God’s Power for God’s Purpose
Power from Heaven!
Dr. Jim Denison
Acts 2, Ephesians 5:18
Robert Louis Stevenson, then a child of six or seven years, was standing at his window one night watching a lamplighter at work. One by one, the man would light the streetlamps as he walked down the road. Young Stevenson watched with fascination. His nurse asked what he was doing. The little boy answered, “I am watching a man making holes in the darkness.”
We need holes in the darkness today, don’t we? Terrorist threats continue; airline flights are changed or cancelled as a result of homeland security issues; presidential campaigns always bring a certain level of uncertainty to the future. Many are still in need of employment; hurting hearts and homes are on every side. Where do you most need a touch from God today? Where do your class members most need to feel his grace?
The light we need is available to us. In fact, every believer already possesses all the power and help of God. What the Holy Spirit did for the first Christians, he is waiting to do for us. Let’s learn to make your class and each heart the Upper Room this week.
Receive God’s Spirit (vs. 1-4)
Here’s the situation. Jesus’ followers number around 120, in a hostile world of more than 25 million. The very people who executed Jesus are now the enemies of his followers. What they did to him, they stand ready to do to them. Yet Jesus has charged them with reaching that hostile world in its entirety—all 25 million. One third of our world claims to follow Jesus. .0006% of their world did.
If we were in their shoes, we’d be doing something. We’d organize strategies, start ministries, plan programs, do all we could. They knew better.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all in one place” (v. 1). Pentecost was the 50th day after the Passover Sabbath. Jews from around the world were crowded into Jerusalem for the religious holiday.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ church was crowded into a single room. Where and why? Earlier Jesus had assured them that when he left, his Father would send another Counselor to them, the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). Then he promised them, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Before his ascension, their Master told them one last time to wait in Jerusalem for the “gift” of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4).
And so they risked their lives to meet in an upper room of a Jerusalem house. First-century houses were often constructed with a large second-floor room which was used for meals and guests. It was cooler than the first floor, with windows open to the sky, and could accommodate a large number of people. Perhaps twenty were gathered in this setting (cf. Acts 1:13-15).
Here they prayed constantly for God’s protection and his Spirit’s power. For one long week, after Jesus’ ascension until the day of Pentecost came. Despite their differences, and the persecution which threatened their very lives, they prayed with one heart and spirit.
And God kept his word. “Suddenly” (immediately, without warning, unexpectedly) a sound like the blowing of a “violent” (turbulent, stormy, threatening) wind came from heaven (v. 2). It filled the entire house where they were meeting together. Jesus had earlier likened the Spirit to the wind (John 3:8). Both are more powerful than human strength, able to overwhelm us instantly. Both are unseen but very real. Neither can be produced or predicted. And both are essential to life.
Next “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came from heaven, then “separated and came to rest on each of them” (v. 3). Fire is a consistent metaphor for the holiness and presence of God (“Our God is a consuming fire,” Hebrews 12:29, quoting Deuteronomy 4:24). John the Baptist had predicted that Jesus “would baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). The prophet Joel had earlier predicted such an event (2:28-29), a promise Peter would soon quote (Ac. 2:16ff).
These “tongues of fire” were emblematic of the anointing and empowering of God. And they came to rest “on each of them” (Ac. 2:3b), showing that each believer would be equally and similarly empowered. No clergy/laity distinction here!
Here was the result: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (v. 4). “Filled” means to be influenced by, to be controlled. It does not refer to quantifiable experience, but to a yielded and submitted life. We will meet this word again today.
Note that “all of them” had this experience. Again, each believer was empowered by the same Holy Spirit. Now each of them “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” This is not a reference to the “gift of tongues” or ecstatic prayer language described by Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; 14:1-19). A comparison of the two experiences makes their differences clear:
At Pentecost, all experienced these “tongues”; at Corinth, not all did (Paul’s question is literally translated, “All do not speak in tongues, do they?” 1 Cor 12:30).
At Pentecost, no interpreters were necessary (“we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Acts 2:11); at Corinth, tongues were not to be used in public without an interpreter (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).
At Pentecost, the people recognized the “tongues” of the disciples as their own languages (Acts 2:11); at Corinth, the “tongues” used were not capable of human understanding (1 Corinthians 14:2).
In short, the Holy Spirit enabled the Pentecost believers to witness to their faith in the languages of those who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. It is no more true to say that we must speak in “unknown” tongues to have the Spirit than it is true to say that we must each witness immediately to our neighbors when the Spirit enters our lives.