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Acts

Pentecost

Acts  2:1-13

Pentecost is considered the birth of the Church. It is right, therefore, for us to examine it as a birth. But we may also look at it in a different light: it is the beginning of the age of the Holy Spirit. Before the Advent, God spoke to man via prophets; in our Lord's ministry by Jesus, and now, after Pentecost, through the Holy Spirit.

(Acts 2:1-13 NIV) When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. {2} Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. {3} They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. {4} All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. {5} Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. {6} When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. {7} Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? {8} Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? {9} Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, {10} Phrygia 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!" {12} Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" {13} Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."

Symbols

One of the most common errors of the "fundamentalist" Christian is to assume that God would never use anything but the plainest of speech. It is not so; God is the great creative artist, and he speaks to us in symbolic language as well. We can learn many things from this; one thing is that he planned the existence of the church - and the meaning of its "birthday" - long in advance.

Pentecost

From the Old Testament itself, we can learn much about Pentecost, and see in it a forerunner of the events in this passage:

·         It is a harvest feast - it celebrates the start of the harvest. What could be more appropriate a festival to announce the coming of the church, the harvest of God?

·         It takes place 50 days after Passover - the defining event of God's people, the Jews. This transitions the day of celebration for God from the Sabbath (last day) to first place - Sunday, the Lord's day.

·         The Jew was to celebrate Pentecost at one place - the place where the Lord was to place his name.[1] That is Jerusalem, of course; but it was described before Jerusalem was taken by the Jews. It happens where God's name dwells.

·         Interestingly, the Jews were to do no work on this day. That means that it is just as holy as the Sabbath. In addition, it also means that they were to let God work on this day - and work he did. No wonder we now celebrate the Lord's Day and not the Sabbath.

Fifty - the number of redemption

Fifty is a number with a particular meaning in the Old Testament: it means redemption or restoration:

·         It is composed of seven times seven, plus one. Seven is the number of perfection or completeness. We therefore have a completed perfection - and more!

·         If you wanted to redeem the firstborn - man or animal - the price was 50 shekels.[2]

·         If you wanted to redeem your land, the price was based upon the area you would sow with a homer of barley seed - and redeemed at 50 shekels to the homer.

·         If you took the spoil of battle, one part in fifty went to the priests.

·         Most important of all was the fiftieth year - the year of Jubilee, when all things were restored to their hereditary owners.

Fifty - the number of the Temple of God

Not only is fifty the number of redemption, it is also the number uniquely associated with the temple of God - particularly the temple not yet built but described in Ezekiel.

·         The curtains of the tabernacle were hung by fifty loops on each pole.

·         All the entrances to Ezekiel's temple were 50 cubits long.

·         Perhaps most important of all: the price of the temple mount. David bought it from Auranah for 50 shekels. David's words, "I will not offer a sacrifice to my God which costs me nothing" ring in the ears.

The temple of God - the Holy Spirit - is now "us." Does it cost us nothing?

Fire

Fire is universally the symbol of purification. You will recall Isaiah's lament that he is a man of "unclean lips" - which the angel purified with a fiery coal.[3] The refiner's fire so frequently referenced in the Psalms would be a familiar metaphor to the disciples.

Wind

Interestingly enough, wind is also a symbol of the Spirit - perhaps because it is a play on words in the Greek. (This drives translators crazy when trying to translate John 3:8; the word for Spirit and the word for wind are the same). The Jew of this time would think instantly of Ezekiel 37; Ezekiel is told to "prophesy to the breath" (some translations would have "wind") so that life may come into the dry bones. We shall see that this connection with the resurrection of the dead is no idle thing.

Side Note: speaking in tongues

The passage is noteworthy in the 20th century as the root of Pentecostalism - the idea that speaking in tongues is a mark of the Christian. There are four views; take your choice:

·         Some, the Pentecostals, hold that a Christian must speak in tongues. This seems contrary to Scripture which tells us that the Spirit gives some to speak in tongues.

·         Others hold that the church must have those who speak in tongues - but that not all will. Unfortunately, the view is most commonly held by those who feel that speaking in tongues is a sign of being a better Christian.

·         Some hold that speaking in tongues - given its rarity in the past - is a phenomenon which does recur. It is a little tough to tell the Spirit that, by a two thirds vote of the elders, speaking in tongues is prohibited.

·         Others hold that all such gifts perished with the Apostles, there being no record of any continuance. Certainly the gift of tongues seems to have so perished until our day; healing, on the other hand, is reported almost continuously.

That this is a gift of the Spirit is clearly stated.[4] Most commonly, however, the Spirit's association with "tongues" is in inspiration, not something readily translated.

There is, unfortunately, a tendency to abuse. As best I understand it, the tongues in question were clearly known tongues - but not to the Apostles. Their hearers understood them. Regrettably, however, the tendency now is to explain that speaking is done in unknown tongues - which requires an interpreter (which is also a gift). This has a great tendency to be abused.

The Spirit and the Church

As the soul is to the body, so the Spirit is to the church. This brings us to a number of useful conclusions.

The Spirit and the Church Universal

Each of us has one soul; the Spirit is like the soul to the church - therefore, there is one church. Not many; one. We are One in the Spirit, for the Spirit recognizes no name on the door but the children of God within. Indeed, the word used for "church" in the New Testament, Greek ekklesia, means simply "assembly." This is the cause of some confusion, for the word can mean the church in its entirety or the local assembly of believers.

The Spirit has a set of specific functions in the church. One is authentication. How do you know you are dealing with God? The Spirit, by use of tongues, convinces the crowd that God is moving and working among them. More commonly this will be shown in healing. Tongues have largely faded, but healing continues.

Beyond that, the Spirit is responsible for the guidance of the church. This includes the inspiration of the Scriptures, for which Christ assured us that the Spirit would "guide you in all truth." This also implies a doctrine titled "indefectability" - the idea that the Spirit will not allow the church, the body of Christ, to remain in error indefinitely. We see that frequently. Cults come and go; the true church remains.

The Spirit and the individual Christian

The Spirit is described to us as the counselor, and the comforter. From the Spirit we therefore take counsel and receive comfort. There are other gifts given to every Christian as well:

·         There is discernment of things spiritual.[5]

·         There is unity with other Christians.

·         The Spirit is also a "deposit" - God's guarantee of resurrection.

Beyond these, however, the Spirit also gives us individual gifts. (Mine is teaching, I believe). These are not to be taken lightly:

·         We are given gifts in power, and given the corresponding responsibility with them. But the authority remains with Christ.

·         When given a gift, you are expected to use it for his purposes.

·         These gifts, when combined, are designed to build up the church in unity.

Ultimately, however, the Spirit is our deposit guaranteeing the resurrection of the dead - our ultimate union with the Father. This has been so since the beginning, when the Spirit hovered over the waters[6] (some translations have "brooded") to give life. It was to the breath that Ezekiel was to prophesy to bring life to the dry bones. It is to that "breath," the Spirit, that we are to look for the promise of our resurrection.[7]

Exhortation

This is all well and interesting - but what should the Christian do about it?

·         Encourage fellowship with the Spirit - by obeying the commands of Christ.

·         Be one people - live in unity with your fellow Christians, and so fulfill the purposes of the Spirit.

·         Live in hope - for by the power of the Spirit Christ was raised from the dead. So it will be with his church as well. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!


[1] Deuteronomy 16:9-11

[2] Leviticus 27:3

[3] Isaiah 6:5-7

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:10

[5] 1 Corinthians 2:14

[6] Genesis 1:2

[7] Romans 8:11

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