Acts 2 brings us to an event that most of us are relatively familiar with—Pentecost. The drama we are dealing with here in these verses was set into motion back in Matthew 28. In that chapter, the resurrected Christ was giving a commission to a ragtag group of five hundred people including the disciples. It was simply this: "Go you, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you."
One of the overwhelming issues of that commissioning, is the "all nations" part. "I am making you, in some sense, responsible to bring to the nations this ministry and this power of God's kingdom and his grace." If we are able to really hear that commissioning, I think the first response would be to realize that is absolutely beyond our capacity in the flesh to fulfill.
I believe the disciples knew that. They didn't always know that. Right up to the end they were relying in their flesh. Peter, "I will not deny you," had to hit a wall to find out that he couldn't, in his flesh, do anything. I think they're ready to understand that the commissioning they're not getting is something in the flesh they cannot do.
I also know that Jesus knew that, in the flesh, the commissioning he was giving them was one they could not do. That is why in Acts 1he said:
[In light of this commissioning that is beyond you, I want you to] go in Jerusalem and wait for what the Father has promised. And you heard of this from me, for John [verse 5] baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now. And when this baptism comes [verse 8] you will receive power when this Holy Spirit, [this baptism of the Holy Spirit] comes upon you. And when this Holy Spirit power comes upon you, you will then be enabled, empowered to do the commission, to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the remotest parts of the earth.
In Luke 24:49 we hear these same kinds of words, making clear that this promise of the Father is not simply a coming of the Spirit for salvation. It is a coming of the Spirit for power, for emboldening.
In verse 49 of Luke 24 it's called "clothing" with power, a capacity to do in the flesh what cannot be done in the flesh. And in this context what could not be done in the flesh was to even approach fulfilling the Great Commission.
The baptism of the Spirit
In chapter two, this baptism of the Spirit finally arrives. Debates about this rage among good Christian people. I'm not going to go into all the nuances of it, but I believe that part of reason is that many of us have a perception of baptism as being a static concept, a concrete theology that means one thing, instead of what I believe baptism to be—a flexible metaphor that can be applied to different things in different contexts. Come with me as I think about this a little bit.
The word baptism all by itself simply means to be immersed in something. The word baptism simply means to be overwhelmed by something or placed into something. The something that you are overwhelmed by, immersed in, placed into is flexible. And the context that I find the word baptism in is going to reveal to me what it is that we're being overwhelmed by or placed into. But there is more than one form or kind of baptism. The Word of God speaks of baptisms. It speaks of the baptism of John. It speaks of baptism in water where we are immersed in water. It speaks of a baptism of fire. It speaks of baptism into death, baptism into Christ. There is a baptism even, I believe, for salvation. This might sound a bit bizarre, using the word baptism connected with salvation, but it is absolutely all through Scripture.
That concept can be applied to other things as well. Let me keep fighting with this thing as it relates to salvation, though, by coming at it from a different track. One of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith is this—that you cannot by yourself, that is, by your own effort, become a child of God. I don't care how good you are. I don't care how many Bible verses you memorize, you cannot by your own effort become a child of God. You do not have the power to do that. But John 1:12 says, but "As many as have received him, to them he does give" the what "the power" the empowerment, the enablement "to become a son of God, even to those who believe on his name." This baptism that I'm talking about, as it might relate in certain contexts to salvation, is an empowerment by the Holy Spirit of God to through faith become a child of God. But just like I by my self effort cannot save myself, I need to be empowered by God to become a son of God, I cannot once I'm redeemed sanctify myself either. Having been redeemed I've been given a new identity. I have been placed, baptized by the Spirit into the body, and numerous miracles have taken place in my identity, in my heart. And one of the marks of my new identity is I've got a brand new desire. I now desire to obey God and follow him in ways I never did before. But I can face in my desire to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord with a true, hard thing. And that is this—I cannot by myself crank out holy living. I come face to face with the reality that the same thing I needed to get saved I need to be sanctified, and that is this—I need a work of the Spirit. I need an empowering. Call it a filling. I need a filling. I need an enabling. I need a baptism, if you will.
My only hope for ministry and service is now the empowering of the Holy Spirit, the same empowering that was necessary for salvation, sanctification, that empowering is also necessary for service. And when we come to chapter two, the baptism being spoken of there is, in my opinion, clearly a baptism, an empowering, a filling not for salvation, not for sanctification, but for ministry, specifically a ministry that would be empowering us to do the very commission he left us with. "You shall receive power not born of your flesh, born of the Spirit."
The Pentecost harvest
Let's examine what it looked like when this power came the first time. Verse one: "When the day of Pentecost had come … " I want to look at the word Pentecost … Pentecost for them was a feast day. It was a feast, one of three, that all Jews needed to come to Jerusalem for. That's kind of an interesting setup because at Passover all the Jews from all over the world where there.
Exodus 23 tells us this was a feast of harvest, specifically of wheat. But it was harvest. And that communicates to us something of what Pentecost means. It is on purpose, beloved, that Jesus by the Spirit brought this baptism on this particular day.
Fifty days after Passover on a day designed in the life of the Jews to celebrate a harvest of physical wheat the Spirit of God comes with an empowering to bring harvest. But we're not talking about physical wheat anymore, any more than we were talking about physical lambs for Passover. I got a Lamb of God now. Now this harvest is a harvest of spiritual wheat, souls of men and women.
The mark of Pentecost, the essence of Pentecost, the sign of the baptism is harvest. The mark, the essence, the very definition of Pentecost was harvest. The thing that affirmed to me that the baptism had come was an empowering to communicate cross culturally, cross language barriers, and three thousand were saved, that is the mark of Pentecost. We talk about Pentecostal power. "Give me that old time religion." Give me that Pentecostal power.
We have this idea that Pentecostal power is when everybody speaks in tongues in their prayer language. Nobody's been saved for fifteen years, but we're all speaking in tongues, that's Pentecostal power. That is not Pentecostal power. Pentecostal power is when harvest happens by a supernatural moving of the Spirit in a way nobody can explain. That's Pentecost. Harvest is what it means. It's when people are being supernaturally saved by the raw energy and the power of the living God showing himself alive. Without harvest you haven't had the Pentecostal experience.
Verse 2: " … they were all together in one place and suddenly … " Part of what I do when I preach is I bring you into my office with me. I go through these struggles, and I get these questions as concepts become clear. I kind of sit back in my desk and I think, I wonder what that would have looked like. How would that have fit? Let me bring you into my office as it relates to this picture of all of them being together "and suddenly." The question that comes in my mind as I'm sitting in my office is this—What did they do to make this thing happen? Whatever it is I'd like to do it. Well, it says in the verse "they were all together in one place." It doesn't say here that they were doing anything. "And suddenly," boom, the Spirit came. Did what he felt like doing.
" … they were all together in one place and suddenly … " God decided when he decided that it would happen. The point is this—God does this. God does this. The power and the presence of the Holy Spirit of God is not subordinated to our method, to any machinery, to any manipulation, to any technique, or to any timing. He is God, and he will do what he does when he decides and when he chooses to do it.
I do not believe that we can pull the Spirit's chain and make him come and make him work and make him do what we want him to do. But we can hinder him. I believe that. And the church has.
The rushing of revival
I believe that this empowering of the Holy Spirit of God, whether it be an empowering for salvation, for sanctification, or now here for service, is for individuals. And whether it happened corporately or not, individuals can experience the empowering. Peter, later in the chapter, is going to take his stand with the eleven and begin to preach. Individually there's an empowering of the Spirit for him. Later on, Stephen is going to preach, an empowering upon him. But a very exciting reality confirmed in the Word of God is this—that there is also a corporate experience of this. All of them received this, end of verse 3, "each one of them." And when this empowering falls corporately on us what it is called historically is revival.
Read about the great revivals in history. Find books that tell the life stories of people like D.L. Moody, A.B. Simpson, Jonathan Edwards, and Finney. Men and women through whom God by his anointing, baptizing, empowering power brought harvest. The events of Acts 2 are not something time locked away in history, happened one time never to happen again. It has happened over and over and over again, because God says, "I am not dead and I am not the great I Used To. I am the great I Am."
"And suddenly there came a noise from heaven like a violent rushing wind … " It wasn't wind but it was like a violent rushing wind. They heard a sound. I don't know if this helps, but I remember when I was a kid we had a tornado come through our neighborhood a block and a half from our house. It sounded like a train going through our backyard. Maybe that's what it sounded like. They didn't feel the wind. They heard the wind. It was a sound. Everybody heard it. "And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves … " It wasn't fire. Everybody would have left. Fire! It was like fire. Whatever it was they did see it. It was something they saw. But it wasn't fire. It was "as of fire distributing themselves, and it rested on each one of them."
Come to me in my office, once again. Push away from the desk and start to think. What was that? What would that be for? Okay, what would be the purpose? Here I am this Western pragmatist. I have to know what this accomplished. Wind. What does that do? You know, what good is that really? Well I kind of fiddled around with it a little bit, and I understand wind is a metaphor. It speaks of the Holy Spirit. And I think of that verse that says "The wind blows where it wills and the wind is like the Spirit." And fire in other places in Scripture has spoken of and referred to the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. A friend told me earlier in the week that there was a study he had done about the fire that rested over the temple Solomon built, and it was a picture of the presence and the power of the Spirit. Now that it rested on individuals it was a picture that the power and presence was not just in the temple; it was on individuals. That's a neat thing. But still I have a question. What did it accomplish? What was the purpose?
My answer to that is this—that this manifestation of "violent sound of rushing wind and tongues as of fire that wasn't really fire but we saw it" would fit into the category of signs and wonders. Regardless of your theological camp as it relates to the gifts of the Spirit, most of you would accept the fact that signs and wonders attended the ministry of the early church. Depending on your perspective, some of you would believe that those signs and wonders have passed away. They are not available for us. I do not believe that, but some of you will. Where we can agree, and I want to grab you on the plain in which we can agree, is that these signs and wonders attended the ministry of the early church. What was their purpose? Well they did have a purpose. It did accomplish something.
Number one: Their purpose was to validate the message of the gospel. When people would hear a violent rushing wind with no explanation and see tongues of fire it had this tendency to make them think I don't have any explanation for this other than God. It validated the message. And I believe today—this is where I stand—I believe today that signs and wonders have the same purpose today. They are not gone. We put a lid on some of them and not allowed them to be here.
But the second purpose of these signs and wonders, this wind of the Spirit, as it were, was to get people's attention. This might even sound a little fleshy to you, but I literally believe the wind and the fire was there to draw a crowd. It says in verse 6, "And when this sound occurred, the multitude came." The sound they were hearing, I do not believe, was the languages. I think the sound they heard that attracted their attention was the wind. In fact, the Greek word for sound and the Greek word for noise in verse 2 is the same. So they heard a wind, and when they heard the wind of the Spirit and then they saw the fire, they came.
When I was growing up, we knew we had to do the Great Commission. But the irony of the whole thing was that we didn't even believe in kingdom power. We didn't believe in this kind of power. We knew nothing or little of the wind of the Spirit. And so when it came to the task of fulfilling the Great Commission, the way we got people to the church was with a dog-and-pony show, balloons and gimmicks, games and prizes, big signs and appeals to consumers, and telemarketing, etc. Think about that with me. Wouldn't it be something if people came, if the crowd was drawn not because of balloons and gimmicks and games and prizes but because they heard a wind and saw the fire? And the explanation for the wind and fire clearly was nothing but God.
Beloved, get a picture of the wind. Sometimes the wind is wind. But I don't think the wind of the Spirit always comes that way. I'd like you to consider the fact that sometimes the wind of the Spirit is manifested when you come here and begin to worship. Some of you tell me, "You know, Dave, we start to worship; I start to weep. I can't stop weeping. I didn't try to weep. I didn't want to weep. I don't even know where it comes from. The first six months I was here I wept the whole time." You want to know what that something is? That's the wind. Some people come to me and they've told me, "Dave, this odd thing happened to me." In fact, this has happened to me at times when I've prayed for people. They begin to shake. What is that? What is this shaking? I don't understand that shaking? I think it's the wind. Some people I've seen fall down. What is that weird thing? What does that accomplish?
Sometimes the wind is quiet; it's absolutely quiet. There's an overwhelming sense in this quietness, and sometimes you've experienced this. I have experienced this; that in this overwhelming quiet there's this overwhelming sense God is here. That's the wind.
My point is this—the wind of the Spirit is never one thing, one way. God will never conform to our idea of what it's supposed to look like. Every once in a while somebody comes to me and says, "Oh, Dave, I just sensed the power of the Spirit in this church but it really hasn't fallen. And when it falls we'll be able to tell because this will happen." Somebody else will come and say, "No, no, no. This will happen." Let me just gently get my arm around you and tell you if you're waiting for a particular way for it to look you might miss it, because God will not conform to our idea of what it's supposed to look like. But it will come like the wind. And it has come here like the wind, and it is here like the wind. But I think there's more.
The results are in verse 4. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues … " The Greek word for "filled" is pleroo. It simply means to be permeated by, controlled by, dominated by. This word is used in classical Greek to speak of something that overpowers everything else in the life at that moment. And in this context, Acts 2, the filling of the Spirit resulted in an empowerment to communicate in such a way as to break down every language and cultural barrier between people who did not care about God. When these people—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, down to the Jews from Rome, Cretans, and Arabs, began to hear these languages, they were, verse 6, "bewildered," verse 7, "amazed and they marveled." Why were they amazed, and why did they marvel? Well, first of all, it was that they were each one hearing them speak in his own language. That was the first thing. The second thing was even more amazing than the first, and it was this—verse 7, "Why, are not all these who are doing these languages Galileans? How is it that we each hear them, those Galileans, in our own language to which we were born?"
You know what I like about these people who were doing this communication? They weren't preachers. They weren't preachers. They were Galileans. There was a preacher. Peter was a preacher. Later on Stephen's going to preach. I'm a preacher. But in this group of a hundred and twenty there weren't that many preachers. In our church here there might be some preachers, but there aren't many. There's a few. Most of you aren't. That puts you in the category of the hundred and twenty. Let's be there for a minute. What I love about this is this—not preachers, just regular folk, a hundred and twenty of them, empowered by the Spirit to declare the greatness of God, the mighty deeds of God, to people who did not yet regard him as great in a language that those people could understand. The essence of this language gift was that people who had nothing in common culturally or linguistically with other people were empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to communicate the mighty deeds of God to people who did not see God as great. That was a supernatural gift to bring the harvest.
If this gift for the purpose of breaking language barriers were to release here, I don't think it would be in languages like Korean unless there's a Korean here, unless there's a Mexican here and you need to hear Spanish. What would it look like if language barriers were broken down, this gift came here?
I began to think not only of our church, but I began to think a little broader than our church. I began to think of our city. As I began to get a picture of the city within which we have been placed by the Spirit of God in this particular time, I began to get a frightening picture of diversity in this city, a frightening picture of distinctions and barriers between people that are in the flesh absolutely impossible to break down. Beloved, we better recognize in our city there are people who hate each other. There are black people; there are white people. Black people and white people sometimes hate each other. There are Chinese people and Mexican people. There are corporate executives and drug peddlers. There are wealthy people; there are street people. They walk by each other in the road. There are abused people; there are abusing people. There are skinheads, and there are scrub clean preppies. There are white collar people, and there are blue collar people. There are little girls who may be right now at this moment walking out of an abortion clinic having had an abortion, and there are self-righteous Sunday school teachers who wouldn't have a clue how to minister to that broken heart. Our city's full of frightening diversity. What on earth would it take to cross all those language barriers and all those cultural barriers? The answer, quite frankly, that I got growing up was there really isn't anything we can do. What we have to do is target an audience. And basically what we'll target is people just like us.
Let me say something very serious about targeting. I've very aware of all the church growth things, and the big thing today is target groups. Hear me say. If God tells you to target a group, target a group. There is something underneath that, though. We have a target, and the target comes from the mouth of Jesus. His target was this—"Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
The empowered commission
Now let me apply that to the city we live in. You know what I know? I know there are some people in this city who drive BMWs. And you know what? They're tired and they're weary because all their life they tried to get life from BMWs, bigger houses, and more clothes. And you know what? They have finally come to a place where they realize that BMWs don't fill the thirst in their soul. I got some good news for every tired, weary person who drives a BMW in this city. "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest." There is a pool that you can drink from, and the water in that pool will quench your thirst, and you will never thirst again. His name is Jesus. He is our only hope. And there are other people in this city on the other end of the spectrum. They don't have BMWs; they don't have anything. And they're involved in the drug culture or whatever other ugly thing you want to name, and they are tired of living in hell. And we have a message to give to them of the matchless grace of Jesus that takes people out of the pit and puts their feet on a rock and gives them a brand new identity and washes them clear, as white as snow.
The distinction isn't whether they're rich or poor, wealthy or poor, intelligent or not. Are you tired? Are you weary? They're the only ones who ever receive the gospel. That's our target.
But as we're considering a city and a call to bring a commission of the kingdom and grace to the world, how do we break down all those barriers? Then I start to fantasize—Wouldn't it be something if there was a baptism, if there was a baptism in this city where ordinary people like the hundred and twenty Galileans, ordinary people like you and like me, under the power of the Holy Spirit began to speak not preach? You're not preachers; they weren't either. They just began to speak of the mighty deeds of God in a language that black people and white people, wealthy people and poor people, abused and abusing people, skinheads and preppies, blue collar and white collar, little girls who just had abortions and self-righteous Sunday school teachers could all understand. And if that began to sweep through a city, it would be called God. It would be called revival. But that would take a baptism, an empowerment that cannot be done with any method, any technique. It takes the raw energy of God. That's what we seek, and that would bring a harvest.
My hope is that God would begin more and more to produce among us what I think he's already been producing. But more and more a group of people walking out these doors every day, ordinary Galileans, not preachers but baptized. You don't like the word? Get rid of the word, if you don't like the word. Empowered. Empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to declare the mighty deeds of God to their world in a language that the people in their world can understand.
And, by the way, the language that the people in your world are going to understand isn't church language. I grew up in the church, and we have a language in the church. The only people who understand our language are people who've been in the church for fifty years. It is an absolutely irrelevant language. I pray that God would baptize us with humanness. With a humanness that would be able to move into our office buildings, into our schools, into our places of business, into the health clubs all over the place in this crazy city. That we would begin to talk like people, as people who are full of the Spirit, and not giving people all sorts of meaningless, to them, clichés that they have to decode. But relate on human levels and to share with them the mighty deeds of God.
What I would like to see, what I would like to think is that I can just be who I am and you can just be who you are and the Spirit of God is so big and so strong that he could take some goofball like me and some goofball like you and just be who you are with people and God would translate. God would communicate life. Don't try to be anything else. Ask God for empowering to take words that you might even feel are stupid and open up communication across the barriers. That would take a gift. That would be a baptism.
The response to this empowering is in verse 41, three thousand people are saved. The impact of what God's doing here cannot be contained, and it's not just us. But that takes a baptism. You don't do that with balloons and gimmicks and games. The response, three thousand were saved.
Verse 12 another response. "They continued in amazement and great perplexity saying to one another, 'What does this mean?'" I want you to know something, that's a legitimate question. There might even be many of you in verse 12 saying this. I don't understand this baptism stuff. It's kind of scary to me. What does it mean? It's okay to be there. In fact, I think we all should be there in some sense like the Bereans who "tested all things and held fast to what was good." With this whole arena of this work of the Spirit comes counterfeits. And I do not want to receive the counterfeit, and we are going to, as the Spirit continues to move among us, test all things, hold fast to what is good and discard what is not.
But there was another response and that was this—" … others were mocking and saying, 'They're full of sweet wine.'" Today I don't think people would necessarily say that, but they might say what I heard when I was growing up. It was this—"Ah, they're gullible. They're just emotional. They don't know the Word." And that writing it all off was a good way to keep it all away. And the sad thing is that it worked. The Spirit can be quenched.
I'm not exactly sure how to close, but I'm going to close right now with this question. Does anybody here need an empowering? Maybe the empowering you need this morning is an empowering for salvation. I've got some good news for you. "But as many as received him to them he gave the power to become sons of God." Some of you need an empowering not for salvation but you need an empowering for sanctification. It could be that even now where you sit right now there is a bondage in your life as it relates to sin, there is an awareness that no matter how hard you try you can't shake it, you can't get rid of it. You need an empowering. You need a gift from the Spirit of God. But as it relates to this text there could be some of you who are involved up to here in ministry. You're doing things. You're involved. You really care about the kingdom, but you're so tired of trying to make it happen yourself. You need an empowering. I want us to stand and ask God for what we need.
Dave Johnson is the senior pastor at Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, Minnesota.