Acts 2: Just Plain Witness

Notes

  • (1) As we saw in ch 1, the believers were still together when Pentecost came. What a profound thought: a church that met together all day, every day for 10 days straight!
  • (3) These weren’t actual tongues of fire; they just seemed like it. The symbolism of fire is significant; it can be used to refine to perfection, as well as to alter the molecular composition of a material. In metals, this second property is often used to strengthen the material. The Holy Spirit would do the same two things to us: refine us by removing all of the impurities, and strengthen us by changing our inmost being into the likeness of God.
  • (4) Other tongues, in this case, is other earthly languages. This will be demonstrated later in the chapter when people are able to understand them in the street.
  • (5-6) These were people that were legitimately interested in the things of God. When they heard the sound, which though “like the blowing of a violent wind” was still somehow different (if only in that the wind wasn’t really blowing that hard), they came looking for what God was doing. This is a significant distinction between the people to which the disciples ministered on Pentecost and the people to which we minister today. In general, twenty-first century American culture is indifferent to God, certainly not God-fearing.
  • (8-11) Here is the proof that the gift of tongues here was a gift of earthly languages.
  • (12) This was the point of the sound, the infilling, and the gift: to compel people to ask what it all means, thus opening them to the gospel message. Indeed, Christians must recognize that a significant point of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling us and infusing us with spiritual gifts is so that we can use them to compel people to ask the same question today, thus opening even the hardest of hearts to the gospel message.
  • (13) It is imperative to recognize that, even among “God-fearing Jews,” there were some who taunted and ridiculed the Christians. Even after the most profound miracles, there will be people – even unlikely people – who will laugh.
  • (14) Here is the fundamental essence of evangelism! When people ask questions about our radical lives, we “explain” what’s going on. This isn’t Bible-pounding or even preaching. It’s a friendly conversation.
  • (17-21) Scripture is useful in all sorts of situations, especially evangelism. And yet, how often do we try to explain our faith without Scripture, or with just a select few verses. Utilizing Scripture to transition people from unbelief to belief was a common occurrence in Acts. Peter, Steven, Philip, and Saul would all use it.
  • (21-36) Any witness to the gospel message must start with the fact that, while it was our sin that put Jesus on the cross, it was God who raised Him from the dead, thus conquering sin and death once and for all.
  • (37) When people are finally confronted with their sin and the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus, they will have to respond in some way. Some, like these people in Jerusalem, will be eager to know what they should do. Others will respond by recoiling or even just ignoring the whole thing. But they will respond.
  • (38-39) The gospel message must always end up at this same point. We must repent – quit sinning – and affiliate ourselves once and for all with the gospel, and only then will we receive the Holy Spirit.
  • (42-47) There are a number of things in here that are certainly worth mentioning, but I notice first of all the progression. The believers concerned themselves with what God had to tell them through the apostles’ teaching, which was based on Scripture and Jesus’ teachings; working together to get something done; the sacraments; and prayer. Because of all this, they were filled with awe, and because of the awe, wonders and miracles were done. Because of the wonders, miracles, and accomplishments of the fellowship, the believers were united toward the common good, including a willingness to sell their own possessions to meet each other’s needs. Because they were willing to do this for each other, they could meet together daily, dine together nightly, and praise the Lord. And then they enjoyed the favor of the people and saw believers added to their numbers. How often do we try to get things out of order!

Application

Usually, whenever I go through Acts 2, I have to focus on the foundations and behaviors of the NT church. Today, though, something else strikes me. Namely, the simple elegance of Peter’s message to the people on the streets of Jerusalem. Now, at first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much going on, but as this is the prototypical salvation message, I think that the structure and content merits a closer examination. After all, if this is what the salvation message was to Peter and co., the original believers, it is probably prudent at some level to compare it to whatever it is that we’re doing (or not doing) today.

To that end, the first thing that I see about Peter’s message is that it did not happen in a vacuum. In other words, the apostles didn’t just arbitrarily decide on some random Sunday to go out to the nearest street corner and just start preaching. Rather, this message was preceded by a radical change in Peter and his companions’ lives, which prompted the crowd around them to start to ask questions about what was going on, which gave Peter the opportunity to speak in the first place. We must remember that evangelism doesn’t happen spontaneously, just out of the blue. Witnessing opportunities don’t just materialize out of thin air. They are rooted in our own changed life and cultivated by our actions and attitudes before those to whom we would minister. In some cases, this may happen rather quickly, as it did here in Acts 2. But the people Peter and co. met on the streets of Jerusalem that first Pentecost were described as “God-fearing Jews,” which is certainly out of the ordinary today. So I must conclude that the process may not be quite so rapid, or so smooth. Indeed, in an era where statistician George Barna believes that only a small fraction of people are believers, and only a small fraction of “believers” know what that means, we must recognize that a great deal of our culture is simply apathetic to the things of God. They don’t know, and frankly, don’t care. So more often than not, today, I think that this preparation phase will probably take some – maybe even a lot of time. So be patient; build the foundation and framework before you swing in for the proverbial kill!

Second, Peter’s gospel presentation started with a common frame of reference. In other words, he found a little sliver of common ground and started from there. In this case, the sliver was that the crowd wanted to know what had happened to these fishermen so that they could now speak in foreign tongues and do miracles, etc. Peter explained that it was nothing but the power of God, thus moving the conversation from its start point in this strange behavior of the disciples’ to the naure and necessity of the crucifixion. We must do the same. Find some common ground, whether it be what you and your neighbors are doing in your respective yards, the kind of car he/she drives, or the school both your kids are going to. Remember, just as the frog won’t jump out of the water if it’s brought to a boil slowly enough, neither will we. If we find something comfortable to talk with the unbeliever about, we can smoothly segway from there to matters of a more eternal nature.

Third, keep your eye on the ball and don’t stray from the gospel. Once you set about witnessing, don’t let yourself be tempted to deliver the gospel lite or any other package instead of the real thing. The real gospel starts with Jesus’ crucifixion and death on a cross for our sin and ends with his triumphant resurrection and ascension so that we might have victory over sin and death. And yet, so often, we tell people that Jesus went to the cross for them, so they should go to church. Or Jesus loved them so much that He set up church softball leagues. And the list goes on and on. If people want to get saved, they must – absolutely must – gather at the foot of the cross, repent, and have their lives completely and radically changed.

Fourth, make sure to challenge them to respond positively. When Peter was done, Luke tells us that his listeners “were cut to the heart and said, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” The truth is that everyone who hears the gospel message is compelled to respond in some way, shape, or form. The way I see it, that means that they can do one of about three different things. First, they can reject it completely out of hand, disbelieve it and change nothing about their lives. Second, they can nod their heads in affirmation, acknowledging that this is true, but still do nothing about it. Or third, they can nod their heads and fall to their knees in repentance. The challenge that we have as believers is to encourage our listeners to the last of these. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized,” and he added, “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” These were incredibly specific directives. Repent wasn’t just recognizing how bad we are; it was acknowledging our guilt and resolving to sin no more. Being batptized wasn’t just taking a shower or a both in the desert. These people were associating with the gospel message so that everyone could see, regardless of cost or consequence. And receiving the Holy Spirit was essentially, “And get for yourself the life-changing, purifying, empowering indwelling of the third Person of the triune God so that you can go and witness just as we are right now.” This is a truly positive response to the gospel message; everything else falls short. Sure, they’ll recognize that they can choose to leave it all behind and continue on with their own thing, but we must make what they should and must do both clear and imperative so that there is no room left for doubt.

And finally, don’t worry about using big words or making it glitzy or even glamorous. Peter witnessed in the dust and noise of a busy street. We don’t need laser shows and pyrotechnics, fancy music or PowerPoint slides. And he did it in the language – and using the vocabulary – that his audience would understand. We don’t need to know the meaning of words like “transsubstantiation” or “modalistic monarchianism” to be effective witnesses. We just have to tell people what we know. That, after all, the meaning of the word “witness.”

So there you have it. Five things, profound or not, that come from Acts 2. But before we leave this, it is essential to see one more key word. And that is the worded “added,” which is found in verse 47. So often, when we look at this passage, we are astounded by the amazing response of 3,000 to the gospel in one day. And then we see that the conversions continued on a daily basis, and we may be tempted to think that this was some sort of special dispensation of grace that we’ll never have again. But the word “added” changes all that. You see, if things had continued as they did here at Pentecost, I would have expected each of these believers to run out onto the street each and every day and see 3,000 more converts. If you do the math, that would mean that, by the end of day two, there would be 9,000,000 believers. By the end of day three, that number would skyrocket to 27,000,000,000, and the world would have been reached probably 50 times over, all within 48 hours of Pentecost. Of course, history tells us that it didn’t happen that way, so we know that the conversion rate clearly slowed down. I think that the word “added” is essential here because it tells us that, while the number of conversions slowed down, people were still being saved. And it tells us that, even as the gospel message faces different roadblocks such as the persecution of the first and second centuries, the corruption of the middle ages, and the apathy of the culture today, people will still be saved.

If only we will live a life that is truly changed and witness unashamedly to the gospel message, pure and clear.

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