How Did the Holy Spirit Come to God’s People?

Colin S. Smith
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The chairman reported that the church roll now stood at one hundred and twenty members. They had not been able to obtain a building, and so they were still meeting in a second-floor room that they had rented in the city.

There had been a good spirit at the prayer meeting and a lot of discussion about how they should fill a leadership position that had become vacant. But besides that, not a lot had been happening.

The task of reaching their community seemed to be beyond them. There was very little money, very few people, and outside of their meeting place, a culture that had very little room for their message.

That’s how the church was at the beginning of the book of Acts.

But Christ had spoken about an event that would change all that. In a few days, they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Then, He said, “You will receive power . . . and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

They did not have to wait long. Just ten days after Jesus ascended into heaven and fifty days after the Resurrection, there was a festival called Pentecost. It was a big celebration, and Jerusalem was crammed with visitors from many countries (Acts 2:5).

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first Christian believers. After that, the church was completely different.

A Sound Like the Wind

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1–2)

In the ancient world, many languages use the same word for wind, breath, or spirit. The sound of the wind is similar to the sound of breath, only it is much louder and it
lasts longer.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Jesus was explaining what would happen on the Day of Pentecost.

God breathed life into these people, and they were never the same again.

So when the disciples heard a sound like the rushing wind just a few days later, they would immediately associate it with the sound of Jesus breathing on them, and recognize that this was the fulfillment of what Jesus had promised.

At the beginning of the Bible story, God breathed into Adam. A lifeless corpse lay on the ground until God gave it the kiss of life. Then Adam became a living being. The church is the body of Christ. It was like a corpse until Jesus breathed the life of His Spirit into it. God breathed life into these people, and they were never the same again.

Great Balls of Fire

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. (V. 3)

Try to imagine yourself among these one hundred and twenty people when this happened! What they saw must have been absolutely terrifying.

A ball of fire divided into individual flames, or “tongues of fire,” that came to rest on every person in the room. The amazing thing was that none of them was burned.

In the Old Testament, God appeared to Moses in flames of fire resting on a bush that did not burn. Now, on the Day of Pentecost, God gave the same sign of His immediate presence with the first disciples. It must have been awesome.

When God appeared to Moses in the fire, He commissioned him to lead the Hebrews out of their slavery in Egypt. Now God was coming in the fire to give a new commission to His church.

Try to imagine yourself in the room when God’s fire came down. Who would you have expected it to land on? Would it be Peter, James, or John, or perhaps all three? Or maybe even all of the twelve disciples?

But as the fire came down, it separated into many flames, falling on many people in the room. Imagine being there: You look up with awe as you realize that one of the flames is coming toward you. You look round at the others in the room. A flame rests on every one of them.

In the Old Testament, God gave His presence and power to some of His people. Now He was giving His Spirit to all of them. God was commissioning every believer to advance His purpose in the world.

They spoke in other tongues

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (V. 4)

Suddenly and spontaneously, every one of the one hundred and twenty believers found that they were able to speak in languages they had never learned.

This was a reversal of what had happened long before at the Tower of Babel. Early in the Bible story, as man’s rebellion against God was gaining momentum, men built a city with a tower to proclaim their greatness and provide their security.

God came down and broke the momentum of man’s godless kingdom by introducing the confusion of multiple languages for the first time into the human race (Genesis 11:1–9).

It must have been very strange. One day, a friend you have known for years talks to you, but what he is saying sounds like gibberish. Others are also making incomprehensible sounds. It’s not hard to imagine what happened. People who spoke the same language were drawn together, and then the different language groups separated from each other, spreading out across the face of the earth.

God had determined that people from every nation and language group would hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

At Babel, the tongues were a sign of God’s judgment on man’s rebellion. The languages brought confusion. People could no longer communicate, and so they were divided.

The Day of Pentecost was exactly the opposite. People from every nation had gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5). When the Spirit of God came, the apostles found themselves spontaneously speaking in languages they had never learned, so that people from all over the world could hear and understand the good news of Jesus Christ in their own language.

At Babel, the tongues were a judgment from God leading to confusion and people being scattered. At Pentecost, the tongues were a blessing from God leading to understanding and people being gathered together.

To every tribe and nation

People all over Jerusalem heard the sound of the wind (Acts 2:6), and it was not long before a crowd gathered. When they arrived, they found the one hundred and twenty believers declaring in different languages the great things God had done.

God had determined that people from every nation and language group would hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Language would be no barrier to the gospel.

God breathed His life into the church. His presence came and rested on them as He commissioned them to advance His purpose in the world. On the Day of Pentecost a mission-oriented church was born.

People from many cultures came to faith in Christ that day, and then went back to their homes to spread the gospel among their own people so that folk from every language and culture would discover the blessing of the gospel.

For Further Reading:

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