The book of Acts is the record of the ongoing life of Christ. The Son of God had died. He had been buried. But He had risen from the grave. He had appeared to His disciples—not once, not twice, but repeatedly. He had even taught them truths about His kingdom, although they wouldn’t understand some elements about it until later. They were somewhat bewildered by the turn of events, but they were absolutely sure about some things. Christ had conquered death and had reconciled them to God. And just before ascending to heaven, He had promised He would send the Holy Spirit to guide and empower them in their mission of leading people of all nations to the same life-saving knowledge of God that they had found in Him.
On the tenth day after Jesus’ public ascension, about 120 of His followers were together in a room near the temple. The day began as the Jewish harvest festival called Pentecost. Thousands of Jews had gathered to celebrate it. The followers of Jesus expected to participate in the festivities, but their plans changed. Suddenly it happened! The Holy Spirit came to form the church. It was born on that day, and during the next 30 years it grew all the way from infancy to adulthood.
THE BIRTH OF THE CHURCH (ACTS 2) The church was probably born in late May of AD 30. The birth took place in Jerusalem, where thousands of people witnessed “the delivery.” It was a spectacular event, marked by supernatural signs, a powerful sermon, and an overwhelming response.
A Supernatural Event (2:1-13). As the disciples were waiting and praying, they suddenly became aware of a Presence. It was eerie, almost frightening. We read:
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).
Sound like wind! Tongues like fire! Miraculous speech! Exciting? Yes indeed! Can we reproduce it today? No, we can’t. This combination of miraculous signs was a once-for-all occurrence. Each outward phenomenon, however, has lasting significance for all who have come to know God.
The sound of the wind symbolized the mysterious presence of the Holy Spirit, whose coming and going is like the wind which can be felt but not explained. He came in fulfillment of the promise made by John the Baptist (Mt. 3:11) and by Jesus (Acts 1:4-5) that the disciples would be baptized into one body—the baptism which all believers now experience at the moment of their salvation (1 Cor. 12:13-14).
The tongues of fire symbolized the purifying and cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. Through His indwelling and infilling, He gives them power for godly living and effective witnessing (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:18-21; 1 Cor. 6:19).
The miraculous speech symbolized the worldwide flow of the gospel from Jerusalem to people of every language group, breaking down all previous barriers (Gal. 3:28-29).
A Powerful Sermon (2:14-39). Pentecost not only featured three supernatural occurrences, it also highlighted a powerful sermon by an unlikely preacher—Peter the fisherman. Three elements were included: a careful explanation, an illuminating proclamation, and a challenging invitation to receive the Spirit of God.
A Careful Explanation. Peter declared that these events were a fulfillment of prophecy (2:14-21). Joel had predicted the coming of the age of the Spirit, an era that would culminate in the great endtime signs. The age of the Spirit began that day!
An Iluminating Proclamation. Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and Christ (2:22-35). This is proven in four ways. First, God had shown through miracles that Jesus was the Christ (v.22). Second, God’s predestination was obvious: Christ suffered and died in a manner that not only fulfilled Old Testament prophecy but that was followed by God’s power in resurrection (vv.23-24). Third, the psalmist had written words that could only apply to Jesus Christ (vv.25-31). Fourth, the great experiences of that wonderful Pentecost day were the evidence that the living Christ was fulfilling His promises (vv.32-35).
A Challenging Invitation. The people were told to repent and be baptized (2:37-39). The Greek word for repent means “to change one’s mind.” That call to repentance has caused some people to think God’s method of salvation has changed from a works—system that included repentance and baptism to one of faith only (Acts 8:12-17; 10:34-38; 19:1-10).
But that’s not a problem. Repenting and believing are two sides of the same coin. These Jewish people had to “change their minds” about the One they had rejected. That reversal of their thinking went hand-in-hand with their new belief.
Today a person repents when he acknowledges his need of God’s forgiveness through Christ. He believes when he places his trust in the Lord Jesus. You can’t really believe without repenting and you can’t truly repent without believing.
In the same way, Peter’s call to “be baptized… for the remission of sins” (2:38-39) is not, as some suppose, a contradiction of “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (16:31). Peter did not say that your sins won’t be washed away if you aren’t baptized. He said, “Repent and be baptized for [with a view toward or in relation to] the remission of sins.” The preposition translated “for” is eis and it seldom means “in order to.” It is found, for example, in Luke 11:32, where it says that the people of Nineveh “repented at [eis] the preaching of Jonah.” They couldn’t repent “in order to” or “for” the preaching of Jonah. It was “in relation to” or “with a view toward” it.
The Jewish people who asked the question “What shall we do?” believed Peter’s testimony concerning Jesus of Nazareth—that He is Lord and Christ. They demonstrated their faith through a symbolic, open identification of themselves with the Lord Jesus in baptism. This shows faith and repentance to be two sides of the same coin. Baptism pictures the normal procedure in salvation as individuals come to a knowledge of God in Christ.
Belief, repentance, baptism, reception of the Holy Spirit, and identification with the church were and are a package. The 3,000 converted on the Day of Pentecost were saved by faith. They demonstrated the reality of their faith by their baptism. They received the Holy Spirit and became involved in the church. They “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (2:42). The New Testament does not record one in- stance of a person believing and refusing to be baptized or refusing to identify himself with a local church.
An Overwhelming Response (2:40-47). Three thousand Jewish people repented, were baptized, and received the Holy Spirit. They immediately began meeting together, experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence, and displaying a beautiful sense of oneness.
Meeting Together For Worship. The new converts were not left on their own. Acts 2:42 tells us:
They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
This verse gives us insight into their worship:
- They met for apostolic teaching. How important to know God’s truth!
- They met for fellowship. We can’t be healthy Christians if we try to live in isolation.
- They met for the breaking of bread, the Lord’s Supper. We are strengthened by commemorating Christ’s death for our sins and expressing our oneness.
- They met for united praying. A special blessing still occurs when people pray together.
Experiencing The Holy Spirit’s Power. A fear of God fell upon these believers as they witnessed apostolic signs and wonders. Acts 2:43 reads:
Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
From the very beginning, the Lord showed that He wants us to have a healthy fear of Him—to be afraid of displeasing Him. God saw that these new Christians in the infant church needed reminders of His awesome power so that they wouldn’t misinterpret His grace and conclude that obeying Him was not important.
Sharing With One Another. These first Christians sold their possessions and shared everything equally (vv.44-47). We may assume from Acts 4:32-37 that they did so voluntarily. It was a beautiful expression of oneness in Christ, although God probably did not in- tend for it to be permanent. It was designed for these new believers. Many of them would normally have re- turned to their distant homes immediately after the Pentecost celebration. These people could now stay in Jerusalem for a while so that they might grow strong in their faith before returning to face hostility at home.
The events at Pentecost highlight some of God’s wonderful qualities. For example:
- God is wise—He knew that the disciples needed courage and power, and He knew how to give them these blessings.
- God is patient—He didn’t give up on Jerusalem and the Jewish people even though they had rejected and crucified their Messiah.
- God is faithful—He always fulfills His promises.
- God is loving—He whose love led Him to create us and to provide redemption made sure that it would reach us by sending the Holy Spirit to draw us, to win us, to change us, and to live in us.
- Believing on Jesus Christ is not mere mental assent; it is a radical, revolutionary decision that involves a turning away from previously held notions about salvation and a turning to Christ.
- A person who says he believes but refuses baptism and identification with a local church may be giving evidence that his faith is not real.
- God equipped Peter, a fisherman who had demonstrated a tendency to speak without thinking and who had failed the Lord miserably during the hours just before the crucifixion. This shows us that the Lord will enable us to do anything He calls us to do.