We’re working our way through the book of Acts. First of all, we read how the Lord Jesus instructed the Apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit to come upon them. Then they would be his witnesses throughout the world. Secondly, the Lord Jesus was taken up to heaven, but angels promised that one day he will return. Thirdly, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas as an Apostle. And then, fourthly, we read how the Holy Spirit came upon the Lord’s people in Jerusalem and they were enabled to speak in other languages and to declare the wonders of God.
Verses 12 –16
In verse 12 we read that the crowd in Jerusalem who witnessed these things were amazed and perplexed. They couldn’t understand it. How could these Galileans manage to speak in all these different languages? And so they asked:
What does it mean? What’s going on?
Some of them mocked. Do you see that in verse 13? They made fun of them and said they’ve had too much wine. In other words: they’re drunk. And isn’t that interesting? Sometimes we hear people say that they would believe if only God would prove himself to them. If God showed them a sign, or did something to prove that he existed, then they would believe.
Show me and I will believe.
But look. Here is God doing something wonderful and miraculous: Ordinary Galileans who are now, suddenly, able to speak in lots of foreign languages. So, here’s a sign. Here’s a miraculous sign from God. But instead of believing, they mock. Instead of being convinced, they make fun of what is happening. They laugh and say:
They must be drunk!
And this reminds us that despite what they say, people will not be convinced by anything — by anything at all — unless the Lord first works in their hearts and enables them to believe. And so we must pray continually for God to soften the hearts of those who don’t believe, so that when they hear about the great things God has done for us by his Son, they will be enabled to repent and to believe. And, for those who do believe, we need to remember that the reason we believe is because of God’s mercy on us. You see, we too would be mocking and scoffing today if it were not for the Lord’s kindness to us in enabling us to believe. And so, we must keep praying for unbelievers. And we must keep giving thanks to God for enabling us to believe.
In verse 14 we read how Peter stands up with his fellow Apostles and he begins to address the crowd. He asks them to listen carefully; to give ear to what he’s saying because he’s about to explain what has happened. And more than that: he’s going to tell them about the Lord Jesus who died but rose again. So, listen carefully, he says. And first of all, he answers those who were making fun of what had happened. And he explains that they can’t possibly be drunk because it’s only nine in the morning. It’s far too early in the morning to be drunk. And so, Peter goes on to explain that what has taken place is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. What’s happened is something which God said would happen.
Verses 17 to 21
And in verse 17, Peter quotes from the prophet Joel.
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Peter is saying to them:
Remember what Joel said about the Holy Spirit? Remember he talked about God pouring out his Spirit on all people? Well, that’s what’s happening here.
Now, there are a number of important things to notice here.
First of all, there’s the phrase ‘the last days’. When we hear the phrase ‘the last days’ we maybe think of a short period of time. Someone is off work because of illness. How long will they be off? ‘Days?’ we ask. ‘No, much longer. More like weeks or months.’ For us, ‘days’ means a short period of time. But that’s not the case here. When Peter refers to the last days here he’s referring to a period of time when begins with Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers and it lasts until…. Well, until when? Look at what we read in verse 20?
the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
That’s a reference to the Lord’s return. The Lord Jesus will descend from heaven in all his glory and power and every eye will see him. So the last days is not a short period of time. It’s a long period of time, stretching from the day of Pentecost (or from the time of the Lord’s resurrection and ascension) to the coming of the Lord. So, the Apostles were living in the last days. And so are we. And so when we hear the phrase, ‘the last days’ we mustn’t think of a brief period of time. We’re to think of the time between the day of Pentecost and the time when Christ returns. Christ has come, as God promised in the Old Testament, and he has done all things necessary to free us from our sins. And in this last period of time, before he returns, he’s building his church throughout the world. He’s calling men and women and boys and girls to come to him. And by his Spirit he’s enabling them to turn from their sins in repentance and to turn in faith to him. In these last days, he’s building his church. And he will continue to do so until the time has come for him to return.
So, we’re living in the last days, waiting for Christ to return. Next is God’s promise to pour out his Spirit. Now, we need to be clear. The Holy Spirit was at work in the Old Testament. But his work was confined to the people of Israel. However, through the prophet Joel God promised that one day he would pour out his Spirit on all people. In other words, on all kinds of people. Not just the people of Israel. But also on people in every nation of the world. And that’s what was beginning to happen on the day of Pentecost. First, God poured out his Spirit here in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. And then, he poured out his Spirit on some Samaritans (chapter 8). And the Samaritans were regarded as half-Jews and half-Gentiles. But then the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his household (chapter 10). And Cornelius was a Roman Centurion, a Gentile. And so, on the Jews first. Then the Samaritans. Then the Gentiles. The Holy Spirit was being sent to all kinds of people. And all kinds of people were being enabled to repent and to believe. And still today, God sends his Spirit on people in every nation, enabling them to trust in Jesus Christ.
And the prophecy in Joel goes on to show that the Spirit is poured out on all, irrespective of their gender or their age. Daughters as well as sons. Young men as well as old men. The Lord sends his Spirit on his servants (verse 18). In other words, on all those who belong to him.
So, we’re living in the last days. And the Holy Spirit is now being sent to all kinds of people and not to the Jews only. The third thing to notice is the effect of the Spirit’s coming. And Joel refers to prophesy and to visions and to dreams. Now, it’s clear that not every believer today prophesies the way the Old Testament prophets prophesied. And not every believer has visions and dreams of a spiritual kind. So how should we understand the words of Joel? Well, some older commentators suggest that what Joel is prophesying here is the spread of the gospel throughout the world. Through the preaching of the gospel, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, men and women and boys and girls in every nation will come to know God and to trust in Jesus Christ. And John Calvin suggests that the reason Joel referred to prophecy and visions and dreams is because that’s how God made himself known in the Old Testament period. In the past, God made known his plans to the prophets by giving them visions and dreams. But how does he make himself known today? Through the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Spirit. Think of Lydia in Philippi. Paul told her the gospel. And God opened her heart to pay attention to the message. So, God is promising that, in these last days, more and more people from every nation will come to know God.
Now, in verse 19 he refers to signs and wonders. This may refer to the signs and wonders performed by the Lord Jesus. Or it may refer to the miracles the Apostles were enabled to perform. Or it could refer to all the supernatural events related to our redemption beginning with the Lord’s birth to his resurrection and ascension and the pouring out of his Spirit at Pentecost and the ministry of the Apostles afterwards. Or it could even refer to signs which accompany the coming of the Lord Jesus at the end of time. It’s not altogether clear what Joel is referring to by signs and wonders, but it’s clear that in verse 20 he’s referring to the coming of the Lord. And in verse 21 we have the promise that in these last days, before Christ returns, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The gospel will be proclaimed everywhere. The Holy Spirit will be sent on all kinds of people. And everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.
Verses 22 to 36
That’s how Peter begins this Pentecost sermon. He begins by quoting from the Old Testament prophet Joel. And Joel had spoken of how God would pour out his Spirit. However, in the rest of the sermon, Peter hardly refers to the Holy Spirit. Instead he goes on to speak about the Lord Jesus. Do you see that? Look at verse 22. He says:
Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth….
Peter’s sermon is not about the Holy Spirit. It’s about the Lord Jesus.
And, of course, this shouldn’t surprise us. After all, the work of the Apostles was to testify about the Lord Jesus. And, in fact, the work of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to believe in the Lord Jesus.
My former minister used to refer to the spotlights on the ground outside our church in Bangor. The spotlights were on the ground and they were directed upwards, onto the church. Bright lights highlighting the church. And he would say that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit highlights the Lord Jesus. He shines the light on Christ. Instead of drawing attention to himself, he draws attention to the Lord Jesus. And so, while we might think the Day of Pentecost was all about the Holy Spirit, we’d be wrong. Peter’s point in his sermon is that Jesus Christ has risen and is ascended. And because he’s risen and ascended, he sent his Spirit.
And so look. Verse 22: Peter shifts our attention to the Lord Jesus. Verse 23: The Lord’s death was all part of God’s great plan to save us. Nevertheless, you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death. Verse 24: But God raised him from the dead. Verses 25 to 28: This was all announced beforehand through David. And so in Psalm 16, David spoke about someone who would not be abandoned to the grave. Someone who would not see decay. Someone who would be filled with joy in God’s presence. Who was he referring to? Well, verse 29: he can’t be referring to himself because David died and was buried and his body is still in his tomb. So, verses 30 and 31: David was talking about the Lord Jesus and his resurrection. God the Father did not abandon him to the grave. Nor did not let the Lord Jesus’s body decay in the ground. Verse 32: No, he raised the Lord Jesus to life. And all the Apostles were witnesses to his resurrection. Verse 33: Now that he has been exalted to God’s right hand side in heaven, he has received the Holy Spirit as a gift from his Father. And he has poured out his Spirit on his people in Jerusalem which explains all that was happening that day. Jesus Christ, who died but rose again, has sent his Spirit on them. Verse 34: This had also been announced before by David in Psalm 110. And then we have the conclusion in verse 36:
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
He’s the Lord, the Son of God. And he’s the Christ, God’s special servant sent to save us from our sins.
Christ, the head and king of the church, sits enthroned in heaven. He rules over all things. And he sends his Spirit down upon us to enable sinners to repent and to believe the good news. The external preacher preaches, whether its an apostle or a minister or the Bible class teacher or a Christian witnesses to a friend about the Lord Jesus. And the internal preacher, the Holy Spirit, is also at work to convince and convert sinners to faith in Christ. And through the preaching of the gospel and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus is at work to build his church.