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Teaching series from Acts

The First Spiritual Renewal

Acts 2:1-13

Teaching t20615


Last week we began a thematic study of the books of Acts, which was written by Luke, the historian of the explosive early Christian movement.  We are studying Acts, not just as a historical account (which it is)—but also as an inspired analysis of the dynamics of corporate spiritual renewal

“Spiritual renewal” is the term that Christians often use to describe what happens when God pours out his Spirit on his people, when he is free to work powerfully in and through his people to show the world how real and mighty and good Jesus is.  This is what Jesus promised his followers in Acts 1:8 (read and explain).  In short, “spiritual renewal” simply means “when the church is the way God intends it to be” rather than the sterile and spiritually impotent way it often is.

Why are we focusing on this theme? Not because we want to pat ourselves on the back and criticize other churches, but because we need spiritual renewal!  I am praying that as we look at this inspired record of the early Christian movement, God will stir our hearts and open our eyes to what he wants to do in and through us, and that he will pour out his Spirit on us.

This morning we will look at the beginning of the first spiritual renewal among Christians (renewal also happened during Old Testament times), which occurred a few days after Jesus uttered 1:8...

The event

Read 2:1-4.  The day of Pentecost is the final spring festival, thanking God for the beginning of the agricultural harvest.  As we will see soon, this was a fitting day for God to pour out his Spirit on Jesus’ followers, because this resulted in the beginning of a great spiritual harvest.  As the 120 gathered together, God granted them an unmistakable spiritual experience accompanied by three extraordinary phenomena:

They heard a roar like a loud windstorm (LAST SUNDAY!), and they saw something like flames of fire settling on each one of them.  As Jews, they would know that these phenomena sometimes occurred in the Old Testament during manifestations of God (Ezek.37; Ex. 3).  In this way, God made clear to them externally what they were experiencing internally—that his Spirit had come to indwell them with God’s powerful and loving presence, just as Jesus had promised (Jn.14:18-21,23; Rom.5:5).

Naturally, they began to speak about (probably praise God for) his “mighty acts” (2:11 – their salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection)—but the Spirit enabled them to speak this in human languages they had never learned.  Why?  For the sake of others who were just then crashing their meeting...

Read 2:5-13.  Thousands of Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire were in Jerusalem for the spring festivals.  While these people all spoke the common Empire language (Greek), they spoke many different native languages.  Drawn to the Christian meeting by the sound of the “wind,” they were amazed to hear these Galileans (uneducated locals) speaking flawlessly to them in their native language about Jesus!  Most of them realized that this was God at work, and asked for a further explanation.  In the following verses, Peter explained the message of Jesus as God’s promised Messiah, his death and resurrection for their sins, and the offer of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit for them if they humbly received Jesus’ forgiveness.  3000 of these pilgrims responded to Peter’s invitation, and the Christian movement began with a bang!

4 universal elements of spiritual renewal

It is unfortunate that many Christians (often called “Pentecostals”) mistakenly teach that speaking in tongues is a universal element of spiritual renewal.  As we read on in Acts, we will see that two other renewed groups speak in tongues—but many others do not.  But we do find in Acts (and the New Testament letters) that there are at least four elements in this event that are universal spiritual renewals.  These are not the only universal elements (we’ll see more in coming weeks)—but they are very important!  Let’s identify them and (more importantly) ask ourselves: “Can I/we relate to this?”

During spiritual renewal, Christians are involved in united, ongoing, corporate prayer.  This is what they had been doing since Jesus ascended (read 1:14), and this is undoubtedly what they were meeting for in 2:1. 

Not just private prayer—they came “together” to pray as a group.  Not just occasional, perfunctory corporate prayer—they were “constantly” praying together.  Not random prayers for individualistic desires—they were “united”/”with one mind” praying about the same priorities (praise to Jesus and gratitude for their salvation; commitment to Jesus’ mission; dependence on Jesus’ promise of the Spirit).

Luke is careful throughout Acts to document the connection between this kind of prayer and the work of God’s Spirit in and through his church (18 references to prayer: 14 corporate/4 individual; see especially 1:14; 2:1,42; 3:1; 4:24-31; 6:4; 12:5,12; 13:2,3).

Why is this always connected to spiritual renewal?  Because only God can renew us, and because the main way we express our need for his renewal and confidence that he will renew us is through this kind of kingdom-centered prayer!  That’s why Jesus said Lk.11:9-13 (read)!  That’s why Paul said Col.4:2 (read)!  “(Renewals) usually start with a very small group of people — sometimes just one person — who begin to pray for God’s glory in the community. Usually it is just a handful of people; always it is some kind of ‘extraordinary’ prayer beyond the normal services and patterns of prayer.”1

I have been praying that God will pour out the spirit of prayer on us, and I have been gathering with others to pray for this.  May God help us to pray in this way!  May God raise up people in this room to spearhead this kind of extraordinary prayer!

During spiritual renewal, most Christians are moved by God to speak personally about Jesus to others.  In this case, God’s presence and love became experientially real to all of them, and they all began to talk personally about how great God/Jesus was to the people who happened to be there (1:8; 2:5,11).  There was no slick evangelistic campaign, no push from the front to “get out there,” no scripted presentation (not that these are necessarily wrong).  God’s people were so moved by his love and presence in their lives that they almost couldn’t help themselves from talking about this to the people God brought into their lives.  And most of the people who heard them share about Jesus sensed that this was real.

This is the case in every “filling” in Acts (2:4; 4:8,31; 7:55; 9:17,20; 13:9-12).  Although being filled with the Spirit also results in gradual character transformation (Gal.5:16-23; Acts 6:3 – “full of”), Luke focuses on this result.

Often, this sharing is in one-on-one conversations between renewed Christians and friends/strangers (DEN TO ME: “Jesus has changed my life;’ ELLEN TO GREG: “I love Jesus” with tears).  Often, this happens (as in Acts 2) when renewed Christians gather together (RUE WITH CT PRAYER; GREG WITH HOME GROUP SHARING; 1Cor.14:24,25).  The reality of Jesus gets communicated in a personal way that goes deep into the heart, arresting attention, creating curiosity, and arousing spiritual longing.

I want to stress that during times of renewal, this becomes the norm for a church—not the exception that only preachers or gifted evangelists engage in.  These people were simple, uneducated Galileans (2:7)—yet their sharing was powerful.  In a renewed church, there is a widespread excitement about God’s love, and a widespread confidence that the Holy Spirit can empower any/all of his people to effectively share what God has taught/shown them (Acts 4:31; 8:4; 11:19,20; CHRISTIANS OF ALL AGES DURING JESUS MOVEMENT).

Let’s pray that God will so renew our appreciation for his love and grace so that we want to tell others what he is doing in our lives!  This may involve God revealing rival affections that are blocking this appreciation—but as we turn from these he will fill us with his Spirit and renew our hearts so we want to share!

During spiritual renewal, God mobilizes his church to share Jesus with people from different cultural backgrounds.  Remember that Jesus said he wanted them to be his witnesses not only to people who were culturally and geographically nearby, but also to those who were distant (1:8).  And so he moved at the outset to create a multi-cultural (though Jewish) church (2:5)! 

Throughout Acts, Luke shows that God kept thrusting them out in this way (cf. 8,10,11,13, etc.).  They quenched the Spirit when they began to resist God’s desire to continue this multi-cultural movement.

God wants us to share his love to people “like us”—and in all spiritual renewals there is a harvest of people “like us” (e.g., family members; friends).  But renewal movements always spawn cross-cultural outreach (local & extra-local).  Jesus’ heart goes out to people who need to hear about him who are not like us.  He puts his concern for them in our hearts, and he forges opportunities to show and share his love with them—just like in Acts 2 (SMITH’S WIFE FOR HIPPIES).  He wants to create a new family who are from very different racial and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and who retain their cultural differences, but share the deep bond of knowing and loving Jesus.  This is a powerful testimony to a world deeply divided over these differences that Jesus is real!

This is one reason why I am excited about the multi-cultural aspect of this sphere/meeting.  It is wonderful to see and hear people of very different backgrounds praise Jesus and engage with one another.  It is exciting to see that God is giving people here a heart to reach out to others who are very different from them (ARTISTS; IMS STUDENTS; INTERNATIONALS).  But this is only the beginning.  This is an extraordinarily diverse part of Columbus, and God wants to renew us to become a far more diverse church!  Are you asking him to do this, and following his guidance when he leads you to people who are different from you?

We see another classic sign of spiritual renewal in this event.  People responded to this Spirit-empowered demonstration of Jesus’ reality in one of two ways—many were moved to learn more (2:12) and then get converted (2:41), but some were resistant and mocked the Christians (2:13).  During spiritual renewal, people are polarized in their response to Christians’ witness.  Paul describes the response to his own ministry in the same way (2Cor.2:15,16).  This is a pattern throughout Acts—usually religious and/or community leaders who are jealous and/or threatened and slander the Christian movement.

During renewal, many people are struck by the presence of God through Christians and the boldness (not the pushiness or nastiness) of their witness—and desire to learn more.  And many of those, when they understand the message of the gospel, repent and entrust themselves to Jesus.  During times of renewal, there are many inquirers at meetings like this, interest to learn more is high, and real decisions for Jesus are a stream—not a trickle (MILLIONS IN 1967-75; EARLY XENOS GROWTH). 

But even when God is manifesting himself in such a powerful way, there are still those who close their hearts to this and mock Jesus’ followers.  God shows people their spiritual need and presses in on them about Jesus—and people (including friends and family members) divide over him.  (Of course, some of those who initially respond negatively later get converted—like Paul!)  What becomes rare during renewal is indifference.  Let’s pray that God will empower us to see this kind of polarized response!

How does hearing about this affect you?  Do you relate to it in your current spiritual experience?  Praise God, and pray that he will enable you to be a catalyst for others.  Does it remind you of when you/we were in a state of spiritual renewal, and does it make you want to return to this state?  Good!  Let’s pray for it—for our own renewal, and that God will empower us to speak of it to others!  Is it totally foreign to you?  Then you may not know Christ, even if you have been a church-goer (including at Xenos) for your whole life.  Tell Jesus that you don’t have this spiritual reality, and ask him to forgive you and give you his Holy Spirit!

1 From Tim Keller, Prayer, p.23.  “Jeremiah Calvin Lanphier was a layman in the North Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street in New York. He decided to hold a prayer meeting at noon on Wednesdays for businessmen who worked in the immediate neighborhood.  The first meeting was held on September 23, 1857. The first person to join Lanphier was half an hour late; several others came even later. But the meeting quickly grew, and one month later they decided to meet daily. Within months, newspapers estimated that 10,000 were gathering every noon to pray. By May 1858, about 50,000 new people had joined the churches, out of a city population of roughly 800,000. It started with one man, and then a small group, who wanted to pray.”