“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
It was after the funeral of General Booth of the Salvation Army, after the great congregation had left the church that the sexton found one lone Methodist preacher on his knees at the altar. Moved with what God had wrought through the mighty life and work of William Booth, this solitary preacher was praying from the depth of his soul, “Lord, do it again! Lord, do it again!”
Whenever I read the account of the Day of Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension, I find myself crying out to God, “Lord, do it again! Lord, do it again!” I am convinced that Pentecost was meant to be a model of what God wants His people to be and to do. The events surrounding the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost were recorded in order to encourage the churches of our Lord throughout all time. What the disciples witnessed on that day should be a model for each church to create a desire to witness God’s Spirit at work even to this day. Join me in exploring the account of the descent of the Spirit as recorded by Doctor Luke in ACTS 2:1-4.
PRECURSORS TO PENTECOST — “You will receive power,” promised the Master as He prepared for His ascension, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” The promise was but an iteration of a promise made earlier as He prepared for His Passion. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” [JOHN 14:15-17].
Long before this promise, God had instituted a festive observance for His ancient people, Israel. Pentecost, known as the FEAST OF WEEKS [see EXODUS 34:22], or as the FEAST OF HARVEST [EXODUS 23:16], was essentially a harvest celebration. The celebration is also referred to as the DAY OF THE FIRSTFRUITS [NUMBERS 28:26]. The commemoration was observed for seven full weeks, or fifty days, after Passover. Hence, it received the name PENTECOST, referring to this period of fifty days.
For the purpose of this message, it is important that we remember Pentecost was a harvest festival. The grain was all gathered in by the time of the festival. Barley harvest began near the time of Passover, and wheat was harvested in the days immediately before Pentecost. Therefore, the celebration was a joyous feast marked by thanksgiving for the blessing of God’s rich provision. According to Jeremiah, the people were to acknowledge that God had richly given everything they enjoyed.
The people were responsible to say in their hearts,
“Let us fear the LORD our God,
who gives the rain in its season,
the autumn rain and the spring rain,
and keeps for us
the weeks appointed for the harvest.”
Thus, God was credited with giving rain and the fertility assuring a bountiful harvest.
Pentecost speaks of a harvest. Pentecost was a celebration of firstfruits, a bountiful harvest with the promise of yet more to come because of the goodness of the Lord God. Therefore, when the Risen Son of God prepared His disciples for what was coming, He spoke not solely of immediate blessing, but also of the necessity of labouring in anticipation of a continuing harvest. This is the meaning of His words in ACTS 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Whatever would happen when the Holy Spirit came upon those first disciples was but a harbinger of God’s intention to bless His people throughout this present dispensation. Moreover, those first disciples understood that when they had received the Holy Spirit in power, they were responsible to serve Christ as witnesses wherever man would be found. The Spirit of God was to be given specifically to empower the followers of the Lord Jesus for the service to which He had appointed them.
It is my contention that though Pentecost was indeed a unique event, the presence of the Spirit of God is promised to reside with the people of God for the duration of this Church Age. All who become Christians through faith in the Living Son of God receive the Holy Spirit. This was the promise Peter made under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as he responded to the inquiries prompted by the message he delivered at Pentecost.
Cut to the heart, the Jews who were convicted by the work of the Spirit asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s pointed response was, “Repent and be baptised 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” [ACTS 2:37, 38]. The language Peter used makes it obvious that his hearers would have understood that the gift was the Holy Spirit Himself. As the NET Bible states in its notes, “The genitive (toû hagíou pneúmatos) is a genitive of apposition; the gift consists of the Holy Spirit.” Faith in the Son of God ensures that the one believing is thereafter indwelt by the Spirit of God.
Jesus had promised that those who believed in Him would receive the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you recall the account recorded in John’s Gospel when Jesus spoke at the Feast of Tabernacles. “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified’ [JOHN 7:37-39]. Notice in particular VERSE 39. “This He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.”
The Spirit of God lives within each child of God. He is assigned the task of being a divine advocate with the people of God, working in our lives to guide us into all truth [JOHN 16:13], glorifying the Lord Jesus [JOHN 16:14]. The Holy Spirit reveals to the people of God the mind of the Lord Jesus, teaching us what is necessary to do the work that Jesus wills [JOHN 14:26]. As He guides and teaches us, He works to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement” [JOHN 16:8]. In brief, the Spirit of God is given to each Christian to empower the believer to do what Christ has commanded.
What a blessed promise Jesus gave as He prepared His disciples for His departure. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” [JOHN 14:12]. One cannot read the Gospels without coming to the conclusion that Jesus indeed “came to seek and to save the lost” [LUKE 19:10]. His final command to His disciples was that they “make disciples of all nations” [MATTHEW 28:19]. People become disciples when the Spirit of God works in power through Christians, enabling them to bear witness to what they know to be true.
If I am controlled by the Spirit of Christ, I will seek to make disciples to Christ.
If I have the spirit of this age, I will try to make myself comfortable.
If I am led by the Spirit of Christ, I will seek unity in the Faith, endeavouring to build my fellow worshippers through building them up, through encouraging them, and through consoling them [see 1 CORINTHIANS 14:3].
If I am imbued with the spirit of this age, I will seek to promote my own interests. I will want to feel good about myself.
If I am walking in the Spirit of Christ, my labours in the Faith will bring me joy because I seek what pleases the Lord, honouring Him.
If I am under the spirit of this age, I will be disappointed in what I attempt because I seek the approval of men.
If I have the Spirit of Christ, I want to know more about the Lord Jesus.
If I have the spirit of this age, I want to know about myself.
The Spirit of God is always at work in the children of God, exalting Jesus as Lord and building the fellowship where He has placed them. Those under the control of the Spirit of God seek unity in the Faith, knowing that harmony glorifies the Saviour. Walking in the Spirit ensures the fruit of the Spirit will be produced—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” [GALATIANS 5:22, 23]. This is the reason Scripture attests that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” [GALATIANS 5:24].
Above all else, the Spirit of God works in us to bring many others to faith in the Son of God. Where the preaching of the Word is sacrificed for entertainment, the Spirit of God is excluded. Though there may be a crowd, there will be no growth, no souls saved, and ultimately no life. Though an individual may feel good that he or she has shouted and sang, there will be no transformation into the image of Christ. The Spirit of God will guide our steps, making us effective in our labours for the sake of the Saviour.
PREPARING FOR PENTECOST — “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.” We have become so accustomed to hearing or reading the first verse of our text that we may pass over it too quickly. The brief assertion Doctor Luke makes speaks of necessary precursors to the presence of the Spirit in power.
As He prepared to ascend into the Glory, Jesus commanded His disciples to remain in Jerusalem, waiting for empowerment by the promised Spirit of God [ACTS 1:4]. That they would need the power of the Spirit should not have been surprising to them. After all, Jesus Himself had been endued with the Spirit as He initiated His ministry. Luke describes how the Spirit “descended in bodily form, like a dove” [LUKE 3:22], after which Jesus began His ministry, “full of the Holy Spirit” [LUKE 4:1]. After the descent of the Spirit, Jesus is said to have been “led by the Spirit” [MATTHEW 3:16; 4:1], or driven by the Spirit [MARK 1:12]. What is apparent is that Jesus modelled for us the need for the power and the presence of the Spirit in order to fulfil the work of God.
After Jesus’ ascension, 120 disciples gathered in the Upper Room where for ten days they devoted themselves to prayer [ACTS 1:14]. The Word of God demonstrates that this was not merely the recitation of prayers, but that it was the spontaneous expression of hearts that valued unity and subsumed personal interests to seeking the glory of God through seeking harmony with one another. This becomes evident when Luke when we read that the disciples “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” [ACTS 1:14].
What should seize our attention is that though the disciples had received the Master’s promise that they would be endued with power when the Spirit was given, yet they committed themselves to seek unity of mind and dedicated themselves to praying. There can be little doubt that the one prayer that consumed the band of disciples was for the will of God to be done, offering their own wills to be moulded as God desired. What should be abundantly clear is that these disciples sought to be one in heart and mind. They were not a democracy; they were Christians committed to doing the will of God.
Evidence compels the observation that modern Christians are unwilling to inconvenience themselves to gather for prayer; and when they do gather, seldom do they spend time preparing themselves to receive the blessing of God through being changed. Instead, we rush into His presence demanding that He do our will instead of offering ourselves to do His will. This may account for the reason why demonstrations of spiritual power such as was witnessed at Pentecost are rare in the history of the church. Was a church to commit itself to prayer, asking that the will of the Lord be done and committing itself to continue in prayer until the people were certain they were ready, I have little doubt that the power of Pentecost would again be witnessed even in this day.
The disciples, preparing for divine empowerment for the service they would perform, demonstrated that they were thoroughly knowledgeable of and submitted to the Word of God. They appealed to the Scriptures in assessing the events that had unfolded. They sought confirmation from the Scriptures for the decisions they would make. They made it clear that they wanted to ensure that they were submitted to the Word of God.
Modern Christians have difficulty tolerating sound teaching, fulfilling Paul’s cautionary warning to Timothy: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” [2 TIMOTHY 4:3, 4]. Tragically, much of modern Christendom demands “theology lite” from the pulpit. Those sitting in the pews will not tolerate being compelled to think too deeply about the great issues confronting our fallen world. The preacher who dares speak more than a few minutes, who dares ask the congregation to think about the implications of what is revealed in the Word, and who also calls for adherence to what is written in the Word, is labelled as inconsiderate, uncompassionate, and uncaring.
Failure to prepare for the blessing of God ensures that churches continue to limp along, doing the best they can, forever condemned to being irrelevant in an increasingly wicked world. Christians know little of the power of Pentecost because they are unwilling to seek the unity of the Spirit, being so focused on feeling good about themselves that they are unable or unwilling to take the time to pray. Flinging the occasional petition for personal comfort toward Heaven cannot be compared to prevailing prayer that seeks the presence of God’s Spirit with power.
The first disciples sought to be united in heart and mind. They prayed, seeking the face of the Living Christ, offering themselves in order that His will would be fulfilled through them. They committed themselves to both knowing and living out the Word of God. And they demonstrated that they were submitted to the Risen Son of God. They did this when they sought God’s will instead of simply taking a vote to determine who should replace Judas as an Apostle.
Whether they erred in seeking someone to replace Judas is subject to debate. God did not command them to appoint an Apostle. In fact, they realised that they were not responsible to appoint an Apostle—that responsibility lay within the divine realm. They were convinced that there should be twelve Apostles since the Lord had appointed twelve. Therefore, they prayerfully sought the mind of the Master and accepted that the casting of the lots would suffice to reveal what God would do in this particular case. What is important for us is that they demonstrated submission to the mind of God.
Because of their conviction that they must discover and fulfil the will of God, they determined that if an Apostle was to be appointed, he must meet certain qualifications including having been with them from Jesus’ baptism by John and having witnessed the resurrection of Jesus. Then, when they had prayed, they cast lots, depending that God would reveal His choice through the casting of the lots.
I do not deny that God can, through a vote, reveal what His plans are for a congregation, but the casual manner in which contemporary churches conduct the business of God fails to convince me that we are submitted to the will of God. Instead, we heatedly argue our personal desires without regard to God’s will, disregarding the mind of the church when a decision is made, imagining that our rights take precedence over honouring Christ through seeking unity with our brothers and sisters.
Preparing for Pentecost, the first church sought unity, committed themselves to prayer, immersed themselves in the Word of God, and submitted themselves to the will of God. If we will discover the empowering presence of the Spirit of God, we must go and do likewise. Until we prize unity in our faith and practise, diligently seeking harmony in our relationships, we will not know the power of Pentecost. Until we become a people of prayer, we will not know the presence of the Spirit in power. Until we esteem the teaching of the Word, seeking to be thoroughly instructed in the truths presented therein, we will not know the spiritual power God intends for His people. Until we are fully committed to doing the will of God, we will always be just another social organisation.
PURPOSE OF PENTECOST — Why did God send His Spirit in the manner recorded? What was accomplished through filling the disciples with the Spirit of God? If Pentecost was a unique, never to be repeated event, what purpose is fulfilled for us in this day late in the Dispensation of Grace? These are questions worthy of our consideration. The answer will be a blessing for us, benefiting us greatly as we serve the Lord Christ.
Pentecost was unique in that Jesus promised that the disciples would be “baptised with the Holy Spirit” [ACTS 1:5]. As close as we will get to such a baptism in this age is when we are baptised into one body [1 CORINTHIANS 12:13]. However, though there is but one baptism in the Spirit, there are many fillings with the Spirit. Indeed, Christians are commanded to be “filled with the Spirit” [EPHESIANS 5:18]. However, Pentecost was normative in that believers were equipped to perform the ministry of making disciples. The model provided at Pentecost reveals disciples filled with the Spirit and speaking boldly, empowered to proclaim the message of life in the Son of God.
I am convinced that Pentecost was a model for what the church should be. Preparing for His Ascension, Jesus commanded the disciples gathered at Olivet, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” [MATTHEW 28:29, 20]. Given this final instruction before His Ascension, we should be convinced that saving the lost is near to the heart of the Son of God.
The deep desire of Jesus is for people become disciples. In the passage found in Matthew’s Gospel, the imperative is to “make disciples.” The process of discipling includes going, baptising and teaching, as demonstrated by the participles in the Commission. In other words, Jesus commands all who are believers to be fully engaged in the business of making disciples through going after the lost, through bringing them into the fellowship of the life of the Body of Christ, and through instructing them in the truths He has given. Though fellowship and worship are important to our growth as Christians, these aspects of Christian life are not central to the heart of the Saviour. Churches and Christians that have emphasised fellowship and worship while failing to evangelise and disciple the lost are at best disobedient to the will of the Saviour, and at worst, they are sacrificing the cause of Christ for momentary gain.
Our Lord’s Great Commission is given in various forms in the Gospels and Acts. Mark, writing under the tutelage of Peter, remembered Jesus as saying, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” [MARK 16:15, 16]. Luke records a logion given when Jesus was alone with the Apostles. “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” [LUKE 24:46-48]. As we have seen in the Book of Acts, Jesus spoke before ascending from Olivet, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” [ACTS 1:8]. Late in the First Century, John recorded the words of Jesus that were given to the disciples as He again commissioned them. “As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you” [JOHN 20:21].
Because He was sending His people to serve “as sheep in the midst of wolves,” He knew that they would need spiritual power if they were to fulfil the command to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” [MATTHEW 10:16]. This business of making disciples is spiritual work. There is no secret formula that enables us to be effective at making disciples. The discipling process is the outgrowth of the Spirit of God at work through His holy people. There will be no significant discipling taking place where disunity and pettiness and small-minded attempts to assert one’s own sense of importance prevail over the desire to do the will of God.
Though I dare not tell you that we will see 3,000 souls converted to the Faith each week, I am bold to declare that we should anticipate and work to see souls saved each week. Each service within the walls of this church should be marked by witnessing a harvest of souls because the people of God, filled with the Spirit, have laboured in witnessing to the lost, calling them to repentance and faith in the Living Son of God. It must be the goal of each Christian to be part of the ongoing growth of the Kingdom of God through discipling others. As Christians, you have been entrusted with the Spirit of God, in order to enable you to go into all the world. Filled with the Spirit, you are responsible to make disciples, bringing those you reach into the fellowship of the Body and instructing them in the truths Christ has committed to His people. This is the work assigned to each of us working together; it is not the work of specialists working alone.
Each Christian is responsible to be filled with the Spirit of God. The filling with the Spirit of God is not an event that is to occur once, never to be repeated. Rather, being filled with the Spirit is necessary for effective service in the cause of Christ the Lord. Neither is being filled with the Spirit an experience to be sought in order to make one feel good about himself or herself, but it is sought in order to enable the one so filled to fulfil the will of the Master. Jesus told the disciples that they would be “clothed with power” [LUKE 24:49]. He also said they would “receive power” [ACTS 1:8]. It is obvious that what occurred at Pentecost was divine enablement to permit Peter and the others to speak boldly and convincingly to those who have so recently crucified the Son of God.
Filled with the Spirit, the disciples began to proclaim Christ, resulting in conviction and repentance by those who were listening. All the disciples that had been present in the upper room were filled with the Spirit. Each one began to speak boldly in a language understood by those about them, declaring the mighty works of God. What is too often missing in discussions of the fullness of the Spirit is the boldness with which the disciples spoke after they were filled.
When called to appear before the Council, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly proclaimed Christ as Lord [ACTS 4:8-12]. Upon returning to the church to report all that had taken place when haled before the Sanhedrin, the church prayed and the believers were again “filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness” [ACTS 4:23-31]. Saul is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks boldly in the Name of Jesus [ACTS 9:17, 20-22]. On the first missionary journey, Paul is enabled to rebuke with boldness the magician Elymas in front of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, because he is full of the Spirit [ACTS 13:9-12]. The disciples in Antioch of Pisidia are filled with the Holy Spirit and thus enabled to endure persecution even as they continued to witness to the grace of God [ACTS 9:48-52].
I recall an incident that occurred while I was engaged in graduate studies in Dallas. We were preparing for church one Sunday morning when Lynda, noticing that a lady who had only recently moved into our neighbourhood had a flat tire, suggested that I change the tire for her. Ever the obedient husband, I did as my wife suggested.
As I was changing the tire, I asked the lady if she was a Christian. “Oh, yes,” she lilted. “I’m saved, sanctified and filled with the ‘holyghost.’” That is the way she said it, as though it were one word.
Then she asked me, “Are you filled with the ‘holyghost?’”
“Yes, thank God,” I replied.
“And did you speak with tongues as I did?” she inquired.
“No, ma’am,” I responded. “I got what the Apostles got and spoke the Word of God with boldness.”
I’m not making fun of that lady, but I am making a point. If all you received was a feeling, or through some experience you were made to believe you were now part of the in-crowd, you do not have what the first disciples received. They were empowered to speak with boldness when they were filled with the Spirit of God. We are leaky vessels, and thus we need to be filled repeatedly. When we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit in EPHESIANS 5:18, the verb means we are to keep on being filled.
The lack of boldness in professing Christians is killing the churches in this day. It really does not matter how high you jump, but it matters very much how straight you walk. It does not matter greatly how you feel, but it is vitally important that you speak with power and with boldness.
Whenever I am filled with the Spirit, my speech is bold. When I am full of myself, my speech is timid and my tongue is halting. The same is true for you. When you are filled with the Spirit, you speak boldly as you declare the power of the Lord and tell of His great salvation. When you are not filled with the Spirit, you are tongue-tied and incapable of speaking boldly. Though you may witness when you are not filled with the Spirit, you know that your speech is not with power and you feel miserable. Consequently, because you know that in your own strength you fail, you may have determined that witnessing is such difficult work that you will leave it to specialists. As a result, you sacrifice the blessing God intended you to have because you are full of the Spirit and of power. My encouragement to each Christian is to be filled with the Spirit.
The Spirit of God comes when the people of God are prepared to honour Christ Jesus as Lord. If you will be filled with the Spirit of God, I encourage you to consider the teaching of the Word of God. First, SEEK UNITY IN THE FAITH. Do not promote your own interests, but rather seek harmony and unity within the Body of Christ. Until we know that unity, God will never entrust us with His great power.
Then, COMMIT YOUR SELF TO PRAYER, seeking the glory of Christ the Lord. I do not say that you need to quit praying for the needs of others, but I do say that the glory of Christ Jesus must become paramount in your prayer life. You must seek His glory, surrendering your own interests to His glorious presence.
Again, it is necessary that you must GRASP THE PROMISES HE HAS GIVEN IN HIS WORD. This means that you must familiarise yourself with the Word and appropriate each promise to the praise of His glory. You can never know the intent of the Word while holding yourself aloof from the instruction of the Word. Gathering with the people of God to receive the instruction He provides through His appointed pastors and teachers is the normal means of receiving instruction in the Word of God. Just as you cannot grow strong on occasional snacks, so you cannot grow strong in the Faith through the occasional outing to the House of God.
Finally, it will be necessary for you to SURRENDER YOUR PRIDE AND YOUR WILL to the Son of God. This means that you must cease trying to fight the church in an attempt to force the congregation to do your will. If you are right in a contention, put your teaching out in the open forum, permitting others to judge what you advocate. If, on the other hand, you seek to punish the people of God and force them to do what you want them to do, you are not surrendered to the mind of Christ. You are still in the heat of your own passion, and you will never know the fullness of the Spirit.
I must believe that many of us are tired of “doing church” in the same old way. This day, Pentecost Sunday, I am calling on those who are tired of life as it has always been to commit themselves to seeking the fullness of the Spirit. No outward demonstration will change what is; but if you will be filled with the Spirit, it will become evident that this is your earnest desire as you “pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” [ROMANS 14:19] and as you endeavour to “live in such harmony with one another … that together you [will] with one voice glory the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [ROMANS 15:5, 6].
Our prayer service will grow, if you truly seek to be filled with the Spirit of God. The preaching ministry of the church will prosper, and you will seek not merely to be present, but you will make every effort to learn the will of God through endeavouring to understand what is taught, if you truly long to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we seek the reign of the Spirit in our lives, there will be a new spirit among us—a spirit that reveals our humble willingness to do the will of God rather than promoting our own desires.
This is my prayer. “At Pentecost, Lord, do it again. Once you filled your holy people with your Good Spirit. Do it again. Once they spoke with boldness. Do it again. Forgive us, Lord, because we are obstinate and combative and self-centred. Cleanse us and make us fit vessels to be used by your Holy Spirit. Create among us a new people that fear nothing but sin and long for your glory. Do it to the praise of your glory. Amen.”