Some days are predictable. You know from their beginning, with some level of certainty, how they will end. Pentecost was not one of those days.
“Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.” (Acts 2:41)
Fiction writers sometimes begin with exciting events that are near the conclusion of their story to immediately grab the reader’s attention. This technique motivates the reader to ask how the characters got to that point. The author, to answer the question, takes his audience back to the beginning of the story; “Thirty-six hours earlier” or, “Two years in the past.”
A skilled writer, after communicating where the story is going, will successfully weave a beautiful, intricate tale to explain how it gets there. He must be careful, though, to avoid plot holes—inconsistencies in the development of the plot or the characters’ lives. He desires a believable story but also one that offers enough complexity to prevent the audience from guessing the next step.
Prequels, a relatively new genre, have become an anticipated part of the entertainment industry. Audiences want to know how a character or plotline reached its current situation. Such stories give increased understanding and depth to the characters. They allow the writer to include information he may have had in his head, but which he did not include in the original storyline.
For example, the first scene in the Star Wars franchise acquainted movie-goers with Darth Vader and his quest to retrieve the stolen Death Star plans. It took almost forty years for the account of that theft to come to theaters in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (May 25, 1977 – December 16, 2016). Though the movie had a sad ending, it left the audience with a feeling of satisfaction. I can testify. I was one of them.
The conclusion of a story – the goal toward which everything else is moving – may be the first image in the creator’s mind. He knows the end, but he may struggle with the details of how to make that happen. Such was not the case with God.
The ultimate Author knew what conclusion He wanted to reach, and He understood what it would take. In response to Peter’s assertion of Jesus’ identity, Jesus said, “I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:18). God’s goal was the Church, and He planned from before He formed the universe how He would do it (Eph. 1:4; Heb. 4:3; 9:6; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8).
Countless twists laced the grace-filled story—unlikely heroes, human failures, opportunities to cheer, and shock-inducing enemy victories. All of this laid the foundation on which God built the surprise of Pentecost.
What did the 120 gathered in the Upper Room expect? They understood that their prolonged stay in the heart of enemy territory and the promise of the Spirit were connected. There is no indication, though, that they knew the Spirit would come on Pentecost, that signs would accompany His arrival, that they would have the opportunity to declare the Gospel on the Temple steps, or that there would be such an overwhelming response to Peter’s message. Only God would be bold enough to write that script! It was too unpredictable.
Whenever the Spirit is present, He always brings a twist, a surprise, something that throws the current situation off-balance. That’s probably why most Christians are hesitant to yield control to the Spirit. Though they find satisfaction in seemingly disjointed entertainment that confuses them until the masterful culmination in the final scenes, they want their present reality to be foreseeable and safe.
God never promised what most would consider a “safe” life. If you’re going to follow God’s directives as a Christian and especially as a Watchman, you would be foolish to anticipate ease and comfort. However, based on what happened with the believers at Pentecost, there are certain things you can expect when the Holy Spirit is present.
The Spirit will amaze you with enhanced experiences (Acts 2:2-3).
Those gathered in the Upper Room heard a sound “as a rushing mighty wind” and saw “tongues as of fire.” The word “as” means the Jesus followers had a point of reference. They had something with which they could compare their current experience.
Wind was a sound they had heard before…but this was different. Fire was something they had seen before…but this was different. They had spoken in the past, but their previous communication was not like this! What God did was not only different, it was better.
Your experience will likely not be the same as that of the 120. If you expect God to manifest His presence to you the same way He did to them, get ready for some disappointment.
However, the Spirit will enable you to hear His voice through Scripture and grasp people’s true need even when their words struggle to conceal it. He will open your eyes to the world’s pain and remove your blindness to what you can do to help end it.
You believe you can presently hear and see, but once He gives you spiritual senses, you will be astonished you were ever satisfied with what you had.
Your speech will change (Acts 2:4, 22-24, 40).
However one understands what happened on that day, the disciples’ speaking indisputably changed in several ways. First, the words they said were not words they naturally spoke. They used a language that was unfamiliar to them but understandable to their audience.
Second, the “wonderful works of God” (v. 11) became the subject of every conversation. God-talk would have been expected at Pentecost, but it normally would have focused on the people’s thankfulness for the harvest or centered on what God did in the distant past. These worshippers spoke of recent events—a man named Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah and evidenced it through His authoritative teaching and miraculous deeds.
Though the Jews living in Jerusalem and the surrounding area knew of Jesus, not all Israeli regions may have. Those coming from distant lands had heard rumors. The message of the 120 provided the details.
Third, there was a new boldness among Jesus’ followers. That boldness is most evident in Peter, who weeks before denied he knew Jesus. Now Peter proclaimed Jesus from the Temple steps and accused the Jews of murdering Him! There are other, less obvious, examples. The 120 included many women (Acts 1:14). For women to put aside their fears and join a predominantly male feast crowd, and proclaim Jesus to them, required great courage.
When God’s Spirit rules you, all these speech patterns become true of you. You begin to say things you wouldn’t normally say, and you say them in a way that meets people where they are. Who He is and what He has recently done in your life fill your conversations.
Talking to Jesus is normal for most Christians. Talking about Jesus in a forum where doing so might require sacrifice is less common. People rarely ignore that type of discussion.
People will notice a difference (Acts 2:5-12).
Jerusalem at Pentecost was an exciting place. There was much to see and do: items to purchase, old friendships to renew, a fresh harvest to celebrate, and gatherings to enjoy. The Law required every male Jew to be there or face serious consequences, so the city was crowded.
One hundred plus people, walking through the crowded streets, speaking languages they had never learned, captured people’s attention. Those arriving from various parts of the map recognized that something noteworthy was occurring. People speaking their language but clearly not from their land caused amazement and confusion. People listened.
To get people to hear your message, you must first gain their attention. So what do you have that makes you different enough to divert people’s ears from the innumerable voices they hear and recognize today? Good character.
One work, among many works of the Spirit not mentioned here in Acts 2, is His reshaping us. He works to make us like Jesus (Eph. 5:22-23). The reason this work of the Spirit is not mentioned here is that character development, like fruit ripening, takes time, and Pentecost happened quickly.
You may wish that God would give you the ability to speak in tongues and thereby enable you to gain attention. He has given you a much more powerful tool by radicalizing your character. Here’s why.
Hearing someone speak in another language, with a different dialect, or using a quaint accent causes others to stop what they’re doing for a moment and listen. If you don’t believe me, try speaking in a Deep Southern accent in a New England restaurant. People listen with interest. That interest, however, is only curiosity which quickly wanes.
Uncommon character – patience, kindness, peace, self-control – has the power to hold people’s attention indefinitely. They will see the difference in you and how you respond to the world. For some, your uniqueness will prove attractive. Others will be frightened by it.
You will face ridicule, opposition, and accusation (Acts 2:13).
The crowd did not understand the miracle. It was a mystery, a puzzle to solve. The unexplained can be disconcerting to people. If they can’t contain something, then they cannot control it. So, they offered explanations—“They’re drunk.”
The attempt by some to offer an implausible explanation was a common way to deal with the unknown or what they considered absurd. When Jesus cast out demons, the Pharisees attributed the work to the power of Satan (Luke 11:18). When Jesus healed a man born blind, again, the religious leaders struggled to explain it and ultimately denied it and banished the evidence (John 9:26-34). When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees again buried the evidence (John 11:53; 12:10-11).
To prevent their embarrassment over their state, the willfully ignorant will work to make you look foolish. They will scoff. The greater their level of resistance to what you advocate, the stronger their response will be. Push, and they will oppose. Threaten them or their territory, and they will attack.
Just as the crowd misinterpreted what sounded like gibberish, people will not understand your changes either. They may attack. Be prepared, and respond gently. If you feel you must defend yourself, do so with a bit of humor.
God’s promises will become clearer (Acts 2:16-21, 25-31).
As part of Peter’s defense, he initially explains why the crowd’s assertion that the speakers were drunk could not be correct. It was too early in the day. Most do not attribute a sense of humor to Peter, but I imagine he said it with a slight smirk.
To promote an accurate understanding of what was occurring, Peter quoted two prophecies. The first, from the book of Joel, gave a biblical context to the day’s events. God had, as promised, poured out His Spirit on His followers.
The second prophecy, found in Psalms, stated that either David would never die or that his body would not decay. Peter explained David’s words were not prophetic about him, but one of his descendants—Jesus Christ.
Peter was familiar with these two prophecies. So was the crowd that stood before him. Just as there are multiple interpretations and theories today about how prophecy will play out, the same was true then. Peter and others had struggled to understand what these once confusing promises of God meant. Now, because the Spirit illuminated it to him, he understood, and he communicated the meaning to his audience.
Any student of the Bible will admit there are portions of the Bible which are difficult to understand. There is help.
For one, time aids us in our understanding of Scripture. Archaeological discoveries and increased understanding of biblical languages give us greater insight. Once a promise of God has come to pass, it is easier to interpret. Peter took advantage of that, especially in David’s prophecy. With Joel’s prophecy, though the promise began to see fulfillment that day, there are still parts that have a future completion.
The second help is the Spirit. Jesus told His first disciples that the Spirit would give them an understanding of what He said (John 16:13) and how to apply it to their current situation (Luke 12:11-12).
The Spirit does the same for us. He is the Author of every word in the Bible (2 Peter 1:21). He wrote the history, poetry, prophecy, and teaching. Rely on Him for your interpretation of God’s Word.
The Spirit will expose sin (Acts 2:37-39).
Peter preached a clear, straightforward message. He named Jesus as the prophecied Messiah. He informed the crowd that Jesus had risen from the dead—not a good message for those who were guilty of His murder. And then, Peter identified Jesus’ killers. He accused the people there at the Temple.
Many times, Jesus confronted people with His identity and their sin. It usually did not end well. Either His disciples walked away, or His enemies picked up stones to kill Him. Hard hearts rarely respond favorably when confronted with their failures. This time, however, repentance resulted from Peter’s message.
Was the success due to Peter? No. The next recorded time Peter preached at the Temple he got arrested. Part of the reason Peter was able to accomplish what Jesus did not was due to purpose.
Jesus’ mission was to die, not to amass a large following. Once Jesus rose from the dead, the focus switched to establishing a strong foundation for the Church.
An equally significant reason for the response on that day was the newly expanded presence of the Spirit. Jesus promised the Spirit would cause people to see their negative spiritual condition (John 16:8). Peter presented the evidence, but the Spirit convinced them of their guilt.
Not every result of the Spirit’s presence is a pleasant one. Sometimes He exposes sin in others. Other times, He reveals sin in us. Conviction is the first and most important step in the salvation process. No one seeks forgiveness if they are blind to their spiritual faults.
People will confess Jesus (Acts 2:41).
Three thousand people expressed faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior that day. They came to Jerusalem expecting this gathering would be much like many they had experienced before. They did not know they would go home forever changed. They came to celebrate the harvest, but because of the Spirit they became the harvest.
The Spirit is every pastor’s greatest Friend. First, He stabs the heart with the realization of the person’s dangerous position before God. But then, He softens that heart toward the truth that can set him free. And finally, He convinces that person of the truth of Jesus’ identity, the authenticity of God’s offer of forgiveness, and his need to respond.
When few people get saved, it does not necessarily indicate that the Spirit is absent. However, people repenting of their sin and taking Jesus Christ as their Savior is concrete evidence that He is present.
Christians will love each other and operate as a team (Acts 2:42-47).
Few Christians read the description of the early church here and in Acts 4 without a slight twinge of envy. What they had is what every church desires—community, effectiveness, and joy. The modern church, especially in the West, is not generally characterized by the descriptors used of the first church.
What can we do to improve the church’s current condition? The initial answer to that question in most situations is to add a new program. That’s often what churches do to fix perceived areas of weakness in the body. It rarely works.
Examining Pentecost and its outcome would suggest a different answer – Let the Holy Spirit take control. That answer may sound simplistic, but it’s actually just simple. What man mutilates through religion, God heals through relationship.
God initiated the Church Age with the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost was the conclusion of the beginning—the first installment in a best-selling series. The book of Acts and the Epistles continued the heart-pounding narrative.
God’s story did not end with the completion of the Bible. Each time a repentant sinner acknowledges his need for the Savior, each time a nominal Christian goes ALL-IN for Jesus, and each time a local church responds favorably to the global spiritual drought, God picks up His quill and adds another segment to His tale. The universal audience then gives their full attention because they know God is about to do something grand.
Once again, we know the conclusion—what the Author is driving toward. Jesus will soon return and retrieve the Church. The Spirit who indwells the Church will cease His present role and leave with the Church when she vanishes (2 Thess. 2:6-8). What began on Pentecost will end at the Rapture. Seven years of unparalleled tribulation followed by one thousand years of unprecedented peace will culminate with a New Heaven and New Earth where evil will no longer exist. Even that will be a conclusion of a beginning because God’s story – the greatest ever written – has no end.
You are a character in His-story. Most of your contemporaries will not know of your contribution to the plot. Your name will never become a part of the biblical record. However, God has recorded your name and your service in multiple books (Mal. 3:16; Rev. 20:12). This day, you have an opportunity to keep God’s quill dripping with ink and thereby excite the heavenly hosts. Don’t waste your chance.
Maybe you want predictable. It brings order and peace to your life. But if you want your life to be a God-sized adventure – if you want your record in God’s books to be more than a footnote – then the Spirit requires that you give up control. Yield to God’s Spirit, and hold on. Get ready to take your place in God’s amazing tale!
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