THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES | PART 7 (Conclusion) Acts 2:1-21
A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
“Let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy, alleluia, alleluia.” – Ps 68:3
The descent of the Spirit on the first church of Jerusalem is an event accompanied by wonders and signs the like of which have not to be seen or heard since. The assembly of a hundred and twenty are gathered in the upper room, when the sound “like a rush of violent wind,” the sight of “divided tongues, as of fire,” and the sudden speaking in “other languages” fills the entire house. A life-giving wind kindles the consuming flames that catch in the phenomena of language and burn through the confusion of understanding that had reigned since God halted construction of the Tower of Babel. A crowd gathers “at this sound” and Peter and the other eleven apostles go outside to speak. Fear and suspicion are overwhelmed by joy, the Gospel is preached, and “devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem” are united by belief into a Messianic community that continues today to add to its numbers.
The Spirit’s gift of wisdom manifests as power, purity, and universality.[i] People can suddenly hear the Galileans “speaking about God’s deeds of power” “in the native language of each.” Peter proclaims Prophesy fulfilled, Jesus of Nazareth resurrected and sitting on his throne in heaven, and a way out from the wrath of the sure-to-come day of the Lord, “when the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood.” The morning’s supernatural display of the Spirit’s truth is so powerful that a crowd numbering three thousand will accept Jesus as its Savior, be baptized and washed clean from its sin, and receive in its hearts the presence of the Holy Spirit. People are utterly changed; their lives, like ours, made new in Christ, as they are born again.
We have come to the end of the Great 50 days of Easter. God had been absent from the world for ten days, but now he is back. Between the first and second coming of the Son, the Spirit, Advocate and Comforter, has been sent to his people, the church of his disciples. The Spirit works in the community of God’s people and in the hearts of its individual members. The gift of the Spirit relieves us of the distress we experience, “When Christ dies, then rises, but then departs again,” and “the enormous abyss of human vulnerability is opened up as darkly and fathomlessly as possible.”[ii] The Spirit teaches us everything, and reminds us of all Jesus himself has said (Jn 14:26-27). The emotional and intellectual rescue of the church by the Spirit has its counterpart in the Son’s rescue of our bodies from the grave. Just as the Spirit comes to Jesus at his baptism and leads him into the desert, the Spirit comes to the church, and leads her to the ends of the world.[iii]
The end time imagery of wind, flame, and tongues “was spoken through the prophet Joel” (2:17-18) and reveals “the last days” of redemption history. We are the “sons and daughters” chosen by God to “prophesy,” “see visions,” and “dream dreams.” For us, God “pours out his Spirit,” “shows portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below.” We are his witnesses, organized as a kind of way station for moving his people between the present and the not-yet present of his kingdom. As a gathered people, and as a people sent, the Spirit moves within us.
Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Paul also lists nine spiritual gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle-working, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). These fruits and gifts embody the grace that comes by faith, “And they are not given for personal gain. Through these fruits and gifts, the Holy Spirit empowers us for ministry in the world.”[iv] When we sense our hearts stirred by God, are challenged to fulfill the purpose of our lives, and feel supported and comforted striving to meet this challenge, we say the Holy Spirit is at work in us.
The Spirit’s activity is God- breathed, like a wind: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8). We experience the presence of the Spirit most strongly when we are alone, quiet and still, in prayer and contemplation, reading the Bible, or absorbed in the worshipping church. In both our love and our distress, the Spirit’s support and comfort is intensely personal. This is especially true when we gather in worship and when we celebrate the mystery of Holy Communion. The Spirit, sent by the Father through his Son, who is uniquely present at the birth of the church, continues to teach, guide and uphold us in eternal memory.
The Great 50 days of Easter has been an opportunity for us to apply what we can learn from Luke’s account of apostolic church life to church life today. We asked, “Can we identify Scriptural principles of church life that are normative, which give us a model of a correct way of ordering church life?” Each of us will have drawn from our study lessons to apply in our small, local community. We recognize the extraordinary continuity of our pattern of worship and doctrine, which form the basis of Christian life, and we have heard and seen that this new life in the body of Christ includes the ministries of hospitality, fellowship, generosity, study, service, evangelism, teaching, and our relationship with those outside our community.
The authority of Scripture is the authority of its story, not of a rule book; we are saved by grace and born again in the Spirit so that we can fulfill the purposes of God. The practical side of church life calls for three things: safeguarding the worship of Jesus, spreading the gospel message of Jesus[v], and obeying his commandments. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are rooted in the promises, obedience, and sacrificial life of Jesus.
We live in a crooked generation, and are led astray from righteousness. At the Pentecost, Peter outlines in his sermon the fundamentals of our faith: (1) The fulfillment of history has been inaugurated in the kingdom of God; (2) This kingdom has been established through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus; (3) Jesus ascended into the heavens, to be exalted at the right hand of God; (4) Acting as sovereign lord and messianic king, Jesus sent through his Father the Holy Spirit to be with his church; (5) The Spirit that now moves among us will remain with us until the second coming of the Son; (6) “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” from the wrath of the day of the lord. By grace, through faith, we repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus; our sins are forgiven, and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost is viewed as proof that Jesus is the Messiah. The community of believers quickly expands, from the first church of Jerusalem, to the predominantly Greek churches in Ephesus, Corinth, and Troas. The churches described in The Acts assign everyone, deacons, elders, and laity, various ministries and care-taking responsibilities within the Christian communities. Circumstances and conditions will change over time, but our responsibilities remain essentially twofold: we are to provide for church members, and we are to go out into the world as missional people, evangelizing in our daily lives of work, family, and recreational activities. Our obedience to Jesus, our integrity and humility, faith, hope, and charity, is a witness and a blessing to the world, and our duty, as “Christ’s representatives in the world.”
The Spirit moving within us is always a spirit challenging us to change, to meet the expectations of our new birth. In repentance, we turn from selfishness to selflessness, from the pursuit of human desires to the desire to know and serve God, and we live our lives as a series of turns; we are changed by turning. My brothers and sisters, please do not echo the world’s refrain, that change is hard; Jesus, God of power and might, is the head of the church, and his Spirit is within us, empowering us to change, to change into the very image of God that is our original face.
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Though they spoke many different languages,
you made the nations one in professing the same faith.”[vi]
[i] John Stott, BSTNT, Acts 2
[ii] Barbee and Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, 67
[iii] John Stott, ibid
[iv] see United Methodist Member’s Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), 84-85.
[vi] Prayer from the Daily Office, quoted in Pfatteicher, Journey into the Heart of God, 269