A Healthy Church is Filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:1-13)
Around this time 13 years ago, I was a senior at Wheaton College. I was taking a class called “Holy Spirit and Ministry.” There I learned about the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” The teaching was that after a person becomes a believer, he/she will eventually hit a wall and stop growing, so you need a second experience to break that hurdle, overcome sin and be empowered for service. Some groups would add that the way you know this has happened is if you start to speak in ecstatic, heavenly utterances, known as tongues, sometimes even going as far as saying that you were not a believer if you did not speak in tongues.
And all you had to do was ask for it and wait in prayer. I was a believer for about 5 years at this point and I had hit a wall spiritually. So I began to pray for this experience. I wasn’t looking to speak in tongues or to do miracles, I just wanted more of God in my life. That was my only prayer request. One night I had a dream. I was sitting and praying in my gospel choir robe (I was a tenor in the Gospel Choir at Wheaton) next to the choir director. Then I looked up at what seemed to be rain and someone said, “It’s the Holy Spirit!” and in the middle of my vision, I saw a wallet-sized portrait of Jesus in black and white. Then I woke up and dismissed it thinking, “I am so consumed with this that I am even dreaming about it!”
Two weeks later, Gospel choir was singing at a church and afterward, they had a time of prayer. I prayed with someone and I was overcome with a lot of emotion over the deadness of my life. I felt like I saw all of my sin and filth rise up to the surface and then it felt like God took a hose and washed it away. Then all I could sense was love, flooding my heart. I was on my knees, praying. I looked over and saw my choir director next to me. I remembered the dream! And I felt like I experienced “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” I went around telling everyone to pray for it. I became Pentecostal!
However, being in this circle, I noticed that the people were often looking for emotional highs, mountaintop experiences and everything seemed to be so mystical, all the time. You often heard of stories of people falling backward, speaking in tongues, healing, etc. It is often very chaotic. And people who did not have such experiences were often looked down upon as second class Christians. It was always about the Spirit and looking for emotional experiences. There was no real digging in Scripture. They had a lot of heat (zeal and fervor), but little light.
In looking back, I am thankful for the experience. I would probably not call it a “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” (I’ll explain what this is in a second) today, but more like an encounter with the Lord that brought revival in my heart for a time. I am thankful for this experience because it gave me a more balanced approach understanding the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, once I went to seminary, there seemed to a tendency to go to the other extreme in regards to the Holy Spirit. People seemed afraid to talk about the Holy Spirit because of the abuse of the gifts of the Spirit and understanding of the Spirit. It was weird and strange and completely dismissed. So being afraid of the Spirit, Christianity becomes Father, Son and Holy Scriptures, instead. God gets put in a box with nice categories. God becomes more like a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, unable to move. But Scripture is taught well. We were told to break it apart and study it. However, it is more of an academic exercise. They have a lot of light, but little heat.
The power is in the balance. We need both heat and light. We could learn from the people in the first group. I love their passion. I love how they pray like they believe God. Have you ever noticed that groups where their main focus is on the Holy Spirit are the most ethnically diverse churches around? There is something to that we cannot simply dismiss (as we will see in this message as well). At the same time, we want to be grounded in the Scriptures. The Gospel is both heat and light. It is rational and yet mystical. We need balance.
Today I want to look at Acts 2:1-13. The message is titled, “A Healthy Church is filled with the Spirit.” What does this mean? What happened on the Day of Pentecost and what does it mean for us as a church?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT?
First of all, it means now you can experience God’s:
I. LIFE-GIVING POWER (vv.1-2)
We talked a lot about power the first week in Acts, so I don’t want to repeat myself. Notice in Acts 2:1 that it happened on the Day of Pentecost. This is was no accident. Pastor Kent Hughes notes that Pentecost was, “…fifty days after Passover, and that is what Pentecost means—“the fiftieth.” (It came literally as a week of weeks after Passover and was also called “The Feast of Weeks.”) Passover occurred in mid-April, so Pentecost was at the beginning of June. It was the best-attended of the great feasts because traveling conditions were at their best. There was never a more cosmopolitan gathering in Jerusalem than this one.” Pentecost was the second of the three great harvest festivals of Judaism, coming between Passover and Tabernacles. You would offer your first of the fruits of the harvest season to God. In one sense, the Holy Spirit coming down here is a like the beginning of a new season of harvest. Later in Jewish culture (not sure exactly when), the day of Pentecost also became associated with the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, which seems to be about 50 days since the Exodus from Egypt. I want us to see some parallels in Ex. 19:16ff. Notice the loud sounds and fire mentioned there as well as God “coming down.”
Who are the “they”? They are the 120 believers mentioned in Acts 1:15. Notice they were sitting. I always pictured them praying and waiting. They could have been praying or they could have just been sitting. In other words, the Spirit coming wasn’t something brought on by their praying, like they prayed so hard Heaven burst open. The Spirit came according to God’s timetable and plan and promise. Because He was coming, they wanted to be in a position to be ready to greet Him. That’s why they prayed.
This was an announcement of the Spirit coming. The Spirit came here because this was the time for the Spirit to come. And there had to be a beginning. Without the coming of the Spirit there would be no prophecy, no preaching, no mission, no conversions, and no worldwide Christian movement.” Warren Wiersbe says, “Like our Lord’s death at Calvary, Pentecost was a once-for-all event that will not be repeated…we would not ask for another Pentecost any more than we would ask for another Calvary.”
As they were sitting, they hear what sounds like the winds of a tornado. It was “like” the sound of a wind. I don’t think it was wind, but “like” the sound of the wind. So they did not feel wind like we do on a windy day. Their robes are not flapping around. It sounded like a mighty rushing win. This was something supernatural and not a weather phenomenon. Pastor John Macarthur says, “The supernatural activity of God is so utterly beyond the grasp of humans that the Bible writers have to employ similes to describe His manifestations to men (cf. Ezek. 43:2; Rev. 1:15).”
Wind is often associated with God’s presence and the Spirit (John 3:8 for ex.). It is also related to the “breath of God” (Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones coming alive with the breath of God in Eze. 37). Remember God breathed into dust and it became Adam? (Gen. 2:7). When God breathes, things come to life. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead. The coming of the Spirit means you have Him living in you as your life giving power. Look at Ezekiel 36:26-28. Hearts of stone are dead. He will make them come alive. Moses was given a tablet of the 10 commandments written by God’s finger, but God is going to write the law in our heart and His Spirit will help us obey. New power!
Have you ever learned your computer could do something months or years after you bought it? It was there the whole time. A lot of us live like that. The Spirit of God brings dead things alive. He lives in us and waits for us to open the file and run the application.
I was just thinking this week about how I was the last person growing up who people thought would be public speaking. I did not say a word in my classes. I was incredibly shy. I dreaded public speaking. So every time I am up here, I am reminded it is all God. I did not plan this for my life. He has made me alive. I am a valley of dry bones. It is His breath that has brought me alive!
I like what John Stott says here: “We must be careful, however, not to use this…as an excuse to lower our expectations, or to relegate to the category of the exceptional what God may intend to be the church’s normal experience. The wind and the fire were abnormal, and probably the languages too; the new life and joy, fellowship and worship, freedom, boldness and power were not.”
The Bible does not tell us to seek the baptism of the Spirit, but it does command us to be filled with the Spirit in Eph. 5:18. Again, the baptism of the Spirit is the Spirit of God placing you into the body of believers (1 Cor. 12:13). It something that happens to every believer at conversion. It has nothing to do with speaking in tongues or some amazing mystical experience. But the filling of the Spirit is to repeated. Why? Because we leak! Like Wiersbe says, “The baptism of the Spirit means that I belong to His body; the fullness of the Spirit means that my body belongs to Him.”
“There are no special Christians,” as R.C. Sproul Jr. said, “only a special Christ. We have no need to ask Him to give us more. We need only ask Him to help us see all that He has already given.”
In Eph. 5:18, “being filled with the Spirit” is a command that implies repetition, followed by several verbs that end in “ing” (called participles). The “ing” verbs tell us what the command looks like. First of all, those who would be filled with the Spirit must first empty themselves. That involves confession of sin and dying to selfishness and self-will. There is then inner music in your soul. This doesn’t mean you walk around talking to each other like you are in Les Mis, but it means the posture of your heart is that of worship. Gratitude is on the list. There is so much power in humbly giving thanks. Submission to others, meaning a desire to humbly serve others is there. It is interesting that he goes into marriage right after this. Being filled with the Spirit is the power for marriage. In fact, this is the power for all of life. The job of the Spirit is to glorify Christ right? In other words, He takes the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done (i.e. THE GOSPEL)—the glory of it, the weight of it and importance and beauty of it—to fill your heart.
The Holy Spirit waits to be depended on. It is not just at your quiet time where you need Him. He is your legs to walk through all of life. And when the Bible says, “Walk by the Spirit,” it means moment-by-moment awareness of God’s awareness of you. It is moment-by-moment, deciding to put your weight on Him. That’s how a baby learns to walk.
This week was a crazy one with our schedule. There were lots of things going on and Jenny and I organized and worked it through before the week began. Then on Wednesday, my car brakes weren’t working that well and I had the girls in the back seat. Thankfully we were safe by God’s grace, but here is an interruption to our neatly planned schedule. I knew I had to take the car in and our schedule was already crazy. Panic filled my heart. Then anxiety about the costs and inconveniences of my schedule filled my heart. We will have 10,000 moments like that in a week. Walking by the Spirit and being filled by the Spirit is redeeming those moments.
The Spirit of God will call you to bend your heart to your Father. You take a deep breath and pray your fears. He is deeply attracted to weakness. And I am slow to do this because I ignore that gentle nudge. I am afraid that it won’t work. That is my flesh and pride. So I prayed. So I am thankful this week I was a little faster in bending my heart to Him during that moment of crisis. I thanked God I was home safely. I thanked God that Jenny remembered we have warranty on those brakes. I thanked God that He has taken care of us before and that my ultimate crisis of being lost forever was taken by Him. This is being Spirit-filled. It is there you find power to live life. Then 20 minutes later when I was back again worried, bent my heart again. God did take care of it once again. What areas do you see that you are not putting your weight on Him and as a result, you are powerless? Secondly, being Spirit-filled means you can now experience God’s:
II. WONDER-PRODUCING PRESENCE (v.3)
After the auditory manifestation, there was a visual manifestation: “divided tongues as of fire appeared and rested on each of them.” Notice “as of.” It looked like fire. It wasn’t actual fire. Whenever God’s glory presence shows up, it shows up as fire. Genesis 15, Abraham saw God as a blazing torch. Moses saw God in the burning bush (Ex. 3). On Mt. Sinai, we saw God come down as fire and smoke. When He is leading the people of Israel through the wilderness, He leads them through a pillar of fire. The people were terrified. Ezekiel also saw the glory of God as fire (Ezek. 1:13-14). It was overwhelming and fatal, sometimes. Often God being a consuming fire was a picture of judgment (Deut. 4:24; 9:3).
See what’s happened now at Pentecost? Every believer is now a burning bush. The glory and presence of God has now come into every single believer. That presence that was once fatal comes on every one and rests upon them, without consuming them in judgment. Notice everyone! Remember the 12 apostles were in that room. It’s not just for them. It’s for everyone! Notice throughout that people around are amazed, astonished, perplexed and bewildered. It was a miracle. A lot of it we find out is mockery, but at the same time, there is wonder. Not only wonder among the people around, I am sure the 120 were filled with even more wonder. Wonder about what? About the gospel, the ultimate mighty work of God (v.11). Peter will say later that this was a fulfillment of prophecy as well (Acts 2:16ff).
But when the Holy Spirit fills you, you have newfound wonder because of God’s presence. Ezekiel 36:28 says that the Sprit living in us will help us recognize that “you shall be my people and I will be your God.” New intimacy. Listen to Rom. 8:15-16. The Spirit of God wants to make your sonship a fiery reality. Imagine if I was walking with my daughter down the street and then suddenly I pick her up in my arms. Legally, whether in my arms or walking on the street, she is my daughter. Nothing will change that. However, when I sweep her up into my arms, she has experientially realized what it means to be my child. When the Spirit God fills you, it sensing your Father’s arms experientially and that burns in your heart, leaving you in wonder. Keller gives us this example.
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), an English writer…talks about why children’s lives are better than adults. Children never say, “Life stinks.” Or, “What is the meaning of my life?” because their life is filled with wonder. The more our life is filled with wonder, the more meaningful it is. It takes hardly anything to fill a child with wonder. My 2 year old last night was so fascinated with the moon out!
But have you noticed that their sense of wonder wears off. The older one gets the harder it is to fill the heart with wonder. What is the difference in response between taking a 4 y/o and a 14 y/o to the zoo? It takes more and more to fill the heart with wonder. Things have to get bigger and bigger. This is bad because without wonder, we lose the meaning of life.
Our hearts are created for wonder. This is why we go to the Niagra Falls or the Grand Canyon. You might think it is awesome to live near these great wonders of the world. However, if you ever talk to people who live near the Niagra Falls, they will tell you something. They don’t hear the sound of the water anymore. Why? They have gotten too familiar.
Western society is the most wonder killing culture in all of civilization. So-called “brilliant” professors in major universities may explain that love and beauty are just chemical reactions, that it’s how we are wired, that it’s evolutionary biology. This kills the wonder of life. Since our worldview no longer has wonder, we steal it through art, stories, literature, plays and movies. I would also add technology and new technology.
We go to the stupidest summer blockbuster movies. They are poorly acted, with poor character development, but with spectacular special effects. We laugh at them later, yet in the midst of the movie excitement, our heart races. Why? We need that wonder, though it is fleeting. Why do millions love Harry Potter books? (or Narnia or why people killed themselves after seeing Avatar?) It’s because our heart knows that this world is not all there is. Our heart is crying for some mysterious power out there to rescue us out of our sense of doom, hopelessness, impossible situation. Our heart desperately longs for that sense of wonder that is so lacking in our lives and in the world, even if our intellect denies and rejects it.
The Bible is a story for us that is the ultimate story because it is true. If we believe it, our whole life will be permeated with wonder. This is a wonder that will fill every area of our life with meaning, a wonder that lasts, not a fleeting wonder that fades away as in a movie.
Have you lost the wonder of your sonship? The Spirit of God wants that to be a fiery reality again. A believer full of wonder does not think he understands the gospel. A believer full of wonder says, “I haven’t even begun to truly understand the gospel.” The believer who says that has understood the gospel. Listen to Sam Storms: “What makes life livable is enjoying the joy that comes from knowing that you are enjoyed by God.” When you experience your sonship in the Father’s arms, the Spirit helps you say, “Someone as all-powerful as God loves me like this? And He delights in me, going to infinite depths and lengths to save me at infinite costs to Himself? He says He will never let me go and nothing on earth or Heaven or time and eternity will ever make Him lose me? He will hold on to me, transform me and one day will make everything sad come untrue? Then why am I worried about money? Why am I fearful?” When was the last time He filled your heart with wonder of your salvation? You have wind and you have fire. Put those together, you have a blaze! So lastly, being Spirit-filled means:
III. GOSPEL-SPREADING PROCLAMATION (vv.4-13)
When the Spirit fills you, you have life-giving power in your heart and a deep sense of your identity, but your mouth begins to talk and you tell others. Once again, God pulls you in only to send you out. They began to speak in “other tongues.” These seem to be known, but unlearned languages and something different from what Paul talks about in 1 Cor. 12-14. Those seem to be some kind of ecstatic utterances. Here they are languages spoken in the world. It also does not seem like it was a permanent thing. I don’t see anywhere that this gift (whether miraculously speaking unlearned language or some kind of ecstatic utterance) has ceased, but I do not think Scripture teaches that every believer needs to speak in tongues. Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthians 12, “Do all have the gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues?” (1 Cor. 12:30), implying that the answer is no. By the way, notice that the Ephesians passage does not mention speaking in tongues as evidence of being filled with the Spirit. Even if you look at Acts: Acts 4:8, 31, 6:5; 7:55; 9:17; and 13:9 all record instances where speaking in tongues did not accompany the filling with the Spirit. Paul also says it should edify the body, so it should be accompanied by an interpreter. If you can’t find one, do it at home and not at church.
I think what’s happening is that they leave their room and fill the streets. The 120 were not babbling in utter chaos. They were not doing weird things like falling backward or barking or laughing. Notice they were talking about “the mighty works of God.” In the OT, it was about the miraculous way God saved His people. In the NT, it meant the Gospel, the miracle of miracles. They were talking about the Gospel, but in other known languages (v.11). People must have gathered around in the streets by this time hearing the loud noise of the wind. It was a busy time because Jews who were scattered around from different places were visiting because it was Pentecost. “Every nation under heaven” does not mean every single nation, but it’s an expression meaning people were there from everywhere. The territories Luke listed all had extensive Jewish communities.
What amazed them the most was that all those who were speaking were Galileans. That was shocking to the sophisticated city dwellers, who viewed rural Galileans as ignorant and uneducated. Notice Luke mentions a list of nations. Why take up all space to tell us how many different people groups were around? A list of nations and lots of languages? Hmmm…remember?
Back in Gen. 10-11, we see a list of different nations. In Gen. 11, people had one language and got together and tried to create a new religion and a new tower to reach Heaven. They were arrogant, proud and defiant of God. God judged them. How? They had one language, but they couldn’t understand each other. So they stopped the project. Genesis 11 they had one language and couldn’t understand each other. Our pride and arrogance lifts us up and divides each other.
Now in Acts 2, people are speaking different languages, but they could understand each other! Why? God has reversed the curse of Babel. God comes down not man going up. Wiersbe adds, “God’s judgment at Babel scattered the people, but God’s blessing at Pentecost united the believers in the Spirit. At Babel, the people were unable to understand each other; but at Pentecost, men heard God’s praises and understood what was said. The Tower of Babel was a scheme designed to praise men and make a name for men, but Pentecost brought praise to God. The building of Babel was an act of rebellion, but Pentecost was a ministry of humble submission to God. What a contrast!”
What was God doing here? What were once barriers caused by our sin are now broken. The Church is now the place for people to experience the undoing of the curse of the human race at Babel under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And one day we will see people from every tongue and tribe and nation doing what? Giving praise to Jesus Christ! (Rev. 7:9). John Piper adds, “It was the spectacular sin on the plains of Shinar [Babel] that gave rise to the multiplying of languages that ends in the most glorious praise to Christ from every language on earth.” The Gospel redeemed one of the worst of human pride and now breaks through all human barriers, uniting people and spreading everywhere. One commentator notes, “The Spirit gave the Christians many languages, all the languages represented by the nationalities listed in vv. 9–11. And is this not how the Spirit continues to work? He empowers Christian witnesses to take the gospel to the many different languages of the world to create a worldwide people of God, united by a common confession in the lordship of Christ.”
Isn’t it amazing that the first time people are preaching the gospel after the Ascension that is in every language at once? What is God saying? No language or culture has precedence in the Christian faith. Christianity comes into every culture and renews the culture while respecting that culture. It doesn’t get rid of the culture, but demotes it as being one’s primary identity. So you are not an African who happens to be a Christian, for example. You are a Christian, who happens to be African. God refuses to let one culture to take precedence over another.
We should never take our culture and Christianity in our culture and say this is real Christianity. The way we do church is the “real” Christianity. That is Babel all over again. Jenny and I were in South Africa once on a missions trip and service was six hours long, people were dancing in circles and we had no idea what was going on. They will probably feel the same way in our church. But that’s no longer what’s important. It is Christ now. It is the Gospel. And it is the Gospel for the whole world. “The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions,” said Henry Martyn, “and the nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we must become.”
Notice what people accused them of: “they are filled with wine” (v.13). Paul actually says in Eph. 5:18: “Don’t be drunk with wine.” Did this mean that they were acting foolishly? I don’t think so. No, the fruit of the Spirit is ‘self-control’, not the loss of it.I think they sensed a joyful fearlessness, like a drunk person. They were too joyful to think of what others think. When the life giving, wonder producing power and presence of God fills your heart, you have a boldness like you never had before.
Tim Keller notes that the Holy Spirit does not do fill us like alcohol does. Alcohol is a depressant. It doesn’t mean you get depressed, but getting drunk depresses part of your brain function. The reason you’re happy when you’re drunk is because you’re stupid. You are less aware of reality. The things that bothered you when you were fully aware don’t bother you because you can’t think straight. The Holy Spirit gives you joy through intelligence. He shows you all of reality of God’s bigness and the Gospel. And then the things that were bothering you become small. The Gospel was controlling them and it made them fearless.
A healthy church is filled with the Spirit. In Ex. 19, people were freaking out when God spoke. The fire could have easily killed them all. They sent Moses to be their mediator and Moses would offer prayers on the mountain. Why is this fire not fatal to these believers and to us? Because the fire of judgment came down on Jesus Christ. He went under the fire of God’s wrath, consumed for our sin, so now God’s fire of the Spirit comes into us as warmth and love. Notice no mention of fear here with the believers. We have a new man on the mountain. He was the perfect mediator being God and man. We have a better Moses. He didn’t just offer prayers, but He gave His life for our sin. He lost His Father’s arms, so we can have it. He gave up His Sonship, so we can always experience it. He left His world of wonder and experienced darkness and gloom on the cross, so our lives will never be devoid of wonder ever again.
We now have a life-giving power within us, a wonder-producing fiery presence of God and we get a new obsession to spread the Gospel regardless of every human barrier. There is a prayer song by a guy named the late Keith Green that went like this:
My eyes are dry, my faith is old
My heart is hard, my prayers are cold.
And I know how I ought to be—
Alive to You and dead to me.
Oh, what can be done with an old heart like mine?
Soften it up, with oil and wine!
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love,
Please wash me anew in the wine of Your blood.
Hughes, R. K. (1996). Acts: The Church Afire. Preaching the Word (30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (97). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (50). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Witherington, B., III. (1998). The Acts of the Apostles: A socio-rhetorical commentary (129). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Ac 2:1). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (39). Chicago: Moody Press.
Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World. The Bible Speaks Today (60). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Stott, J. R. W. (61).
Wiersbe, W. W. (Ac 2:2).
Sproul Jr., R.C. “Turning it up to 11 or why the means of grace rock the house,” http://rcsprouljr.com/blog/the-kingdom-notes/turning-11-means-grace-rock-house/ accessed 19 January 2013.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (40). Chicago: Moody Press.
Taken from the sermon by Tim Keller, “The Wonder of Laughter,” http://westloop-church.org/messages/old-testament/15-genesis/176-the-wonder-of-laughter-genesis-189-15 accessed 18 January 2013.
Storms, S. “The Singing God,” http://goo.gl/cz7vb accessed 18 January 2013.
Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (103). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (43).
Wiersbe, W. W. (Ac 2:2).
Piper, J. (2009). “The Tower of Babel and The Praise of Christ,” Sermons from John Piper (2000-2009). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.
Polhill, J. B. (106).
Wiersbe, W. W. (Ac 2:2).
Stott, J. R. W. (64-65).