November 15, 2020
Dave Zuleger (South Campus) | Acts 2:1-13
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.”—Acts 2:1–13
Introduction: What We Want Most
Application: What We Need Most
Introduction: What We Want Most
We’ve seen this theme in Acts of lives radically oriented around King Jesus. This isn’t really a new theme at Bethlehem. It’s why we exist—to spread a passion for the supremacy of Jesus Christ. We love to say that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. But does Jesus reign in your heart that way? Are we really most satisfied in him?
Let me ask you a question. What do you want most in life? Really? Practically? What drives how you live and how you spend your time and energy? Now before you answer “Jesus,” let me ask you a question that I think helps us get to the bottom of our hearts. What do you fear most?
I ask you what you most fear because where you find fear, you’ve probably found something that shows a deep desire of your heart that has taken up too much space. For example, if I fear having the wrong people in power, what does that reveal about what I most want? Or if I fear losing my job, what does that reveal about what I most want? Or if I fear what people think of me while I preach, what does that reveal about what I most want? Or if I fear suffering, what does that reveal about what I most want? Or if I live in fear that my marriage will fall apart, or if I live in fear of my parenting mistakes, what does it reveal about what I most want? Or if you fear what other kids think about you, what does it reveal about what you most want? And if you wonder how to know what you fear, begin to think about what makes you anxious or agitated—or where you spend lots of time thinking and worrying. Our fears reveal our wants.
We begin to serve these fears. If we can just get the right person elected. If we can just find a secure job. If people would just like my sermons. If we could just have our suffering go away, or our marriages go better, or our parenting be further along—then we’d rest, right? Elections, jobs, good sermons, relief, marriage, and parenting are all important, but they’re horrible little gods and therefore don’t ever bring us the rest or joy we think they will.
Now I’m not here to shame you for being afraid. The things I listed above are important areas of life and need our attention. But I think too often we don’t deal with where our hearts are really at and what things we are really serving most—and therefore we can’t really walk in the freedom of seeing it, bringing it to Jesus, and walking forward with his help. So as we think about what we want most, let’s let this text speak to us about what we need most to fulfill the mission of lives radically oriented around and satisfied in Jesus that overflow in witness.
The disciples have been waiting like Jesus told them to. He had breathed the Holy Spirit onto them and they had been devoting themselves to the word, worship, and prayer. And now the day of Pentecost comes. Pentecost was called that because it was a feast 50 days (Pente) after the Passover where devout Jews gathered from every direction to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate a “Feast of Harvest.”
And what we’re going to see is that this is symbolic in many ways! Jesus has promised to send them power by the person of the Holy Spirit so that they can be his witnesses. So during this harvest feast where all of these Jews will come from all around the known world, the Lord means to bring about a different kind of harvest by bringing the very power he has promised.
Now, practically, this is the birth of the New Testament Church. This moment is where the Lord Jesus will pour out his power from on high in the form of the Holy Spirit and mark this as the New Covenant age of the Spirit where citizens of his kingdom will be his ambassadors wherever they are.
And not only is there great symbolism in the harvest the Lord is about to bring about, but this is a reversal of the Tower of Babel. You remember the Tower of Babel, right? The people came together and were building a tower that would make their name great because of how high it was. God saw their pride, and he confused their languages and dispersed them. Now here, in this moment, the Lord is gathering his people and undoing the confusion of their languages, forming a new people that will be humbled to repent of their pride and then spend their lives making much of Jesus!
So God means to have a harvest of people through his Spirit-empowered witnesses to reverse the curse of Babel and bring about humble repentance to unify a people passionate for his name. Well, what actually happens?
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.—Acts 2:1–4
They are all sitting together in one place and they hear a sound like a mighty rushing wind that fills the whole house. Then flames of fire rest over each of their heads individually. They are filled in a powerful way with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages by the power of the Spirit.
Now God doesn’t have to use this kind of physical manifestation of his power, but when he does, it gets our attention and we want to ask what it means. God means to reverse the curse of Babel and gather in a people during this feast of harvest, but why the wind and fire?
Well, the wind symbolizes the power and freedom of the Holy Spirit. Think of what Jesus says in John 3:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”—John 3:5–8
Kids, have you ever been outside on a windy day where a gust of wind comes that almost pushes you back or knocks you off of your feet? Can you control the wind? Can you make it stronger or weaker? No. And that’s how it is with the Holy Spirit. We cannot manipulate him. We cannot conjure him up to come. He is sovereign. He is God. Now, the Holy Spirit always dwells in believers and is always with us to sanctify us, help us, reveal God’s word to us, and encourage and help us. Yet, once in a while, this sovereign, strong blowing of the Spirit comes upon a person or upon a people. We pray for it. We fast for it. We long for it. But we cannot control him with our emotional worship songs or passionate preaching. He is always working sovereignly to lift high the Name of Jesus through the word and through prayer.
So, we see first the power and freedom of the Holy Spirit. And then we see flames. Flames throughout the Scriptures represent the holiness of God. This holiness transforms and leads those who trust in Jesus and this holiness brings judgment upon those who reject Jesus. But as these flames rest upon the heads of these witnesses it is symbolizing that they are representatives of the holy King of kings and Lord of lords to proclaim his gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit—this gospel will lead some to repentance and bring judgment upon others.
And then it says they were filled with the Holy Spirit. These symbols rush in as a physical manifestation of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The sovereign, free, pure Holy Spirit has come to empower and lead these witnesses of Christ. And as he fills them they are empowered to speak in different languages.
Now, before we move on to the amazing witness that comes from this, let’s stop and ponder the power and presence of the Spirit. This is the greatest need of the hour in the American Church. We don’t need more political power. We need more of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
Do you think that masks can stop the work of the Holy Spirit among us? Do you think social unrest can stop this sovereign Spirit? You think a pandemic can stop him? Do you think the ultimate way we will see the transformation and revival we long for will come through the right political strategies? This is the sovereign Spirit. Yes, this was a moment that we see marking the New Covenant age of the Holy Spirit. But we see throughout the book of Acts after this and throughout the New Testament that we ought to long for fresh fillings of the Holy Spirit, fresh blowing of the Holy Spirit over the blood-bought people of God to empower us to endure suffering, love each other, love our enemies, and witness to our neighborhoods and the nations.
Why do we gather on Sundays? In part, we gather to seek to be filled with the Spirit as we sing and admonish and love one another:
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.—Ephesians 5:17–20
Does your heart long for the power, presence, and purity of the Holy Spirit to fill us, overwhelm us, and blow over us like a mighty, rushing wind? Is that what you want most? If you do, then we’ll come back to that at the end. But, for now, let’s see what happens when the Spirit comes.
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.”
Now, I just want you to see three things in this passage. Notice the messengers, notice the people receiving the message, and notice the message.
First, the messengers. The people hearing come together and as they hear the miracle of these men filled with the Spirit speaking in their own language, they say, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” Now, this probably has two layers of meaning. First, how do they know our native languages? They aren’t from where we are from. Second, Galileans were not exactly the educated linguistic type of people. Even their own native tongue was known for its roughness and they were not known for their educational prowess. Yet here they are perfectly speaking a bunch of different languages.
Do you feel inadequate to deliver the gospel message to your neighbors or to the nations? God always uses the foolish and weak so that it is clear the wisdom and power belongs to him. These uneducated messengers should encourage you that it is not about you—it is about the sovereign Spirit who indwells and fills you for this miracle.
Second, notice those receiving the message. The list might not mean a lot to you. But if you were to look at a map, you would see that people are coming from North, South, East, and West to hear this message. That means God is already keeping his promise that by the power of the Spirit, the reign of King Jesus will begin to spread out near and far. God brought them near to his Spirit-empowered witnesses to hear this message and believe. God has placed your neighbors around you—and he intends to pour out his Spirit upon you to make much of Jesus wherever you are in your neighborhood, school, co-op, coffee shop, soccer team, workplace, or family get-together during the holidays.
Third, notice the message. They are telling the mighty works of God. This is exactly what Jesus promised would happen. The Spirit would come and glorify him. This is what happened when the Spirit came upon people in the gospel of Luke—they testified to the mighty works of God. This is what happens when the Spirit comes upon a people. He drenches us in the power and presence of the holiness of God and we are caught up afresh in worship because of all that he has done in creation and redemption through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit comes to make much of Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes to refine us to lay down our sin, run out of our shame, and instead walk in the freedom and witness and power of the name of our King.
I bring up other aspects beyond just testifying here because we will see radical obedience, purity, and love produced by the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts—along with radical proclamation of Jesus. A whole Christian, enflamed by the Holy Spirit, cannot live a divided life of passionate proclamation separated from passionate following of Jesus in the moment-by-moment of life. Kids, I want you to grow up living every moment of your life for Jesus and, because you love him and the Holy Spirit is with you, also wanting to tell other people about Jesus.
And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Now, here we see two reactions. One group of people is amazed and overwhelmed and wants to know what it means. Something big is happening and they need to understand this miracle. Others mock them and say they have had a bit too much to drink. Peter will stand up later and tell them that it’s too early in the day for that—but I just want you to notice these reactions because we will see it over and over in Acts and we see it over and over in the day we live in.
The Spirit comes and gives you boldness to proclaim the mighty works of God as his witness. People hear. Some want to know more. Some come to worship your King with you. What a miracle and privilege to be a part of. But some will simply mock you. First Corinthians says the world will often think we are weak and foolish for having lives radically oriented around Jesus.
In every story in Acts we will see a theme of rejection. Do you feel surprised at the rejection of the culture right now? This is the theme throughout church history. The Spirit fills us and lifts our eyes to Jesus, and we devote our lives to him, seek to fight sin, love each other, witness to the world, and then trust the sovereign Spirit with the results—and sometimes it will be mocking.
Kids, it is hard to live for Jesus in a world that might think you’re silly. But you can trust God with that. He is worth it. Your job is to pray for the help of the Spirit to love Jesus and obey him, and then you can trust him, even if you are made fun of.
Application: What We Need Most
We talked at the beginning about what we want most. But maybe a better question is, “What do we need most?” And isn’t the answer always that we need more of the power and presence of God? Isn’t that what we need for our own suffering? For us to love one another? For us to be more holy? For us to witness to our neighbors and the nations even if the culture doesn’t think Jesus makes much sense? Don’t we need this more than the mask mandate to be lifted? Don’t we need this more than the right person in office? Don’t we need this more than anything else for the good of our souls, our families, our church, and our nation?
In Exodus 33, Israel has just made the golden calf in the wilderness. The LORD tells Moses that he can go on to the promised land—he will provide a protective angel, but God will not go with them. Moses won’t relent. He says they won’t go on without his presence. His presence is what makes them who they are. They are who they are because God is their God. What Moses feared more than not making it to the promised land was losing the presence of God. Why? Because he knew what he needed most was the presence of God.
We’ve seen today that God has poured out his presence and power on us by the Holy Spirit. Here’s my question for you: “Do you want his presence more than anything?” If you could undo this mask mandate, if you could guarantee the election outcome, if you could make the COVID-19 pandemic end and social unrest go away, if you could make the hardest thing in your life pass, your marriage better, your parenting better, your finances more stable, or your suffering gone—would you want that more, or God’s presence more? Practically? Day to day?
What if you’re missing the presence of God because you’re so distracted with things that cannot change his power or his reign? What if you’re missing the presence of God as you try to figure out a bunch of third-tier issues when he’s made your primary calling so abundantly clear? What if we miss the presence of God because we pour our emotions, time, and energy out on things we simply will not see the church in Acts all that concerned with?
Perhaps this moment is meant for all of us to see that what we thought we needed most—in our homes and in this nation—is not actually what we needed most, but instead to refocus us to be a people of worship, prayer and fasting, the word, and love for one another and the lost.
And perhaps, if we’d do that, he would send his power and presence for a great harvest of people united to bring glory to his name. And amazingly, he will do that through us.
Introduction: What We Want Most
Application: What We Need Most