Its Pentecostal Birth and Boldness — A Study of Acts 2
Introduction What’s going on with the church in America? The statistics are not good.Overall church attendance in America has dropped dramatically. A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that in the year 2000, 41 percent of Americans attended church regularly. Now that number is 29 percent. Also, the way we define church attenders has changed. When I began pastoring, people were considered regular church attenders if they attended three times a week. Now most surveys define a regular church attender as someone who attends three times a month.
The major culprit is the massive cultural tsunami of humanism, secularism, agnosticism, and atheism that has swept over our land. It comes from our schools, our media, and our government. It comes from everywhere. In His sermon on the Last Days, Jesus said there would be a massive falling away of faith, and that evil would abound (Matthew 24:10-12).
But I’m not discouraged with the church of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth. It is not a human thing. Jesus said in Matthew 18, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The birth of the church was not of human origin; it was supernatural. It wasn’t like the Puritans who decided to start Harvard College, or the founders who decided to create a new nation, or the men who decided to begin the Rotary Club.
The birth of the church took place when Christ rose from dead, returned to heaven, and resumed His seat on the eternal throne. In some mysterious way, He looked over to the Father and perhaps said, “I told My disciples that when I arrived back here I would ask You to send down the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them and to bind them together as family, a body, a temple, an entity, an assembly.”
God the Father said, “Yes, I’ve had that on the schedule for the Day of Pentecost!”
On Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection, the Holy Spirit flew from the portico of the lofty heights, plunged like a ball of fire through the heavens, and exploded like a missile in an upstairs room in Jerusalem, suddenly animating the disciples and transforming them into the unending, indestructible church. It was one of the greatest moments in world history. This event is described to us in the book of Acts, chapter 2, which is the logical place to begin a study of why we love the church. Let’s turn there and start with verse 1.
1. The Pentecostal Birth of the Church
Acts 2:1 says: When the day of Pentecost came…
What is the day of Pentecost? In the Old Testament, God established a calendar for Israel. Every nation needs a calendar. It helps organize our lives and it gives us unity. God established a calendar for the Israelites in Leviticus 23, and it included holy days for resting, vacationing, and worshipping.
One of those was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which commemorated the night when the Israelites left Egypt. In the book of Exodus, the Israelites had experienced a population explosion, and the Egyptians had enslaved them. Moses unleashed a series of plagues against Egypt. The last was the death of the firstborn. The Lord told the Israelites to slaughter a spotless lamb and paint the doorposts of the houses with its blood, and the agent of death would pass over. Notice those words: pass over. The Lord said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” During the, Pharaoh liberated the enslaved people. He told the Hebrews to flee. They had to leave quickly, before the overnight bread was leavened.
God put a commemoration of that event in the Israeli national calendar. Every year, the Jews had a holiday to commemorate their freedom. It was called the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread.
Jesus died and rose again during this Festival, and so for us it became our Good Friday and Easter.
The next holiday came fifty days later to mark the harvest season. During this time, the barley harvest took place and then the wheat harvest; and other crops were coming in. On the fiftieth day after Passover, the first fruits of the wheat harvest were brought to the temple and presented to the Lord. The word pent means five, like Pentagon. So Pentecost was the feast that occurred fifty days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
This sequence of Old Testament holy days were prophetically pointing to the church. Jesus died on the Passover, and fifty days later the church came into being on the Day of Pentecost. The 120 disciples in that Upper Room were the first fruits of a great harvest of souls, which was to characterize the age of the church.
Verse 1 continues: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. The 11 surviving disciples were there, and undoubtedly some of their families. The women who followed Jesus were there. And our Lord’s mother, Mary, and His brothers were there.
Verse 2: Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
Tornado survivors describe the noise that envelops them as something like a freight train or an enormous waterfall or a jet engine. The word “Spirit” is the Greek word pneuma, meaning wind or breath. The sound of the wind rushing into the room represented the arrival of the Holy Spirit. It was such a loud tornadic sound that everyone in that part of Jerusalem, perhaps in the entire city, stopped what they were doing in panic and bewilderment. The entire city came to a standstill became of this great reverberating sustained blast of noise.
Verse 3: They saw what seemed to be tongues of fir that separated and came to rest on each of them. A ball of fire fell into the room and divided into 120 tongues of flame and set each of the 120 people on fire. This was like the burning bush in the book of Exodus. Fire was spreading over them, yet they were no hurt or burned or consumed. What did this mean? It meant that each one of them was now anointed with the Holy Spirit. They were each filled with the Holy Spirit.
Verse 4 says: All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
What did this mean? Now they had their job, their commission, their mission—to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world. They were momentarily, temporarily given the ability to preach the Gospel in the various languages of those who had come from all over the world to celebrate the day of Pentecost (see verses 5-11).
These were not incomprehensible, unintelligible sounds. These were distinct languages, symbolic of all the tongues and tribes on earth, signifying the worldwide outreach of the Gospel.
- The wind represented the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
- The flames of fire represented the anointing power of the Holy Spirit.
- The languages represented the compelling purpose of the Holy Spirit—to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
This is true for us individually. This is true for us collectively. This is the church. At the exact instant you ask Jesus Christ to become your Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit accelerates into your life like He did into that upper room. You may not hear the sound of rushing wind. You may not see the fire. You may not speak in another language. But the Holy Spirit instantly occupies you; He comes to live within you; and you have His indwelling presence.
You have His power in your life—His power that enables you to begin living a supernatural kind of life. His power that gives strength and joy and victory. And you suddenly are part of the enduring purpose of the church—to spread the Gospel wherever you go and by every means possible.
2. The Pentecostal Values of the Church
At The Donelson Fellowship, that means there are some core values that bind us together.
The first is integrity. Whatever we do, we want to do it honestly and because it right, not because it’s easy or culturally expedient. These 120 were totally sold out to Jesus Christ. They knew He was risen and ascended to heaven. And they were ready to serve Him with integrity.
The second is joy. We want to serve joyfully, because that reflects the excitement and enthusiasm of the Day of Pentecost. Jesus wants joy and enthusiasm in all we do.
The third is humility. To these believers the Holy Spirit was now the central personality in their midst. They no longer argued about which was greatest.
The fourth is unity. These 120 believers all had different personalities and different experiences and backgrounds. But they were bound together like metal fragments to a magnet.
And our fifth value is focus. They were now on mission—to take the Gospel to the world.
3. The Pentecostal Power of the Church
Years ago I read a story I’ve never forgotten. It was about a wounded German soldier ordered to go to the military hospital for treatment. When he arrived at the large and imposing building, he saw two doors, one marked, “For the slightly wounded,” and the other, “For the seriously wounded.”
He entered through the first door and found himself going down a long hall. At the end of it were two more doors, one marked, “For officers” and the other, “For non-officers.” He entered the through the latter and found himself going down another long hall. At the end of it were two more doors, one marked, “For party members” and the other, “For non-party members.” He took the second door, and when he opened it he found himself out on the street.
When he returned home, his mother asked him, “How did you get along at the hospital?”
“Well, Mother,” he replied, “to tell the truth, the people there didn’t do anything for me, but you ought to see the tremendous organization they have!”
A lot of churches have a tremendous organization, but do they really offer spiritual help? There’s an old hymn that says, “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.” Everything depends on the blessings and boldness of the Holy Spirit.
Conclusion: Every day, I ask the Lord to fill me with His Holy Spirit. I know the Spirit lives within me because I’ve trusted Christ as Savior. But does He absolutely control me? Does He empower me? Does He have every area of my life under His governance?” The great question is not—how much of the Holy Spirit do you have. The question is—how much of you does the Holy Spirit have?
I had a water fountain installed behind our house. It’s made up of three large vertical stone columns, and each column has a hole drilled all the way through it. The water bubbles up through that column and out the hole and it splashes and bubbles and gurgles and it very pleasant. But a day or so after it was installed, I went out and there was no water coming up. It was just the sound of a motor running, but no water. I called the man who installed it and said, “Where’s the water?” He come over and showed me. He said, “Beneath all the stone and the pebbles is a huge reservoir. There’s a basin that hold 100 or 120 gallons of water, but in hot weather the water evaporates and it splashes a lot. It needs frequent refilling. You’ve got to keep it replenished.” He showed me a little indicator that would let me know when I needed to refill the unseen basin.
There’s an unseen basin in our lives. There’s an unseen reservoir to our church. When it runs low or goes dry, you don’t realize it until suddenly the water’s no longer flowing and all you hear is the sound of the operation of the machinery.
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Me, out of His innermost being will flow rivers of living water,” and by this He meant the Holy Spirit.
In this day of secular humanism, in these perilous times when everyone is going what is right in their own eyes, let’s remember that through Jesus Christ we don’t simply join a church. We don’t simply attend church. We are the church. But we’ve got to live in the presence and in the power of the Day of Pentecost. We must always pray:
Have Thine Own Way, Lord,
Have Thine Own Way.
Hold over my being absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ, only, always, living in me.