************ Sermon on Acts 2:4,12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 3, 2018
"The Holy Spirit Comes on Pentecost (2)"
Installation of elders & deacons
On this installation Sunday we continue our look at the birth of the New Testament church. Notice, I didn't say we look at the birth of the church. Rather, we look at the birth of the New Testament church. I put it this way because the church existed in the Garden of Eden already -- right after the fall into sin, right after God announced the coming of the Savior. The church has existed from the beginning of the world and will last until the end. The holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain persons. But it is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world.
Our Bible reading starts with, "When the day of Pentecost came ..." Most people don't realize Pentecost is a Jewish holiday celebrated 50 days after Passover. It is a feast of firstfruits celebrating the start of harvest and looking forward to the rest of harvest. Similarly, the coming of the Spirit is a firstfruits of the full harvest that is ours in Christ.
How did the early church know the Spirit came? We are told about two signs. First, there was an audible sign -- a sound like the blowing of a violent wind that filled the whole house where they were sitting. Second, there was a visible sign -- what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. It wasn't a real wind and it wasn't a real fire. These two signs were for the church, so the 120 gathered together in one place knew the Spirit came upon them as a group and as individuals.
Our first text today tells us there was also a sign for the Jews staying in Jerusalem.
(Acts 2:4) All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
I Speak in Other Tongues
A Our translation uses the word "tongues." There are theological movements built upon this word. These movements believe that tongues are a non-language, a charismatic tongue, an ecstatic speech, what they call the language of heaven. Movements that argue that every Spirit-filled Christian should speak in tongues.
However, this viewpoint -- that what the 120 spoke was some kind of ecstatic speech -- has never been a part of sound doctrine. Rather, it is a fairly recent belief going back to the late 1800's.
B Look at the word "tongues" in the light of verses 6 and 8. What did the crowds hear? Did they hear the 120 speaking in charismatic tongues? No, they heard the 120 speaking in languages, the languages of the Roman world. That's what the 120 were enabled to do -- they were enabled to speak the languages of the Roman Empire.
To make sure we realize this was the case, our Bible reading gives us a roll-call of the nations in the Roman Empire. The list of nations goes from east to west. In the Ancient World, from Mesopotamia to Egypt to Rome. In today's world, Iran, Iraq, Asia Minor, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Rome. People from all these places heard the 120 praising God in the language to which they were born.
C "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?" That's what the people in the crowd said to one another. Galileans! You are supposed to add something to this: dumb Galileans, country bumpkins, uneducated, backwards, inferior. Those dumb Galileans aren't linguists. They don't speak other languages. Yet, everyone in the crowd heard the 120 speaking in the languages of the nations of the Roman Empire.
Do you see what happened on that Pentecost Sunday? The Holy Spirit equipped the 120 -- mostly Galileans -- to speak the languages of the nations of the Roman Empire. The Holy Spirit equipped the 120 to speak foreign languages they did not know. The Holy Spirit equipped the 120 to do the work of the Lord. It is a marvelous, amazing work that was done by the Spirit that day.
In the same way, the Spirit of Jesus equips the men installed into the offices of elder, deacon, and pastor. The Spirit equips us to do the work of the Lord in Trinity URC of Visalia. It is a marvelous, amazing work that is done by the Spirit today.
D We've been looking at the 120 and what the Spirit enabled them to do. But now let's look at the crowd, the listeners, those who heard the 120. Who are these people? They are Jews. They are Jews who came together for the Jewish feast of Pentecost; some of them have undoubtedly been in Jerusalem since Passover.
Notice what else we are told? They are "God-fearing" Jews. Devout. Sincere. Reverent. They want to do their religion right -- that's why they are present for Pentecost.
These Jews speak different languages, all sorts of different languages. The different languages tell us they are Jews of the dispersion; that is, they are Jews scattered all over the Ancient World from Mesopotamia to Egypt and Rome. They've been scattered by the Exile into Babylon, by various Greek and Roman military campaigns, by political unrest in Palestine, by the Maccabean revolts. The net result is that there were generations of Jews scattered all over the Roman Empire. They have learned to speak the languages of the nations because they live and work in those places, are born and die in those places.
Five times the Greek language describes the reaction of these Jews: bewildered, utterly amazed, and perplexed by what they heard (vs 6,7,12). They were amazed that the 120 were speaking the languages of the nations. They were also amazed and shocked that they heard the wonders of God declared in their own tongues. Never have they heard praise to God in a Gentile tongue. Never. You see, when the Jews attended the synagogue, all their worship was conducted in Hebrew. Hebrew was the language of worship. As far as the Jews were concerned, Hebrew was God's language. As for the Gentile languages, that was but part of the Gentile world they rejected as ungodly, pagan, heathen. They would never ever put God down by speaking of Him in a Gentile language.
So these Jews had one language for day-to-day life and another language for worship. One language for business and education and another language for prayer. One language for the marketplace and another language for singing psalms. But now, on Pentecost, the shocking has happened: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is being praised and worshiped in the languages of the nations.
I remember something similar happening when I was a kid. In our home for devotions we read a Dutch Bible. The church my family attended had both of its worship services in the Dutch language. And then the unthinkable happened: my dad came home from a Deacon's Conference with an English Bible and consistory decided that worship be in English. The arguments and shock were similar to what happened on Pentecost. And just as silly:
Dutch is the language of heaven.
We can't worship like the Canadians.
We are going to lose our religion.
E The 120 were gifted/enabled by the Spirit so Galileans were able to speak the languages of the nations. But this is not a permanent gift. As was found out by Charles Fox Parham in 1901. He thought his followers were given the same gift as the 120 -- the gift of languages. So when some of his followers were sent out as missionaries to places like China or India they came back without accomplishing a thing -- because they were speaking gibberish and none of the natives understood a word they were saying. Parham rethought his theology and wrongly concluded that what the 120 spoke -- and what his followers spoke -- was ecstatic language, the language of heaven.
The gift of languages was a temporary gift of the Spirit. We read about this gift in Acts 2; around the year AD 33. We read about this gift again in 1 Corinthians 12; around the year AD 55. But after that we never hear any more about speaking in different kinds of languages. So John, who wrote the final New Testament books in the 90s, has nothing to say about this gift. It had a short shelf-life -- maybe 25 years.
We need to look at this in light of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13. After speaking about agape love, Paul compares things that cease with that which is forever:
(1 Cor 13:8) Love never fails. Where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.Paul doesn't tell us when they cease. He just says there are things that cease and things that don't cease. One of the things that cease is the gift of languages because we have never seen this gift again after the early New Testament church.
II What Does This Mean?
A "We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
That's our second point this morning. What does the speaking in other languages mean?
We find two explanations in our Bible reading. Explanation one: "They have had too much wine" (Acts 2:13).
Let's think about this first explanation: "They have had too much wine" (Acts 2:13). Have you ever talked with a drunk? Have you noticed how eloquent they are? Have you noticed how clear they are able to speak? Have you noticed their ability to say big words? Have you noticed they are all linguists -- able to speak 3 or 4 different languages? NOT. DOUBLE NOT. Those who are drunk are hardly able to speak one language let alone multiple languages. They slur their words rather than speak clearly and confidently. It is ludicrous, absurd, to suggest that the drinking of wine enables someone to speak another language! How dumb to write off the Christian Pentecost as a drunken party.
"They have had too much wine" (Acts 2:13). As I was studying this passage, I wondered why Acts 2 does not use the normal Greek word for "wine." The word it uses literally means "sweet wine." That is, grape juice. Fresh grape juice that has not had a chance to ferment in the heat of the sun because -- as Peter says -- it is only 9 o'clock in the morning. You can drink gallons of the stuff. It might give you a stomach ache but it certainly will not make you drunk. "They have had too much wine." "They can't handle their grape juice!"
In this first explanation we find a trend that only intensifies throughout the book of Acts. It is a trend of increasing hostility to Christ and the Gospel. In Acts 2:13, they heap scorn on the Christians by saying, "They have had too much wine." "They can't handle their grape juice!" In Acts 4, the mindset that opposes anything to do with Christ and the Gospel decides to question and examine Peter and John before the Sanhedrin. By the end of chapter 4, the apostles and believers are being threatened. In chapter 5, the apostles are imprisoned. At the end of chapter 5, the apostles are flogged. In chapter 7, Stephen is stoned to death. In chapter 8, a great persecution breaks out. But it all starts with the scorn and derision of verse 13: "They have had too much wine." "They can't handle their grape juice!"
B "What does this mean?" Peter gives the second explanation.
Before giving this explanation I need to ask a question: Do you know what changed in the apostles between Easter Sunday and the Ascension of Jesus? The answer is that they now understood the Old Testament. They understood that the law, the prophets, and the writings all spoke about Jesus. They understood that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament.
Our leaders -- those installed this morning -- must have the same perspective. The Bible is not a nice story book. It is not a self-help manual on how to raise kids or how to be a Christian husband or wife. It is not a history book. From beginning to end it is the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
So Peter stands up, raises his voice, addresses the crowd, and explains Pentecost. He explains that the prophecy of Joel has now been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
And what was Joel talking about? Joel was talking about the last days when the Messiah comes. When the Messiah comes, the Holy Spirit will be poured out. When the Messiah comes, there will be visions, dreams, prophecies. When the Messiah comes there will be wonders in the sky above; signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
In the last days when the Messiah comes. That's what Joel was talking about. And, says Peter, those last days are now here. Those last days are now here because the Messiah has come. Those last days are now here because Jesus is the Messiah.
C Do you remember how the story ends? Some 3000 of the people in the crowd were saved. So not everyone said the 120 were drunk. Those 3000 realized something supernatural was taking place, something from God -- namely, the pouring out of His Spirit. Which means they also understood that the last days have come. Which further means they understood the Messiah has come and that Messiah must be Jesus.
The 3000 repented. They believed. They were baptized. And over the next days and weeks, hundreds more were added to their number.
Back then, on the first Christian Pentecost, God gifted His church so it grew in faith and in numbers.
Today, we celebrate that God continues to gift His church. We celebrate God's gift of faithful leadership for His people. We celebrate that the Spirit which came on Pentecost equips these leaders so believers may grow in faith, obedience, and love. We celebrate that through these leaders we may share with all the good news of salvation. We celebrate that because of the Spirit in our leaders we continue to grow in faith and in numbers.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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