Pentecost

Every year at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus as God became a man.  Obviously this is the most important event in human history as it culminates at the cross and brings about our salvation.  We are right to celebrate it as we do.

However, there is another event that is nearly as important to the life of a Christian and it receives almost no attention at all.  There is another time that God comes to earth.  Before He died, Jesus told His disciples that He would not leave them alone.

John 14:16-18

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

There are many differences between Jesus and the Holy Spirit but one of them is that Jesus came for the whole world.  The Holy Spirit is only given to believers however.  While non-believers rejected Jesus, they still could not deny His existence nor all that He did.  The rest of the world rejects the notion of the Holy Spirit however.

Just because the Holy Spirit is given to believers, He still works with non-believers.  But His work is entirely different among believers and non-believers.  In John 16 Jesus describes the work that the Holy Spirit would do among non-believers.

John 16:7-11

Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

To put these verses in other words, the Holy Spirit will convict non-believers of past sin, of the present need for righteousness, and warn of future judgment.  The Holy Spirit would assist in the work that the disciples were being called to do by ultimately softening people’s hearts to be receptive to the gospel.

That is not all the Holy Spirit will do for non-believers and believers however.  A big part of what we’ll see in Acts 2 Jesus told His disciples about in John 15:26-27:

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

The Holy Spirit is going to testify about Jesus and He will assist the disciples in testifying.  They will receive power in their testimony.  And certainly the Holy Spirit is going to work in helping the disciples recall all that they had been taught by Jesus.  Similarly today the Holy Spirit works to help us recall what we know to be true about the Lord because we have read it in scriptures.

The actual arrival of the Holy Spirit is both simple and amazing at the same time.

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

40 days after His resurrection Jesus returned to heaven.  Chapter 2 begins 10 days after this on the day of Pentecost.  Pentecost was not a celebration prior to this, it simply gets its name from the Greek word for 50 – penta.  It is simply 50 days since Easter.

Even though Pentecost is not named or celebrated before this time, this does coincide with a Jewish holiday just as the Lord’s Supper was originally a celebration of the Passover feast.  Pentecost happened on the feast of weeks which was seven weeks after the second day of Passover, or 50 days from the start of Passover.  It was a type of thanksgiving and harvest celebration.

It is not a coincidence that major events happen on the same days of the Jewish feasts.  God established the Jewish feasts to look forward to Jesus and His life.  The feast of weeks coincided with the same day that Moses was given the law on Mount Sinai.

The coming of the Holy Spirit happened suddenly and was accompanied with outward signs.  There was the sound of rushing wind.  The wind is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit and in fact it is the same work in the Greek.  If you have pneumonia, it means that you have having trouble breathing – with air or wind.  The study of the Holy Spirit is known as pneumotology.

Jesus likened the Holy Spirit to the wind in John 3:8:

The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Next are the tongues of fire.  In Luke 3:16 John the Baptist told his listeners that while he baptized with water, the one who was coming would baptize with fire.

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

As I’ve mentioned already that the Holy Spirit serves two different functions between believers and non-believers, fire serves two functions as well.  For believers, fire represents refinement.  Fire burns away impurities while leaving behind what is pure and makes it malleable as well.  For non-believers, fire represents judgment.  In AD 70 the city of Jerusalem would burn and fire would destroy the temple.  The fire would melt all of the gold and it would run into the cracks of the stonework.  The Roman soldiers would literally pry every stone apart to dig out the gold so that not one stone would remain atop another, just as Jesus had foretold.

The tongues were literal above the disciples’ heads but they would also be spoken.  We’ll discuss tongues later on in Acts so I won’t spend any time with it here except to say that these are actual languages that other people understand.  With other occurrences of tongues being spoken, it is not clear whether they are literal languages or not because not everyone understands them.  Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 14 that if tongues are used in worship that there should be an interpreter.  For the time being I’ll leave open for debate whether speaking in tongues is even an active gift in the church today.  But what I can definitively say is that many churches that claim to use tongues do so in clear violation of Paul’s instructions of their use.

Acts 2:5-13

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

There are two important things to note from these verses.  The first is that these people speak many different languages but they all hear the disciples in their own language.  This appears to be different from other times when we see tongues being spoken in the New Testament.

The other thing to note is the long list of countries that are present.  There were three Jewish feasts that required all Jewish men to come to Jerusalem to celebrate.  Passover was one such event and the Feast of Weeks was another.  Therefore Jerusalem is full of foreigners at this moment.  The people that are present at this time will return to their homes shortly, taking the message of the gospel with them.

Despite the miraculous event, some in the crowd don’t believe what is going on and instead reach the conclusion that the disciples are drunk.

Acts 2:14-22

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 

The coming of the Holy Spirit signifies that the last days are upon us.  We often hear that we are living in the last days because of ominous signs that we see occurring but the truth is that we’ve been living in the last days for 2000 years.

The reason that we are in the last days has nothing to do with any signs of Jesus’ return but rather simply because of God’s calendar.  In short, there is nothing more that needs to be accomplished on God’s calendar.  Jesus completed the work of salvation on the cross.  Now we are simply waiting for His return to happen.

This doesn’t mean that this entire prophecy has been fulfilled yet.  Depending on your interpretation, we have certainly seen blood and fire and billows of smoke through numerous wars.  However the sun has not turned to darkness nor the moon to blood.  These things will precede the day of the Lord.

The key is not a matter of signs or wonders however but Joel’s last line quoted by Peter, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  This was Joel’s message and it will be the focus of Peter’s message as he continues to speak to the crowd.

I won’t go over Peter’s entire sermon but I will emphasize that this same basic message is repeated several times throughout the book of Acts.  Stephen preaches it before he is stoned to death.  Paul will later preach it in many cities.  Why is the same message repeated again and again?  Because it is the only message to preach!

When speaking to Christians there are plenty of things to speak about because God gives us numerous guidelines for living a holier and better life.  But when speaking to non-Christians, the only message that is worth preaching is about the need for salvation.

Acts 2:23-24 will be repeated several times in different ways.

23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

The message of the cross is simple.  Jesus was put to death but God raised Him from the dead.  It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Jesus because He was sinless.  He bore our sins on the cross and paid the penalty of spiritual death – separation from God.  But because He was sinless He could not remain dead.

While only weeks beforehand the disciples didn’t understand much of what Jesus had been teaching them about His death and resurrection, they now understood and had the benefit of hindsight.  But even more, the Holy Spirit was opening their eyes and giving them understanding into what Jesus had told them.

Acts 2:36-41

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

While the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost, that’s not all that took place.  The Holy Spirit came upon 3000 others as they repented of their sins.  Earlier I mentioned that the Feast of Weeks coincided with the giving of the law on Mount Sinai.  This was the day that Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments.  To be perfectly honest I have tried on several occasions and I haven’t been able to do the math right so I can’t confirm this myself.  But the law was given 50 days after Passover according to people more knowledgeable to me.

You might recall what happened with the giving of the Ten Commandments.  When Moses came down the people were in the midst of worshipping the golden calf.  According to Exodus 32:28, 3000 people were killed on the day that Moses gave the law, all because they were already breaking it.

Notice the parallel.  The law brings death.  But when the Holy Spirit comes – on the exact same day almost 1500 years later – 3000 people are saved.  The whole point of the law was that it brought death.  The law was meant to show us that we couldn’t be perfect.  And once we realized we couldn’t be perfect, then we’d know that we needed to do something about that.  Jesus was the solution to that problem.

The law brought death because we couldn’t fulfill it.  But Jesus fulfilled the law.  And with Him, He brought life.  The Holy Spirit is given on Pentecost.  He brings life as non-believers are convicted of their sins and believers are challenged to live holier lives.

Pentecost is the birthday of the church.  It is the second time that God came to dwell among men.  The first time God came as a man, as Jesus.  On Pentecost God came and dwelt in the heart of every believer.

Godly Leadership

So I’ve known for quite a while that my last sermon series was reaching its end.  And even after Randy gave me an extra week to think on it I still wasn’t 100% sure what direction I wanted to take.  I debated doing an overview of the minor prophets because most people have probably never studied them.  I thought about preaching on the general epistles at the end of the New Testament because those are some books that I want to study some more because of personal projects.  I thought about taking one book and just looking at it in depth.

Ultimately I settled on the book of Acts.  I don’t even recall exactly why but after I settled on it I realized that it is a very good follow up to the last two series I’ve preached on.  As we spent the summer and the first part of fall looking at what it means to be a church member, Acts shows us the beginning of the church and what a fully functioning church looks like.  It is also a natural follow up to studying the life of Christ as the disciples become the second generation to spread the teachings of Jesus.

Finally, this week I learned about some leadership troubles that my home church is having.  I also found out about some issues that the Brethren in Christ has had recently.  Well as fortune would have it, Acts 1 begins with an issue of leadership and we’ll see some more leadership issues throughout the book.  So I really do believe that after all of my indecision on what to preach on next, Acts is where we are meant to go.

I have no clue how long we’ll be in Acts.  There are 28 chapters and even if I do a chapter a week that’s 7 months.  I intend on looking at some of these stories more in depth but I might not cover every verse because that would take a long time.  We will get started in Acts and then step away for a few weeks for Christmas, so we won’t really hit our stride until January.

But to start, we’re in Acts 1.

The book of Acts opens up 40 days after Easter.  Jesus has spent the time instructing His disciples, mainly showing them what they had missed before in the Old Testament, explaining why He had to die.  The gospel of John gives us a bit of insight into what took place after Easter morning but ultimately we don’t know too much of what took place in between the books.

Acts 1:1-2

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

This doesn’t have a lot of bearing on the first 8 chapters of the book but the author of book is Luke.  He doesn’t identify himself here but the gospel of Luke is also addressed to Theophilus which makes an easy connection between the two books.  Additionally, the writer is a traveling companion of Paul’s as he sometimes speaks in the first person “we” while writing.

The reason that Luke’s authorship is important is in part because he is a firsthand witness to some of the events that take place during Paul’s journeys.  Other events are an account of Paul’s journeys that he received directly from Paul.  The early chapters are likely a well researched compilation of what took place at the advent of the church.

Luke doesn’t specify why he is writing but the manner in which the book abruptly ends could point to a reason.  By the end of Acts, Paul is under arrest in Rome.  It appears as though Luke’s retelling of the gospel story as well as the book of Acts is to mount a defense for Paul and show that he had been wrongfully arrested and had done no wrong.  Even though Paul is released from prison the first time he is in Rome, Luke does not continue the story because there is no need.  There is no 2 Acts because the next time Paul is imprisoned in Rome his mission is complete and there is no purpose in recounting the rest of the story.

The opening chapters of Acts begin without Paul in the picture however.

Acts 1:3-9

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

There are only two verses I want to highlight here.  The first is pertinent to the message today: “Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised.”  The second verse is the key to the entire book of Acts.  Acts 1:8 both summarizes and outlines the book.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

As we go through the book of Acts we’ll see it organized into three sections with Peter being the key to the start of each section.  It will begin in Jerusalem on Pentecost which we’ll see next week.  Later the gospel will spread to Judea and Samaria.  Finally in Acts 10 the gospel is extended to the ends of the earth as Peter goes to the first Gentile, Cornelius.

What I really want to focus on today though is the rest of Acts 1.

Following Jesus’ ascension Peter takes charge of the group.  He begins to address them in Acts 1:15-19:

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

Judas is gone, having hung himself shortly after his betrayal of Jesus.  The disciples now understand that Judas was fulfilling prophecy when he betrayed Jesus.  This didn’t mean that he was forgiven for it though as he did so of his own free will.

This is one of the places where people like to point to scripture and say that it has contradictions in it.  The gospels say that Judas hung himself while here it says that he fell and his intestines spilled out.  How do we rectify these two accounts?  Take a look at Matthew 27:1-10 and compare.

1Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 2They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.
3When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4″I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

5So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

6The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

There are two possibilities as to how Judas could hang himself but his guts burst open after falling.  According to tradition, Judas hung himself over a cliff.  At some point the rope or the branch broke, sending Judas tumbling which resulted in the description of Acts 1.

The other possibility is even more gruesome but also a fitting end for Judas.  No one got him down after he hung himself.  There are two very good reasons for this.  One is that anyone who hung on a tree was considered cursed.  Two is that touching a dead body left a person ceremonially unclean and no one was going to do this for Judas’ sake.  He hung there until he began to rot and at some point the rope or branch gave way.  Because of the amount of time which had passed, Judas split open when he hit the ground.  Either end is unpleasant.

It is ironic that the chief priests will not take Judas’ money back because it was considered “blood money” but they had no problem paying that blood money to have an innocent man killed.  This twisted logic explains the Jewish leaders well and gives us an understanding as to why Jesus so frequently clashed with them on their hypocrisy.

Acts says that Judas bought a field with his money.  In reality the Jewish leaders bought the field but it was with Judas’ money and therefore legally his even if he wasn’t the one who purchased it.

Continuing on in the book of Acts 1:20-22

20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms:

“‘May his place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in it,’

and,

“‘May another take his place of leadership.’

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Peter interprets scripture presumably correctly when he decides that Judas is to be replaced.  The two verses that he quotes sound like contradictions but I believe the first one should be understood as there will never be another Judas.  Probably since they discovered that Judas was a thief as treasurer for the disciples, they are not going to place sole responsibility of their funds with one person.  There seems to be some indication that the money is taken care of collectively after this point and not left to just one person.

Verse 21 is where a problem arises in my opinion.  Peter comes up with criteria for replacing Judas.  These criteria sound good and reasonable.  But are these criteria based on scripture?  There’s nothing in scripture for or against selecting another disciple.  However, how were the first disciples chosen?  They were chosen by Jesus after thoughtful prayer.  God guided Jesus to choose the disciples through the Holy Spirit.  And that’s going to be the problem.

The disciples have been praying.  I skipped a couple of verses earlier but it says that they’ve been praying and presumably they’ve been praying about this issue.  The problem is that they don’t have the Holy Spirit yet.  Remember the key verse I mentioned for this passage?  Stay in Jerusalem and wait.  They stayed in Jerusalem and they would eventually receive the Holy Spirit but I really think that they should have waited here.  I don’t think that these criteria are what God had in mind and I don’t believe that the man chosen is the right choice.

Acts 1:23-26

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

The casting of lots was an Old Testament practice which God instituted.  It is not simply superstition and there was nothing wrong with it in the Old Testament.  But we don’t see it again in the New Testament.  The reason is that the Holy Spirit is meant to guide our decisions and give us discernment into God’s will.  We don’t need to cast lots in order to determine God’s will because the Holy Spirit is meant to show us His will.  The disciples didn’t have the Holy Spirit yet and if they had waited I believe that He would have told them to hold up because neither of these guys were God’s choice.

I’m sure that both of these men were great men of faith and they probably had an important impact in beginning of the church.  However I’m also confident in saying that the replacement who God had in mind will not even be a Christian for a while yet.  I believe that God’s choice is the apostle Paul.

We need to be careful when we select leaders because we can quickly make up criteria that are not God’s.  The Bible does give us some criteria.  1 Timothy and Titus in particular lay out some of the things to look for in leaders.  A lot of times though we mistake leaders with people who have been around the longest.  This isn’t just a Christian mistake but a human mistake.

Most of us have seen people in the workplace who are good workers in the job that they’re in but then they get promoted.  And suddenly when they have to supervise or do something different, they are lousy at their jobs.  These are the bosses that you wonder how on earth they got their job.  Odds are that they actually were good in another position but got promoted to a position that they weren’t gifted at.

Not every Christian is meant to be a leader and there’s nothing wrong with that.  That doesn’t mean that they are bad Christians or that they are somehow lacking.  It simply means that leading is not one of their spiritual gifts.  A person may be a great teacher or someone who works wonderfully behind the scenes but that doesn’t make them a good decision maker.

The issue that I’m seeing at my home church is one where people want to be leaders but they aren’t qualified.  They want authority but not responsibility.  They want to be in charge so that they can make decisions but aren’t necessarily interested in what is best for the church.

This week the bishop emailed the pastors of the conference to clarify some of our own leadership issues.  As I understand it, some church leaders haven’t completely understood the beliefs of the denomination and ended in conflict with the pastor of a church.

There is no such thing as a perfect leader.  I’m certainly not perfect in my leadership and I don’t expect other church leaders to be perfect.  As we look through Acts we’ll see that the disciples weren’t even perfect with the help of the Holy Spirit.  And without waiting for the Spirit I believe they made the wrong choice in this passage.

The goal of the church is not to find perfect leaders because they don’t exist.  But they church should be wise in who is chosen to lead and those in the position to lead must be humble in looking out for the best interests of the church.  Without both of these elements we could end up with a Matthias as a leader instead of a Paul.  In other words, someone who is not necessarily bad but also less than what God intends.