Leroy Coote, 23rd May 2021
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Pentecost Sunday is one of the highlights of the Church calendar. It is a reminder of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. However, Pentecost wasn’t always about the arrival of the Holy Spirit. It was originally a festival in the Old Testament. Are they connected and what has transpired when they got together when the Spirit arrived? Well, let me take you on a journey through Acts Chapter 2, by the end of which we will be very clear as to how the Holy Spirit arrives and works in our lives, and the effect that it has on others. Let me start by looking at the significance of the feast of Pentecost.
Originally, the feast of Pentecost was also called the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks. It took place seven weeks (or 50 days) after Passover. It also celebrated the completion of the grain harvest. This was the second of three great Jewish festivals that happened where the Jewish people gravitated in large numbers to Jerusalem. Therefore, this festival was a great celebration of the harvest completed. However, what the people were not aware of when they arrived in Jerusalem, was that there was going to be another great harvest that was initiated by the Holy Spirit. This harvesting process started with the arrival of the Holy Spirit which we find in verses 2-13 of Acts chapter 2. Wherever you are watching this service from let me encourage you to follow this in your own bible whether it be paper or electronic.
As I go through this, I want you to imagine that you are in what this passage is describing. Effectively, you are sitting calmly in the house when what is the described “as the blowing of a violent wind enters your house”. I suspect that there would be a significant amount of shock and fear that comes over you at this time. However, there are more shocking moments to come. In verse 3 we are told that tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of them. The colour of fire is generally considered to be red. Hence, why we wear red on Pentecost in order to signify the fiery arrival of the Holy Spirit and therefore, this makes the Holy Spirit ‘hot stuff’. But does it heat up the lives of the believers? Well friends, let us find out. In verse 4, we are told that once they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in other languages. Jews from every nation were in Jerusalem to celebrate the completion of the grain harvest as mentioned earlier and were amazed that they could hear people speaking in their own language which is described in verses 6 to the first part of verse 11.
But what were they saying? The second part of verse 11 tells us that they are declaring the wonders of God. This means that those who are spirit-filled declare the wonders of God. This would have been an awesome experience hearing people speak about the wonders of God in your own language in a foreign city. Isn’t it great that we can hear the wonders of God declared in our own language? However, while they were declaring the wonders of God, some were wondering what this meant through their state of amazement and perplexment. Others didn’t appear to be as charitable because the excitement that the Holy Spirit created, came across as drunkenness to those who weren’t aware of what was happening or didn’t believe in the Holy Spirit.
So, you have two groups of people present – those who had been touched by the Holy Spirit and those who didn’t appear to be. But given that those who were touched by the Holy Spirit were to declare the wonders of God, would anyone start declaring? Enter Peter – to deliver one of the greatest speeches in the Bible; and in it, he declares the wonders of God in such a way that he connects with all in his audience. In verses 14 and 15 he addresses his audience by identifying them as fellow Jews and all who live in Jerusalem which indicates that the wonders of God can be declared to anybody. He also addressed the issue of perceived drunkenness by saying that they were not drunk as it was only 9am in the morning. So if it is not drunkenness, what is the arrival of the Holy Spirit? It is the fulfilment of God’s plan as shown in verse 17 which says, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” When Jesus left the earth, the period of the ‘last days’ started and, therefore, the fulfilment of this prophecy is spot on. Not only that, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all people. So not only does the Holy Spirit cause people to declare the wonders of God, it is also the fulfilment of Old Testament Prophecy. Not only that, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit will cause people to prophesy. In other words, declare the wonders of God. But who will prophesy? Every person that the Holy Spirit touches. This means that if anybody here has been touched by the Holy Spirit and that is all who are believers in Christ, then God has commissioned you to declare the wonders of God so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” as mentioned in verse 21.
After telling the people present that the arrival of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled Old Testament Prophecy, Peter then goes to talk about God’s greatest wonder – Jesus Christ. Jesus declared the wonders of God by performing miracles, wonders and signs as mentioned in verse 22. Even though he did this, he was handed over to the Israelites as part of God’s deliberate (not accidental) plan and put to death by being nailed to the cross which the Jews would have understood from Deuteronomy 21:23. Why? Because for the Jews, the nailing of one to a tree would have been the worst death possible because the one on the tree (or cross) would have been considered separated from God. Hence, Jesus’ cry on the cross of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” However, death could not hold him because God raised him from the dead. Here the gospel is presented that Jesus died and rose again. The resurrection is indicated in the Old testament prophecy found in verses 25-28 because what is said in verse 27 shows that it was in God’s plan that God would not let his Holy One see decay i.e. rot in hell. Hence the reason why the resurrection would happen. This point is further commented upon by Peter to his fellow Israelites in verse 31. However, in verse 32, Peter appeals to the fact that many in the crowd had seen the risen Jesus when he says, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to it.” This event did not happen that long ago in the context of the Book of Acts. But Peter’s point here, is that God has raised Jesus and it was not only fulfilled in the Old Testament but they were also eyewitnesses to it. Much like what has happened with the arrival of the Holy Spirit which was also a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and witnessed by many in the crowd according to Peter which he talks about in verse 34.
So, therefore, in Peter’s speech, what we have discovered is that the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the death of Jesus on the Cross and the resurrection of Jesus – three wonders of God – were prophesied in the Old Testament and witnessed by many in the crowd. What then does Peter make of these three wonders of God? Listen to what verse 36 says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” The “therefore” is based on three things – the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the death and the resurrection of Jesus – which are all fulfilments of Old Testament Prophecy – theses events effectively give Jesus two titles – Lord and Messiah. Lord, indicating that he is the one that those who are listening to Peter are called by God’s Spirit to submit to. Messiah, indicating that he is the one who saves them from the wrath of God with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is the end of Peter’s speech and he spells out to them that Jesus is their Lord and Messiah. Peter’s declaration of the wonders of God is now finished.
But is there a response that comes from those who are listening? We find this in verses 37-41 and it starts with a bit of uncertainty. We are told that there is a reason for this uncertainty which is that they were “cut to the heart”. They were hurt and deeply distressed to the point that it affected the core of their being. What really affected them was that Peter effectively told them that they killed their Lord and Messiah. So we know that they are cut to the heart and not sure what to do next because they say to the disciples, “Brothers, what shall we do?” This is said in response to the magnitude of their own actions and the magnitude of what God has done for them. Peter’s response is found in verse 38 which says, “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.” We know what this means …or do we? Repent means turn to Christ which for many who heard Peter’s speech meant turning away from hating Jesus Christ to loving and following Jesus Christ. That my friends, is the start of how the Holy Spirit changes a person’s life. Baptism in this context means to make a public declaration that you are follower of Christ and seal it with baptism. This would be similar to an adult baptism in the Yarra River as that would have the effect of cleansing one’s sins from one’s life, hence the line “forgiveness of sins”. If you partake in this, you will receive the Holy Spirit who arrived during this feast of Pentecost. This promise is for all who will be called by God to repent and be baptised. Peter obviously spoke some more because we are told in verse 40 that he warned and pleaded with them with many words to save yourselves from this corrupt generation. In this context, corrupt generation is a reference to those who don’t follow Christ. Effectively, he was urging the people to follow Jesus because of what he has done for their sin and that he and the Holy Spirit were the fulfilment of some of the passages in the Jewish Bible – the Old Testament. This is where the concept of harvest at Pentecost fits in really well.
Remember at the start that I said that the feast of Pentecost was a celebration of the grain harvest. Now, we have the harvest for followers of Christ. Listen to what verse 41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” What a harvest of believers in Christ! Look at what the Lord gave Peter for declaring the wonders of God. Imagine what he could do if we declare the wonders of God. There is no harm in dreaming because we have seen how God works in this passage and he can work here if we declare the wonders of God and all of us have a role to play in this. So, Pentecost led to a harvest for the Lord. What happened with these new believers? Many who declare repentance usually stop at repentance but life for them doesn’t go further than the act of repentance. Should it? Well verses 42-47 give us an indication that it should. How so? Because the new believers in Christ partook in many strong discipleship activities. They are devoted to the apostles’ teaching. The apostles’ teaching is God’s word, the Bible, and the devotion to it means that they read and engage with it. Note that this is first, which means that devotion to the word of God is the primary activity of the repentant and Spirit-filled believer in Christ and therefore, they should be encouraged to join a bible study group. They also devote themselves to fellowship which means coming together to share in their common experience of being believers in Christ.
They also devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread which is effectively partaking in the Lord’s Supper and to prayer. These are the four core activities of Christian community and are what Spirit-filled believers are called to. What was the result of that? Look at verses 43-44, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.” There was a permanent “wow factor” amongst the new believers and they had everything in common. They were all on the same page because they were filled with the same Spirit that keeps them all in the Holy Spirit’s direction. But that was not the only result. Verse 45 tells us that they met the needs of those in their community. They also met every day with glad and sincere hearts. As a group of believers in Christ, they enjoyed each other’s company. They were also praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. That is a real goal for all of us in our parish when we partake in the four core activities mentioned in verse 42. However, what is worth noting at the end of the passage is that they haven’t stopped praising or enjoying God, which is off the charts from a human perspective and is only made possible by the Holy Spirit. The big result was that the harvesting continued with the Lord adding to their number daily…and continues to this present day. Wow!!!! That would be wonderful here wouldn’t it!
Let me conclude. The arrival of the Holy Spirit was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy that should lead us to:
· Declaring the wonders of God.
· Repenting of our sin in order to love and follow Christ.
· Devoting ourselves to the Apostle’s teaching.
· Gathering together physically to celebrate our common bond because of the Holy Spirit. The Breaking of bread and…to prayer.
Let us all be spirit-filled believers by partaking in all that I have just mentioned so we can be the spirit-filled church the Bible calls for. Why? So that we can celebrate Pentecost the way it should be celebrated – with total devotion to Christ and his teachings helped by the Holy Spirit.