2. The Book of Acts
May 31st, 2009
Start by leading the song happy birthday pausing for name of then finishing song!
If you have been to a charismatic church you know that they do some things a little differently than we do. Our overall theology is very similar but there are a few areas where we do not always see eye to eye. One of the major differences in our theology is the issue of speaking in tongues. I had a professor named Kenny Boles. He is the longest term staff member at Ozark and one of the classes he teaches is Greek. He told us of this time he went to a charismatic church. The people in the church had begun speaking in tongues and others had been translating. He noted that they were not following the regulations that Paul gives in Corinthians about how to practice speaking in tongues and so he got fed up. The great thing about Kenny Boles is his charming personality. He is a tall, skinny man who is completely bald on the top of his head. He has two hearing aids, he talks with a slight lisp, he wears big classes, he doesn’t sugar coat anything, and he is sassy. So watching all these people get emotional as they speak in tongues he decided to play along. So he stood up in their service and began to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Greek. When he sat down someone else from the congregation stood up and started translating: “This man is saying that if we do not repent from our sinful lives and turn back to God. If we do not start serving more in the church that fire from heaven is going to rain down and destroy us.” If you have read the Lord’s Prayer you know that is not a very good translation. So Kenny Boles with all his charm stood up and said: “I just said the Lord’s prayer in Greek. You guys are silly” and he walked out. This story is one of the many reasons I love Kenny Boles. Who does something like that?
We have a great text today looking at Acts 2. This is also the first text that we encounter speaking in tongues. These events take place after the resurrection Jesus made some appearances to His disciples and finished up His time with them before ascending into heaven. There are forty days between the resurrection and the ascension leaving us with a period of ten days after Jesus ascending before we come to our text. Now Jesus had promised that after He left He would send the Counselor that is the Spirit of God to come guide them to the truth and convict them of sin. During the interim period the disciples were alone. Their Rabbi had left them and they did not have anyone to guide them. Ten days later we see that promise fulfilled. Here is what happened: The disciples were all together house when a great wind came and filled the whole house. They saw what appeared to be tongues of fire. When these flaming tongues descended on them they began to speak in tongues. Now in order to see what is happening here you need to put on your Yamika. In Jewish tradition wind, fire, and inspired speech was considered to be a sign of the presence of God. This is extremely important for us to understand. Even though Jesus left earth the presence of God is still with us.
We mentioned last week that the hero of the book of Acts is the Holy Spirit. Here is where He makes His public debut. The Holy Spirit arrives, fills the disciples and they begin to speak in tongues. But who is being referred to here? Do we have the 12 apostles speaking in tongues or all 120 disciples?
Pentecostals say that all 120 disciples of Jesus spoke in tongues. This is because they are predisposed to believe that speaking in tongues is for everyone. So to support their view they believe that all of the disciples of Jesus would have spoken in tongues because that best supports their interpretation. Cessationists, who are people who believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased, say that it was only the 12 who spoke in tongues. They say this to limit the amount of people who spoke in tongues so that they can defend their position that tongues is not for everyone and it is no longer practiced. Both sides have interpretations that are based on their theological agendas. So who is right?
Honestly it doesn’t really matter: because the Holy Spirit does what He wants, when He wants, how He wants, where He wants and He doesn’t stop to ask your permission. But in order to understand this passage we should look at who was actually speaking in tongues. If you take out the chapter divisions which are not originally a part of the book then the natural reading of the text becomes clear. The ‘they’ mentioned does not seem to refer to the entire 120 but to the twelve apostles. Verse 1 indicates that they were all together in one place and that place was a house. There houses would host 12 but could not fit 120. Then the crowd noted that all the men who were speaking were Galileans. It is unlikely that all 120 disciples would have been Galileans but we know that it was true of the 12. That does not mean that no one else will speak in tongues for Acts 8 and Acts 10 show us that others do speak in tongues. But Acts 2 is all about the Apostles. It makes the most sense that only the 12 were speaking. What a marvelous sign this would have been. The Spirit of God is working which is plain to see but what does it mean?
Pentecost is about so much more than just speaking in tongues. If all we see at Pentecost is speaking in tongues then we have truly missed the point. God certainly uses tongues but He is using them for a much bigger goal. Pentecost marks a new beginning. This is the inauguration of the last days and the beginning of the end.
Do you know what today is? Today is a very exciting day. There is a very special birthday today. Today is Pentecost. This is one of the most important days in history for the day of Pentecost marks the birth of the church. Just as the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus marked the establishment of the new nation of Israel so Pentecost marks the establishment of the church. How exciting to think that almost 2000 years on this day the church took its first breath. Acts 2 is such an important text for in some ways this is the true mark of the beginning of the New Testament. Even though there are already four books, this is the first day that the Holy Spirit descended to earth and the official establishment of the New Covenant of God. Let’s look at what it says:
Ac 2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Ac 2:2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Ac 2:3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Ac 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Ac 2:5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. Ac 2:6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Ac 2:7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Ac 2:8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?
The Jews were required by law to keep three annual festivals: Passover, Pentecost, and the feast of Tabernacles in the fall. While the law dictated that all Jewish people must attend these feasts it was not possible. Many Jews could not afford to take two-three weeks to travel to Jerusalem and back to attend these feasts three times a year. So many Jews would only come to one of the three festivals a year. For those who did not live close enough to Jerusalem to make the journey three times a year they would likely only come to the feast of Pentecost. Why? Because the feast of Tabernacles was in the fall and shipping lanes would be closed making travel much more difficult. The same problem would have existed for Passover which was in March where shipping lanes were still closed due to bad weather. In late May or June however travel would not have been a problem. Thus making Pentecost the best attended Jewish festival of the year.
Pentecost is a Jewish festival that took place 50 days after Passover. During this festival the Jews celebrated two things: they celebrated the law. The law is what makes a Jew a Jew. The Jews were elected by God and given His exclusive salvation plan. They had been set apart from all other people. In this plan of salvation was the law of God. This was not only what made the Jews different it is what made the special. No other country or people group had the law of God. The Jews were the only ones to have God’s law and they viewed it as a great privilege.
Pentecost however was primarily a celebration of the harvest. In fact this festival was sometimes referred to as the ‘feast of harvest’ because the wheat harvest occurred during the period between Passover and Pentecost. Seeing as this was an agricultural society the harvest was very important. The Jews were dependent on the harvest. Without it they would very likely starve. In many ways the Pentecost feast was similar to our thanksgiving. This was the time in which the Jews expressed their thanks to God the harvest.
The church was born on the day of Pentecost. This was the time in which God established His New Covenant. What a perfect setting! The feast of Pentecost was about celebrating the law of God that set apart the Jews. It is fitting that God used this to set apart any who would follow Jesus as a part of His New Kingdom. Pentecost is the inauguration of the new kingdom of God.
Its brilliance goes beyond that. Pentecost was a celebration of God’s provision and blessing in the harvest. During this feast God brings in His new harvest. While in the past God provided for His people with crops in this New Covenant God provided for His people by giving them His Spirit.
You can certainly see why the Holy Spirit chose this time to arrive. The temple was standing room only when the disciples began to speak in foreign tongues and amaze their listeners. Some thought this was a sign from God while others thought it was a sign that these men were drunk. Yet whatever their opinion this act of speaking in tongues got their attention. Just look at what the Holy Spirit does with a captivated audience in Acts 2:36:
Ac 2:36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Ac 2:37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Ac 2:38 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. Ac 2:39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Ac 2:40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Ac 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Now try to hear this like a Jew. What Peter says is powerful God has made Jesus whom we were responsible for putting to death with our sins both Lord and Savior. You killed the Messiah. He is your Savior, hope, hero, your liberator and YOU KILLED HIM. What do you do with that? If I can just speak to your hearts for a minute: take your Yamika’ off and ask yourself the same question. What do you do when you have killed your savior? How can you hope to be saved? The kingdom of God may not be what you think it is. So often we make God out to be this cruel judge or almighty tyrant that imposes all these rules and regulations on us so that we cannot enjoy life. Honestly that is the reputation He is often given. That is not who God is. The kingdom of God is not about these rules you have to follow it is about the relationship you get to have. So what do we do now? What do we do knowing we have killed our Savior? The answer is simple: turn from your old way life. Stop living for yourself and start living for God. Believe in Jesus. Give Him your heart, your will, and your life and put yourself to death in baptism as He put Himself to death on a cross. When we do this we receive the Spirit of God to dwell inside us. No matter how bad things get you are never alone for the Spirit of God is with you. You are not alone in hard times. You are not alone in struggles. You are not ever alone. The new established kingdom of God is not about a people or rules it is about a relationship with God where He is king and He reigns on the throne of your heart. We killed our Savior, now its time to serve Him as our Lord.