Preachers make a lot about the fact that Acts has a cut-off ending. You get to the end of Acts 28 and the next question, “Wait! What’s next?” It’s a chance to talk about being “on mission with God.” Our story and the activities of great men like Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and others have a direct link and Scripture lets us think like that. It’s true. I’ve got no argument with that teaching and I wish we’d pay more attention to it. But before we can get back to being “Acts 29” Christians, shouldn’t we remember that Acts 3-28 never could have happened without Acts 2? Before we set out on mission, shouldn’t we listen to Jesus’ instructions: “wait for the promise of the Father” (Ac. 1:4)?
So let’s listen to the text…
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place…
We don’t wait for God as individuals. We gather together, as the people of Jesus. Acts 1:14 tells us that at this gathering they “were devoting themselves to prayer.” So we gather together in one place, with one will, to be devoted to pray to the one God revealed to us by Jesus. That’s what we did in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension, and that’s what we should do today. And when we do, we expect that God’s going to answer, because Jesus told us about the Father’s promise.
And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them, distributed among them, and rested on each one of them.
In the same way as we gather as one, God’s answer is to all of Jesus’ people, and the tongues of fire settle on each of us. So when we’ve gathered, we pray, and we receive from God equally, what He gives: the Holy Spirit.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Our initial evidence of the Holy Spirit filling the people of Jesus isn’t speaking in tongues, it is proclaiming the message that the Spirit gives to the people of Jesus. What’s the message?
“…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
Babel is undone. The divided tongues that came as judgment in Genesis 11 are overcome by the divided tongues given by the Holy Spirit as the promise of the Father. It’s provocative. It draws questions. It draws mockery. But what is happening is very real. The Holy Spirit fills Jesus’ people so that the mighty works of God can be proclaimed. If that’s not happening, it’s not the Holy Spirit. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no chance for mission, to explain what it means.
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them…
Peter doesn’t speak alone, or by setting himself apart from everyone else as the man who is “anointed” for the particular ministry situation at hand. Peter’s ministry and anointing only happens together with the other apostles. He doesn’t just let his proclamation “self-authenticate”, but takes the time to explain what is going on, to ground it in Scripture.
But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel…For David says concerning him….he himself says…
The proclamation given to Peter and the eleven other apostles (to all 120 who were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and to us) is not a message of a brand new thing, a thing unknown or completely unexpected, but is in fact the fulfillment of God’s promises communicated through His messengers. Jesus’ people don’t have a new message or a fresh revelation. We have the empowered, living Word – Jesus – who has been spoken of from the beginning. The one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is the same God who has always been, always is, and always will be. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of David and the prophets. He is the God of Peter and the eleven. He is the God of all Christians in all times and in all places. As Jesus’ people, we are not touting our uniqueness in redemptive history, but touting the uniqueness of God against all other named gods and powers in the world.
And in the last days…
Our proclamation matters because of the time. We’re at the end of the day here. We’re in the last days. The present world is ending. The world-to-come promised by the prophets is beginning. This statement is true when Peter spoke it. It was true when John spoke it again half a century later. It has been true of every century since. And when we are gathered together to receive from the Father to preach Jesus by the Spirit, we know that we’re in the last days and we are the heralds of the last days. And what is the message that we are heralds of?
“…Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst as you yourselves know– this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified…God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death…This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
We don’t preach about ourselves. We don’t preach about our experiences. We don’t preach about our missions, values, and doctrines. We preach Jesus– the one who was crucified according to God’s plan, raised and exalted by God — and we preach Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit so that the world can know for certain that God has done it all. Not once in Peter’s message does he tell them to pursue tongues. Not once do the apostles suggest seeking an anointing. Neither do any of Jesus’ people sit around with a sense of completed sanctification. We are witnesses of the power of God — not the power seen in our own lives, but that which is seen in the life of Jesus, who lives and reigns now at the right hand of God. That is our message, and from that message, we can appeal to the world.
“Repent and be baptized 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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
We appeal that there be a turning aside from captivity to sin, Satan, and death. We appeal that there be confession of sin and pursuit of the one God. We appeal that they be joined to Jesus’ people through baptism. But we do not appeal that they receive the Spirit. No, the promise of the Father is still the promise of the Father. When we are joined to Jesus, to the Church, we have the promise (and what God has promised is guaranteed) that we have received the Spirit. And look at the generosity of this promise: to you, to your children, and to all who are far off, whoever the one God calls to Himself. As Smith Wigglesworth, a Pentecostal preacher once said,
Oh, it was the love of God that brought Jesus. And it is this same love that helps you and me to believe. In every weakness God will be your strength. You who need His touch, remember that He loves you. Look, wretched, helpless, sick one, away to the God of all grace, whose very essence is love, who delights to give liberally all the inheritance of life and strength and power that you are in need of. (“Have Faith in God”, Ever-Increasing Faith).
The ten days the disciples of Jesus (all 120 of them) spend in Jerusalem are critical. Without these ten days, there is no Gospel proclamation. Without the Spirit, we have no access to the Son. Without the Son, we have no access to the Father. Jesus’ command that we wait for the promise of the Father in the Person of the Holy Spirit is so that the good news of Jesus can go out with power.