What do you think of the Holy Spirit? For many of us, the honest answer might be: ‘not very much.’ Of course, we’ll affirm that we believe in him in the Apostles’ Creed, but beyond that, we might not really think of the Holy Spirit very much. Perhaps it’s easier to relate to the Father, or to Jesus, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t really figure in our thinking or experience.
And that might especially be the case, when some other churches are quite big on the Spirit - the Pentecostal churches who maybe focus more on speaking in tongues and other experiences. And so we’ll affirm the creed and keep ignoring the Spirit we believe in. And each year Pentecost will roll round, and we’ll read Acts 2, and then get on with worship in the Church of Ireland way.
The experience of the early church, though, shows us that we have to get to grips with the Holy Spirit - or rather, that he has to get to grips with us. As we’ve seen in Acts 1, the apostles were given a mission by the risen Lord Jesus. They’re to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. But they need the power of the Holy Spirit to do it. And so Acts 1 was all about waiting for the promise - waiting obediently, prayerfully and practically. In Acts 2, we see the waiting period is finished, as the Holy Spirit is given to the church.
In verses 1-13, we see that the Spirit is poured out on the believers. Can you imagine these events happening this morning? There’s the sound (2) ‘like the blowing of a violent wind’ - not outside, but inside the house. There’s the sight (3) of, like, tongues of fire resting on each of them. And there’s the speech (4) - as they are enabled to speak in other tongues or languages instantly.
Have you ever been somewhere on holiday where they don’t speak English? You might go about trying to be understood, and trying to understand what the locals are saying. And when you’re in that situation, and you suddenly hear someone speaking English, then you naturally tune in, you listen to what they’re saying, because you can understand it? Or, in a similar way, you’re in a big crowd of people, and no matter how many people there are, you’ll be able to pick out the Northern Irish people because of their accent?
That’s what’s happening here. The 120 are suddenly speaking in other languages, and people in Jerusalem are hearing and understanding and tuning in to what they’re saying. You see, Pentecost was one of the three Jewish festivals when everyone would pack up and go to Jerusalem. God-fearing Jews ‘from every nation under heaven’ (5) have gathered in, and the disciples are able to speak in their languages.
The poured out Spirit enables the disciples to ‘declare the wonders of God’ in all of their languages. [As an aside, this is the reversal of the curse of the Tower of Babel, where languages were confused and divided. Now, all peoples are hearing the good news in their own languages.] It is bewildering, and amazing and perplexing all at the same time for the crowd. No wonder they ask: ‘What does this mean?’ even as some make fun, thinking they’ve had too much wine. (12-13).
We see the power of the Holy Spirit as Peter stands up to address the crowd in verse 14. He quickly says that they aren’t drunk - it’s only nine in the morning. It’s not wine or spirits that have caused this scene, but rather it’s the poured out, promised Holy Spirit. He reminds them of what the prophet Joel says in his prophecy: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people...’ (17)
It’s not that the Holy Spirit only came about in Acts, or at the start of the New Testament. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, fully divine with the Father and the Son. But in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was only given to certain people - prophets, priests and kings. But Joel speaks of a time, the last days, when God would pour out his Spirit on all his people, not just some.
And this is what has happened on the day of Pentecost. The whole band of disciples, all 120 or so of them, have received the Spirit who was promised. Whether they’re sons or daughters, young men or old men, men or women, all have received the Spirit.
Acts 2 shows that the promised Spirit has been poured out. So how would you expect Peter to continue with his speech (or sermon)? Given that it’s the day of Pentecost, and that it’s the Holy Spirit who has come, you would expect that he would continue speaking about the Spirit. But that’s not what he does. Instead, the poured out, promised Spirit gives power to proclaim the prophecied Saviour. Peter preaches on Pentecost about Jesus.
Look at verse 22: ‘Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.’ He’s reminding them of what Jesus did - miracles, wonders and signs - and how God was at work in him and through him. And how did they respond to Jesus?
‘This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.’ (23)They crucified Jesus! But before we think that they’re bad and that we’re better - had we been in their position, we would have done that too. They were there; they had crucified Jesus. That was the end of the story as far as they were concerned. But the story was far from over.
‘But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.’ (24) They had killed Jesus, but God raised him from the dead. It wasn’t that things had turned out badly, unexpectedly, and then God had to step in to bring Jesus back to life as a plan B, try again, kind of strategy. No, this was God’s plan from the beginning.
Jesus had been handed over by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. He is the Saviour who was prophecied in advance. In verses 25-28, Peter quotes from Psalm 16, a Psalm written by David. But David wasn’t speaking about himself - you see, David died, and was buried, and was in his tomb - which was part of the tourist trail in Jerusalem in the way that you can see the tombs of our kings and queens in Westminster Abbey.
David was speaking about one of his sons, the one who would reign forever, the Christ. The summary is in verse 31: ‘Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.’ David’s tomb is full, but Jesus’ tomb is empty!
And in verses 32-33, we see how everything we’ve seen in Acts so far comes together: ‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.’
The poured out, promised Spirit gives power to proclaim the prophecied Saviour. Peter hasn’t preached a message about the Spirit; but rather the Spirit points to and gives power to proclaim the message of the Saviour, Jesus. Just think of the power that Peter would need to proclaim the truth of verse 36. The courage you would need to accuse the crowd of what they had done: ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’
Jesus is Lord - he is the one ruling over the universe, God in the flesh. Jesus is the Christ - the anointed son of David, king over all. And you crucified him! You put him to death! You cried out those words ‘crucify him!’
The crowd have been listening carefully ever since verse 12 when they asked, ‘What does this mean?’ Now they ask another question, because they are cut to the heart, they feel the weight of the conviction of what they have done, the wrong they have accomplished, and they ask: ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ (37)
How should they respond to the proclamation of the prophecied Saviour, empowered by the poured out, promised Spirit? ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ (38-39).
They are to turn around, to go the opposite direction (repent), and to be baptised. They will receive forgiveness of their sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. And on that one day, about three thousand accepted the message, were baptised and added to their number. That’s not bad going for one day. Starting with 120 and ending with 3120. An increase of 2500%
How did the disciples do it? They hadn’t dreamt up a new evangelism strategy; or tried a certain musical style; or used or ditched the prayer book. They received power from the Holy Spirit who had been promised and was poured out - to enable them to proclaim the prophecied Saviour. We have the same Holy Spirit, who still gives power to proclaim the Saviour - will we follow his leading, and speak his words, as we share the good news of Jesus?
Perhaps we need to pray that we will have more of the Spirit, that we will indeed follow his lead, and know his power and his poured-outness as we proclaim the Saviour.
And, just as we finish, let me proclaim the Saviour. Do you know Jesus? Have you received the forgiveness of your sins? Or are you still numbered among those who want rid of him, who have called out ‘crucify him!’ The Jesus you crucified is Lord and Christ. He longs to be your Saviour. Won’t you turn to him, by turning away from your sins, and receiving the gift of his Spirit. Perhaps today, the Lord is calling you to himself. Won’t you come? Won’t you draw near? He is Lord and Christ. Is he your Saviour?
This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 23rd June 2019.