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.
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.
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.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 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.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 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.
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.
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.