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A New Day, a New People

Acts 2:1-39

Introduction: What John the Baptist foretold (John 1:33 “He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit”), what Jesus promised (John 14:15–17; 15:26, 27; 16:12–15 – “even the Spirit of truth; Whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth; When he, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth); what he enacted (John 20:22, 23 – “Receive the Holy Spirit”) and what he told them to wait for now comes to pass (Luke 24:49 “Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. …  (Acts 1:5, 8) “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. … You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”.

I. The day of Pentecost arrived (2:1).

A. Its appearance as a festival – This was the second of the great Jewish festivals, coming 7 weeks, fifty days, after Passover, thus called the feast of weeks.

As one of the three great festivals, on Pentecost every male was required to appear before the Lord at the sanctuary in Jerusalem (Exodus 34:22, 23). Pentecost marked the completion of barley harvest (and probably the wheat also [Leviticus 23:15–21; Deuteronomy 16:9, 10]) and was a time of good cheer, joy, and rest, as suggested by its being marked as a Sabbath. Specified sacrifices for a peace offering, burnt offering (from unblemished animals, of course), and wave offering also were designated.

B. Its meaning as a festival – This was a time when God’s sustaining mercies to the nation were especially noted.

Two large loaves of bread, leavened and salted (Leviticus 23), were presented before the Lord showing the abundance of his kindness. The great gathering showed that God brought his people to himself but did not receive them without sacrifice and without their recognition of his lordship over them and his standing as the provider of all good things.

C. How fitting Pentecost was as a type of this event.

This would be the time for the first announcement of the perfect sacrifice having been offered, “delivered up” by God himself. On this occasion, the ingathering of wheat would be personalized in the ingathering of the wheat of God’s church. Its drawing of persons from widespread places of the Jewish diaspora symbolized, even though all were Jews, the universal reach of the gospel to form the “kingdom of priests, the holy nation, the peculiar people (1 Peter 2:9) was symbolically enacted.

 

II. The manifestation of the coming of the Spirit

A. Loud but inarticulate sound (2:2) –

The sound like a rushing mighty wind filled the house reminiscent of the phenomena at Sinai, thunder and lightning, a thick cloud, and a very loud trumpet blast (Exodus 19:16); or with Elijah when “a great strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rock, but the Lord was not in the wind.” Next were earthquake and fire, but “the Lord was not in the fire” (2 Kings 19). These are manifestations of power, provoking fear, but do not articulate the divine will.

B. The appearance of tongues of fire rested on each one of them, about 120 in all.

Like the lightning at Sinai and the fire before Elijah, these tongues indicated that a revelation from God, absolute in truthfulness, purifying in power, and distinguishing in character would follow. It would bring blessing to those who heeded and a curse to those who ignored or disobeyed.

C. Speech eminently understandable flowed from them as the Spirit gave them utterance (4–8).

On Sinai, Moses gave the Ten Commandments; to Elijah the judgment wielded by Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha was announced along with God’s preservation of a remnant of 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Now the wind, noise, and fire introduce the message of Christ’s triumph over death leading to the necessity of repentance and receiving forgiveness of sins in his name alone. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

 

III. This was the beginning of the witness in Jerusalem but had within it the scattering of the new community of God throughout the nations.

A. They were “dwelling” in Jerusalem because of Pentecost.

Because of the provision required in Deuteronomy and Leviticus (above), they had come and taken residence for a few days. Tens of thousands had to find lodging or set up tents.

B. These were people well educated in the Scriptures and devoted to the Jewish ceremonies.

They are called “devout.” In verse 11, Luke noted that the group was composed of “both Jews and proselytes.” From among this group of devout proselytes came Paul’s first convert in Macedonia, Lydia (Acts 16:14). They took seriously the required festivals, celebrating it according to the law, and probably meditated on its meaning for the special place of Israel in the plan of God. They would be particularly susceptible to any manifestation of divine presence during the days of this festival.

C. They were from “every nation under heaven.”

Luke mentions about 15 places. This does not mean absolutely every nation, but every nation in which Jews were dispersed and from which they would come to Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks. The conversions at this time and their eventual return to their place of residence inform James’s introduction of his letter to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” Also, Peter had it in mind when he wrote to those “who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1).

D. They were drawn by the phenomena and heard the preaching about “the mighty works of God” in their own tongue.

    1. Verse 4 says that these disciples, as a result of this special operation of the Spirit, “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The phenomenon, therefore, was definitely in the mind and tongue of these disciples to be able to speak in other tongues. It was not a miracle of hearing as some have suggested from verses 6 and 8. Rather, the people from all the places mentioned heard in their native language because that language was being spoken by someone as the crowd began to organize itself into language groups.
    2. This precisely fulfilled the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8. At this point the selected followers of Jesus began preaching a gospel message, not only empowered by the Spirit, but inspired in words to deliver the revealed content concerning Jesus as the Christ, the redeeming Son of God. To this Peter referred when he said, “This word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25).
    3. These “mighty works” are referred to in Peter’s sermon when he mentions that Jesus was “attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in our midst.” He also clearly has in mind the fact that “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32).

E. The crowd was divided as to the meaning of the miraculous event. The event seemed so bizarre, that they sought some extraordinary explanation for its appearance.

    1. Some believed that this was a special act of God and asked, “What does this mean?” Perhaps they understood that the types and ceremonies of the Old Testament were awaiting some kind of redemptive fulfillment, and they were prompted to think that this might be it.
    2. Others found it so bizarre and disturbing that they concluded that they must have been partaking of an inebriating wine.
      • This was an irrational suggestion and counter to the nature of the events themselves. Could drunken people begin to speak in a variety of languages? Could they produce the powerful external phenomena that prompted this gathering?
      • Jesus had been accused of being a wine-bibber and glutton, yea, even of doing his exorcisms by the power of Satan. Those left to the hardness of their hearts will always look for an explanation, unjustified though it may be, that will side-step the conviction and spiritual implications of any aspect of God’s gracious revelation. They will misinterpret nature (Romans 1:20–23), the divine power of Jesus (Luke 11:14–23), the resurrection (Matthew 28:11–15); and the scriptural evidence for Jesus’ Messianic credentials (Acts 28:23–28).

 

IV. Verses14, 15ff – Peter speaks for the entire group claiming that this is a fulfillment of prophecy.

A. Peter stood and drew attention to himself in order to explain what was happening.

As he had taken the lead in the upper room to complete the number of the apostles, so now he acts as spokesman. Jesus had set him aside for this purpose (Luke 22:31 and John 21:15–17, 22). The ministry of Peter dominates the first 12 chapters of Acts.

B. He refuted the illegitimate interpretation of these events and related it immediately to the fulfillment of prophecy, Joel’s prediction (Joel 2:28–32) of the “last days” when God would pour out his Spirit.

    1. The present phenomenon is described in verses 17, 18. The close of the “last days” is described in verses 19, 20. The prevailing reality initiated by these events that will characterize this age from that point until the great and magnificent “Day of the Lord,” is given in verse 21. “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
      • Joel’s words (Joel 2:32) find their ultimate fulfillment in the salvation wrought by Jesus Christ. Peter refers to Joel’s words “those whom the Lord calls” in verse 39.
      • This call reemphasizes that the people of God will now be identified in their visible unity by the reality of faith. The days of identity through ceremonies, like Pentecost, Passover, and circumcision have ended. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, the Father seeks those who worship in Spirit and in truth. As Jesus told Nicodemus, you must be born again by the Spirit of God and the Son of Man must be lifted up so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
    1. Peter then showed the group that all that God was doing in the ceremonies and throughout the Scriptures was to prepare his nation and his people scattered abroad for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
      • He was attested to be Messiah by the signs that he performed (Acts 2:22).
      • They rejected the evidence and crucified him using Gentile laws to perform their damnable purpose (2:23).
      • Even this was foreordained by God for the salvation of his people (2:23).
      • God has overruled all the evil intent of people; His preordained purpose was prophesied by David in Psalm 16:8–11 and fulfilled in the actual historical raising of Jesus from the dead (2:25–32).
      • Having died as a substitute for his people and having satisfied divine wrath for sin, “It was impossible for him to be held in its power” (2:24). “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?” (Isaiah 25:8; 1 Corinthians 15:55).
      • The one that they had rejected was made by God to be Lord and Christ (2:36) through the very death they had inflicted on him. “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:3, 4). “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:8, 9).
    1. A powerful work of the Spirit resulted in the conversion of 3000 persons, who identified themselves with Jesus by being baptized.
      • The people, pierced to the heart by the Holy Spirit, cried out, “What shall we do?” (37).
      • Peter designated two things to do and two gifts of grace that would be granted. “Repent” involved a complete shift of mind about their former judgment of Christ acknowledging that their judgment was the outflow of a sinful resistance to God and his righteousness. In showing that this shift in attitude was a faith in the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s lordship demonstrated in his death, burial and resurrection, they were to be baptized, put to death in their old life in the cleansing power of the Spirit and raised to a resurrection life anticipating the joy of heaven. This identification with Christ by repentance and faith would result in forgiveness of sins and their union by the Spirit with the new covenant people of God, “as many as the Lord our God will call to himself” (39).

 

The Spirit hovered at creation, ordering, giving distinction,
Sustaining the work of Word and Father involved in their intention.
Clear purpose from God who brought all things to be
All works are completed through oneness of three.

Election from the Father’s will, redemption from the Son
Engage the Spirit’s power so the saving work again is one.
Having finished all his suffering that the Father bade him do,
The Son sends the Spirit to convict, convert, renew.

A rushing wind and tongues of fire alarmed the crowd at Pentecost,
Each one heard in his own language, “Jesus came to save the lost.”

Miracles, compassion, truth-telling and prophecy
confirmed that Jesus had divine approval.
Hard-hearted, truth haters, wicked deceivers
Had clamored vengefully for his removal.

A fallen world, a fallen race resist the will divine
Yet God in wisdom and in power works redemption’s plan.
We put to death the source of life, condemned to death a sinless man
God raised him up, declared him just; our malice rendered him benign.

How striking that our hearts and minds flame out against pure holiness and love!
Amendment of our moral texture awaits a thorough change in nature
Only empowered from above.

We ask, alarmed at the evil of our hearts,
“What can we do?”
The answer comes, inspired and required of God,
“Repent and be made new.”

When Jesus died and rose again,
Both death and life were in our place;
Forgiveness in death, acceptance in life,
Enemies transformed by his grace.

Still the Spirit hovers sustaining all works of saving mercy,
preserving to God all eternal praise,
Convicting, washing, sealing, interceding.
Sinners embalmed, from death will be raised.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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