Sunday, January 26 we talked about what it means to be an “Acts 2 Church.” I love what Bill Hybels says about the local church: “The local church is the hope of the world.”
Many Christians, and certainly non-Christians, don’t understand the importance of the church. Many say, “I love Jesus but I hate the church.” This, Ed Stetzer says, is like someone saying to a friend: “I love you but I hate your wife.” Paul in Ephesians 3:21, after a great prayer about how he prays the Christians in Ephesus will know how immense God’s love is, has this “throw away” line we often miss: “to Him be glory in the church.” The church is the glory of God, the presence of God in the world. That’s incredible. We get to be God’s glory in the world through the church. The church is not perfect, it is the glory of God who is perfect.
So in the sermon we saw the Holy Spirit as the star of Acts. I told a story about how when I was young, I had a Bible I highlighted in Acts, and I only highlighted verses on baptism. I missed everything else. The Holy Spirit is mentioned sixty plus times, while baptism only about a third of that. Not that counting words really helps us determine meaning, but missing sixty plus mentions of the Holy Spirit can sure make you miss meaning!
The Holy Spirit is a sign of the Restoration of Israel in the Church, a sign the Gentiles as well as Israel would be included, and a sign of rebirth, God’s love for all nations, forgiveness of sins, and continued presence of God.
I gave four points, each starting with Holy. The next one was Holy Baptism. Holy Baptism is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence coming upon us. As John Mark Hicks and I discuss in our book, Down in the River to Pray: Baptism as God’s Transforming Work, in our earlier lives we thought baptism was a line in the sand between us and other denominations. Many denominations baptize, but we argued how we baptize, the efficacy of it, whether or not it was necessary for salvation, etc. What we missed and many still miss who see baptism as a line in the sand between other denominations, or just something we do because God commanded without any deep understanding of the meaning, is that baptism is a touchstone of God’s presence in our lives. In a real way God’s Spirit comes upon us when we are baptized upon the name of Jesus, we’re forgiven of sins, we have a touchstone to look back to and remember as a divine moment like the moment Jesus was baptized and the Father said, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove.
The next is Holy Fellowship. Acts 2:41-47 describes an incredible fellowship unlike anything the world had seen, one that would lead to Jews and Gentiles worshiping together later in Acts. This Holy Fellowship is still important today, and the reason we take seriously the “all nations” part of our gatherings and openness to sharing good news with all people. It’s part of the gospel that it’s for all people and no one gets to be the dominant and holy people better than others. It’s now for all people.
Finally, Holy Spirit, Holy Baptism and Holy Fellowship are wrapped up in this one word: Church. The Holy Church is the bride of Christ, the continuing glory or presence of God in the world. That’s pretty heavy and significant for those who have ears to hear: we do not just have the Holy Spirit for a personal guide — though He does guide and counsel us — but the Holy Spirit shows us we are in the church, the glory of God in the world. This completely changes our view of the church and our calling, our mission.
In class we discussed Acts 2 and sent a group of three women and one guy out of the room to discuss how to act out in a skit the story of the Pentecost and the first church sharing all things in common. They humorously and joyfully acted the word, and in turn we were called to enact the word in our lives.
Meanwhile, we asked good questions of the text, and this is an important part of learning how to rightly divide the word, understand it for ourselves, in our faith journeys, our families, when we’re reading individually as well. Here are some of the questions and some responses I can give to them right now.
- Did Pentecost already exist as a festival of the Jews or was the day of baptisms in the first church now called Pentecost because of the Holy Spirit coming? Pentecost existed before the “birthday of the church.” It still exists in Judaism and it was originally the “Feast of Weeks” and Greek Jews called it Pentecost because it signified 50 days after the Passover. It was a harvest feast. There’s also a tie to the giving of the Ten Commandments. The church, however, has taken the day as the “birthday of the church” and the coming of the Holy Spirit, so the word, “Pentecostal” is important in many charismatic churches as the dawn of the new age of the Spirit. This is important in our church, too, as the beginning of the church, the coming of the Holy Spirit, what Jesus had told his disciples to wait for.
- Was it only the apostles who spoke on Pentecost in 12 languages? Weren’t there more countries/languages represented than that. I don’t know. You can count the languages or regions in Acts 2:9-12 but it’s hard to make it all work out to be 12 exactly and to know what languages and dialects existed. Then in v. 14 it says Peter stood up with the Eleven, so it seems for sure the 12 are leading things, but there’s no specific mention I can see that other disciples of the 120 (1:15) did not also speak. Acts 2:17, Luke quotes the prophet Joel saying “sons and daughters will prophesy.”
- Did the prophecy of Joel reflect the end times or the coming of the Holy Spirit. New Testament writers often used prophecies, psalms, Old Testament texts, to make their points. I believe Luke wanted to show what was happening is tied to prophecies, but it doesn’t mean Joel wasn’t referring to something else in his day. Prophecies are elastic by use in the Bible. They could mean something in the Old Testament times in which they were spoken, be used by a gospel or early church writer, then also mean something important for how the second coming of Christ will happen. I believe we can learn that what’s important is “the day of God’s coming” is something all God’s people in all times needed to learn how to expect and prepare for, whether in the Old Testament, in New Testament expectation of the Messiah and Restoration of Israel, or for us and the second coming.
- Are there two different ways the Bible speaks about tongues? Yes. One is intelligible, as in Acts 2, understood actual language, and unintelligible language spoken about in 1 Corinthians 11-14. Sometimes the word tongues in English is a different Greek word. There’s “glossa” and “dialectos” and both can be translated “tongues” but in 1 Corinthians 14 there’s another word inserted, “unknown.” Because of the situation in the church where it seems tongues were confusing people, and they needed translated, it has caused many to believe this means this second kind of tongue speaking, unintelligible, is a prayer language. There is wide disagreement about this, and some Christians speak in tongues, others do not. Paul took the position that this is not a huge and necessary practice like other gifts of the church, particularly gifts of hope, faith, and love.
- Were the events of Acts 2 in the temple courts or in a house? They started in the house, a big house from a report from John Stalcup, who gave us a report from his trip to the Holy Land, and that house still stands today. He said the room is huge, so 120 people and those amazed and perplexed could definitely fit. It seems later things progressed out into the temple courts and temple mount where they baptized in already established ritual washing baptisteries, and Acts 3:1 records Peter and John going up to the temple courts and Christians meeting there.
- How did the people of the temple, high priests, react. Read Acts 4. Not well.
- What is the symbolism of the Holy Spirit, fire, tongues, and wind? There is certainly a lot of symbolism that reminds us of God showing up in fire at the burning bush, a pillar of cloud over all of Israel, so I’m thinking about the tongues of fire over the 12 apostles just like he was over the 12 tribes, leading them forth. So also the Holy Spirit led the apostles forth. Wind is directly connected to the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word, Ruach, is one of the first words in the whole Bible: “. . . and the Spirit (Ruach) of God was hover over the waters.” Ruach here is like the word for wind or breath and that’s how the Spirit is expressed at various times in Scripture, as a wind.