Summary: Is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit for today?
The Gentile Pentecost
Some time earlier in Jerusalem at the Temple an extraordinary event had happened. The believers in Jesus were gathered together in an upper room, probably called Solomon’s Porch to attend to the morning prayer and sacrifice which occurred every day at 9AM. The Holy Spirit had come down upon the followers of Jesus, and about 12o of them started speaking in different languages after the Spirit had come down as fire and had divided upon the tongues of the believers. It had been since the dedication of the first Temple in Solomon’s day that such a display of God’s presence had been seen. Before that, we would have to go back to the days of the wilderness Tabernacle to see such glory. This was a day of great glory and the birthday of the church’s mission.
What was important is that the audience heard the gospel, the great things of God in their native tongue. These people were either Jews or proselytes to the Jewish religion. Somehow they knew that these people were for the most part Galilean peasants who had not learned these languages in the university. Peter and the fisherman probably knew enough Greek to conduct business in the buying and selling of fish, but none of those who spoke had fluency in the tongue. One of the purposes of this first Pentecost is to make the works and words of the God of Israel known clearly to those in attendance. Outside of the Middle East, few knew Aramaic. Jewish boys would learn a little Hebrew perhaps, but many in the crowd simply would not have understood the gospel except it was in their tongue. The purpose then was not to show some interesting phenomena for the people to muse about but had the very practical purpose of making the gospel understood. Tongues were not to hide the gospel from the outsiders for the benefit of the believers but to reveal.
Another aspect of the first Pentecost was to launch the gospel mission which would eventually spread out through the entire world. By speaking in tongues, the disciples were learning that the gospel was to be proclaimed everywhere, even to the remotest lands with strange speech. The language confusion of Babel which was done by God so that the inhabitants of the earth could conspire against God. Now the barrier of language needed to be overcome to tell the world the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit came down again in the mission to the Samaritans by Philip and later Peter as a confirmation that the gospel was for them too, just as Jesus had said. We don’t know here what the speaking of tongues might have been, but obviously it was not Aramaic or Syriac. But Peter and Phillip knew this sign as conforming that they were to be reached, and that the Gospel was for the Samaritans.
In chapter 10 of Acts, the Spirit falls again in a Pentecostal matter after Peter has finished his sermon in Cornelius’ house. The message ended with the resurrected Jesus being appointed the judge of the living and the dead. The sermons we see in Acts confront the listeners with this reality. Peter just relates the facts about Jesus. It is possible that Luke records just a summary of the sermon. He says elsewhere that Peter in another sermon exhorted the people with many more words than recorded. But summary or just a short sermon, one needs to look at the Acts’ sermons as examples of how we should preach. Do we preach Jesus as judge of the living and the dead? If not, why? Do we know better than the Spirit-filled Apostles? We might claim that today we live ina different world, and that message is offensive. It was OK then, they say, but not now. We have to adapt the gospel to the times. But I would invite you to read the response of these sermons. There are many who received the word with joy and were saved. But we also see many who were deeply offended by it and acted in anger. Maybe by softening the gospel we might reduce the angry reaction, but I also say that we will also reduce genuine responses to the gospel. It cuts both ways.
In today’s preaching, we emphasize the altar call where the preacher tries to cajole the listeners to making a free-will response by trying to impose their will on them. We use psychological manipulation tactics to try to get conversions and then wonder why so many fall away. Repentance is a matter of changing one’s way of thinking permanently and not some sort of emotional catharsis. There are others who try to stir up emotions in an attempt to get a pseudo-Pentecostal response. They call this the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Is this what we see here? No! The Holy Spirit is part of the Triune Godhead As such, He is sovereign and not subject to human manipulation. The Holy Spirit falls in a matter such as we see here, when He wills, not when we will.