We studied about what Jesus teaches His disciples after he has risen. What now for the disciples? What are they suppose to do? What does the Holy Spirit do? What does it mean to have a spiritual experience? Does it mean you can perform miracles? Does it mean that you can see a vision, a dream, signs, etc.? Today, we will look at what the Bible tells us about the work of the Holy Spirit, and how that fits into the mission of the church.
(A) The Holy Spirit giving utterance: God’s people speaking of His mighty works (Acts 2:1-13)
The events of Acts 2 takes place after Christ’s Ascension, on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was the second of the annual harvest festivals that comes 50 days after the Passover. In Acts 1:15, we are told that disciples and other folks amounting to about 120 people.
Verses 2 to 3 detail for us the exact events. This outpouring of the Spirit was sudden and had two characteristics. It sounded like a mighty rushing wind that filled the whole house . This is no cool breeze which you enjoy while sitting in the balcony. But note also that this is “like” a mighty rushing wind, but essentially a sound filled the entire house. This wind was not soft either, it must have been loud to fill a room containing 120! This is significant because the wind has been a recurring reference to the Holy Spirit (see John 3:8). There was also a visual sensory experience, as divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. Fire is a common symbol of God’s presence -- we remember the burning bush from Exodus (Ex 3:2), God leading his people as a pillar of fire (Ex 13:21). Matthew 3:11 also tells us Jesus Christ will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. In Acts 2, this meant that God’s presence was with each one of these people individually.
In verse 4, we are told that they were "filled with the Holy Spirit", and this filling is a fulfilment of Acts 1:5,8 where Jesus spoke of a baptism with the Spirit, as well as the Spirit coming upon them. Filled with the Spirit, the disciples begin speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (v.4). This was a miracle of speaking, as the Spirit gave them utterance, directing the words, the tone, the syllables which they were speaking.The audience of this utterance was the Jews dwelling in Jerusalem (v.5), and verse 6 tells us that they came together because of the sound of rushing wind! When they gathered, there was amazement and wonder because each was hearing them speak in their own language, and they were Galileans. They are not supposed to be able to speak their native languages (v.7). We are told in verses 9-11 that these Jews came from everywhere, yet were able to hear the mighty works of God in their own languages! The content of the utterance was specific, and not nonsense uttered by drunk people, which was the objection raised by some people (v.13). The same message was met with two different responses -- amazement and mocking. What is your response to hearing about God’s mighty works? Would you call the people drunk or would you be amazed?
(B) The Holy Spirit being poured out: fulfillment of Scripture (Acts 2:14-21)
Peter, who denied Jesus thrice (Luke 22:60-62), was forgiven, restored and renewed by Jesus’ great love (John 21:15-19). He now stands up and raises his voice, empowered by the Spirit of God and delivers a sermon (v.14). He dismisses the claim that they are drunk (v.15) and begins by interpreting the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32 for these Jews. He knew that his audience would know the OT and is offering the OT prophecy as an explanation for the event, which is a fulfilment of the prophecy.
Peter breaks down Joel's prophecy into two time frames. The "last days" (v.17) refers to the present time, both in the days of Peter, and for us now. This phrase is used to refer to the time between the resurrection of Christ and the second coming (c.f. 1 Cor 10:11, 2 Tim 3:1, Heb 1:2, James 5:3, 2 Pet 3:3). Peter explains that God will pour his Spirit on all flesh, regardless of gender, age, social rank, race without discrimination and they will prophesy (speak God’s word), see visions, and dreams. These will be characteristic of the life of the church in the last days and some of these have been recorded for us in the NT.
In verse 20, Peter speaks of the "day of the Lord" (which is the future Second Coming of Christ) and what accompanies it. It is interesting that Peter chose to end his reference to Joel in verses 21, speaking of how “all who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. He ends off by pointing out how God will save, and this salvation plan is further explained in subsequent verses.
(C) The Holy Spirit revealing: Pointing to God’s Salvation Plan through Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-41)
Following from the prophecy of Joel, Peter describes the death of Jesus -- how Jesus was "delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (v.22a), and how they crucified and killed Him by the hands of lawless men (v.23). In these verses, Peter showed that God was sovereign over world events and it was in God's plan that Jesus would be crucified. Yet, Peter also demonstrates that it does not take away human responsibility. It is hard to understand how God’s sovereignty exists with human responsibility, but in these verses, the Bible clearly tells us that the crucifixion of Christ had both in it. We have a sovereign God who is sovereign in every single thing, even in the bad choices that humans may take. Even in deed of killing Christ, God had his plan played out and fulfilled. How do you see God’s sovereignty in your life today? Is He a God you turn to when you have tough decisions to make? May it comfort you that God has every decision of yours covered. He is in every single little decision you and I make.
Peter goes on to quote another part of the OT in verses 24-32, this time drawing from Ps 16:8-11. Up to now, we have read that the death of Jesus was according to God’s definite plan and foreknowledge, but also the risen Christ is very much part of the plan too. We see that it is God that raises up Jesus Christ and Peter proves that David is speaking of Jesus (and not himself in Psalm 16) because surely they can see that David died, was buried and they can still see his tomb! Peter then refers to David as a prophet (a mouthpiece of God, Psalm 132), where he spoke of the resurrection of Christ, and how the fact that a risen Christ is a fulfillment of God’s Word in Scripture, and there are witnesses to this truth.
This might seem simple to us, but in these verses, Peter was making a point. Jesus fulfilling the OT is something we have heard time and time again, but you must stand in the shoes of the Jews present. This is a people waiting for their Messiah and Peter is telling them how this has been fulfilled. Can you imagine their wonder and their amazement? They must be asking all sorts of questions -- Who is this Jesus? Are you sure you saw him alive? Are you sure he is the promised messiah?, etc. Today, we must break down our hard hearts to see this wonder and also to see how wonderful that God has fulfilled his word. Do you hold on closely to the fulfillment of God’s word? Or is God’s Word something which you already know too well. How can we live in light of God’s word to us?
Peter used Joel to show how the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled. He used Psalm 16 to show how Jesus was the Promised One that David spoke of. He ends of in verses 33 to 36 with one more reference to Psalm 110:1, to show how the ascension was also a fulfilment of the OT. Jesus Christ was the one who poured out the Holy Spirit (v.33), that they themselves are seeing (as of fire), and hearing (mighty rushing wind). He poured and sent the Spirit, and did so abundantly. This was possible because God has given dominion and rule to Jesus as He is Lord, and He is also God’s anointed and chosen one to save the world, the promised Messiah.
Upon hearing all these, the people were "cut to the heart" (v.37). This was not just a head exercise to them. It was not a mere, “oh, now we understand scripture better”, but it spoke to their hearts, it pushed them towards a response. They aske Peter what they shall do and we can detect here a sense of eagerness in their response. They would like to respond to Peter’s sermon to them. In the same way too, these verses teach us how to respond to God's Word -- not to not just archive it in our heads, but to respond with action, to believe the word of God with our hearts, our motivations, etc.
Peter lists for them two actions. Firstly, they were to repent and turn away from one’s sin to God (v.38a). Next, they were called to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (v.38b), as an outward expression of inward faith. The need for faith in Christ as Saviour is implied in these two actions, and by placing their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, they will receive the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell within the believer. Peter also goes on to say who this is for in verse 39. This promise that Peter speaks about is not just for the Jews but also their children and "all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself". This includes even the Gentiles! Peter's sermon continues, and at the end of this section, we are told that about 3000 people believed that day (v.41).
At Pentecost, the Spirit came upon the believers to cause these men to utter the mighty works of God, and there is no mightier work than the work God accomplishes in the salvation of the world. The promise that Peter speaks of in verse 39 is the wonderful message of God's salvation plan for the world. Peter is essentially presenting the people with the gospel with his sermon, bringing them through the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of the Christ. And why does this come right after the episode of the filling of those in the upper room with the Holy Spirit? Because this is exactly what the has come to do, to point to God’s salvation plan through Jesus Christ. Elsewhere in the Bible we read that the Holy Spirit will convict the world regarding sin and righteousness and judgment (c.f. John 16:8).
What does it mean to have a spiritual experience? Acts 2 helps us to see that the Holy Spirit works to point us to the gospel and a spiritual experience is none other than having the Spirit point us towards the gospel and to our Saviour Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit’s chief mission is to reveal Christ, and he perfectly points to the Cross, and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what it means to have a spiritual experience! It means seeing Christ as your Saviour, not anything else, not your job, your school, your family, your friends, your parents, your husband or wife, or your money, etc. It is about seeing Christ, and Christ alone as your Saviour. And when you see that this is the case, there you have a Spiritual experience! Yes, a spiritual experience may lead to dreams, visions, miracles, tongues, etc, but never ever is that an end in itself, the end is always Jesus Christ and his gospel message. If you are a believer today, do you know that the Holy Spirit is dwelling in you and pointing to you to Christ? And not just to you, but to all to the world, to those who are far off -- geographically and more importantly, spiritually. If you feel far off today, would you allow the Holy Spirit to work through you to point others to Christ as well?