road to Emmaus.  He fulfilled this prophecy, as have other religious people in all the times since Jesus said these words.  It’s particularly disappointing when family members betray one another, but Jesus wanted us to be sure that we had been warned; to expect opposition and thereby not be discouraged by the world’s opposition.

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.