YOU HAVE THE POWER

 

Week of April 30, 2006

 

Bible Passage:Acts 2:1-4, 22-24, 32-33, 36-41.

 

Biblical Truth:The Holy Spirit lives in believers and empowers them to be witnesses to reach the lost.

 

The Holy Spirit Equips Witnesses: 2:1-4.

 

[1] When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. [2] And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. [3] And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.[NASU]

 

Of the four evangelists it is Luke who lays the heaviest emphasis on the Spirit. Near the beginning of each part of his two-volume work he demonstrates the indispensability of the Holy Spiritís enabling. Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus when John baptized Him, so that He entered His public ministry full of the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit, in the power of the Spirit and anointed by the Spirit [Luke 3:21-22; 4:1,14,18], so now the same Spirit came upon the disciples of Jesus to equip them for their mission in the world [Acts 1:5,8; 2:33]. In the early chapters of Acts, Luke refers to the promise, the gift, the baptism, the power and the fullness of the Spirit in the experience of Godís people.

 

There are at least four ways in which we may think of the Day of Pentecost. First, it was the final act of the saving ministry of Jesus before the Parousia. He who was born into our humanity, lived our life, died for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, now sent His Spirit to His people to constitute them His body and to work out in them what He had won for them. In this sense the Day of Pentecost is unrepeatable. Secondly, Pentecost brought to the apostles the equipment they needed for their special role. Christ had appointed them to be His primary and authoritative witnesses, and had promised them the reminding and teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit [John 14-16]. Pentecost was the fulfillment of that promise. Thirdly, Pentecost was the inauguration of the new era of the Spirit. Although His coming was a unique and unrepeatable historical event, all the people of God can now always and everywhere benefit from His ministry. Although He equipped the apostles to be the primary witnesses, He also equips us to be secondary witnesses. Although the inspiration of the Spirit was given to the apostles alone, the fullness of the Spirit is for us all. Fourthly, Pentecost has been rightly called the first revival, using this word to denote one of those altogether unusual visitations of God, in which a whole community becomes vividly aware of His immediate, overpowering presence.

 

[1] Luke describes the miracle of the coming of the Holy Spirit, with its accompanying signs, in four short verses, remarkable for their nuances. The miracle occurred on the festival known as Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover. It was originally the festival of the firstfruits of the grain harvest [Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:17-22; Num. 28:26-31]; and it was called the Feast of Weeks because it came after a period of seven weeks of harvesting that began with the offering of the first barley sheaf during the Passover celebration and ended with the wheat harvest. By the time of the first Christian century, however, it was considered the anniversary of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai and as a time for the annual renewal of the Mosaic covenant; and it was therefore looked upon as one of the three great pilgrim festivals of Judaism (along with Passover preceding it and Tabernacles some four months later). Whereas Pentecost was for Judaism the day of the giving of the law, for Christians it is the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit. By his stress on Pentecost as the day when the miracle took place, Luke is suggesting (1) that the Spiritís coming is in continuity with Godís purposes in giving the law and yet (2) that the Spiritís coming signals the essential difference between the Jewish faith and commitment to Jesus, for whereas the former is Torah centered and Torah directed, the latter is Christ centered and Spirit directed.

 

[2] God in his providence often accompanies His Spiritís working by visible and audible signs. In verses 2-4, three signs of the Spiritís coming are reported to have appeared, each of them Ė wind, fire, inspired speech Ė being considered in Jewish tradition as a sign of Godís presence. Wind as a sign of Godís Spirit is rooted linguistically in the fact that both the Hebrew word ruah and the Greek word pneuma mean either wind or spirit, depending on the context, and this allows a rather free association of the two ideas [cf. John 3:8]. Ezekiel had prophesied of the wind as the breath of God blowing over the dry bones in the valley of his vision and filling them with new life [Ezek. 37:9-14], and it was this wind of Godís Spirit that Judaism looked forward to as ushering in the final Messianic Age. Lukeís main point is that this noise like a violent rushing wind that came from Heaven and filled the whole house symbolized to all present the presence of Godís Spirit among them in a way more intimate, personal, and powerful than they had ever before experienced.

 

[3] Fire as a symbol of the divine presence was well known among first-century Jews. Compare the burning bush [Ex. 3:2-5], the pillar of fire that guided Israel by night through the wilderness [Ex. 13:21], the consuming fire on Mount Sinai [Ex. 24:17], and the fire that hovered over the wilderness tabernacle [Ex. 40:38]. The tongues as of fire here are probably not to be equated with the other tongues of verse 4 but should be taken as visible representations, given in the context of the appreciation of those there gathered, of the overshadowing presence of the Spirit of God. Also significant is Lukeís statement that these tokens of the Spiritís presence rested on each one of them. This seems to suggest that, though under the old covenant the divine presence rested on Israel as a corporate entity and upon many of its leaders for special purposes, under the new covenant, as established by Jesus and inaugurated at Pentecost, the Spirit now rests upon each believer individually. In other words, though the corporate and individual aspects of redemption cannot actually be separated, the emphasis in the proclamation of redemption from Pentecost onward is on the personal relationship of God to the believer through the Spirit, with all corporate relationships resulting from this.

 

[4] In Old Testament times prophetic utterances were regularly associated with the Spiritís coming upon particular persons for special purposes. Judaism also expected that with the coming of the Messianic Age there would be a special outpouring of Godís Spirit, in fulfillment of Ezekiel 37, and that prophecy would once again flourish. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was of utmost significance both theologically and practically for the early church.

 

The Holy Spirit Uses the Message: 2:22-24, 32-33, 36.

 

[22] ďMen of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know Ė [23] this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. [24] But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. [32] This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. [33] Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. [36] Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ Ė this Jesus whom you crucified.Ē [NASU]

There are five themes that can be identified in Peterís sermons in Acts 2-4. (1) The age of fulfillment has dawned. (2) This has taken place through the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, of which a brief account is given, with proof from the Scriptures. (3) By virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God, as Messianic head of the new Israel. (4) The Holy Spirit in the Church is the sign of Christís present power and glory. (5) The preaching always closes with an appeal for repentance, the offer of forgiveness and of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of salvation to those who enter the elect community.

[22-24] The ministry of Jesus is characterized by miracles and wonders and signs that God did among the people through Jesus. The death of Jesus is presented as resulting from the interplay of divine necessity and human freedom. Nowhere in the New Testament is the paradox of a Christian understanding of history put more sharply than in this earliest proclamation of the death of Jesus the Messiah. Godís purpose and foreknowledge stand as the necessary factors behind whatever happens; yet whatever happens occurs through the instrumentality of wicked men expressing their own human freedom. It is a paradox without ready solution. To deny it, however, is to go counter to the plain teaching of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments and to ignore the testimony of personal experience (see for example J.I. Packerís Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God for a more detailed discussion of this topic). Here the resurrection of Jesus is attributed directly to God, apart from any action of men or even Jesus himself. Agony means literally Ďbirth painsí, so that his resurrection is pictured as a regeneration, a new birth out of death into life. Peter next confirms the truth of Jesusí resurrection by appealing to Psalm 16:8-11 in which it was foretold.

[32-33] Having quoted these verses of Psalm 16 and applied them to the resurrection of Jesus, Peter adds that they were all witnesses of the fact. Thus the spoken testimony of the apostles and the written prediction of the prophets converged. Peter now jumps straight from Jesusí resurrection from the dead to His exaltation to Godís right hand. From this position of supreme honor and absolute power, having received the promised Spirit from the Father, Jesus has poured out the Spirit. Peter again clinches his argument with an apt Old Testament quotation, this time from Psalm 110.

[36] With the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Messiah, Peter reaches the climax and conclusion of his sermon. The initial therefore shows that Godís resurrection and exaltation of Jesus accredits Him as mankindís Lord and Israelís Messiah. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is Godís open avowal that the messianic work has been accomplished and that Jesus now has the full right to assume the messianic title; that the exaltation of Jesus is the proclamation of His lordship, which God calls all to acknowledge.

 

The Holy Spirit Moves People to Respond: 2:37-41.

 

[37] Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ďBrethren, what shall we do?Ē [38] Peter said to them, ďRepent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.Ē [40] And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ďBe saved from this perverse generation!Ē [41] So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.[NASU]

 

[37-39] Peterís preaching had been effective. The people were pierced to the heart at the awful realization that in crucifying their long-awaited Messiah they had rejected their only hope of salvation. Peter calls on his hearers to repent. This word implies a complete change of heart and the confession of sin. With this he couples the call to be baptized, thus linking both repentance and baptism with the forgiveness of sins. Peterís exhortation contains three new and distinctive teachings. In the first place, Peter calls on each of you of his audience to repent and be baptized. Jews thought corporately and generally viewed the rite of baptism as appropriate only for proselytes. But like John the Baptist [cf. Matt. 3:9-10] Peter called for an individual response on the part of his hearers. So he set aside family and corporate relationships as having any final saving significance and stressed the response of the person himself. Second, Peter identifies the repentance and baptism he is speaking of as being specifically Christian in that it is done in the name of Jesus Christ. What it means, it seems, is that a person in repenting and being baptized calls upon the name of Jesus and thereby avows his or her intention to be committed to and identified with Jesus. A third feature in Peterís preaching at this point is the relation of the gift of the Holy Spirit to repentance and baptism. The gift of the Holy Spirit is another way of describing what the disciples had experienced in the coming of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus called the baptism of the Holy Spirit [cf. 1:4-5,8]. All three expressions are connected with Godís promise to his people and are used interchangeably in Acts 1 and 2.

 

[40-41] Luke adds that this was not the end of Peterís sermon. The essence of his warnings and pleadings was the appeal: Be saved from this perverse generation! Peter was not asking for private and individual conversions only, but for a public identification with other believers. Commitment to the Messiah implied commitment to the Messianic community, that is, the church. Indeed, they would have to change communities, transferring their membership from one that was old and corrupt to one that was new and being saved. The amazing response to Peterís appeal is now recorded. Large numbers of people repented and believed. According to Peterís promise, they must also have received forgiveness and the Spirit, although this time apparently with no supernatural signs. At least Luke makes no mention of phenomena like wind or fire or the languages.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††† Why was it appropriate that the events of Acts 2 occurred on Pentecost, the day when Jews celebrated the giving of the covenant under the Law of Moses? [See Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 7:6; 2 Corinthians 3:6]

 

2.†††† What are the five themes that can be identified in Peterís sermons? Is this a model for our evangelism?

 

3.†††† Why does Peter mention Godís plan and foreknowledge in 2:23? Why is it important for us to remember Godís sovereign action in history?

 

 

References:

Commentary on the Book of the Acts, F. F. Bruce, Eerdmans.

The Acts of the Apostles, John Calvin, Eerdmans.

The Acts of the Apostles, Richard Longenecker, EBC, Zondervan.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.