A Powerful and Awesome Force

1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia 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!” 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

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

14Then 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.15These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16No, 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.
18Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

22″Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.23This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But 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. 25David said about him:
” ‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will live in hope,
27because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
28You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

29″Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.31Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
” ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.” ‘

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

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

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

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

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2

I’m writing this on the day the iPad is released in the UK. I’m a bit of an Apple-fan, and so this is quite significant for me. I am on a bit of an economy drive at the moment, though, since I am about to spend three weeks in the USA, and then return to Northern Ireland to get married in August. As a result, I can’t really afford to splash out on unnecessary gadgets at the moment. At the airport this morning, though, I joined the crowd of mainly young men who were crowded around this new Apple product in Dixons, and even had a bit of a play on it. It was an incredible bit of kit, and fulfilled all of the expectations I had for this heavily promoted product. That’s something of a rarity these days, it seems to me. Most of the time when we’re promised a new product, we feel it is overhyped, and that it fails to live up to the expectations we had of it. Consumer disappointment often reaches high levels! As we see in chapter two of Acts, however, that is never the case with God’s promises!

In Acts 1, the apostles were given a mission by Jesus. Their role was to spread the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth. This seemed like a very daunting task, but the apostles were promised the arrival of the Holy Spirit, which would give them power to complete this task. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit arrives, and boy, is it powerful! It arrived “like the blowing of a violent wind,” and tongues of fire rested on them. The Holy Spirit had come with force, and filled each of the apostles. Suddenly, they found that they could speak in different languages – not “tongues” in the sense of a language understood only by God, but real languages, that were recognisable to the people from across the world who had gathered in Jerusalem. Not only was this a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, but it also served a very practical purpose; those who had gathered were able to understand the gospel message preached by the apostles, and 3,000 came to faith as a result.

The power of the Holy Spirit also brought about a change in Peter. Peter was a humble fisherman, who a few years previously had been running his own small fishing firm. Although he was one of the apostles who was closest to Jesus, he didn’t have a particularly bright career behind him. It was he who sank when he didn’t have the faith to walk across the water. He was the one who when asked by Jesus who he thought he was replied “the Christ,” but did not understand what this meant. He was the disciple who denied Jesus three times. Yet here, in Acts 2, we see Peter addressing the crowd so effectively and so persuasively that many gave their lives to Jesus right there and then. The power of the Holy Spirit had taken hold of Simon Peter, the fisherman, and transformed him into Peter, the preacher extraordinaire! As Christians, we are also filled with the Holy Spirit, and should not doubt our abilities to serve God. The Holy Spirit will ensure that we are adequately equipped to fulfil whatever purpose God has in store for us. We might feel inadequate and that we are the wrong choice, but God can use anyone for his purposes!

When the Holy Spirit does come with power, it reveals that the gospel is for everyone, not just the chosen few. The gospel of Christ is fully inclusive. This is clear when the Holy Spirit fills the apostles, enabling them to speak in languages that were not their own. At this time, a large number of people from across the world had gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Many of these people heard the gospel being preached in their own languages – an early opening up of the gospel message. Peter also quotes a passage from the Old Testament, from the book of Joel, in which it is made clear that the gospel is for all peoples. That same passage also comments that men and women will prophesy, which is often taken to mean teaching in the sense of communicating and explaining God’s word. It goes on to affirm that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, without exception. Peter takes this idea up in the closing section of his sermon. The promise of salvation, he says, is open to all – to the listeners, to their children, and all who are far off, presumably in distance and time. The promise is open to all. No-one is excluded from this gospel message. It is for everyone, no matter who they are.

There is a requirement, however, if salvation is to be received. Upon hearing Peter, many in the crowd are deeply affected, and want to know what they should do. Peter’s response is clear; they must repent of their sins and, as a mark of their new start, be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. If they do this, Peter says, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This requirement is both simple and difficult. It is easy to ask for forgiveness, but repentance is more than just that. Repentance means actively turning away from sin. It means apologising for doing all those things that God dislikes, but it also means making a commitment to strive not to commit those sins again. Repentance is meaningless unless it is accompanied by a change of heart and a new direction. God understands that we all slip and fall, and that as fallen human beings the chances are that we will sin again, but he wants us to strive to live a life that is holy and pleasing to him. If we take this step, Peter promises us that we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which will inspire and guide us, and ultimately lead us to salvation.

The apostles did not have to wait too long for the Holy Spirit to arrive, and when it did it proved to be a powerful and awesome force. It did not leave their expectations unfulfilled in any way. It equiped the apostles for the tasks ahead of them. It opens up the gospel message to everyone. It also convicted people of their sin, so that on that very first day 3,000 people repented and turned to Christ. The Holy Spirit is still with us, and still works in the same powerful and awesome way. It prepares and equips us, it helps us to carry the gospel far and wide as we were instructed to do by Jesus, and it convicts us of our sin. The Holy Spirit continues to move amongst us today!

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