READ – Acts 2:1-21 | THE HOLY SPIRIT
As one scholar says, Acts can be read as “God’s call to remember and reflect on his design for the church and reconsider how our [church] fits – or fails to fit the blueprint.” (Dennis Johnson, The Message of Acts). Acts shows us Jesus’ building plans for the church. If Acts 1 shows us the plans for the foundation of church (the proof of the resurrection, the promise of God and prayer), then Acts 2 shows us the plans for the frame. The foundation is what you build everything on, the frame is what you build everything in. In Acts chapter 2, we read the story of the very first church. In this story Luke shows us the frame. He tells us about three things that, if you don’t have (as the frame), you don’t have a church. The first of these is the Holy Spirit – the life-giving power and presence of God Himself (the other two are the gospel and life-together community - which we’ll look at in the following two studies). The Holy Sprit’s person and work is something that can be unclear and confusing for us. Acts 2:1-21 helps understand who the Holy Spirit is, what the He does, how He does it and who He does it through.
1. THE HOLY SPIRIT… STARTS SOMETHING NEW (2:1-4)
Luke goes out of his way to tell us about the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the praying church. It was the day of Pentecost. For the Jewish people, Pentecost was one of the three major festivals and holidays of the year (the others being Passover and Tabernacles). Pentecost was a day to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest. God poured out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost as a way of saying, “Today is the first fruits of a new harvest. Starting today the message of Jesus will go out to the ends of the earth (1:8)”.
Peter explains the significance of the day by quoting from the prophet Joel, “it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people”. Pentecost was the start of a new time, a new age - the “last days”. The “last days” in the OT was the time to come when God would give people new hearts, make a new covenant and do a new thing in the world. Peter is saying that time has come.
God gave three powerful signs to confirm and reveal to the church what the Holy Spirit’s filling meant. The first was the “violent rushing wind” (CSB). The word Luke chooses for wind here is usually translated “breath”. It’s a word that connects to two other places in the OT. The first is Gen. 2:7 where God breathed into man the breath of life. The second is Ezekiel 37 where God says to a valley of dry bones, “I will make breath enter you and you will come to life… I will put my Spirit in you and you will live”. The Holy Spirit is the life-giving breath & power of God.
The second sign was the tongues/flames of fire. Throughout Scripture, fire is a sign of God’s holy presence. When fire burns and consumes something, it leaves behind something purified, something new. These two signs teach us much about who the Holy Spirit is and what He does. The Holy Spirit is the life-giving holy presence of God Himself. He breathes new life and sets afire that which needs refining.
What happens when you put wind and fire together? Something that cannot be managed, controlled, predicted or stopped. This is the Holy Spirit.
2. THE HOLY SPIRIT… SPEAKS A NEW LANGUAGE (2:5-12)
In addition to the signs of wind and fire, the strangest sign God gave at Pentecost was ability to speak in different tongues/languages. What was this all about? By listing all the nations represented (v.9-11) and highlighting the miracle of understanding, Acts is showing us that God is reversing the curse of Babel.
The sign of tongues was and is a sign that God is bringing unity, understanding and healing to a world divided by language, culture and race. This is good news for a world strained and still struggling with tensions due to race and culture. Pentecost teaches us three lessons the church needs to continually learn:
· The Holy Spirit speaks all languages. Notice that the crowds didn’t hear Hebrew or Aramaic – they heard their own heart languages. It’s a sign that God doesn’t flatten out culture into one uniform culture. Instead, God will build the church from every nation, tribe and language. Our differences will enrich our eternal worship (see Rev. 7:9ff)
· The Holy Spirit doesn’t only speak our language. The first church would struggle with the implications of Pentecost – that people do not have to become culturally Jewish to become Christians. We continue to struggle separating our cultural expressions of faith from gospel essentials. There are some things in every culture to challenge and change and some things in every culture to celebrate, affirm and learn from. We have to be vigilant and careful to make sure we never communication (in word or action) that to become a Christian means to convert to any particular culture.
· We all need to learn a new language. What language does the Holy Spirit speak? He speaks about “the magnificent acts of God”. He speaks about the “greatness of God” (Acts 10:46). The gospel – God’s magnificent and great acts for broken sinners – is the language of the Spirit. His language is not the language of accusation, shame, guilt and condemnation. Healing, reconciliation and unity comes when people and churches are immersed and fluent in the Spirit’s tongue – the glory of God and His great love for us in Jesus.
3. THE HOLY SPIRIT… SENDS EVERYONE ON MISSION (2:14-21)
In Old Testament the Spirit’s filling and empowering was selective and temporary. At Pentecost, we see that the Holy Spirit not only sends the gospel to everyone regardless of race, language, gender; He also sends the gospel through everyone – regardless of age, gender or social status.
This is the main thrust of Peter’s reference to the prophet Joel – “all people”, “sons and daughters”, “young men and old men”, “servants, both men and women” will all be equipped to speak the language of the Spirit (i.e., prophesy). Though Peter took on a leadership role and the 12 apostles were witnesses in special way: the mission of the church was given to everyone (see 2:1 – they were all together. 2:3 Fire “rested on each one of them” and 2:4 “they were all filled”. Everyone is sent on mission.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. As John Stott wrote, “As a body without breath is dead, so the church without the Spirit is dead. “The Holy Spirit is the power and force that starts something new in our churches and lives. How does this encourage you? What questions do you have about this?
Is there a part of your life or your faith that feels lifeless and cold? Where do you need the breath and the fire of God in your life right now?
3. How is racial and cultural misunderstanding continuing to impact our world/your life? What difference might the lessons of Pentecost (above) make when they are lived out in the church?
4. Do you struggle with an “inner language of condemnation, guilt, shame and accusation”? How so? How do we know this isn’t the language of the gospel or the Holy Spirt? [for further help on this question - Joel’s prophecy is not the only prophecy that was (and is being fulfilled) with the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. As a group, read Zephaniah 3:9-20. Zephaniah says God will teach the nations a new speech. Using Zephaniah 3:9-20, how would you describe the language God is teaching the world?]
5. How or where is the Spirt sending you on mission? (note – this most often means being “sent” to where we already are with fresh confidence in the Spirit’s power and work).