In this famous text, Jesus pours out His Spirit on His people, and the apostles, led by Peter, begin to testify boldly that Jesus is risen from the dead and is Lord and Christ of the world.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing, mighty wind, and it filled the house…” (Acts 2:1-36)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
On the day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover (Lev. 23:16), the sound of a great wind filled the place where the disciples were meeting and flames of fire appeared over each of them, and they began speaking in other languages (Acts 2:1-4). Since it was one of the great feasts of Israel, there many visitors in Jerusalem from at least 13 regions, “out of every nation under heaven,” and they were amazed and bewildered to hear these Galileans speaking about the mighty works of God in their native languages (Acts 2:5-12).
Some mocked them as being drunk, but Peter stood up with the other apostles, and said that they were not drunk but what they were witnessing had been foretold by the Prophet Joel concerning God’s Spirit and the Day of the Lord (Acts 2:13-21). This pouring out of the Spirit is proof that the man Jesus of Nazareth whom they had recently killed was alive from the dead (Acts 2:22-24).
David had foretold both that the Messiah would not remain in the grave/Hades, and that his descendant would be the Messiah who would sit on his throne (Acts 2:25-30). Peter says that these are prophesies of the resurrection: the apostles are witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead and the Spirit is proof that He is at God’s right hand and therefore, God has made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:31-36).
THE DAY OF PENTECOST
The day of Pentecost is full of imagery that communicates what God is up to. The rushing wind is reminiscent of the original creation when the “wind/Spirit” of God hovered over the darkness (Gen. 1:2). It is reminiscent of the wind that blew over the earth after the flood, preparing a new world for Noah (Gen. 8:1). It reminds us of the rushing mighty wind that blew all night long, causing the waters of the Red Sea to pile up like walls and create dry ground for Israel to pass through (Ex. 14:21). In Ezekiel, it’s the mighty Spirit-wind that causes the dry bones to become a living army (Ez. 37:9-10). Or we might remember that the Lord finally spoke to Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1). All of these signal to us themes of new creation.
But the fire is also part of the messaging: God’s presence was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night for Israel as they left Egypt and passed through the wilderness (Ex. 13:21-22, Num. 14:14). It was that same fire presence that came down on Mt. Sinai, and then rested above the tabernacle and later filled the temple at its dedication by Solomon (Ex. 19:18, 40:34-38, 1 Kgs. 8:10-11). A whirlwind and chariots and horses of fire that took Elijah into Heaven (2 Kgs. 2:11). And finally, the different languages signify both a sort of overcoming of Babel as well as a similar sort of judgment (Is. 28:11, Joel 2:28-30, 1 Cor. 14:21-22). The fire proclaims the fierceness of God’s presence: His holiness, His righteousness and justice. Think of the burning bush, but now people are His holy ground.
THE TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT
Remember Jesus had quoted John who said He was going to baptize the apostles with the Spirit and fire (Mt. 3:11) in order to give the apostles the particular power of being His witnesses – particularly of His resurrection – beginning in Jerusalem all the way to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4-5, 8). And so Peter’s sermon begins to do just that, beginning by citing the Prophet Joel who foretold the Day of the Lord, describing the end of a nation/era using apocalyptic, world-ending language like other prophets and marked by the Spirit speaking through visions and dreams and prophesying (Joel 2:28-30, cf. Is. 13, Ez. 32).
Peter turns immediately to preaching Jesus, whom he says was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). It’s worth noting that Peter proclaims what we believe, which is that God has ordained and predestined every single detail of whatsoever comes to pass (cf. Eph. 1:11, Mt. 10:29-30) and yet God does no evil and human beings are fully responsible for their own choices (cf. Js. 1:13, 1 Jn. 1:5). It’s also worth noting that Peter says that all the Jews gathered in front of him collectively, covenantally crucified Christ, even though some of them were no doubt not personally present or directly involved.
For the rest of the message Peter cites three Psalms of David as additional support for what is happening: first, David prophesied of One who would die but not see any decay in the grave (Ps. 16:8-11), second, God’s promise that One from David’s line would sit on David’s throne forever (Ps. 132:11-12), and finally, since David had died and all of his descendants, he must have been talking about a descendant who was his superior, David’s own “Lord” and that Lord was offered a seat at God’s own right hand (Ps. 110:1). Peter musters these texts to proclaim that by His resurrection, God has proclaimed Jesus to be Lord and Messiah of Israel (Acts 2:36).
It really is striking to read this sermon from Peter, who only a few weeks previous had denied the Lord Jesus. Jesus had restored Peter (Jn. 21), but what accounts for this sudden “boldness?” The answer of course is the Holy Spirit, but notice what the Spirit of Jesus is driving and empowering Peter with: Scripture. The Word of God is the flammable material that the Spirit loves to ignite. And when it goes up, it goes up with boldness and courage.
If Peter can drive this message right into the midst of the Jews, then this message can be driven right into the center of every human heart. Even if we are not part of that covenant people, we have our own covenantal allegiances, and our covenant people would have done the same thing as the house of Israel. But God has raised Jesus from the dead and made Him both Lord and Christ. So what will you do with this? Whose side are you on?