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Acts 2:1–21

5 June 2022

Exploring the Scriptures

Pentecost comes at the end of the Easter season. Christ had promised to return and promised his disciples would not be left alone. With the coming of the Holy Spirit those promises are fulfilled.

Today’s text is set in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was one of three most important festivals for the Jews (the others being Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles). They celebrated Pentecost seven weeks after Passover. The word Pentecost meant “fiftieth.” It was celebrated on the 50th day after the Sabbath on which Passover began. For Christians Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter.

Acts was written by the same author as the Gospel according to Luke. There are many parallels between the two books. If the Gospel is the story of Jesus, the book of Acts is the story of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit is responsible for the birth of Jesus in Luke chapters 1 and 2, in today’s text the Spirit is responsible for the birth of the church. The promise of John the Baptist in Luke 3:16 that people would be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire, is fulfilled in today’s text. The Spirit that descended on Jesus (Luke 3:22), now descends on the disciples giving power to the church. Just as Jesus began his ministry filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples are beginning their ministry filled with the Spirit.

The Jewish festival of Pentecost is a celebration of giving the Law on Mount Sinai. During that encounter with God there were dramatic signs—thunder, lightning, smoke, and fire (Exodus 19:16–24). Now, as God comes to the church in the Holy Spirit similar signs appear. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the words breath, wind, and spirit are all the same word. So it is not surprising the Spirit arrives as “a rush of a violent wind” (v. 2).

While fire might be feared, fire in the Hebrew Scriptures was understood to purify or cleanse. When Isaiah was called to be a prophet, hot coals from the fire were touched to his lips as a cleansing agent (Isaiah 6:5–8). Just as giving the law was a key founding event for the Jewish people, giving the Holy Spirit will start the church.

The noise of these events obviously draws a crowd. The text goes into some detail listing all the nations present. The people of Israel had hoped the Messiah would bring together Jews from all nations. Peter will connect this with prophecy suggesting they are in “the last days” (Acts 2:17). By the end of the book of Acts the Spirit will be leading the church not just to Jews of all nations but to all people of all nations. This passage connects Jewish expectation with God’s vision for an inclusive community that goes beyond Judaism.

For the gospel to go to the entire world, to every ethnic group, culture, and tribe, it will have to be taught in all languages. Some people have understood this passage to describe the speaking in tongues Paul talks about in his letter to the Corinthians. But the miracle of this story is that everyone could understand in their own languages. This is what continues to happen today as people are led by the Spirit to learn languages and share the gospel around the world.

Central Ideas

  1. The church is dependent on the Holy Spirit for its life.
  2. The Pentecost experience takes place among a diverse community, where all are invited to hear apostolic witness.
  3. The book of Acts is not so much the story of what the apostles did as it is the story of what the Holy Spirit came to do in and through the church.
  4. The same Peter who had denied Jesus three times, is now on fire with the Spirit and preaching the gospel so all the nations can understand. The Holy Spirit is prepared to do the same for us.

Questions to Consider

  1. What has the Holy Spirit done in your life and in the life of your congregation in the past? How has that Spirit led you beyond your human weaknesses?
  2. What is the Spirit doing in your life today and in the life of your congregation?
  3. How can you and your congregation be involved in bringing the gospel to all ethnic groups, cultures, and nations? What groups are present in your neighborhood or city?
  4. Have you sometimes felt despair in your life or in the life of the church, only to realize the Holy Spirit is breathing new life into you and the church?

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