A Sermon on Acts 2 – The Pentecostal Experience

Acts 2 is one of my favourite passages, where many of the most exciting themes of the Bible’s storyline converge. I was privileged to be able to preach on Acts 2 this week. Here are some collected notes and thoughts on what it is about, as well as an mp3 of the sermon. Feedback wanted!

There are many exciting elements to Acts 2. It is both the culmination of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and also the beginning of Jesus continuing work through his apostles (and disciples) via the Holy Spirit.

It is a meaty passage, and a long passage (worth having read out in full). I’ve noticed that many people preach on Acts 2 without actually preaching Peter’s sermon, which I believe to be the heart of the event (Luke gives it LOTS of space). It is a wonderful surprise that Peter’s sermon itself is a model of good preaching – with a reading, observation, interpretation, application and exhortation. The sermon is quite complex, though it is easier to understand if you have in mind the great themes and tensions of Salvation History. The hope of the promise of the Spirit dwelling with and in all God’s people has arrived; the promised eternal Davidic kingdom has been vindicated and arrived in the ascension of Jesus; the victory of God’s purposes and plans has been achieved via the cross. It is impossible to read it well without using Biblical Theology.

I enjoy tinkering with flow charts, so while preparing my sermon I tried to make a diagram of the logic of Acts 2:

(the original file made with dia: Acts_pentecost_summary.dia (5k))

There are so many surprises in Acts 2: the sermon is not focussed on the Spirit primarily but on the ascended Jesus, Peter explains the Bible rather than give a merely extempore revelation, he offers forgiveness first to those who murdered Jesus, the people present are amazed by the languages not the wind and fire (2:6-8), the amazing tongues are understood praises of God (NOT angelic tongues of 1 Cor 14), and it is so clearly a reversal of Babel (Genesis 11) even though the New Testament doesn’t make this link. The level of “Jesus-intoxication” is astounding: Could “the Lord our God” of v39 refer to Jesus who is called Lord 3 verses earlier? Similarly, calling on the name of the Lord Yahweh in (2:21) has now became the name of Jesus, and God promised he would pour out the Spirit in 2:17 but Peter says Jesus pours it out (2:33). It is hard to exalt Jesus higher than he is exalted in this sermon!

Another surprise is that Peter claims David looked forward to the resurrection of the Christ (2:31). The commentaries really try and fudge around this claim! (This passage informs our biblical theology and the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament). Peter doesn’t just read the Psalm in light of Christ, but he makes explicit claims about the authorial intent of King David. Many scholars are only comfortable saying that David had only the vaguest hope of how the promised eternal Davidic kingdom would be fulfilled – but Peter claims that David was a prophet and knew that it would involved the resurrection of a Davidic descendent. It is true that we have much more clarity since the resurrection of Jesus, but sometimes we tend to put the Old Testament characters in a darker fog than is deserved.

I believe the key to the passage is 2:36. Pentecost is about Jesus’ ascension to become Lord and Christ. There is a sense in which he has always been the Messiah and Lord, but there is a more powerful way in which Jesus has taken on his kingdom in his resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand – only then can he be the Davidic king who has not seen decay (Psalm 16) and who has responded to the invitation to sit at God’s right hand and rule the universe (Psalm 110). The Spirit has come because Jesus has become King at God’s right hand, and his first act as King is to send the Spirit to empower his followers to witness to him.

Given Jesus’ lordship is the key, my main applications revolved around Jesus’ lordship – with the assurance that the Spirit is given to us today. It is important to see that the promise of the Spirit is for anyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus (2:38-39). I worked hard to celebrate and affirm the gift of the Spirit in our churches. I want to model that the Spirit is working powerfully whenever Jesus is exalted, and rebuke the idea that to be really into the Holy Spirit you need to talk about the Spirit all the time.

Please have a listen to my sermon, and email me some feedback. The quality of the recording is a bit sloppy in places. If you prefer, I could email you the text of the sermon.

Acts 2 – The Pentecostal Experience, May 2004. (5mb mp3)

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