Monday 22 October 2012

The Spirit-filled church (Acts 2)

An unmistakable theme running through the book of Acts has to be the movement of the Holy Spirit.

If you go through the book, Luke the writer gives tremendous emphasis on the Holy Spirit as a key agent in the narrative; as a key character in the storyline. With the exception of a few places throughout the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit features prominently and is mentioned explicitly in each and every chapter - through the display of miracles, the speaking of tongues, in the direct speech of the apostles - but the way the book of Acts begins is with Jesus Christ telling his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit.

The very beginning of the book reminds us that Acts is part-two in the two-part series, both written by the same author, Luke, who refers back to his previous book - the gospel of Luke - in verse 1 as, “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” That’s a very curious way of summing up the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: All that Jesus began to do and teach.

As if to say, “Theophilus, what you read in my previous book - That’s just the beginning.” The book of Acts is a continuation of everything Jesus began to do and teach. In fact, you could say that the book of Acts is about what Jesus continues to do today.

And the way that Acts begins in Chapter 1 is with Jesus “giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:2), commanding them with the words of verse 4, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised... For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”

The passage we are going to look at today is the fulfilment of that promise. It is described in several different ways - the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), the empowering of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), the filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) - but the one question we need to ask ourselves as we go through the book of Acts is: What is descriptive and what is prescriptive in the book of Acts? It is important to differentiate between the descriptive - what Luke is telling us happened then - and the prescriptive - what Luke is telling us ought to happen today as part of our daily Christian experience.

Now you might agree or disagree with what I put into the descriptive and prescriptive categories, but I wanted to begin by saying that there is a difference between the two, and more importantly, that the way we decide which is descriptive and which is prescriptive is by looking at what the bible says. Over and against our own experiences and traditions, what I want us to do is come to the bible and see how Luke describes and prescribes the events the book of Acts.

With that in mind, we will approach Acts Chapter 2 under three headings:

1. The Spirit-filled Witness (verses 1 to 15)
2. The Spirit-filled Message (verses 16 to 36)
3. The Spirit-filled Community (verses 37 to 47)

1. The Spirit-filled Witness

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. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:1-4

We begin with the when and the where. Verse 1 tells us “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.”

Pentecost is a harvest celebration in the Jewish Calendar, which is when the grain harvest is brought in. We find it in Old Testament passages like Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 16 referred to as the Feast of Weeks. The reason why it is called Pentecost (a Greek word meaning “fifty”) is because this festival is held fifty days from Passover. The symbolism of this is all the more pronounced when you consider that verse 1 could just as accurately be translated, “In the fulfilment of the day of Pentecost.”

Meaning, there is fulfilment that comes from Pentecost - from this festival symbolic of the gathering in of the harvest from the fields - that points us back to Passover; back to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Something that happened fifty days earlier at the cross now bears spiritual fruit and brings in a spiritual harvest.

That’s the significance of the when but notice as well the significance of the where. The believers “were all together in one place,” and that place was Jerusalem where Jesus told them to remain back in Chapter 1, verse 5. As many as one hundred and twenty believers gathered in this one place, unsure about what was going to happen exactly yet obedient to Jesus’ command and promise. Chapter 1, verse 8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem; and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of all the earth.” Something about Jerusalem made it ground zero for Jesus’ mission plan. The gospel was to go out into all the world - that was the plan - but first, something had to happen in Jerusalem. We’ll come back to this point later but for now, just realise that it’s no accident that this is all happening in this particular place at this particular time in history.

From the when and the where, verse 2 tells us what happened next. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven.” What they heard sounded like a hurricane but wasn’t. Similarly, what they saw seemed like fire but wasn’t fire. Verse 3, “They saw what seemed like tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” The experience was overwhelming yet at the same time deeply personal. The Spirit of God, symbolised by wind and fire, filled the entire room where they were but also came to rest on each individual believer.

“All of them,” verse 4 reads, “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” We will get to the tongues phenomenon in a moment, but don’t miss the impact of this statement. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, not just the apostles. Each and every one of the one hundred and twenty believers who had gathered in that place that day received what Jesus had promised them with no exception.

Having said that, when we get to verse 5, we see that this phenomenon was not for the believers’ benefit alone.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them speaking in his own native language?
Acts 2:5-8

What follows is a pretty lengthy description about where this crowd were from - Parthians, Medes and Elamites (to the east of Jerusalem, modern day Iran); residents of Mesopotamia (the western region, now Iraq), Judea (the region surrounding Jerusalem itself), Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia (to the north-west, where Paul eventually brings the gospel later in Acts) and Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene (to the south).

On the one hand, these were God-fearing Jews (verse 5) living in Jerusalem (verse 14). On the other, the people in these crowd had come from far-flung countries, what verse 5 describes as “every nation under heaven.” These were Diasporic Jews who had been spread across the different regions due to events in history (such as the exile, recorded in Old Testament books of the bible such as Daniel). The Greek word diaspora is where we get the word dispersed, meaning, “spread out”. These Jews whose ancestors had originally lived in the Promised Land had been spread out across the nations, but now had moved back to Jerusalem, perhaps to attend the Festival of Weeks or more likely, had moved back for good and called the city their home.

Similarly, many of us from Singapore and Malaysia are diaspora Chinese: our parents or grandparents migrated from China, from villages like Guangzhou or Fujian and settled in South East Asia, which is why a couple of generations later you end up with “bananas” like me (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) who can’t even speak a word of proper Chinese, except for phrases picked up from Chow Sing Chi movies (like Tah Kip and Pek Yau).

These diaspora Jews hear the believers speaking in tongues, they gather around the 120 believers, but notice what they ask in verse 7, “How is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?” Literally, the word is dialect - “How is it that each of us hears them in his own dialect where we were born?” They are amazed that these Galileans are able to communicate so fluently in the language they grew up with - their mother tongues. Furthermore, what they hear is described for us in verse 11, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues (or dialects)!”

Now we need to understand their amazement at two levels. Firstly, remember that the crowd did not witness the wind and the fire in the giving of the Spirit, rather they are drawn by what they heard. Tongues, in this instance, simply means languages - real understandable languages and dialects spoken by these Jews who had come from all over the Roman Empire. They were amazed because these fifteen or so different languages were now being spoken by these “Galileans” (which was a polite way of calling them “Ah-bengs”).

On another level, what these tongue-speaking Galileans were declaring was the wonders of God. This is a side point but a notable one: There is something amazingly attractive about God’s word being communicated in a way that is understandable and familiar to us that it simply draws us into that word. These diaspora Jews did not grow up in Jerusalem and therefore did not speak Hebrew or Aramaic (much like British-born Chinese who struggle to order bubble tea in Cantonese at HK Fusion, “One pau pau cha please, extra pau pau!”). There must have been something pretty amazing and refreshing about hearing God’s word in such a way that you understood every word, that you didn’t need someone else to explain to you. To hear something as wonderful and as important as the greatness of God and to just get it - That is an awesome experience.

The fact that Luke describes the crowd as “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven,” ought to cast our minds back to Genesis 11 to the account of Babel. There, God strikes the people of Babel with a judgement that confuses their language and scatters them “over the face of the whole world” (Genesis 11:9). What is happening here in Acts 2 is a reversal of that judgement - God’s people were being gathered and God’s word was being fully understood. Here, it is important to see that the way in which God reversed the effects of Babel was not so much by taking away the languages but by using the languages. Notice how the phrase, “each one,” is repeatedly used to describe the reaction of the crowd - verse 6: “each one heard,” verse 8, “each of us hears.” The result was a personal encounter with the word of God - “the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

When we get to verse 12, it is no longer each one, but every single one. “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (ESV) Some were skeptical. “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’” (Acts 2:13) All of them were affected by the event, and by “all,” it’s actually talking about the crowd. That is, the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not simply for the benefit of the apostles and Christians gathering in Jerusalem that day. God was using them as his witnesses to the crowd. The Spirit was empowering them to carry out his mission to the nations.

Otherwise, there would have been no need for the tongues. And otherwise, there would have been no need for Peter to explain the tongues.

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!”
Acts 2:14-15

Peter understands that it isn’t enough to do apologetics. Some in the crowd are going, “These guys are out of their minds. It’s just the alcohol talking.” And immediately, Peter says, “Come on, get serious! The pubs aren’t even open yet.” Essentially, what he is saying is, “That’s a silly idea, and you know it.”

Now if Peter’s motivation was solely to protect his friends, he would have stopped right there. Apologetics is a defence of Christianity. It’s answering questions - often times, objections - to Christianity using reason, logic and factual data. Peter does apologetics by appealing to the crowd’s common sense, “Look at your watches, the pubs aren’t even open yet.” And if his motivation was purely to give an answer that would silence his critics and protect his friends, the story would have ended at verse 15.

But you see, Peter’s motivation for getting up and speaking to the crowd is not apologetics but evangelism. Apologetics is useful - it is even essential in an age of skepticism - but the agenda in apologetics is always set by the few. “Some... made fun of them.” Peter wanted to address the real question that was on every single one of their minds, “What does this mean?” and the way he did that was through evangelism. It was with the gospel.

Evangelism presents God’s agenda and not ours. The Spirit-filled Witness always accompanies the Spirit-filled message: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. The Spirit-filled Message

Peter begins by explaining the tongues-speaking as an indication of the end times. The pouring out the Spirit of God is an indication that the final day of God’s judgement has arrived.

No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Acts 2:16-21

It’s not the most attractive way to begin a sermon. Peter didn’t tell a joke or open with an illustration from last night’s episode of Downton Abbey. He said to the crowd, “You want to know what this means? It’s judgement. It means that we are now living in the end times.”

Quoting the prophet Joel, he describes how God promises to pour out his Spirit on all people, enabling them to prophesy, see visions and dream dreams. In a word, the Spirit reveals God’s will to his people. The prophets in the Old Testament were a select few to receive this gift of the Spirit. Their job was to speak on behalf of God, revealing his will to the kings and leaders.

In contrast to that, Joel says in the last days, the Spirit would no longer be limited to a select few but poured out on all: men and women, young and old. And the purpose of this pouring out of the Spirit is direct revelation. That’s prophecy. Prophecy means knowing and speaking God’s word without the need for a middleman. God reveals it directly to you. God speaks it directly through you.

Here we see it in speaking of various tongues by the believers at Pentecost. They were declaring the wonders of God directly to nations, without the need for interpreters.

Yet notice as well, that we see the fulfilment this in Peter himself. He stands up and says quite confidently, “This is what God’s word has to say to you.” What is he doing? Peter is prophesying. By that, it doesn’t mean that unintelligible gibberish start coming out of his mouth. Quite the opposite. He reveals God’s will by clearly explaining God’s word. “This is what it means. This is what God says.” That’s prophetic speech.

So the first half of Joel’s prophecy has to do with the Spirit, but the second half talks about judgement. Verse 19: “Blood and fire and billows of smoke,” and verse 20, “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood.” As scary as these descriptions may be, what was shocking was not the reality of judgement but its immediacy. These were God-fearing Jews. They knew that God was holy. They knew the bible spoke of a day of God’s judgement. What they did not know was that God’s judgement was not far off; it had already begun.

And Peter’s point is this: Judgement began with the cross. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s way of putting the world on notice, “This is the last call.”

Friends, are you the kind of person who puts things off? Judgement, God, Jesus, Salvation - it’s just another thing you’ll deal with... tomorrow. Peter is saying to us: Judgement has come, Salvation is now, because Jesus Christ is Lord.

Look at verse 22:

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

Keeping in mind that Peter is speaking to residents of Jerusalem and his fellow Jews, he describes Jesus to them as someone, “you know.” In the last chapter of Luke, Cleopas says to Jesus, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know these things?” Jesus asks him, “What things?” And Cleopas goes on to describe how Jesus was well-known as a prophet, he did miracles, he spoke from God with an authority that no one ever did, he was someone everyone knew as sent from God. But the tragic thing, according to Cleopas, was that Jesus got killed. He was treated like a criminal, hung on a cross and left to die. The point is: such news was so sensational, no one in Jerusalem could not have known about it.

Peter says to the crowd, “You guys know this.” But more than that, “You guys are responsible for this,” verse 23, “You with the help of wicked men put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” He doesn’t say, “Those guys - the Romans, the chief priests, the guys at the top... No, you... You did this.”

Yet at the same time, verse 23 begins with God handing Jesus over to them, according to his “set purpose and foreknowledge”. Now what’s going on? Peter is explaining what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. The cross was not God’s plan gone wrong. The cross was God’s plan all along.

Especially for these Jews who were God-fearing, who knew God’s promises to Abraham and to David about a kingdom that would one day be established in God’s name and ruled under God’s king, they would have been thinking: How on earth can Jesus be this king? The Messiah is supposed to defeat his enemies, not be killed by them. The Messiah is supposed to be empowered by God, protected by God - not humiliated and stripped naked like he was and killed on the cross, suffering a death so horrible it probably meant that he was cursed by God.

And one thing that Peter had to get straight with his fellow Jews was that Jesus had to die. The way in which we know that Jesus truly was the Christ was precisely through his death and humiliation on the cross.

Notice that what Peter does here in explaining who Jesus is and what he did on the cross - is not to absolve them of their guilt, “You, with the help of wicked men put him to death,” - but to show from scripture how God used even their sin to bring about his salvation.

Look at verse 24:

But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
“I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will live in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.”
Acts 2:24-28

A moment ago, we were considering Jesus’ death, and here Peter tries to explain God raising Jesus from death as significant of much more than just having a second chance at life. No, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is actually a kind of vindication. It’s a kind of proof.

When God raised Jesus from the dead, Peter says in verse 23, he freed him from the agony of death. Death is pictured as a kind of prison. It’s pain - the agony of death. The bible describes death as not simply the end of life - You live, and live, and live, then one day.... finally, you die. No, death in the bible is a separation. And verse 23 tells us it was impossible for death to keep a hold on Jesus. This prison couldn’t contain him.

If you understand death that way - as a separation, a breakdown, a prison - then what the resurrection does is help us understand what life really is. It is a restoration. Here, Peter uses the words of King David from Psalm 16 to talk about the resurrection in terms of joy, hope, gladness. Verse 26, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope.” Verse 28, “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with the joy of your presence.” David defines life as knowing God; being in the presence of God; rejoicing in the promises of God.

What did God do when he raised Jesus from the dead? He restored him to his true status and position as Christ - as God’s King ruling over God’s kingdom.

Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on the throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.
Acts 2:29-31

From the testimony of Scripture in Psalm 16, Peter moves on their own testimony as witnesses of the cross in verse 32, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to the fact.” I think he is referring to the empty tomb and their personal encounter with Jesus over the last forty days (Acts 1:3).

But then Peter does something very interesting. He turns to the crowds own witness of events. Verse 33, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” He ties it back to Pentecost. Now this is very important. What is Peter doing? He is explaining the tongues and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, yes. But more importantly, he is preaching the gospel by pointing his hearers back to Jesus.

For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Acts 2:34-36

Why does Peter keep saying, “This Jesus.” Did you notice that? Verse 23, “This man.” Verse 32, “God has raised this Jesus.” Verse 36, ‘God has made this Jesus...” Why not just say, “Jesus”?

Because Peter is saying, “This is the guy you need to take notice of.” Not me. Not your own guilt. Not even in a sense the Holy Spirit. The focus of the gospel is this Jesus whom God has made both Lord and Christ.

He is saying to the crowd who heard the tongues, who asked the question, “What does this mean?”, and responds to them by saying, “It means that Jesus really is God’s chosen King. It means that he is chosen to judge the world - that’s what Lord means, hence the Day of the Lord. But it also means, he is God’s means for salvation - everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

I put it to you that what we have here in Peter’s sermon is Spirit-filled preaching. It’s prophecy. Preaching that is prophetic, that is anointed by the Holy Spirit of God, is preaching the points us clearly to Jesus Christ as Lord. Isn’t that what Peter is doing? He keeps bringing us back to Jesus.

It’s not the tongues, as miraculous as it was, and as essential as it was in this moment of history. It was the explanation of the gospel, as revealed in scripture, pointing to Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross, proclaiming him as Lord and Christ. Inasmuch as your pastor preaches the gospel on Sunday mornings, inasmuch as your bible study leader preaches Christ in your weekly groups, inasmuch as you yourselves point to Jesus in your evangelism, this is the work of the Holy Spirit, poured out on men and women, enabling them to prophesy - enabling them to reveal Jesus as who he truly is: Christ, Lord, Saviour, Judge, King!

And when men and women respond to such authentic, prophetic, Spirit-filled preaching - when they respond to the good news of Jesus Christ - what happens next is they are gathered in by God into a Spirit-filled community.

3. The Spirit-filled Community

When the crowd heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Acts 2:37-41

So far, what we have seen is the descriptive. Acts has given us a description of what happened, what was said, what was done. When we come to verse 39, we find a statement that is unmistakably prescriptive. “The promise if for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call.” What is the prescription? To turn and trust in Jesus Christ.

That’s what Peter means by repentance. “Repent and be baptised.” It means turning. Repentance isn’t feeling sorry for your sins, it’s not an emotional response. It means turning away from your sins and trusting in Jesus Christ for your salvation, “for the forgiveness of your sins.” As a sign of that repentance, Christians therefore get baptised - a word that simply means dunked (into water). They go into the water to symbolise their death to sin and rebellion against God, and they are raised out of the water to symbolise their new life in Jesus Christ.

So what we have here is Peter’s prescription - what it means to respond to the gospel, what it means to trust in Jesus, what it means to be saved as a Christian. It means turning to him as Lord.

Yet at the same time, notice that there are several implications to this prescription. The first one that is hard to miss is the fact that Peter says, “You will receive the Holy Spirit.” It’s a given. If you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t say that you will speak in tongues. He doesn’t say that you will relive the events of Pentecost, there is none of that here. All it says is that the three thousand new Christians were baptised as a sign of their repentance. In fact, the only way in which you can respond to the gospel is through the work and witness of the Holy Spirit. You see, this means that the Holy Spirit was not just poured out on the 120 believers, it was poured out on all the 3000 new converts as well. If you are a Christian, it’s because God has given you of his Spirit, enabling you to respond to him in repentance and faith.

However, this then raises the question: Why then was there a need for Pentecost? Why just the 120 believers in the upper room (or wherever it was) who received the gift of tongues?

As you go through the book of Acts, what we find is a trajectory - a movement - of the Holy Spirit, in each case, evidenced and punctuated by the speaking of tongues. There are four in total. The first occurrence is here in Acts 2 in Jerusalem. The second is Acts 8 where the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit at the laying on of hands. The third is Acts 10, where Peter is preaching to a group of God-fearing Gentiles. And the last is Acts 19, in Ephesus when Paul lays hands on a group of believers who had only known of John’s baptism. These four instances of the Holy Spirit enabling the believers to speak in tongues are significant because they are the fulfilment of Jesus’ own words at the beginning of the book of Acts, when he tells his disciples in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In each case, the giving of the Holy Spirit evidenced by the supernatural ability to speak in tongues is a confirmation of God’s plan in bringing in outsiders into the kingdom of God. And significantly, it begins here in Acts 2 with Jerusalem. Jesus tells his friends to remain in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4). They are to be his witnesses beginning with Jerusalem (Acts 1:8). In other words, Jerusalem is ground zero. Why? Because of the cross. The way in which the outsiders are brought into the kingdom of God is through the message of the cross. It’s not by becoming Jewish - if anything, the gospel goes out to the surrounding cultures. It’s not by learning Hebrew and memorising the Torah in Hebrew - the phenomenon of the speaking in various tongues and dialects is enough evidence against that. It is only by repentance and faith in the message of the cross: that Jesus Christ is Lord. What we see here is that the Holy Spirit always moves in tandem with the gospel. It is the Holy Spirit which enables the gospel to be truly heard and the Holy Spirit which enables us to respond to the gospel.

That’s the first implication: the Holy Spirit comes as promise to all who respond to the gospel. But the second unmissable implication is the church. Verse 41, “Those who were baptised... were added to their number that day.”

Being a Spirit-filled Christian means being part of a Spirit-filled community. It means being a part of the church.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that unless you are in a gospel-proclaiming church, you’re not a real Christian. Neither am I saying that unless you are baptised, you are not a genuine Christian. You become a Christian by turning to and trusting in Jesus Christ alone. Yet here we find both baptism and church membership tightly linked to that act of conversion. The three thousand believers were all baptised, they were all counted amongst the believers.

The Spirit-filled gospel gives birth to a spirit-filled community. The church is a gathering of God’s people around God’s word. Therefore, if you are a Christian but you are not baptised or you are not a regular member in a church, the question to ask is not, “Where can I find this loving, generous, Spirit-filled community to be a part of?” The real question to ask is: Is the gospel being preached? If so, the next question for you is: Are you being obedient to the call of the gospel?

Especially amongst students who come to faith in Jesus Christ here in Cambridge, there is a tendency to put of baptism and to put off committing yourselves to a local church. One common excuse is, “I want to wait till I’m back in Singapore. Then I’ll find the real church I’m going to invest my life in. That’s the church I’m going to be baptised in and invite all my family and non-Christian friends to attend.”

Friends, that is a foolish excuse. (I know, because it was the excuse I used as a student!) The church are you “attending” now on the weekends, inasmuch as it is faithfully proclaiming the gospel, that is your church. The only question is: Are you being faithful to the gospel yourself in being a part of that community and investing your life now in that church?

If Jesus Christ is your Lord, if he died on the cross for your sins, if he has filled you with his Holy Spirit, then listen to his word of instruction and obey his will. Be baptised. Love your church. Commit your life to following him now.

To recap Acts Chapter 2, we have seen three things. Firstly, we see a Spirit-filled Witness - the Holy Spirit enabling the 120 believers to witness to the crowd through the speaking of tongues. Secondly, we see a Spirit-filled Message - the gospel being proclaimed by Peter, prophesying through the Holy Spirit. Thirdly, we see a Spirit-filled Community: One that is devoted to the teaching of the apostles and to one another in love and fellowship.

But really, what I hope we see in these pages is Jesus. The 120 believers were waiting for the Holy Spirit, yes, but they were waiting in obedience to Jesus’ words. You might even say, they were waiting for Jesus himself to give them his Spirit. Secondly, Peter preaches powerfully through the empowering and emboldenment of the Spirit, but though he begins with the explanation of the tongues, he ends with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Finally, we see the church, a community that has responded to Jesus in repentance and faith, and live out their lives in obedience to Jesus as members of his body and witnesses of his gospel.

Obedience to Jesus. Boldness for Jesus. Love for one another in Jesus. That’s how you see the evidence of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

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