Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
When we consider God’s wonder work at Pentecost in connection with all His other wonder works — the incarnation, the resurrection, and so on — then we might say that Pentecost is the crowning event of all the other events. Without God’s wonder work at Pentecost, a work which continues for our sakes, all those other works — the incarnation, the death, the resurrection of our Lord — mean nothing.
Have you ever thought about what our religion would be like if Christ had come in the flesh and died and been raised from the dead, but the Spirit had not been poured out? The result would have been that you and I would have no personal contact with Christ.
Jesus promised His disciples, according to John 14, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; … ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you….The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
Without Pentecost, the Bible would have been a fine piece of literature perhaps, but devoid of all accounts and letters written by the apostles. We would have nothing more than the Jews do today. Without Pentecost, we could have known nothing more than that a man died on the cross. Without Pentecost, you and I would be void of our only comfort in life and death. Without Pentecost, the rich experience of salvation — and the assurance of it — would be gone.
Now, I realize that we have just taken a negative approach to drawing out the significance of Pentecost; but, from that, don’t you see the magnificence of this work of God’s grace?
We are rich with the experience of our salvation, are we not?
The Spirit of Christ came with three accompanying signs.
It is necessary that the Spirit come in signs. The things of the kingdom of God do not belong to this world. For that reason, not only the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, but all the events of salvation were accompanied by signs. Apart from signs, Jesus is just another baby. “But this shall be a sign unto you, you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” So there were those tremendous and even terrifying signs at the cross. There were signs at the resurrection of our Lord. And so there are signs here, signs of the Spirit.
The Sound from Heaven
The first sign of which we read is the sign of the sound from heaven, a sound as of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the whole house in which they were sitting.
The Holy Spirit is pictured here as to His irresistible power and mysterious workings. We see here that when the Holy Spirit descended it was not only for a handful of people, but in order that this might reach the ends of the world.
Surely God could have sent the Spirit in a more gentle manner. But at about nine o’clock in the morning He sent this tremendous sound from heaven. The roar thereof was heard in the sky and throughout the city, but it centered itself in the upper room where the disciples were gathered. It had every semblance of a strong wind rushing through the city, but at the time there was no wind, only the sound as of a tornado wind.
And when you ask, why this sign, the answer can be found in a couple different directions.
In the first place, the Lord would wake us up! Remember now, this sound was not only for those in that upper room, but especially for those who were outside that upper room, those who were still sleeping and caught up in the pride of their Jewish religion. So we also are often so caught up and wrapped up in this world, that we can taste neither the Word of God nor the work of His Spirit, unless we are awakened as it were by His power.
But in the second place, this sign is most appropriate as a sign demonstrating the characteristics of the Spirit’s work. God was at work here, as signified by the sound which penetrated Jerusalem and centered in that upper room. He was working mightily, irresistiblyin the hearts of His children, calling them from darkness into His marvelous light.
And so we read that many, actually thousands, were drawn by God to that house, that they might hear the gospel through the preaching of the Spirit-filled apostle. Though the Pharisees and scribes and the ungodly in Jerusalem hardened their hearts to this sign, God drew His elect irresistibly, that they might be saved. For so it happened, as Jesus had said to Nicodemus in John 3 when He spoke of the absolute necessity of being born again unto salvation: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
Cloven Tongues Like as of Fire
The second sign is that of cloven tongues like as of fire, which sat upon each of them in that house. Literally we read that tongues like fire were seen distributing themselves among them, and sat upon each one of them.
Perhaps we may best conceive of the appearance this way. There was the appearance of a column of fire coming from heaven, and from this one appearance of a flame broke numerous other tongues like as of fire, settling on the heads of each one of the 120 or so disciples.
Fire is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s work as a dynamic, energizing, and quickening power. And although symbolically we Christians may aptly be described as coals of fire, the Spirit Himself is a living fire.
He quickens us, in the first place, by cleansing us, as fire signifies. And the tongues appeared on each one. Every one of us needs to be purged, since there is only filth and corruption in us. If you examine yourself in the light of God’s Word, you will find that there is pollution and stench everywhere in your being. But the fire of the Spirit burns away all that is impure, and thereby purifies and sanctifies us as a people consecrated to the Lord. God prepares us unto Himself, to shine forth as His precious jewels.
Secondly, as to the significance of that fire, the Holy Spirit not only cleanses, but enlightens and sets on fire. When it comes to loving God as we ought, we are as cold as ice. We need to be set on fire, to be filled with zeal. So God works through the Spirit, raising us up on high by means of His Word. He first enlightens us, filling us with His certain and infallible truth as the revelation of the God of our salvation and the witness of our adoption.
That is how we are filled with zeal — God working in us through His Holy Spirit, powerfully, dynamically, quickening us, setting us on fire unto Him.
Speaking in Different Languages
Finally, there is the sign by which the work of God through His Spirit is characterized as a universal work — the sign of all speaking in different languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
The roaring sound, which had all the semblance of a raging wind, had been heard throughout the city and had drawn thousands of people to the spot where that strange phenomenon plainly centered. Among that multitude were not only Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem, but pilgrims from around the known world who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.
We can say that the whole world was represented to witness this momentous event. And they all were amazed when these disciples walked among them and spoke freely with each of them in his or her own tongue.
That does not mean that there was a wonder in them that heard. Sometimes the clear teaching of the text has been misinterpreted that way. But the wonder was in those who spoke. And the symbolism here is simply but profoundly the wonder that the promise is now universal. The prophecy of Joel was fulfilled, a fulfillment which has continued to this present day: All shall be prophets in the kingdom of God.
Of what did they speak? They spoke of the marvelous works of God in our salvation, and the salvation of all His people. To every nation, tribe, and tongue, the faithfulness of our God in Jesus Christ is revealed. He sent His Comforter, as He had promised. And you need not speak the Hebrew tongue to receive Him. You need only to be filled by God with the Spirit of His dear Son.
The Effects of This Wonder
The effect of this wonder work of God’s grace was immediate.
In the first place, we notice that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. That means not only the 120 saints in that upper room, but the whole church of Jesus Christ. He had fulfilled His promise to His church.
That continues in the church today. All in Christ’s church are filled with the Spirit. No, not all church-goers are filled with the Spirit. All in Christ’s church, all the elect who have been regenerated and called by the Spirit of Christ are filled.
Do not corrupt this Word of God. Do not make an elite few the Spirit-filled members of Christ’s church. Do not make only adults the recipients of the Spirit. The Spirit does not fill adults and pass by the little children. The Spirit fills the church, young and old. All are now prophets, priests, and kings unto God. All occupy the office of believer in Christ’s church.
It is on that basis that the church lives and teaches and preaches and brings the gospel to the ends of the earth in obedience to God. God gathers His people from every nation of the earth by means of His Word and Spirit. He fills all His elect, changing them, cleansing them, filling them with zeal to live unto Him. And it will not be long before that church will be gathered, and our Lord will return with the clouds of heaven. He will appear with the sounding of the trumpet. And all shall hear and understand and bow in adoration before Him. In the Spirit of Christ we shall live and reign with Christ forever in the new creation.
That Christ is now present with His church by His Holy Spirit was immediately evident. It was evident in that the people all began to speak. Not only the apostles spoke, not only the ordained preachers and missionaries spoke, but all began to speak. That was the beautiful immediate effect of Pentecost. That is the immediate effect wherever the Spirit is at work in His church. When a person in darkness is consumed by the light of the Spirit, when he receives the consciousness of the forgiveness of his sins, when he realizes that he is an heir of unspeakable glory, he speaks.
It is a bad sign in the church when members can talk about everything else, but have empty mouths when it comes to talking about the marvelous things of God. We must not be in the shadows, attempting to please God by our church attendance and by bringing our own sacrifice. No, then we cannot speak. For we have not yet tasted the rich outpouring of the Spirit. But when the wonder of Pentecost lives in our hearts, beloved, we speak — to God, oh yes, in prayer; but also to our children and to our brothers and sisters and to our neighbors — about the marvelous work of God.
Rich, exceedingly rich, is the gospel of our salvation — unable to be contained under a bushel.