(63) All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit – Acts 2:4

The fifth book of the New Testament, after the four gospels, is the Acts of the Apostles. This is Luke’s second volume which, like his gospel, is addressed to his patron, Theophilus. He sums up his first book by saying, “In my former book … I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven” (Acts 1:1-2). The use of the word ‘began’ indicates Luke’s view that Jesus continued to act after his death and resurrection through the church and he describes how this came about.

Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples that they were to go and proclaim his message in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth and Luke uses this geographical list as a loose structure for Acts as he tells us how the gospel spread west from Jerusalem to Rome, the heart of the empire. Others took the gospel east into Asia – it is traditionally thought that Thomas travelled to India – and south into Africa – Acts includes an account of a government official from Ethiopia who became a believer. In the decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection the good news about him spread rapidly across the world, with his followers using Roman roads and shipping lanes to get around and the common Greek language for speaking and writing.

After commissioning the disciples to go, Jesus also told them that initially they were to stay where they were in Jerusalem until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. So, the apostles, along with a wider group of Jesus’ disciples numbering around 120 men and women and including Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers, stayed in Jerusalem devoting themselves to prayer. On the day of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus returned to heaven, they were all together in an upper room when “suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (or languages) as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:2-4). (The same word in Greek can be translated ‘tongue’ or ‘language’ and in English we use the word ‘tongue’ to mean ‘language’ too as in the expression ‘mother tongue’.)

This dramatic event was noisy and a crowd soon gathered to find out what was happening. This included Jews from all over the world who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Pentecost and they were amazed to find a group of uneducated Galileans speaking in a huge variety of languages and “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11).

Some accused the disciples of being drunk, which gives an indication as to what the scene was like, but when Peter got up to speak to the whole crowd he said that they weren’t drunk as “It’s only nine in the morning!” (Acts 2:15). He told them that this was the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy that in the last days God would pour out his Spirit on all people and a time when “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (see Acts 2:17-21 quoting from Joel 2:28-32). Peter described how Jesus did many signs and wonders before he was crucified and how he was then raised from the dead, something that could be confirmed by the 120 witnesses with him.

The people were “cut to the heart” by what Peter said and asked what they should do. Peter told them to “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” (Acts 2:37-38). This promise was for them and for their children and “for all who are far off” (Acts 2:39), both in terms of geography and time. The impact of Peter’s preaching was immediate in that around three thousand people responded and were baptised.

The church was born and proclaimed Jesus’ love to people, caring and serving them in the power of God the Holy Spirit, something that it continues to do to this day.

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