May 31, 2020
God’s kingdom, which Jesus ushered in, will be finally and universally established at His return. In the meantime, Christ sent His Spirit to enable followers to understand and proclaim the Gospel. Alistair Begg explains how Pentecost was an unmistakable, unconditional, unavoidable, and unrepeatable event. Language and cultural barriers were supernaturally broken down, and many received God’s word and were baptized. God’s unifying Spirit continues to draw believers together under Christ as they trust Him as Savior.
We’re going to read from the Acts of the Apostles and chapter 2, reading from verse 1 to verse 13. Acts chapter 2 and reading from verse 1. The heading in the ESV is “The Coming of the Holy Spirit”:
“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
“Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’”
Amen. Thanks be to God for the reading of his Word.
Gracious God, we thank you that you have given us songs to sing. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we bless you; triune God, we praise you. And we ask now that as we turn to your written Word, the Bible, that by the enabling of the Holy Spirit we may be drawn to the living Word, Christ himself, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Well, last time, in considering Jesus as the King, we remarked on the fact, in reading from John chapter 18, that Pilate, the Roman governor of the time, struggled with the idea of the kingly rule of Jesus. We were not surprised by that; it would have been surprising if he had not been responding in that way. But in our reading this morning, what we discover is that the disciples themselves were actually pretty clueless when it came to grasping the meaning of the kingdom. But before we sit in judgment, or stand in judgment, on them, we might have occasion to ponder ourselves just what we expect to be happening when in the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray it, we make the request “Your kingdom come.”
I hope that you have found in our topical studies at least some kind of logical progression. After all, we began some weeks ago thinking about God the Father, the Father of all hope, and then in Habakkuk, and then in looking to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Mediator in his office of Prophet and Priest and King. And this morning we come to the person of the Holy Spirit—and not arbitrarily, because, actually, as many of you who follow the liturgical church calendar will know, today is actually Pentecost Sunday.
And what I’d like to do in trying to tackle this is approach it with this outline: first of all, that we will consider the question that is asked about the kingdom, then the description of the historical event, then an explanation of what was taking place, and then, finally, the reaction to all that took place, and our reaction too.
Well, the question comes in chapter 1. And in 1:6, “When they had come together,” Luke tells us that they said to the Lord Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Now, if your Bible is open, you should just look up just a few verses and see there that in verse 3, Luke is careful to let us know that Jesus, in the time between his resurrection and his ascension, provided, if you like, an amazing Bible school for his followers. And in verse 3: “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” So, he has been informing them of the nature of the kingdom. And yet, here they are, and this is their question, making it fairly obvious that they had not really paid attention or grasped what he was saying. They were thinking in terms that were political or territorial or national.
And again, we ought not to be too quick in judgment, because there are many in our day who are obsessed in a very similar fashion with the questions of the kingdom, with dates and with times and with temples. And along with the disciples, they need instruction on the way in which the application of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus. Luke, of course, frames the end of his first volume and the beginning of his second volume with just that kind of instruction. And you can search for that on your own back in Luke 24, when Jesus provides the followers then with instruction concerning all the things in the Old Testament concerning himself. And now, again, in the beginning of Luke’s second volume, he does the same.
I’m really helped, and I hope you are, by what he says in verse 7 in response to their question: “It is not for you to know.” “It is not for you to know [the] times or [the] seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” You know, if people had taken that far more seriously through the years than most of us have done, then it would have saved us from a lot of stuff—the temptation to curiosity rather than bowing before God’s authority. Alec Motyer, bless him, helpful in this regard when he writes, “Old Testament national and territorial pictures prepare us for a kingdom that is not of this world, a redeemed and believing people who already live ‘in the heavenly realms’ and who here and now belong to a heavenly Zion.”
Now, you say, “Well, we’re not dealing with the kingdom. That was last time.” I agree with that entirely. But let me just say this: that when we read the New Testament, it is clear that the kingdom has come in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Historically, that is a fact. Now, it will come, we discover, progressively, as the word of the gospel goes out to the ends of the earth. And then, finally, it will come universally when Jesus Christ returns.
Now, in that same section, before the ascension of Jesus, there is another question that I want you to notice just in passing. It’s the question that is posed by the angels who come upon the disciples, “gazing into heaven.” And they say to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?” I’ve always been intrigued by that. I think my answer would have been, “What do you mean? Why are you not looking into heaven? After all, this is an amazing event that has just taken place.” Well, the whole point comes across clearly, that there’s no time for standing around, looking up into the sky. There is work to be done. The reason that Jesus says the Spirit is coming is in order not that men might fiddle around trying to figure out plans and times but in order that the gospel might be proclaimed.
And indeed, verses 6–8 are almost the framework for the entire Acts of the Apostles: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…”; chapters 2–7 are all about the work of the gospel in Jerusalem. “And [to] … Judea and Samaria…”; chapters 8–12, about the impact of the gospel in those regions. And then, in [chapters] 13–28, “and to the end[s] of the earth.” I don’t think it’s hard to imagine the disciples looking at one another and thinking to themselves, “Well, we badly need this power that Jesus has promised.” And so, you come into chapter 2, and Luke gives to us the record of the occasion when, if we can put it this way, the power supply was turned on.
So from that question, then, to the description that is given to us here.
You will notice there is a time, there is a place: “When the day of Pentecost”—pente in the Greek for fifty, fifty days after the events of the Passover—“when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.” There was an actual place; whether it was the upper room of 1:13, I don’t know. “And suddenly … from heaven…” That’s the source. It appeared to come from nowhere, but in actual fact, it was coming from somewhere. Back in chapter 16 of John’s Gospel, Jesus had told his disciples—“What is this that he is saying to us?” again they had asked, when he had said, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me,” and “because I am going to the Father.” And they were saying to one another, “What does he mean … ‘[in] a little while’?”
In actual fact, the Lord Jesus comes in the power of the Holy Spirit. And what is described for us here may be summarized under four headings.
First of all, that what took place was unmistakable. It was unmistakable. There are three distinct phenomena that are described for us. Now, we might just observe in passing that when in the incarnation Christ was born, the skies were illuminated, and the angel chorus sang, and into the silent drama of that little place and time, heaven broke. Jesus now has departed from his followers; he has given them a promise that the Holy Spirit will come. It seems that the reason for the phenomena is uniquely for them, so that they might understand that what he has said would happen ten days later has actually happened, so that they wouldn’t be left sitting around saying, “I wonder, has the power come, or has it not come?” The phenomena make it perfectly clear. It is unmistakable: “a sound” that is not a wind, but it is “like a mighty … wind,” filling the entire house; then, what seem to be “tongues … of fire” dividing and resting upon them individually; and then, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” they “began to speak in other tongues,” tongues other than their own, “as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Now, the second thing to observe, and just to say and move on, is that not only was this event unmistakable, but it was unconditional. It was unconditional. There was no requirement. There is no description of process. There is no indication of pattern. The application of that principle we can leave for another time, but it is not uncommon for people to say, “Well, you see, if we were really going to be Holy Spirit people, then we would have to go back through the same process, the same pattern, and fulfill the same conditions.” If there was one condition, it was the condition to wait. To wait.
So, unmistakable, unconditional, and also unavoidable, in the sense that what had happened in the house had spilled out into the community. I can only imagine that they, in the unfolding of this drama, moved out, and so from verse 4 into verse 5: “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men.” And so, from verses 9–11, we have a description of fifteen different language groups—fifteen different language groups who are now hearing about “the mighty works of God” in their own language.
In fact, the people started to say to one another, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” Why mention Galileans? Well, I think it’s the same reason that people mention Glaswegians, which is where I’m from. The Galileans were not known as linguists. They were actually known by a kind of strange way of speaking. They could be identified as Galileans because of their dialect. You remember, for example, when Peter is warming himself at the fire, the people come to him, and they say to him, “Are you not a Galilean as well?” How would they know he was a Galilean? He didn’t wear a hat. No, it was the way in which they spoke.
And so, in the normal run of events, Galileans were hard to understand. That’s the point. But now, those who are hard to understand in their own language are speaking another language which they have never learned but which has been given to them. And people are, you will notice, “bewildered,” they’re “astonished,” they’re “amazed,” they’re “perplexed.” When it’s all unfolding, they’re saying to one another, “Well, what actually does this mean?” And when some are looking for meaning, others are using it as an opportunity for mocking: “But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” Calvin says, “There is nothing, no matter how full of wonder, that may not be turned into a joke by men and women who are indifferent to God.”
Now, just this morning, a friend sent to me a quote, which I want to share with you at this point, from a book by an English historian, Tom Holland. And Tom Holland does not write as a Christian, but he writes perceptively in this regard. And this is what he wrote:
I see no point in preachers, Christian preachers, just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft-left liberal, because everyone is giving us that. If I want that, I’ll get it from a Liberal Democrat councillor.
If you’re a Christian…
Now, this is the non-Christian telling the Christian:
If you’re a Christian, you think that the entire fabric of the cosmos was ruptured when by some strange singularity someone who is a God and a man sets everything on its head in a massive singularity that is at the very heart of things. If you don’t believe that, it seems to me you’re not a confessional Christian.
So, if you believe that, it should also be possible to dwell on all the other “weird” stuff that traditionally comes as part of the Christian package. It seems to me that there’s a deep anxiety about that, almost a sense of embarrassment—sort of, “Oh, Jesus was really just a nice man.”
But no, says Holland. “It’s a bit more than that. It’s stranger. And weirder.”
That’s profoundly helpful. There are those who want to say, “Well, what we’re going to do, we’re going to try and make Christianity ‘Christianity Lite.’ We’ll try and get rid of all these difficult parts and pieces. We’ll explain it away, and then the people will come in their droves.” No! No, not at all.
No, what is described here was unconditional, it was unmistakable, it was unavoidable, and lastly, it was unrepeatable. Unrepeatable. We need to view this event in terms of the whole story of Jesus. We need to view this in the same way that we view the incarnation, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus. There is no way that the death of Jesus is a repeatable event, nor the ascension of Jesus a repeatable event, nor the Pentecostal event as repeatable. We’ll see that in just a moment, when Peter makes application of this when the crowd want to know what they should do in response to his talk. That is not to say that the experience of God the Spirit in the life of the church has somehow or another been locked two thousand years ago. No! But here, when the river was opened, when the pouring out took place in this unique and unmistakable fashion, it was also done in an unrepeatable way. There is no need for a second Pentecost. It was, as I say, unique.
So, the question was “Is this how we should view the kingdom?” The description, then, of what happened in relationship to what Jesus has promised is there for us. And then, essentially what follows in the chapter is the explanation that Peter then gives. If your Bible is open, you could look at verses 32 and 33 as the sort of template: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
Now, if you think about it in relationship to Christology, Jesus abstained from earthly ministry until his baptism by John in the Jordan when the Holy Spirit came upon him. He then goes on from there to proclaim the gospel and to head to Jerusalem. So he says to his followers, “You too need to wait in order that the divine enablement which you so clearly require, not only for understanding but also for proclamation and for testimony, that that Holy Spirit will come and fill you.” He had told them back in John 14, “I [have asked] the Father, and he will give you another Helper.”
So in other words, Peter is at pains to make it clear to the listeners of the time that what we have just had described for us is a visible manifestation that is the fulfillment of what Jesus has promised. And Peter explains this by going to his Bible.
First of all, in terms of the prophecy of Joel, there in verse 16: “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel.” In the King James Version, it comes across very, very well: “This is that…” It doesn’t say “This is what”; it says “This is that.” It’s almost as if he said, “That? This is that. Let me tell you what this is.” And then, the prophecy of Joel: “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”
Now, it’s not uncommon to hear people talking about this in contemporary terms, reading the prophecy of Joel in this second chapter of Acts as if somehow or another we’re waiting for its fulfillment. We must allow the Bible to guide us in this. The exposition that Peter gives is the correct exposition. “What has happened here,” he says, “is what Joel was speaking about, God making himself known in and through his Word in the priesthood of all believers”: “Even on my male servants and female servants … I will pour out my Spirit, and they [will] prophesy.” How else are you gonna be able to be the witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea, and to the ends of the earth? No, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible and meaningful.
Now, we’re not going to spend the whole morning on this, and we can come to it another time. But let me just say something, because people often stumble over this. Verse 19:
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
[and] blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
What do we have here?
Well, if we take this literally, as we legitimately may, what we have are upheavals of nature. Upheavals of nature. Think, for example, of Good Friday, when in the noonday the sun was darkened and gave no light at all. Think of what Jesus says when he speaks of the last days, which is between the ascension of Jesus and the return of Jesus, and he talks there about earthquakes and famines and plagues. No. We’re living in these days.
If we view it metaphorically, which we may legitimately do also, then what is described are simply convulsions of history, apocalyptic imagery of times of both social and political revolution. And we are in the midst of this. Nobody can be turning to the pages of the newspaper now without dealing with social and political revolution, without understanding about plagues and pestilences and earthquakes and everything else. And secular man looks on and says, “We have no explanation for this, but perhaps if we live for another fifty million years, we will get it all fixed.” The Bible says, “No. You are living between two fixed points now, between Pentecost and the parousia when Jesus Christ will return.”
And here is the great news, verse 21: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls [on] the name of the Lord shall be saved”—in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the upheavals. Some of you are dealing with that in a very personal way. Your whole life seems to have been turned upside down and you’re searching hard for borders and for a framework to make sense of it all. And here is the promise. And only your unbelief will stop you from calling on God.
That’s what he does, the prophecy of Joel. And then he goes to the testimony of David. And he’s quoting the psalmist: “I saw the Lord always before me, [because] he[’s] at my right hand that I may not be shaken.” Peter has been expounding the life of Jesus, and the death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus. And as he quotes from the Sixteenth Psalm, what he’s pointing out is that David clearly wasn’t referring to himself. He couldn’t be referring to himself, because he was abandoned; he has now been buried a long time. Who, then, fits the bill? Only Jesus. David was speaking about the resurrection of Jesus—which, again, ties in with what I was saying earlier regarding the territorial and geographical elements: the Old Testament fulfilled in Jesus.
So the question is as stated. The description is there for our further study. The explanation too. And then, finally, just a word concerning the reaction.
What Peter says in verse 36, if we use a cliché from now, is essentially this: “You can take this to the bank,” he says. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain…” “Know for certain.” Again, in Christianity we are dealing with facts. We’re dealing with history. We’re dealing with real events, real time, real places, data that can be discovered and can be dissected.
And from this point, you will notice that nobody is laughing. The mockery of verse 13 has been replaced. The Spirit of God has taken up the word of God on the lips of the servant of God, and the hearers recognize this—that Jesus now has been presented to them in a way that demands a response. And so they ask the question: “Well then, what shall we do? What shall we do?” And, of course, this is the great response that every preacher longs for, but it only happens when the Spirit of God is at work, only when the Spirit of God brings home to us Jesus.
I want you to notice, and notice carefully, that in response to that question, “What shall we do?” Peter does not take them back to verses 1–13. He does not say, “Well, wait a minute, this is what you need to do; this is what we did.” No. No, no. He says, “You have listened to the word; you might even be prepared to accept the word that you have listened to. But if you’re going to be arrested by it, then you need to repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.”
To repent is more than being simply sorry for our sins. It means changing our mind about sin itself. It means viewing sin the way God sees it, as having overstepped his boundaries and missed the mark and turned in upon ourselves. It means acknowledging the wrong direction in which by nature we’ve been going. It involves a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of direction. And baptism, the unashamed identification of our lives with Jesus.
So he says, “Here’s what you need to do: repent and be baptized. And let me tell you,” he says, “what will be your experience: forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, a whole new start, a whole new beginning. I love that Delete key on my laptop, where I’ve made a real mess of a text that I’m trying to send, and I can just put it all together and just hit Delete. And the wonder of forgiveness is that that is what God does with all of our mess, all of our rebellion, all of our mess-up. Forgiveness.
But how would we ever make progress? Well, not only does he forgive us, but he gives us a fresh start, because he gives us the Holy Spirit to come and live in our lives. And “the promise,” he says, “is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord … calls to himself.” And he calls us to himself in the gospel. He calls to you today: “Come, come.”
And then, you will notice, it says that “with many other words…” “With many other words.” In other words, what you have in the second chapter of Acts, like you have in most of the speeches in the Acts, is clearly a summary. I can read the whole second chapter in about three and a half minutes. I can’t imagine that Peter only preached for three and a half minutes. You say, “Well, you could try it yourself sometime.” I understand that. But you will notice it was “those who received his word.” “Who received his word.” Not the people who heard his word. You see, because Jesus died in the sinner’s place, the Bible does not teach us that we’re automatically forgiven. We have to individually receive Christ, make him our own.
And so, they had a Savior to trust, and then in turn they had a story to tell. And with this I want to finish. Because what happened at Pentecost was essentially a reversal of what had happened at Babel. And you can read that for yourselves again in Genesis chapter , when human languages were confused and the nations were scattered. Now, in Jerusalem, the language barrier was supernaturally overcome, and it was supernaturally overcome as a sign that the nations would be gathered together in Christ.
I mean, when you read Pentecost, you say to yourself, “Why wasn’t it that some new universal language was given, so that everybody that ever became a Christian, they all spoke the same language?” Well, the answer, I think, should be pretty obvious: that in the world of that time, where Jew and gentile were at war with one another, what was going to happen was that when the Holy Spirit came and confronted people with the wonder of Jesus as a Savior, a Shepherd, a Friend, a King, and so on, and they came to trust in him, their Jewishness would not be eradicated, nor would their gentileness be eradicated, but both Jew and gentile would have the barrier that was between them broken down in the gospel.
In other words, what is happening is the reversal of Babel. “We’re gonna try and put together one great society, where everybody is fine and everything works.” Well, the fact of the matter is that every attempt at that throughout all of history has failed and is destined to fail without the Mediator. For example, Stalin’s repressive attempts to put that together failed. The Soviet experiment collapsed on itself. Islam’s attempts even to today rely on the dominance of Arabic culture and Arabic language. But Pentecost is making it clear that every language is an appropriate vehicle for the praise and the proclamation of Jesus. That’s why we have Wycliffe Bible Translators, so that the heart language of men and women may be able to receive this fantastic news—that they don’t have to learn English in order to discover the mighty works of God; that the dialects of the Quechua people in the Andes Mountains may rejoice as a result of what God is doing.
Now, if I was ordering up a talk and an attempt to end on a morning like this, in a racially divided nation, with riots in Atlanta and Los Angeles and Chicago and Cleveland, and people at war with one another, and secular man saying, “You know, if we can do this, or if we do that, or we silence this or we fix that, we’ll be able to put it all together”—no, you will not be able to put it all together! There is one who can. There is one who has—namely, Christ.
When we freeze water, we make ice cubes. When God freezes water, he makes a snowstorm, with every flake individual. What our culture longs for—multilingual, multiethnic, multi-everything—“there is one mediator between God and [man], the man Christ Jesus,” and that man has come and has accomplished what no one else can or ever will, and has ascended to heaven and has poured out his Spirit on the church in order that churches—our own church—would be diverse, not as a result of everyone wearing the same suit or doing the same thing but as a result of the unifying factor of the gospel.
That’s why God has left his Spirit: so that the work might be done; so that eventually John is able to say, “[And I saw] a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” And they were singing the same song: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Well, first we must trust that Savior. And then, helped by the Spirit, we can sing the song.
Well, a brief prayer before we come to sing a closing song:
O Gracious God, out of a multitude of words may we hear the voice of Christ. May we listen and learn, may we respond in believing faith and in childlike trust, and may we sing to your glory. And may we reach out into the world in which you’ve set us with this amazing news: that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2 (ESV).
 See Luke 24:27.
 Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 37. Paraphrased.
 Acts 1:10–11 (ESV).
 John 16:17 (paraphrased).
 John 16:17–18 (ESV).
 See Mark 14:70; Luke 22:59.
 John Calvin, Acts (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1995), 32.
 Tom Holland, “How Christianity Gained Dominion,” interview by Glen Scrivener, Speak Life, October 18, 2019, YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0xCs2EfiXA. Paraphrased.
 See Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4–5.
 John 14:16 (ESV).
 Acts 2:18 (ESV).
 See Matthew 27:45; Luke 23:44–45.
 See Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11.
 Acts 2:25 (ESV).
 Acts 2:37 (paraphrased).
 Acts 2:37 (ESV).
 Acts 2:38 (paraphrased).
 Acts 2:39 (ESV).
 Acts 2:40 (ESV).
 Acts 2:41 (ESV). Emphasis added.
 See Genesis 11:1–9.
 1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV).
 Revelation 7:9–10 (ESV).
 Romans 10:13 (ESV). See also Joel 2:32.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.