A look inside
We closed out last week with the promise of the Holy Spirit coming. This week the Comforter “sat upon each of them.” In addition to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of each of the apostles, you will see even more reminders that God can do all things, even though they may seem impossible. How many languages do you speak? How easy was it for you to learn one or more additional languages beyond your native tongue? Each person present heard the message in his own tongue. Impossible? Not with God.
Break it down
Come Holy Spirit: Acts 2:1-4 When Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover, came, all the believers were together in one place. 2 Suddenly, a sound like a violently blowing wind came from the sky and filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 Tongues that looked like fire appeared to them. The tongues arranged themselves so that one came to rest on each believer. 4 All the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak.
We see in verse 1 that the apostles were gathered together again “with one accord.” How does this compare with the previous lesson where they gathered together behind locked doors fearing that the Romans would come for them next? One big difference is the fact that Jesus returned to them in the last lesson with words of comfort and guidance. Another difference is the fact that they now recognize the power of Jesus that he has been trying to show them for years. Because of his example they are willing to lay down their lives to spread God’s word to the ends of the earth. They each understand that until each Christian has a specific assignment from God and until that assignment is completed life on earth will continue.
A sound “as of a rushing mighty wind.” Have you witnessed tropical storms, hurricanes and tornadoes? Was that much power packed into the house where they were sitting? We don’t really know. What we know is that God has power over all of the elements of nature. Just because we can’t imagine the power of a tornado contained within one house doesn’t limit God’s ability to produce such an event. It “filled the house.” Have you ever participated in a fellowship gathering, prayer meeting, or church service and could absolutely feel God’s presence? This is the way that the apostles must have felt.
In verse 3 we see that cloven tongues “like as of fire” appeared to them. You may be wondering about the meaning of cloven. It could be taken to simply mean “split,” as in a cloven hoof. A more applicable definition can be found in the ISBE and it says “parting among them.”[i] This definition helps us to remember our own role in the great commission – we are to share God’s word to the world so that the Holy Spirit’s presence can be left with each person we come in contact with.
Verse 4 gives us the “even though we believe it impossible, God can do it” feeling. As mere humans, we may have tried to learn a new language. We may have taken Spanish, French, or even sign language classes over the years. Although some are successful at learning foreign tongues, many do not take it beyond a few classes and, at best, a few words or phrases that have been learned. The apostles’ careers that we know are fishermen, tax collector, and even a terrorist. The tax collector (Levi or Matthew) may have benefitted from being multi-lingual but the best that the fishermen could have hoped for would be to speak with the fish. The point is that these were not scholars; they had no formal language training. What they had, though, is the presence of the third person of the trinity (Holy Spirit) and the ability to accomplish any task that he needs from them.
God’s words for all people: Acts 2:5-11 Devout Jewish men from every nation were living in Jerusalem. 6 They gathered when they heard the wind. Each person was startled to recognize his own dialect when the disciples spoke. 7 Stunned and amazed, the people in the crowd said, “All of these men who are speaking are Galileans. 8 Why do we hear them speaking in our native dialects? 9 We’re Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. We’re people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the country near Cyrene in Libya. We’re Jewish people, converts to Judaism, and visitors from Rome, 11 Crete, and Arabia. We hear these men in our own languages as they tell about the miracles that God has done.”
We see in verses 5 and 6 that Jews “out of every nation” were dwelling at Jerusalem. We later have a more specific description but the point here is that there were people present who spoke many different languages. As was the case many times with Jesus, word spread that something special was happening and people gathered to witness it. The unique phrase used in the King James Version is “noised abroad.” We would consider abroad to refer to foreign countries; here it would seem to refer more to foreign languages. Remember that there are people here from many nationalities who spoke and understood only their native tongue. Did they just gather that something special was happening due to the abounding excitement or were they actually able to comprehend the details before arriving? We don’t know this for sure but we know that they gathered around to witness another miraculous event.
Verses 7 and 8 help us to understand the wonder and excitement that these participants must have felt. They know where these men have been and where they came from. They know that all are Galileans, yet they have no ability to understand why all are hearing about the wonderful works of God in their own language. This is a perfect point for consideration and discussion. Did each of the apostles speak in a single foreign tongue? It is likely that was not the case. Consider how many different nationalities were present. If there were eleven men and each one spoke in a single language it is likely that not all of the needed languages would be heard. We know that all of them heard God’s Word in their own tongue. The key word here is “heard.” Just as God can enable these men to speak in a foreign tongue, he can also enable each person present to hear in his or her own language, even if it specifically was not spoken. Dilemma? Maybe. Evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit? Definitely.
Verses 9 to 11 give us the specifics of where these participants were from. You may be wondering why people from so many different countries had decided to gather at Jerusalem at this specific time. The answer, according to Luke 19:11, is because they expected the kingdom of God to appear immediately. These people were no different from so many in our society today. Once they hear that something big is going to happen, they want to be there to see it for themselves.
In order to understand the large distance spanned by the various nationalities we can turn to an ancient map. You may have one in the back of your Bible. Parthia was east of the Tigris. Media was also east of the Tigris river. Elam was located in modern day Persia. Mesopotamia was the seat of Babylon. Cappadocia was not far from the Black Sea. Pontus was south and east of the Black Sea. Asia was a Roman province with Ephesus as the capital.[ii]
Doubt God’s ability? Acts 2:12,13 All of these devout men were stunned and puzzled. They asked each other, “What can this mean?” Others said jokingly, “They’re drunk on sweet wine.”
Look at the world around you. Is there a general belief in the miracles of God? Do people see the good or the bad in most circumstances? There are generally two sides to every story and event – positive and negative. Let’s use a burning apartment house as an example. Maybe 25 people lost everything they owned in the fire (or at least what they believed they owned). There may be five that escaped with only minor burns and another two or so that received more serious burns. The positive side could be stated as “Praise God that nobody was killed. The possessions will be replaced and health can be restored, but a life lost is a final and tragic event if he or she does not know God.” Now let’s look at it from the pessimist’s point of view. There were property damages amounting to more than $150,000 and it will take years to rebuild and recover. The hospital bills of those injured will be haunting them for many years to come. Who started this fire? That person should pay for all of this.
The pessimist attitude was taken by these “devout men” (see verse 5). They doubted the miracle being witnessed by their own eyes, hearts, and minds. They found it hard to believe even though, according to the scripture pointed out in Luke, they expected the kingdom of God to appear immediately. They didn’t get a warrior king and they did not get the opportunity to be a part of God’s kingdom set up here on earth. They were, however, able to witness the presence and actions of the Holy Spirit. Since that did not fit inside of the small box created by their own expectations, it was dismissed by others who mockingly said “These men are full of new wine.”
Wrap it up!
Previous lessons have indicated that the day of Pentecost was on the way. In today’s lesson we have seen the power of God “forked” into the lives of the apostles. We, too, are imbibed with the presence of the Holy Spirit upon confession of sins and acceptance of Jesus as the sacrifice for those sins. We do not have to wait, as the apostles did, for a specific time of indwelling – it is an immediate gift accompanying our acceptance of the free gift of salvation.
Somethin’ to think about
Do you have close relatives who have lived thankful lives? Aunt/Uncle? Grandmother?
Do you believe that these family members have prayed intercessory prayers for God’s presence and protection in your life?
Have you ever been expected by friends to explain a current situation from a Biblical standpoint?
[i] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1844-1913 ed, Sword module version 1.6 (Electronic edition)
[ii] People’s New Testament, Sword module version 1.1 (Electronic version)