Teaching series from Acts

The Birth of the Church

Acts 2:1-13

Teaching t05711

Introduction

Remind of Acts’ purpose: the BRIDGE explaining the transitions between the gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

Remind of Acts’ theme (1:8): a mandate and a promise

He gave them a mandate: “Take the gospel to the whole world.”  They must have been intimidated by this.  They were small in number (120), surrounded by hostile people,  and unsuited for cross-cultural work (untravelled; language limitations).

But Jesus was not leaving them alone.  Along with this mandate, he made them a tremendous promise: “The Holy Spirit will empower you to fulfill this mandate.”  This is why Jesus told them to wait until he was given (1:4,5).

>> Chapter 2 records the birth of the church as the dramatic first fulfillment of this theme...

The Event

Read vs 1-4.  The group of 120 were together, either in a large home or (more probably) at Solomon’s portico--when Jesus poured out his Spirit on them in a dramatic way (wind noise, fire light, and tongues).

Some Christians single out one of these dramatic manifestations (tongues) as something that all Christians must experience to prove they have received the Holy Spirit.  (I don’t know why they leave out the fire and wind!)  If we read on, it will become clear that God granted them this experience primarily for a different reason...

Read vs 5-13.  There are several things we need to notice to understand the significance of these tongues.

These “tongues” were not ecstatic utterances or angelic languages, but contemporary human languages which they had never learned.  Imagine turning to your friend after this meeting and asking, “How’d you like the teaching?”--only to hear yourself say this in Swahili?  And your friend replies, “Why are you talking in a different language?”--only he says this in German!  Something like this happened to them.  They suddenly began to speak in human languages they had never learned.

Why did God enable them to do this?  Because Jerusalem was full of Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire.  As many as one million pilgrims visited Jerusalem for the spring festivals (Passover through Pentecost).  While these people all spoke a common language (Greek), they spoke different native languages (vs6,8,11).

Imagine them gathered at the Temple to celebrate Pentecost when all of a sudden they hear these folks speaking in their own native languages!  If you’ve ever been in a restaurant or an airport in a foreign country, you know how easy it is to hear someone speaking English even in a crowd.  They were naturally drawn toward the ones who spoke their native languages.

As they listened, they realized this was a miracle for two reasons.  First, the people speaking were home-grown Galilean Jews (vs 7,8) who didn’t know foreign languages (and even spoke Greek with a twang).  Second, the content of their speech was about “the mighty deeds of God” (vs 11), probably referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Though some (probably Judean Jews who didn’t speak foreign languages) thought it was the gibberish of drunks (vs 13), these pilgrims knew they were experiencing a sign from God, and sought an explanation of its significance.  In the following verses (which we’ll study next week), Peter explained to them that this event signalled the gift of the Holy Spirit and proved that their Messiah had come.

The Result

>> The results of this event were a truly amazing fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in 1:8.

3000 of the pilgrims responded by believing in Jesus as their Messiah (vs 41).  So this little gaggle of 120 people grew by 25 times in one day!

Though these 3000 stayed in Jerusalem longer than they had planned (in order to get grounded), most of them eventually returned home, taking the message of Jesus with them all over the known world!  (Early church tradition states that the church in Rome was started by these people.)

The tongues also provided a basis for later validating Gentile evangelization, as we will see in chapters 10,11.

>> What a fitting way for Jesus Christ to begin the church!  What a marvelous picture of our mission--his people sharing his message by the power of his Spirit to people all over the world!

>> So what??  What can we learn from this event that will help us in our spiritual lives?  If we understand it in light of the rest of the Bible, there are two important applications...

God validates Jesus as the Messiah through fulfilled Old Testament prophecy

>> Notice that this all happened on “the day of Pentecost” (vs 1). Why did Jesus wait until this day to give them the Holy Spirit?  Why did he wait ten days after he was glorified (Jn.7:39; Acts2:33)?  The Jewish pilgrims were in Jerusalem for the entire period from Passover.

The answer to this question is that God was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy.  Not predictive prophecy like over 300 specific Old Testament predictions such as the Messiah’s birthplace and the specific time and manner of his death.  But typological prophecy: Old Testament festivals and rituals which foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah (Col.2:16,17).  Pentecost was the last of three spring festivals (Lev.23:1-21) that foreshadowed both the content and chronology of Jesus’ work of salvation.


PASSOVER

DATE: 14th day of first month (late March/early April)

PURPOSE: Passover commemorated God’s deliverance of the Jews from Egypt through the symbolic ritual he prescribed (EXPLAIN).  God commanded the Jews to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem once they got the land (Deut.16:5,6).

FULFILLMENT: Jesus was the Passover lamb whose blood (death) delivers us from God’s judgment (Jn.1:29).  This is why he was adamant about being in Jerusalem for Passover.  This is why he was crucified on Passover, and why he died in the afternoon--the very time the priests were offering the lambs for the nation!  No wonder Paul says 1Cor.5:7!

FIRST-FRUITS

DATE: Sunday following Passover

PURPOSE: This festival celebrated God’s faithful agricultural provision by bringing the first tangible evidence (NEW BARLEY SHEAVES).

FULFILLMENT: Why did Jesus say that he must be raised from the dead “on the third day?”  Why not the second or fourth?  Because the third day (reckoned inclusively) was the feast of First-fruits.  As the Jewish people were thanking God for the proof of a future harvest, God raised Jesus from the dead--thereby providing proof of our resurrection if we have trust Christ.  No wonder Paul says 1Cor.15:23!

PENTECOST

DATE: 50 days after Passover sabbath

PURPOSE: The feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, celebrated the beginning of the grain harvest by bringing bread made from this grain.

FULFILLMENT: Why did Jesus wait until the day of Pentecost to give the Holy Spirit to his followers?  As the Jewish people were thanking God for the actual beginning of harvest, Jesus poured out his Spirit on his followers to empower them to begin the harvest of souls (Acts2:41)!

>> This is just one example of hundreds of Old Testament prophecies Jesus fulfilled (see Christianity, The Faith That Makes Sense).  Through them, God provides you with a unique line of evidence that Jesus is your Messiah and Savior, that his death is God’s payment for your sins, that his resurrection assures you of eternal life, and that his Spirit wants to indwell you and give you a personal, life-transforming  relationship with God--if you choose to receive Christ.

Jesus’ sovereignty & evangelism

There is another lesson from this passage.  Read Matt. 28:18.  As a result of his death and resurrection, he has been given full authority over both human and angelic realms.

This assertion is perplexing for many Christians.  If Jesus is sovereign over all things, why do we still get sick?  Why do we still have war?  Why doesn’t he answer our prayers for these things?

We don’t have the full answer to these questions, but we have a sufficient answer.  Jesus will defeat these things when he returns to reign on earth as God’s anointed King.  In the meantime, he exercises his sovereignty primarily for a different purpose--to fulfill his Great Commission (read Matt. 28:19a: “...go therefore...”).  In this age, he normally reveals his sovereignty, not by overruling our negative circumstances, but by working through all our circumstances to provide opportunities for us to share the gospel.

Isn’t this what happened on the day of Pentecost?  Jesus didn’t remove all opposition and difficulty--these things continued and increased, as we will see.  But he did sovereignly work within their circumstances to provide a tremendous opportunity for them to be his witnesses.

This is one of the secrets of the early church’s success--but it is an open secret that we can share.  If you are committed to reaching out to others with Jesus’ love and message of forgiveness, he will sovereignly work to provide you with opportunities to share. 

Sometimes he does this in obvious, dramatic ways that are almost impossible to miss  (PENTECOST; RODEO ROB).

Sometimes he does this in subtle ways (and through difficult circumstances) that require our attentiveness (“SCATTERING” IN ACTS 8,11; PAUL WITH GUARDS).

This can transform your prayer life.  If you pray primarily for the Lord to keep you healthy, prevent you from suffering, and give you good circumstances, you’re going to be disappointed in his response. But if you pray that he give you opportunities to share with others, you will see him answer in the most amazing ways and even in the most difficult circumstances.  Nothing is more exciting than this!

Conclusion

NEXT WEEK: how to share the gospel when Christ provides the opportunity...