The Holy Spirit Makes the Difference | Acts 2:1-4
By John Fitzsimmons
Pastor, Sligo City Church
Just before promising his disciples the Holy Spirit Jesus said in John 14:12; “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
What did Jesus mean by this statement? Obviously he couldn’t have meant greater in wonder because no one has ever shown more power over nature than Jesus... He couldn’t have meant greater in significance because it doesn’t get any more significant than being crucified for the sins of the world... And he couldn’t have meant greater as in more miraculous because it doesn’t get any more miraculous than rising from the dead, defeating Satan, sin and death, and then ascending up to heaven to reign forever more... So it must mean something else. It must mean greater as in wider impact!
When Jesus lived on this earth he never travelled more than 200 miles from home... His earthly ministry therefore was restricted... he could only be in one place at one time in a small part of the world. However when the Holy Spirit came he ignited a movement and empowered the Church to do the works Jesus did on a global scale. Since the Holy Spirit has come Christians can be ministering all over the world to different people into different situations at the same time! Paul said in Colossians 1:6 “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.” Even as we meet today people’s lives are being transformed by the Spirit of God all over the world. God is empowering his people all over the world to do the works of Jesus through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit! And we can join in and impact the world around us because the same Holy Spirit has been promised to us. Listen to these words from Peter in Acts 2:38-39:
“Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
So this gift of the Holy Spirit has been promised to us so we can play our specific and significant part the worldwide ministry of Jesus! Surely if we are to become all God has called us to be we also need to experience something like Pentecost, we need to understand what has been promised to us. Therefore we need to go back and learn what we can from the day of Pentecost and the book of Acts. We need to rediscover afresh the presence and power of the Holy Spirit...
Acts 2:1 says: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. “ There are a group of around 120 people gathered in an upper room. Jesus had not long left them... Before he did he told them to wait in Jerusalem until they were ‘baptized with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:5). Jesus also told them; “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Take note that this power which they would receive from the Holy Spirit was primarily for witnessing purposes. It was to empower and embolden them to spread the the gospel and live for Jesus throughout the known world. If we read through Acts we will see this is exactly what happened. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower his Church to BE his witnesses, not merely that we would merely DO witnessing... Being a witness of Jesus is part of the core identity of the Spirit-filled believer...
It’s important to also point out that Pentecost was not a once of experience of the Holy Spirit. It was the first of other such encounters. For example in Acts 4:31 at the end of a prayer meeting it says; “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” We need the Holy Spirit if we are to BE, and to continue to BE, Christ’s witnesses. If we are going to live as Christ’s witnesses in a world broken with sin, pain, oppression, injustice and emptiness then we need to go out into that world full of something that can make a difference. It’s says of Jesus in John 1:14 that he came to this world “full...”, and if we are to do the greater things he has called us to then we need to go out full of the Holy Spirit. Apart from him we have no more to offer the world than anyone... Without the Holy Spirit we are empty of all we need to be Christ’s witnesses.
The disciples had been given orders by Jesus. They had a promise from Jesus, and they had devoted themselves to prayer (1:14). Then it says at the beginning of Acts 2; “when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” (Things happen when Christians gather together...) They were waiting for something to happen, they didn’t know what, but they were expecting something... Then suddenly there was a kind of spiritual explosion! V2 “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”
The first thing mentioned here about the coming of the Holy Spirit is that there was a sound like the blowing of violent WIND. WIND in the bible is often symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for SPIRIT is pneuma and it can mean WIND. The Hebrew word for SPIRIT is ruach and it can also mean WIND or BREATH. The OT prophet Ezekiel was shown a powerful vision of what the ruach is capable of. EZEKIEL 37:1ff
This gives us a powerful vision of the difference the Holy Spirit can make. This vision was about taking a lost, broken and hopeless group of people and supernaturally breathing life into them to create a vast army filled with the Spirit of God!
Something like this happened at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came... the WIND of God blew, breathing supernatural life into a group of ordinary, weak, discouraged and often faithless people. And it transformed them into a Spirit-filled army who shook the world with supernatural power! That I believe is God’s intention for his Church... Something like this can happen here! God can breathe life into dry bones…
Jesus also referred to the work of the Spirit as WIND in John 3... He said; “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” We are not in control, God is! We don’t control the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit does whatever he pleases, all we can do is abandon control of our lives to him...
Like wind the Holy Spirit is directional. The Bible does not compare the Holy Spirit to air, but to wind. The definition of wind is "air in motion." Air is static; wind is always dynamic. Wind is always going somewhere. It is always blowing in a direction. We feel wind as it blows across our face. It is coming from somewhere and it is going somewhere. So it is with the Holy Spirit. He always has a direction He wants to take us in.
Jonathan Edwards once said; "The task of every generation is to find the direction in which the Holy Spirit is moving and then to move in that direction." Our part is simply to put up the sails and let him take us wherever he wants us to go... He wants to take us somewhere we have never gone, so that we can become something we’ve never been, and do things for God that we’ve never done. If we would only put up our sails and abandon our lives to the directing of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to give each of us the power to go somewhere and do something for the glory of God. The Holy Spirit wants to carry us forward in God’s purpose and plan for us so that we play our part in Christ’s mission to reach the world with the Gospel.
Remember this promise of the Holy Spirit is for all whom the Lord our God calls to himself. If you have been 'Born Again' it was the Holy Spirit who caused it to happen because it pleased him to do so... Just like it was the Spirit who caused 3000 people to be 'Born Again' at Pentecost! The wind blew, the 120 were filled, people gathered to see what happened, Peter stood up full of the Spirit and preached the gospel, and 3000 people were harvested for Jesus. It all started with the life giving Breath of Heaven, with something that sounded like the blowing of a violent wind! That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what we need back in our churches more than anything...
Samuel Chadwick wrote: "The presence of the Spirit is vital and central to the work of the Church. Nothing else avails. Apart from Him wisdom becomes folly, and strength weakness. The Church is called to be a "spiritual house" and a holy priesthood. Only spiritual people can be its "living stones," and only the Spirit-filled its priests. Scholarship is blind to spiritual truth till He reveals. Worship is idolatry till He inspires. Preaching is powerless if it not be a demonstration of His power. Prayer is vain unless He energises. Human resources of learning and organisation, wealth and enthusiasm, reform and charity, are worse than useless if there be no Holy Ghost in them. The Church always fails at the point of self-confidence. When the Church is run on the same lines as a circus, there may be crowds, but there is no glory. That is why prayer is the test of faith and secret of power. The Spirit of God travails in the prayer-life of the soul, Miracles are the direct work of His power, and without miracle the Church cannot live. The carnal can argue, but it is the Spirit that convicts. Education can civilise, but it is being born of the Spirit that saves. The energy of the flesh can run bazaars, organise amusements, and raise millions; but it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes a Temple of the Living God. The root-trouble of the present distress is that the Church has more faith in the world and the flesh than in the Holy Ghost, and things will get no better till we get back to His realised presence and power. The breath of the four winds would turn death into life and dry bones into mighty armies, but it only comes by prayer." He wrote in another book; “I owe everything to the gift of Pentecost.”
J. C. Ryle wrote: "We need more of the presence of the Holy Spirit—more in the pulpit and more in the congregation—more in the pastoral visit, and more in the school. Where He is, there will be life, health, growth, and fruitfulness. Where He is not—all will be dead, tame, formal, sleepy, and cold. Then let everyone who desires to see an increase of pure and undefiled religion, pray daily for more of the presence of the Holy Spirit."
So there was a sound like a violent wind, but secondly we’re told; “ They saw what seemed to be tongues as of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” FIRE in the Bible is something often used by God to give tangible evidence of his power, presence and holiness. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. God used a pillar of fire by night to show his people he was with them. God used fire to prove to the prophets of Baal he was the real God. God touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning hot coal from the Alter. FIRE is also another sign of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said that Jesus was coming to baptise people with the Holy Spirit and with FIRE. This is what happened at Pentecost! This is what God’s people need in every generation, to be baptised with the Holy Spirit and FIRE!
We’re told that tongues of fire separated and rested on EACH OF THEM. In the OT the Holy Spirit came upon individual people at certain times for certain reasons. However at Pentecost and ever since Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes upon every true Christian... There is a flame for every Christian. There is an anointing for every person God breathes life into. If God has put his hand upon you then you have a special and unique calling on your life. You have a God given purpose and he wants to fan it into full flame! He wants his FIRE to rest on you and to burn in you, consuming up every lesser thing, so that you live your life fully ablaze in the will and purpose he has for you...
A while back when I was thinking about these two analogies of WIND and FIRE a powerful picture developed in my mind. When you put the idea of wind and fire together you begin to get a powerful picture of a fire that spreads. The wind blows and the fire falls, then the wind blows the fire in the direction God wants it to go. The Holy Spirit sets the Church on fire and then blows the fire in the direction he wants it to go and the Kingdom of God spreads like wildfire... This is what happened at Pentecost the wind blew and the fire fell in such a powerful way it spread throughout the known world, no one could stop it! Imagine if the wind blew and the fire fell here. There would be no limit to what God could do. That’s why we need to rediscover the power of Pentecost! The Holy Spirit makes all the difference!
Thirdly we’re told; “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” We know by the following verses that these other tongues were known human languages, clearly recognised by the people listening who had gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world! In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul talks of the spiritual gift of tongues which is a prayer language that normally is not understood by others unless someone interprets, but here in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit is enabling these people to speak in human languages they never learned! People listening could understand every word. They said; “we hear them telling in our own tongue the mighty works of God.” These first Christians were at this point being supernaturally empowered to speak in the languages of people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world... That’s what the text clearly teaches! The Holy Spirit was enabling them to BE witnesses just like Jesus said!
Something BIG is happening here, something very important. God was stating his intention, which was and still is that his salvation is for all the nations of the world! He was empowering these people to BE his witnesses, and he wants to empower us for the same reason. THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT... The whole point is not whether or not you speak in tongues... but have you received power to BE his witness? The neccesary evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is power to witness... We are to go into the world filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and effectively BE his witnesses!
Christians disagree about when a person is baptised with the Holy Spirit. Some believe it happens at salvation while others believe it is a second experience when believers are empowered for fuller ministry within the church... The weakness of the first view is that few can honestly say they knew what it was to be saturated in the presence of the Spirit when they first believed. The weakness of the second view is that some Christians are still relying on a single experience they had many years ago... Our fundamental belief on the Holy Spirit is this:
“We believe in the deity of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son and the necessity of His work in conviction of sin, repentance, regeneration and sanctification, and that the believer is also promised an enduement of power as the gift of Christ through the baptism in the Holy Spirit with signs following. Through this enduement the believer is empowered for fuller participation in the ministry of the Church, its worship, evangelism and service.”
The most important thing is not how we define the work of the Spirit theologically... the most important thing is that we experience the ongoing power of the Spirit in our lives. Samuel Chadwick wrote; “Theology without experience is like faith without works: it is dead.” And if there is one thing we cannot put in a tidy little box it is the work of the Holy Spirit (you cannot put wind in a box)...
My question would simply be: Have you ever experienced what it’s like to be saturated in the Spirit of God, to feel as though every part of you is filled with the presence of God? Or if you have: When was the last time the Spirit’s power was manifested in your life in such a way?