The Experience of Pentecost: Acts 2:42-47

The meaning of Pentecost will remain hidden until we note the similarities and contrasts between Moses and Jesus, between Mount Sinai and Mount of Olives, between the giving of the law and the giving of the Spirit, between the first and the second covenants. Both Moses and Jesus ascended to meet with God the Father. God's people were told to wait for their return. While Moses was absent the people disobeyed and 3000 were slain, while Jesus was absent His disciples obeyed and 3000 were saved. The events of that first Pentecost when the Lord gave the Holy Spirit to the Church were as unique as the Day Moses brought the Law of God under the First Covenant. Not only is there a link between the two covenants, there is a vital link between Good Friday and Pentecost.

Some Christians today give the impression that we each need our Pentecost experience. I believe this is as misguided as to teach that the Jesus is still suffering on the cross. You cannot separate Pentecost from the cross, the resurrection, or the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without the Cross there would have been no Pentecost.

These four historical events were unique and unrepeatable. Before his crucifixion Jesus had promised his disciples that he would send another counsellor, a comforter like Jesus who would be in them and with them forever. Sometimes dramatic, his presence is usually imperceptible, marked not by dramatic signs but by the gentle fruit of the Spirit revealed in changed lives - people becoming like Jesus. That's why he came. Pentecost was an unrepeatable unique historical event.

No longer limited by space and time, after his ascension Jesus promised he would be present with everyone who believes and trusts in Him. When we put our trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to bring all the privileges of belonging to God's family into our lives.

Quite often talks and sermons about the meaning of Pentecost dwell on the individual experience. This evening I want us instead to reflect upon what kind of impact the Holy Spirit has when he fills, equips and empowers a church. I want us to ask the question, "What is the community of Jesus like when the Holy Spirit is present in power?"

Toward the end of Acts 2 Luke describes the hallmarks of a Spirit led community, the foundation stones of an apostolic church. They are fourfold - instruction, fellowship, worship and evangelism.

1. Instruction 2:42
A Spirit-filled community is first distinguished by its instruction. The very first thing we are told about the newly constituted church is that it was a learning and a studying church. They were not revelling in some mystical experience which led them to suppose that instruction was superfluous. They were not rolling on the floor or shaking or making animal noises.

Despite popular today, there is no evidence that God gave them gold teeth either. They did not imagine that because they had received the Holy Spirit , they could dispense with human teachers. They devoted themselves to the Apostle's teaching, and in so doing submitting themselves to the Apostle's authority. They were the teachers Jesus had appointed in the church, an authority endorsed by their power to work miracles (2:43). We rightly call the book of Acts the 'acts of the apostles.' All the miracles that are recorded in the Acts were done by the apostles except for two (These were done by Philip and Stephen who themselves were apostolic delegates and had apostolic hands laid on them.) It important to remember the major purpose of miracles in Scripture.

They authenticated this fresh stage of revelation. That's why signs clustered around Moses, around the prophets, around Jesus, and around the apostles. And that is why Paul refers to his miracles as 'the signs of a true apostle' (2 Cor 12:12). The apostles' authority was endorsed by miracles and to that authority the early church submitted, learning and listening to their teaching. The apostles' doctrine today is found in the NT, in which, in its definitive form, it has been bequeathed to the church.

A church that is led by the Spirit and filled with the Spirit will always submit to that authority. The same is true of the individual. Among the evidences of the Spirit-filled Christian are his hunger for the Scripture, and a humble submissiveness to the authority of God's written word.

A Christian who enjoys meditating privately on God's Word, enjoys coming to Bible study groups, is regular in attendance at services on Sunday, and is deeply concerned about conforming his life in every way to the standards of God's word , is most likely a Christian filled with the Spirit. One who doesn't, most likely isn't. Lets devote ourselves to the apostles teaching, in our quiet times, in Bible studies, in our church services. The word of God has primacy above all else.

2. Fellowship 2:42
The second mark of the Spirit-filled community is its fellowship. "Koinonia" describes primarily our common participation in God. It is what we hold in common, in particular with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3). It is this communion with God that makes us one. We read that they had all things in common. Their koinonia was expressed not only in what they shared in but in what they shared out. They were generous with one another. They recognised that they belonged together as brothers and sisters (2:44), voluntarily sharing their resources according to need. The emphasis here is upon 'voluntarily.' There was no compulsion or forced communist dogma. Every Christian must make his private, conscientious decision before God concerning his possessions.

We are stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to us. All I wish to note is that they were generous and charitable toward those in need. Christian fellowship is about caring and caring will lead to sharing, our time, our gifts and our resources. Koinonia means sharing with others what God has given you. Lets so love one another than people in Virginia Water are envious of the stability and commitment of our relationships. Instruction, fellowship.

3. Worship 2:42
The third mark of the Christian church is its worship. Re-read Acts 2:42. In the Greek the definite article comes before both phrases indicating that what is meant is the Lord's Supper on the one hand and 'the' prayers - that is collective meetings for prayer on the other. The balance of the worship of the Spirit-filled church is noteworthy - being both formal and informal. It took place in both the temple and believers' homes.

Those early Spirit-filled Christians did not immediately abandon the traditional institutional services although it is most unlikely that they participated any longer in the temple sacrifices as they had already begun to understand that these had been fulfilled in Jesus' sacrifice. They did however attend the temple prayer services. According to Acts 3:1, Peter and John went to the temple at the hour of prayer. They weren't going up as tourists, they were going to pray. But they also supplemented the temple services with their more spontaneous and informal prayer meetings.

Those impatient with the inherited structures of the church could learn a valuable lesson here. Its saddening to see the attempts at polarisation between formal and dignified services in the church and informal and spontaneous meetings in homes. Why must we polarise? It's a very healthy thing, at least in the life of the local church, for both to exist.

We need the dignity of formal services to worship God and we need to supplement them with other more exuberant worship. The traditionalists need to be enticed into the exuberant worship of the young, and the young need the experience of the formal dignity of services in church. Both are needed and can compliment the other. The Holy Spirit's way with the institution of the church is more 'patient reform' than 'impatient rejection.' Early Christian worship was both formal and informal, both joyful and reverent. There is no doubt of their joy (2:46). They praised God with jubilation for his mighty works through Jesus Christ.

The fruit of the Spirit is always joy. Geoffrey Fisher, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, said, "The longer I live the more convinced I am that Christianity is one long shout of joy." But if joy is an authentic part of Spirit-filled worship, so is fear or reverence. Luke says in 2:43, that fear came upon every one, meaning both the converted ands the unconverted. In other words their joy was never irreverent. Fear is not the fear of terror but the fear of reverence. God was in their midst and, knowing that, they bowed down before him in awe and wonder.

It is naive and wrong to think that whereever the Holy Spirit is present in power there is nothing but noise - shouting, clapping, timbrels and dancing. Often when the Holy Spirit is present in power there is quietness, silence, reverence and awe. Psalm 11:4 says, "The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them." Habakkuk 2:20 says, "But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." This is the way that the still small voice of God is heard. How beautifully balanced was this early Spirit-filled worship - the formal and the informal - the joyful and the reverent. One was not without the other.

4. Evangelism 2:47
The fourth mark of a Spirit-filled community is evangelism. What ever else the tongues of Acts 2 were, they were first and foremost known languages - a means to evangelism because people from all over the world heard the gospel in their own tongue. These manifestations were clearly known languages, Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Latin. Their testimony brought dramatic results. Read 2:47. Notice first that the Lord Jesus did it. The Lord added to their number. There is no doubt that he did it through the witness and example of the early Christians. Nevertheless it was his work for only Jesus can add to the church. Our evangelism, as with our instruction, fellowship and worship must be God-centred not man-centred. We are the work of God and exist for the glory of God. Second, notice that what he did was more than save. He added those who were being saved to the church.

There was no solitary lone-wolf Christianity in those days. He didn't save them without adding them to the church and he didn't add them to the church without saving them first. That is why it is impossible to be a Christian without at the same time being part of a local church. There is no salvation apart from the Body of Christ. If you are united with Christ you are part of his body. Jesus does this double work - saving and adding. Third notice when he did it. Daily - day by day. Their evangelism was not an occasional or sporadic thing. It was as continuous as their worship. Day by day, they were attending the temple, breaking bread, praising God (2:46). Day by day they were praising God and he added to their number daily. These are the marks of a biblical church and goals for any church wanting to be apostolic.

Were the events of the Day of Pentecost a miracle? Yes. A unique miracle? In the historical sense - yes, Pentecost was unrepeatable.

But experientially, no. You are unique. There is no one in the world like you. Illustration from John Baxter... You are special because God the Father has made you, the Lord Jesus Christ died to save you, and the Holy Spirit breathed His life into you. He has a plan for your life. He wants you to be his disciple, a fisherman too. He wants you to introduce others to Jesus. There is no greater privilege. He equips you with all His good gifts to do it. The question is are we willing?

So how can I know when I am filled with His Spirit?
What am I like on the inside? Clean or dirty? Am I sorry for the past?
Am I trusting Him with the future? Am I serving in His Church?
Am I sharing Him with His world?

These are the proof, the signs of the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. He has not changed His plans this Pentecost. No matter how apparently insignificant we may feel, empowered by His Spirit, we can make a world changing contribution. The next time you feel small and insignificant, remember the butterfly effect, and trust God. Remember that Jesus said, even "the gates of hell" are no match for the tidal power of his church. Lets pray.

"Blessed Spirit of the Lord, forgive us for neglecting you, and grieving you by our proud self sufficiency, by resisting your influence and quenching your fire. Make our hearts tenderly impressionable, then turn us as wax to the seal, and stamp within us the image of the Son, Amen."

I am grateful to John Stott for material used in this sermon