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We come to an incredible chapter. I believe that every Christian needs to know this chapter very well. This is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. It mentions speaking in tongues, and the very first sermon ever preached in the early church, the incredible sermon that Peter preached at Pentecost.
The chapter is important historically. It is where the church got started. It is very important theologically. It is a deep chapter. This chapter raises some complex doctrinal questions that have divided entire denominations. It is a very controversial chapter.
This is a favorite chapter of many people. Baptists and Pentecostals read this chapter very differently. If we spent more time studying the text and less time trying to defend our own particular denomination or tradition, we would be far better off and there would be less division in the church.
What exactly is taking place in Acts 2? What is really going on this chapter that is so significant? There are three things that happened on Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit was Given on Pentecost
The first reason that Pentecost was important is that the Spirit was given on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. That is the first important thing about Pentecost.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them (2:1-2)
What happened here? God showed up. The Holy Spirit came. He filled the whole house. His presence was in the whole house. You could feel the presence of God on Pentecost and you could see it.
There were two signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence on Pentecost and the two signs were fire and wind. One sign that He showed up was audible. You could hear it (a powerful wind) and one sign that he showed up was visual. You could see it (a ball of fire).
Now these are just similes. The Holy Spirit is not wind and fire. It was “the sound LIKE a rushing might wind” and it says that there appeared to them “tongues AS of fire.” It wasn’t literal life. Their heads were not on fire but it looked like fire.
This fire and wind was not natural. It was completely supernatural. Acts 2:1 tells us where the wind and fire came from. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came FROM HEAVEN.” It did not come from earth.
These are common indications of the presence of God in Scripture. Fire also represents the presence of God. God often manifests himself in fire in the Bible. The Bible describes God as “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).
God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. There was fire on Mount Sinai when God gave the Ten Commandments. A pillar of fire led the Israelites as well to guide the Israelites.
Wind also symbolizes the presence and power of God. This is not a little breeze this is a strong powerful wind (“rushing mighty wind” KJV). The Hebrew and Greek words for spirit and wind are the same. The Holy Spirit is the wind of God. There are some important differences between the Holy Spirit and wind. One is a force and one is a person but there are some important similarities.
How is the Spirit like Wind?
1) Both are INVISIBLE
You cannot see them. The Holy Spirit is invisible and so is wind. It is simply moving air.
2) Both are IMMATERIAL
The Holy Spirit does not have a body and wind does not have any shape or form.
3) Both are SOVEREIGN
Jesus said that the wind blows wherever it wants to. He said that we do not know where it comes or where it goes (John 3:8). It is unpredictable.
4) Both are POWERFUL
That’s what tornadoes are. They are powerful winds. Some reach three hundred miles per hour. It is so powerful that it often cannot be controlled by people. The Holy Spirit is also powerful. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” When the Spirit is at work, He can bring the most hardened sinner to Christ.
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and He came in a brand new way than he ever did before.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you FOREVER— the Spirit of truth. (John 14:17).
What is the big difference between the way the Holy Spirit minister before Pentecost and the way he ministered to people after Pentecost?
Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the OT
1. In the OT, the Holy Spirit came WITH or ON people for a particular ministry.
He came on Samson and Samson was able to tear a lion apart with his bare (Judges 14:6). He came on Saul and Saul began to prophesy (I Samuel 10:10). The Spirit came on Gideon and he blew a trumpet (Judges 6:34).
2. In the OT, when the Spirit came on people, it was temporary.
The Spirit came on Saul and eventually left King Saul (I Samuel 16:14). That is why David prayed, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11).
In the OT, the Spirit would fill people temporarily. Now He indwells them permanently. Jesus said that He would send us the Holy Spirit and He would dwell with us FOREVER (John 14:17).
The Church was Started on Pentecost
The second reason that Pentecost was very important is that the church was started on Pentecost. The second important thing that happened on Pentecost was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Not only did the Holy Spirit indwell believers, he baptized believers.
Acts 2 does not mention Holy Spirit baptism at all but we know for sure that it took place it Acts 2. We know that from Acts 1:5. Jesus said, “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
What does it mean to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? If you ask a Pentecostal, you will get a very different answer than if you ask a Baptist. Who is right? How do we know who is right?
I am going to make a bold statement here. It is very easy to tell which side is basically right. All you have to do is to read the Bible. Read every passage on the subject and you will find out what it means.
There are only seven verses to look up. When you look them up, this is what you will find. The Bible never talks about Holy Spirit baptism.
Baptism as a noun is never used in connection with the Holy Spirit but the verb “baptize” is used seven times in the NT in connection with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33; Acts 1:5 & Acts 11:16; I Corinthians 12:13).
Six of those times it refers to Pentecost (what would happen on Pentecost or what already did happen on Pentecost). It is only mentioned one other time in the Bible and that is in I Corinthians 12:13.
No other verse in the Bible tells us what this means. Paul is the only one who explains what the baptism of the Spirit actually does. Luke was not a theologian. He was a physician and a historian.
What does it mean to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, according to I Corinthians 12:13? It means to be placed INTO the body of Christ. Luke does not tell us that but Paul does. What is the body of Christ? Paul says in Colossians 1:18 that the church is the body of Christ.
Summary of the Biblical Evidence
1) The church is the body of Christ. That is the definition of the church in the NT.
2) People are placed into that body when they are baptized with the Holy Spirit.
If that is correct, it is very important, because it means that EVERY Christian is baptized with the Holy Spirit. Many churches make a distinction between the baptism of the Spirit and salvation. They would say that you can be saved but not baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Only the really spiritual people who speak in tongues are baptized in the spirit but that would contradict I Corinthians 12. Every person in the body of Christ has been baptized by the Spirit. In fact, that is how you get into the body.
It is also important because it means that the baptism of the Spirit is not necessarily an experience. You may not feel anything when you are placed into the body of Christ. I didn’t feel any different when I was justified. It is positional, not necessarily experiential.
3) This took place for the first time on Pentecost.
Prior to Pentecost, no one was baptized in the Spirit. “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (1:5)
4) The church must have started on Pentecost.
Pentecost is the birthday of the church. The church began at Pentecost. That fits what Jesus said. Jesus said in the Gospels “I WILL build my church” (Matthew 16:18). He did not say, “I am building My church” or “I have built my church” but “I WILL BUILD (future tense) my church.” There was no church in the Gospels.
The Church Received Power on Pentecost
The third reason that Pentecost was important is that the church received power on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit did not just INDWELL people at Pentecost and BAPTIZE people, He FILLED people and when he filled people, there was power. Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came, they would have power. They would have extraordinary spiritual power for ministry (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8).
What is missing in many churches and many Christians is the power of the Holy Spirit. There are some churches that you can go to and you do not experience God. There are other churches you walk into and you can tell that God is at work in the place as soon as you walk into the door.
Three Kinds of Power
What did that power look like? What kind of power did they have on Pentecost? They did not have physical power (like the Power Team). They had spiritual power and that spiritual power enabled them to do three things.
1. The Power to Witness
Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES.” That is very clear. Once you receive power, you will be able to witness.
The first type of power is the power to win souls. This is a completely different person from the Peter we saw fifty days earlier. Peter now has the Holy Spirit inside him and he is filled with the Holy Spirit.
This is the same Peter who fifty days earlier denied Jesus. After saying at Gethsemane, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matthew 26:35). After Jesus was arrested, he was asked if he spent time with Jesus and he denied it repeatedly with an oath and even swore that he did not know Jesus (Matthew 26:69-74). How is Peter completely different now that the Holy Spirit has come?
He is not ashamed of Jesus at all. He stands up and preaches a sermon about Jesus to thousands of people. How do we know he preached to thousands of people? Thousands of people responded to his sermon. It was the most powerful sermon ever preached.
Acts 2:41 gives the result of Peter’s sermon. Three thousand added to their number. What was their number before this? It was 120. The church went from a membership of 120 from a membership of 3120 in one day from one sermon.
That is EVANGELISTIC POWER. In our day, church membership is often declining and shrinking. The first church didn’t have that problem. The church of Jerusalem was booming. It was skyrocketing because the Holy Spirit was working.
Peter was not a great orator. He was a fisherman by trade but now this fisherman is full of the Holy Spirit and he has no fear of public speaking. He is no longer ashamed of Jesus. He spoke to thousands of people about Jesus. He was not shy. Peter has a courage he never had before.
He preaches this sermon in the very city that killed Jesus fifty days. It was not in a warm, friendly receptive audience. He tells a Jewish audience that they had just murdered their Messiah. He is bold. He is confrontational.
Peter is not doing lifestyle evangelism here. He is doing confrontational evangelism. He said to them in 2:36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
The KJV says “God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” but Christ is the Greek term for Messiah. The nation had been waiting for the Messiah for thousands of years. When he finally comes, they kill him. Peter contrasts what they did and what God did to Jesus. Peter says, “You crucified him.”
You nailed him to a cross but God raised him from the dead” (2:23-24). That was incredibly bold. The Jews did not crucify anyone. The Romans did. Peter put the blame on this group of Jews. Why? This was a national sin. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. He was sent to the Jews and they rejected him.
2. The Power to Perform Miracles
We see this at the end of the chapter. Acts 2:43 says, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” They did not just have power to preach, but power to heal the sick and raised the dead. We will see a few of those miracles next week.
The apostles take the lead in this but as you read the Book of Acts, you will see that they were not the only ones who performed miracles. Other people in the church also performed some miracles. As we read the rest of the book, we will see it wasn’t just the apostles who performed miracles.
3. The Power to Speak in Tongues
This was not the power to perform miracles but the power of supernatural speaking. Their speaking involved three things.
What is Speaking in Tongues in Acts 2?
1) It involved speaking a FOREIGN LANGUAGE.
When some people think of tongues today, they think of gibberish but these were real languages that people from out of town understood.
There are close to seven thousand known languages spoken in the two hundred countries of the world today. The disciples in Acts 2 were speaking known languages. How many languages did they speak? Luke does not tell us.
Luke mentions fifteen groups in Acts 2:9-11 but those groups are racial and geographic, not linguistic. They are peoples (Parthians, Medes, Elamites) and lands (Mesopotamia, Judea, Asia), not languages and some of these groups spoke the same language.
What we know for sure is that the tongues spoken in Acts 2 were a real foreign language. What they said had some content. People clearly understood what they were saying. They were not speaking gibberish.
2) It involved speaking a SUPERNATURAL LANGUAGE.
This was not just a foreign language, it was a supernatural language. The disciples started speaking a language they had never studied before. They started speaking a language that no one had ever taught them. There are several words for this in English (xenogossia or xenoglossy). These were not scholars or linguists. They were uneducated hillbillies from Galilee. They were simple fishermen.
This involved a miracle. How were they able to do this? It was not a language they acquired by natural means. The text says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues AS THE SPIRIT ENABLED THEM” (2:1). This was Spirit-inspired speech. The only reason they could do this is that the Holy Spirit supernaturally enabled them to do this.
Was this a miracle of speaking or of hearing? Some scholars have speculated that this was a miracle of hearing. They believe that the disciples spoke in one language and what they said was understood by foreigners in their native tongue. The problem with this theory is that the Holy Spirit fell on believers, not unbelievers.
The Spirit fell on the speakers, not the hearers. They were speaking in other tongues and they were only able to do this because the Holy Spirit enabled them to do it. This was a miracle of speaking. What were they saying when they were speaking in tongues?
3) It involved speaking a PRAISE LANGUAGE.
Luke says that the disciples declared the wonders of God. They praised God and praised him in a language they had never spoken before. When they spoke in tongues, they were not preaching but praising (Acts 2:11; 10:46).
What was the Purpose of Tongues in Acts?
What was the purpose of them doing this? Paul says in I Corinthians 14:22 that “tongues are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers.” What was the purpose of signs? The purpose was to get people to believe (John 12:31) and that is why tongues are a sign for unbelievers because believers already believe.
This miracle got the attention of people. It was an attention-grabber for this international audience. There were people in Jerusalem from all over the world for this feast.
There were people there from modern-day Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Rome, Egypt and Africa. The purpose was NOT to preach the gospel in tongues. The only one who preached the gospel here was Peter. The disciples did not speak in tongues to do evangelism but to do pre-evangelism.
Two Reactions to Peter’s Sermon
There were two reactions to this miracle. There was a natural reaction to the miracle (2:12) and a hostile reaction to the miracle (2:13). The natural reaction was to be amazed and to ask What is going on? How is this possible? What does it mean? The hostile reaction involved mocking the disciples and calling them drunk.
Peter says that the men are not drunk. It is nine in the morning. Peter quotes three OT passages. He quotes Joel 2 to explain the work of the Holy Spirit. It explained why they were speaking in tongues. He quotes Psalm 16 to show that Jesus rose from the dead and he quotes Psalm 110 to show that Jesus ascended into heaven. What was their response?
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (2:37)
When you preach the gospel to someone, you get a lot of different reactions. Jesus even told a parable about this. Some are APATHETIC. They do not respond one way or the other. They have no response. Some are ANGRY. That is what happened when Stephen preached to the Sanhedrin (7:54). This group was CONVICTED.
It says that they were “cut to the heart”. Someone said that it was almost as if the sword that pierced the side of Jesus stabbed them right in the heart. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, when the Holy Spirit comes, “He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (16:8)
They realize what Peter said is true. They knew they sinned. They knew they were guilty. It is one thing to kill someone and feel bad. It is another thing to kill the Messiah. There could be no greater sin than to kill the Messiah. It is the worst crime imaginable. What does Peter tell them to do?
Peter replied, “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. (2:38)
Peter promised this group of people two things. One was negative (repentance) and one was positive (gift of the Holy Spirit). He said that they could get all of their sins forgiven. They could be forgiven by God for putting to death their Messiah. If you can be forgiven for that, you can be forgiven for anything.
He also said that they could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that they could see clearly at work in the group of 120 disciples that day but they needed to do two things. Peter gave them two commands – repent and be baptized. One was inward and one was outward.
On the inside, they were to repent. What does that mean? It means several things.
1. It means to admit you have done something wrong.
Repentance begins with confession (“I have sinned”). If you don’t admit you have done anything wrong, you have no repented. They had to admit that they were completely wrong about Jesus. Repentance means literally a change of mind.
2. It means to show remorse for what you have done.
If you truly repent, you should feel guilty. If you admit you did something wrong but you do not feel bad about it at all, you have not repented.
3. It means a willingness to change what you are doing.
If someone says “Yes, I admit doing this action and I know it is wrong and I plan on keep on doing it”, that person has not repented.
On the outside, they were to submit to the ordinance of baptism and to make a public profession of their faith. The very ones who said that Jesus was a blasphemer and an impostor are now asked to publicly confess Him to be their Messiah.
1. Baptism was universal.
Peter said, “Be baptized EVERY ONE OF YOU.” No one was to be left out. Many seem to think that baptism is almost optional today. Everyone was to be baptized. Baptism was universal. It is a command in Greek. Both “repent” and “be baptized” are aorist imperatives.
2. Baptism was immediate.
They were to do this immediately. Today, people often get baptized later. It is a post-conversion experience. It is something that you do several months or in some cases several years after you come to faith in Christ.
Peter had them get baptized the same day they repented. Their baptism was the evidence and outward sign of their repentance. In many churches, when people want to accept Christ, they come forward in church. In the early church, they got baptized.
3. Baptism was radical.
In our day, baptism is not a big deal but, in the Bible, it is a much more radical act. In many parts of the world baptism is much more radical. In communist countries, Muslim countries, the persecution begins when you get baptized and you get kicked out of the family or lose a job or get thrown in jail. In some orthodox Jewish families when a person becomes a Christian, the parents would hold a funeral service for the person.
4. Baptism was symbolic.
It is repentance, not the ordinance of baptism, which blots out sins (3:19). Now baptism by itself is meaningless. It is not magical, as some churches teach. It accomplished nothing. Dunking someone in water by itself accomplishes very little.
It is a complete waste of time to go to some church and get baptized if you have not really believed and have not genuinely repented of your sins. Baptism only has value when it functions as a visible evidence or sign of repentance. It is not sacramental; it is symbolic.
Baptism in Acts 2:38 is mentioned as a condition of salvation. Both repentance and baptism are linked to the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:38. The real issue is how they are linked. There is not a hint anywhere that repentance and baptism are completely separate and equal conditions of salvation.
One functions as the outward sign of the other. The crucial element in the equation is what is going on in the heart, not what is taking place on the outside. The words “and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” are clearly parenthetical, given how baptism functions in the NT.
That would explain why Peter in the very next chapter says “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (3:19) without even mentioning baptism.
That would also explain why Cornelius was clearly saved in Acts 10 BEFORE he was baptized. Peter preached the message of salvation of Cornelius (11:14) which apparently did not include baptism, because Cornelius received the Holy Spirit, began speaking in tongues and praised God before he was even baptized (10:44-46).
What was so shocking about Cornelius’ conversion is that he was saved WITHOUT the laying on of hands (which was how the Samaritans were saved in Acts 8). Cornelius was saved WITHOUT baptism (which was how the Jews were saved in Acts 2). He was saved WITHOUT circumcision (required for all Jews in the OT).
Cornelius did get baptized but that was after he received the Holy Spirit (10:48). Cornelius did not have to be baptized in order to receive the Holy Spirit. Peter did NOT preached to Cornelius a gospel of baptismal regeneration. He told him that “everyone who BELIEVES in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:43).