GOD’S MEANS TO GOSPEL ENDS
1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”
— Acts 2:1-13, ESV
New Year’s Eve, 1879, was an unusual night. It was then that Thomas Edison, the inventor from Menlo Park, New Jersey unveiled his electric light bulb by illuminating the street near his city’s train terminal. People were amazed, and rightly so, for there had never been anything like it before.
This morning, as the first to arrive at our church facility, the first thing I did was turn on the lights. Andrea was not impressed. You all came in and took it for granted, no big deal. The transformative invention of Edison has now become normative for people in the civilized world. We may not think much about Edison nor understand how he invented the light bulb, but none of us live in the dark, do we?
So it was when “the day of Pentecost” dawned on the first church. It was a most unusual, highly transformative day. What began as a time of worship became one of the greatest episodes of evangelism in ecclesiastical history. People were amazed, and rightly so, for there had never been anything like it before.
This pattern of worship and witness should be so engrained in the church today that we don’t even have to think about it. When the sun rises upon the Lord’s Day, the true Christian should be drawn to the house of God like swallows returning to Capistrano. But let us also remember that our experience in worship should equip and motivate us to witness the gospel to others we encounter during the week. God has invented this means, gathering for worship and Bible study, being filled with the Holy Spirit, with the end in sight of sharing the gospel with the whole world.
It began in earnest on this day.
The Unusual Day
The day of Pentecost began with a beckon to worship. It was commanded of able bodied Jewish males to gather in Jerusalem for worship three times a year at the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost, which means “fifty,” seven weeks and a day after Passover), and the Feast of Booths (which included “Yom Kippur,” the Day of Atonement).
On the Christian side of the equation, Jesus had commanded His disciples to remain in Jerusalem after His ascent into Heaven, which occurred approximately forty days after His Passover-timed death, burial, and resurrection. Hanging out in the capital city for another ten days after the recent hostilities of the Jews toward Jesus was no small feat of courage. But the first believers obeyed and gathered on the Day of Pentecost to worship.
To obey God is to worship God, publicly and privately. To worship God is to obey God, in the moment and in the overflow. Think of what those 120 members of the first church would have missed had they forsaken the assembly of themselves together (ref. Hebrews 10:25).
But they did not miss church on this day, this most unusual day, when God poured out His Spirit upon His people in a most unusual way. The unbounded and unbodied third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, has only appeared twice, as far as we know. At the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit was seen as something “like a dove” (ref. Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). Here, at the baptism of the first church, the Spirit was viewed as “divided tongues as of fire.”
Was Jesus indwelled by the Holy Spirit before His baptism? Of course He was. Were the first Christians regenerated and indwelled by the Holy Spirit before Pentecost? Sure they were. But just as the baptism of Jesus inaugurated His public ministry, so the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost embarked the church on her great commission to take the whole gospel to the whole world.
Out of their worship came their witness. Their obedient worship at Pentecost filled them with the Holy Spirit (notice it does not say they received the Holy Spirit but that they were filled with the Holy Spirit). They received the special gift from God of “tongues,” “glossolalia,” which will reoccur in the New Testament but is only defined here as the supernatural ability to speak the gospel so that people can understand, “each of us in his own native language (dialect).” Such sign gifts seem to have ceased after the Apostolic age (ref. 1 Corinthians 13:8).
Nevertheless the first church received this unusual gift on this unusual day and enjoyed unusual success. Some mocked them, accusing them of drunkenness (yes, the wine in biblical days was intoxicating). Many others, as we shall see later in the chapter, listened, repented, believed, and became worshipers of Jesus and witnesses for Christ in their own right.
Just as the Son of God changed the Jewish ritual of Passover to the Christian observance of Holy Week (frequently called Easter), so the Holy Spirit of God has changed the feast of Pentecost into a constant reminder of the Christian’s and Christian churches’ purpose on earth, to worship the Lord Jesus Christ and witness to others the soul-saving gospel He died to give. And we cannot do either, without genuine faith in Christ and the fulness of the Holy Spirit.
The Usual Way
Born from this unusual day, this is the usual way for the church to gather and grow. Spirit-filled worshipers become witnesses to the world of “the mighty works of God.” And make no mistake, salvation does not come by any work we can do for God, but the “mighty works” God has done for us through Jesus Christ our Lord. The virgin birth, the sinless life, the substitutionary death on the cross, the subsequent resurrection on the third day, these are the things the church needs to tell the world.
Worship and witness is the way the gospel of Jesus Christ spreads from person to person, country to country, church to world. Worship serves to keep our minds right, our hearts warm, our wills engaged in love and obedience to Christ. The Holy Spirit has an affinity for churches who are “all together in one place” on the Lord’s Day, who magnify the gospel in word and sacrament, who love the Lord, one another, and the lost world. Witness is merely an overflow of this overabundance of word and Spirit.
Worship, public and private, shows our love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Worship can only be loving and edifying if it is “in Spirit and truth” (ref. John 4:24), when born again believers gather and worship according to the principles established in the word of God. Then, what should usually happen, Spirit-filled believers are Spirit-empowered to witness the gospel to family and friends, neighbors and even occasional strangers, those who mock and those appointed to eternal life (ref. Acts 13:48).
Witnessing shows our love for other people. It obeys the great commandments, loving God and loving our neighbors. It is the greatest love we can have for others, demonstrating that we care about their bodies and souls, especially their eternal souls. And while it is unusual for a lost person to be saved, since the broad road is much more traveled than the narrow road, no one can be saved unless we who are point the way.
Spirit-filled worship and witness are God’s means to the end of spreading the gospel throughout the whole world. It happened in an unusual way for the early church on Pentecost. It should be happening every Lord’s Day and every other day in the church of our day. The lights are on as we worship and the Holy Spirit is present among us. May He fill us to the brim as we worship, and overflow with witness to the people we meet along life’s journey. Be God’s means to their gospel ends.