Thursday, June 1, 2017

Acts 2:1-21 Pentecost Appropriated

KEY TEXT: Acts 2:1-4,7,11, When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance...And they were amazed and astonished, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?...We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God."

KEY THOT: Moses had longed for all of God's people to be prophets. Joel had prophesied that God's Spirit would one day be poured out on "all flesh". So it happened on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit fell on the 120 disciples gathered in the Upper Room: "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (v.4). This event is commemorated every year on Pentecost Sunday in the liturgical calendar (this year it will be on 4 June--this coming Sunday). But the Day of Pentecost needs more than commemorated as a past historical event--it needs to be appropriated as a present and personal experience of Holy Spirit outpouring. While churches may dutifully celebrate Pentecost Sunday, it would do the church more good if they simply pray for the Holy Spirit to descend on their congregation afresh on Pentecost Sunday. 

Of course some may object to this kind of "appropriation", insisting that they already "have" the Holy Spirit and so any prayer for the "coming" or "descent" of the Spirit is un-theological. I think that is shallow thinking--from both a theological or biblical perspective. Theologically, the Holy Spirit is an infinite Being who fills the whole of Creation (as I blogged yesterday): "When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,and you renew the face of the ground" (Psalms 104:30). Like the atmosphere, you can never "have" the Holy Spirit in its totality. That would be to deny the omnipresence of God. So it would not make sense for someone to claim he already "have" air--why do we still heed to inhale "more" air? It's not a coincidence that the Spirit came on Pentecost as wind and fire--something that cannot be "had" by any individual.

From a biblical perspective, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not a "once-off" event: it was repeated in the books of Acts several times subsequent to that first outpouring in Acts 2:4. Examine the following texts:
  • Acts 4:8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them...
  • Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. [Note that in the first two instances, the Spirit filled the same believers who were present in Acts 2:4.]
  • Acts 8:14-17 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. [Some scholarss try to dismiss this as a once-off cross-cultural event because it's the first conversion of non-Jews, viz., Samaritans. However, the context does not give that as the reason why the Spirit has not "fallen on any of them". But even if we allow for the cross-cultural argument, it would still apply today--for we are crossing culture every day in our evangelism and mission! Not oversea, but in the marketplace of secularism, religious pluralism and DIY worldviews of post-modernism. So, we need more "Pentecosts", not less. There is nothing more powerful to demonstrate the reality of the Gospel in cross-cultural evangelism than an outpouring of the Spirit--as happens often on Alpha weekends.]
  • Acts 10:44-46 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. [Here, we have a first instant of Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit BEFORE they were baptized. We cannot put the Holy Spirit into our theological box.]
  • Acts 19:5-7  On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all. [The twelve men were Jews--so this event contradicts the cross-cultural argument used to explain the Samaritan Pentecost.]
So, for this coming Pentecost Sunday (or any Sunday) we should be praying for the fresh outpouring of the Spirit for that is the essence of Revival. We fool ourselves if we think revival can come without the Holy Spirit. 

Breath of Heaven, breathe upon Your churches to renew & empower us again, that we might speak Your Word boldly. For Jesus' sake, Amen.




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