Pastor Gutierrez preaches a sermon apropos Pentecost Sunday.
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“The Holy Spirit on Mission”
Scripture Text: Acts 2:1-13
May 28, 2023 – 8:15am, 11:00am Morning Services
Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA
Pastor Nathaniel H. Gutiérrez
Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we will focus our attention on the coming of the Holy Spirit found in the book of Acts, chapter 2. Like Christmas and Easter, this is one of the more important moments in our Christian history, but this is one important moment that is often neglected. As you turn there, I just want to say:
Buenos dias mis hermanos y hermanas. Espero que se encuentren bien y en la gracia y paz de nuestro Señor Jesucristo.
If you did not understand that, what I said was:
“Good morning my brothers and sisters, I hope you are well and find yourselves in the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But the real question is, why didn’t you understand it? After all, in the beginning, God created mankind to speak one language. How did that all change? Why are there so many different languages now?
God made all things good, but when Adam and Eve sinned, the whole world was corrupted.
Mankind cast off God’s ways, and rather than going out into the world to fill and subdue it, they decided to band together and create a name for themselves.
And this is where the infamous tower of Babel in Genesis 11 comes in. Where men banded together against God to build a city and a tower with its top in the heavens.
Similarly to Adam and Eve, taking of the forbidden fruit, these builders wanted to rule over their own lives without God. Their search for a name for themselves gives us a picture of their desire for their reputation and a legacy. It is an attempt to attain to immortality and eternal fame apart from God’s name. [Rayburn; Sarna, 82-83]
Seeing their rebellion, God chose to confuse their language and scatter them over the face of the earth, showing them how little control they have even over the words they were speaking.
And given this history, it only makes sense to highlight the fact that where in the Tower of Babel God scattered and confused the people who had rejected him, here in our Pentecost passage, God united the people by the power of his Spirit.
Acts 2:1: 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.”
This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God.)
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]
Let’s pray together.
From Seen to Unseen
If an object is no longer visible, does it cease to exist?
This week, I was speaking with one of our college students, who was talking about what Jean Piaget calls object permanence. This is the idea that an object continues to exist even when it is not in view and cannot be sensed. For example, if a red ball rolls into a tunnel, and cannot be seen, is it still there? For some children, if something is out of sight, they might not be developed enough to realize that the object is still there, even if they watched it roll in.
This field of developmental psychology helps psychologists understand where young children are developmentally. And of course, as adults, we have learned that the object has not just disappeared, but that it merely remains out of sight. We know that the sun is in the sky and that the car is in the garage and we know this without having to make sure that it is.
But in many ways when it comes to our spiritual object permanence (if you will), it is not as fully developed. And neither were the disciples’. We struggle to believe that God is still there when we go through dark valleys, and we sense he is not there, when we face extreme hardships.
The disciples believed they had lost Jesus at the crucifixion, and they certainly did not want to lose him again.
But before his death and resurrection, Jesus had taught that it was actually an advantage for him to leave his disciples. [John 16:7]
It is no surprise then, that the book of Acts begins explaining that after Jesus had risen from the dead, he spent ample time showing the disciples the evidences of his resurrection during a period of forty days, so that they might believe.
We gather from this that Jesus was patiently helping them to understand what had just happened – that though he had died, he had risen from the dead.
And furthermore, Jesus was not going to leave them alone. He had promised them a Comforter. They did not have to worry if he was still there or not, because the Holy Spirit was coming. And that is why he ordered the disciples not to leave Jerusalem.
Rather than God in the flesh whom they could see, they were going to receive the blessing of God the Holy Spirit whom they could not see.
And as we noted above, the disciples struggled with this idea, as we too can.
But God is merciful even in this.
The Fulfillment of that Promise
For, in God’s kindness, a few days after Jesus had ascended into heaven (leaving the disciples behind) they experienced the awaited supernatural event. An event that would make what they were experiencing unmistakable evidence that God was still with them.
First, (v.2) out of nowhere, the shocking sound of a mighty rushing wind came down from heaven and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Second, (v.3) “divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.”
Third, (v.4) “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
Commentators agree that this rushing wind, plus the fact that it was coming down from heaven and appearing as tongues of fire, symbolize God’s self-revelation or his theophanic presence. That is because we see this throughout the OT Scriptures:
- We might think of God in the fire and smoke that cut a covenant with Abraham.
- Or God’s presence in the burning bush, with Moses
- We think of the pillar of cloud to lead the Israelites along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.
- And Mount Sinai being wrapped in smoke, “because the LORD had descended on it in fire…. and the whole mountain trembled greatly.” [Ex. 19:18]
- Then we read of how the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. [Ex. 24:17]
While the Spirit could no doubt have appeared in subtle ways and still have done the same work, we read that the Holy Spirit came with the surprising sound of a mighty rushing wind.
This was an action and a sound so loud that it brought the whole town running to see the commotion.
God’s heavenly power was on display and the people who lived in Jerusalem were shocked and confused. The Scriptures tell us that people were bewildered, amazed, astonished, and perplexed. If you didn’t catch that, it was a big deal!
God makes it abundantly clear that they are not alone. And not only does Jesus remind them repeatedly throughout the gospels, but then the Apostle Peter points to the OT prophecy from the book of Joel, connecting the dots that this is to fulfill the prophecy.
“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
….And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls
upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Acts 2:17-21]
In connecting this prophecy with this event, Peter preached that they were in the last days, the days before God’s final judgement. “A day that for the unbeliever meant eternal punishment, but for the Christian signified salvation in the presence of the Lord.” [Hendrickson, 90]
And God was pouring out his Spirit liberally across the nations. In doing so, the good news of the gospel was to be spread broadly to all nations. The apostles were to be witnesses from Jerusalem to the ends of the world. [1:8]
What the author describes as shocking about the day of Pentecost for many present there was the mighty rushing wind that filled the house, or the tongues of fire that rested on each of them and the fact that they were all able to speak in languages that they would not have known.
And each one of those pieces would have certainly been shocking.
But looking back at that day, what was more shocking than these external markers, is what these events signified. The devout Jews of the city were shocked, but what they really wanted to know was, what could all this mean?
The fact is, these signs at Pentecost represented a shift in how God was relating to his covenant people.
In the Old Testament writings, we read of a God who visits his people. He descended in fiery smoke on mountains, and he spoke through a burning bush. He was a God who spoke to his people through prophets.
In fact, the people feared God greatly:
In Exodus we read, “And all the people saw….the mount smoking; and being terrified and struck with fear, they stood afar off, 19 Saying to Moses: Speak thou to us, and we will hear: let not the Lord speak to us, lest we die.” [Ex. 20:18-21]
Or we read of the accounts of God’s holiness in Israel, how God struck a man down when he put out his hand to keep the ark from falling and touched the ark of the covenant, or we think of the roles of priests and holy of holies and the tabernacle.
What is truly shocking about this Pentecost account is much more than a mighty rushing wind, or tongues of fire. The shock is that our holy, holy God has given us the Holy Spirit.
That we have been filled by the Holy Spirit in our baptism, and that God tabernacles within us just as he dwelt in the tabernacle and the temple.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” [1 Cor. 3:16]
And in Eph. 3:14,17 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith … that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
The fact that God, the fullness of God is dwelling in us, and filling us up with the power of the Holy Spirit, should be a complete shock. After all, who are we that God the Holy Spirit should dwell in us?!
This reality is one that makes little sense. The fact that God would see us as his holy temple, and dwell with us is hard to swallow.
We know how much we sin every day. We catch ourselves sinning day after day. We know we are broken people.
If you take a moment to just evaluate the last time you’ve lost your temper, how worthy do you feel to do anything holy, much less be a dwelling place for the almighty God?!
Many parents and children and couples can recall moments they are not very proud of. Some, no doubt, have sinned just on the way to church today, fighting with your spouse or family member, even as you were getting ready to come here to worship.
How worthy are you to be a temple that God dwells in?
If you are like most Christians, you feel and know that you are not worthy to be called a Christian. You know that you don’t deserve the grace that is extended to you, and you are ashamed.
If this is you, I want to remind you of what I said during the assurance of pardon this morning. I want to remind you that if you trust in Jesus and have confessed your sins, that Scripture teaches that all of your sins are forgiven.
See, it should be a tremendous shock to you that the Holy Spirit dwells within us. And yet at the same time, there is a clear reason why he does.
And in order to determine that, it is important to know the order of progression here. See, Pentecost comes after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The receiving of the Holy Spirit can only occur and does only occur because of the work that Jesus has accomplished in his life and death.
Jesus paid for all our shame, all our parenting mistakes, all of our guilt, all sins once and for all. He has made us holy once and for all before God the Father, and continues to sanctify us here on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives and works in us to grow us into the image of Christ more and more every way.
Witness with Power
Consider the weightiness of this fact. God has called you to himself, he dwells in you. But with what purpose?
Jesus taught that by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples would be filled with the power from on high, and that they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [Acts 1:8]
And Jesus taught his disciples that those who believed in him, would do greater works than even he did because he was going to the Father. [John 14:12]
And one author notes the proof of that. “Prior to Pentecost, the gospel was confined to a small cultural and geographical corner of the world. But with the Spirit’s coming the gospel ‘has gone forth everywhere.’” 1 Thess. 1:8 [Richard D. Phillips, Reformation 21]
See, God has chosen his church to be his witness. He has chosen his church to be as a mouthpiece for the extension of his kingdom.
As his mouthpiece, we are ambassadors for Christ, and God makes his appeal through us. With all authority given to him, Jesus sent out his disciples as his representatives to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. [Thiselton, 69]
And with the power of the Holy Spirit, the church will speak on his behalf, in the strength of his power. Through their witness, those who were blind to their sin, will see the truth.
Through their witness, those dead in sin will gain eternal life.
And this is another shocking reality that we often take for granted. God has given us the opportunity to be part of his mission and has given us his power so that we might do greater works than Jesus did by going out into all the world.
He could merely convert and change the hearts of those who do not know him yet, but instead he wants us to be part of that important work. Because he loves us, he is letting us take part in the life-giving work of evangelism and missions.
We have the unique privilege to speak the truth of God’s word, and to watch and see how God will work in the hearts of those around us.
And that work is not an optional work. We are all called to be witnesses.
God has placed you, here, in 2023, to be a witness to the people around you. To bring them up, and to encourage them and help them to see their need for Christ.
The challenge is that we are often afraid. We want to be a witness, but we psych ourselves out and overthink it.
Perhaps we build it up too much and think that rather than taking baby steps, we need to do something big. Or maybe we see evangelism as a formal meeting with people to discuss their eternity.
Brothers and sisters, when we overthink what it means to witness, and make it more about saying the right thing, then we often fail to be consistent with our doctrine. For it is the power of the Holy Spirit that does the conversion, not our eloquence. Not our strategy.
It is the Holy Spirit at work.
I shared this in chapel at Covenant High School recently, but when Alicia and I first moved to Tacoma, I had the opportunity to work for Youth for Christ doing Campus Life in public schools. Though I had been a missionary kid, and gone to Covenant College and studied Bible, I was still really intimidated about talking about Jesus with people.
I didn’t know what to do, because more than anything I wanted these young kids to know Jesus. It broke me to think that they might live their life and die without ever knowing his salvation.
But I also didn’t want to blow it. So, I just did something. I remember thinking it was pathetic. I remember feeling inadequate and ashamed. But two or three times a week, I would meet these boys from our Campus Life club at a park near their homes and bring them McDonalds cheeseburgers and occasionally talk to them about Jesus. I was about 95% sure the only reason they were coming was for the cheeseburgers. After a year of trying things like that, I said my goodbyes and we moved away. I always felt ashamed that I hadn’t done more. But then later, about eight years later, I came back and asked around about them. And one of those boys that I met with, became a leader in Campus Life and was mentoring a group of his own. At the end of the day, it wasn’t the cheeseburgers, or my strategy, it was the power of the Holy Spirit working in these boys through me.
There may always be a better strategy out there, but ever since then, I’ve been a big fan of just getting out there. Not overthinking it. Just try to make a legitimate friendship with someone in your neighborhood or workplace. Or just learn to talk to people you might not normally talk to more often. Pursue the fruits of the Spirit in public – be kind, gentle and self-controlled.
Start small and treat people with dignity. Make small talk with cashiers, bankers, McDonald’s employees, and learn their names. Demonstrate to everyone around you that you are not some weirdo Christian hippie who hates everything and everyone. Rather, let people see you for who you truly are:
A broken sinner in need of help, trying to help another broken sinner in need of help.
Now, if you have ever spoken another language fluently, you know that while you might be fluent in two languages, there is still one language that is your dominant “heart language.” This particular language is not just easy to speak in, it is your default thinking language, it is what you typically dream in, and it is the language you pray in when you are by yourself.
The more I’ve learned about languages, the more I’ve realized how important it is to be able to speak a foreign language well, so that the gospel is communicated in a way that resonates with the native heart language of the listener.
The interesting thing about this particular account in the Book of Acts, is that while most of the devout Jews could probably speak a common language, they might not have been very fluent in it. And for that reason, it is an incredible thing to see that God was caring enough to have the most important message of their lives be spoken to them in their own heart languages.
And as a result of this miraculous witness, each of the languages present could hear the gospel clearly and articulately. Peter later informs us that through the proclamation of the gospel in their own tongues, about 3,000 received the word and were baptized and were added to their number that day.
This was and is God the Father’s mission, God the Son’s mission and the God the Holy Spirit’s mission. This was the reason for Pentecost, that the good news of salvation would be spread from Israel into all the nations, spreading to men and women, by the power of the Spirit, in languages and cultures all around the world.
As I mentioned beginning of this message, the Tower of Babel offers a helpful contrast for what is taking place in God’s mission.
Whereas in Babel, the people banded together to rebel against God and become self-sufficient, and godless, and their language is confused …
Here at Pentecost, we see the opposite.
Here God brings his people together, he fills them with his Holy Spirit, and he enables them to speak with power the same language of every nation represented. And he does this for the singular purpose of fulfilling his mission of bringing his Word into the world that men and women everywhere might find salvation in Jesus.
And the truly wonderful thing about all of this is that while God doesn’t need us, in his love he has chosen to make us essential to the work and joy of bringing the lost into the light of Jesus’ salvation.
May we, as God’s children, delight and join in his mission today.
Beale, G.K. “The Descent of the Eschatological Temple in the Form of the Spirit at Pentecost: Part 1 : The Clearest
Evidence” TYNDALE BULLETIN 56.1 (2005)
Kistemaker, Simon. New Testament Commentary: Acts. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Books, 1990.
Marshall, I. Howard. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Acts. Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 2008.
Rayburn, Robert. “The Futility of Human Life.” https://www.faithtacoma.org/genesis/the-futility-of-human-life
Schumann, Mike. Desiringgod.org/articles/though-you-do-not-see-him-you-love-him