A TASTE of the last judgment was experienced by all those who witnessed the events on the Day of Pentecost as related in Acts 2:1-41. On that day the Holy Spirit caused both separation and decision. Some received the Holy Spirit; others present in the same room at the same time did not receive the divine gift. The first group praised God for hearing the words of life in their own language; the "others mocking said, These men are full of new wine" (verse 13).
Whenever the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, the hearers are always brought to decision. There in that room of the Temple all who were present heard the "sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind" (verse 2). They all saw the "tongues like flames of fire" (verse 3, N.E.B.),* but the results differed with various listeners. Some were not moved at all, apparently observing nothing of what was actually taking place. Then there were those who were "cut to the heart" (verse 37, N.E.B.) as though the hand of death had touched them.
Spirit-filled Preaching Brings Decision
The decision that has always been called forth by Spirit-filled preaching has determined the eternal destiny of the hearers. The apostle Paul pictures preachers of the gospel as "captives of Christ's triumphal procession" spreading "abroad the fragrance of the knowledge of himself! We are indeed the incense offered by Christ to God, both for those who are on the way to salvation, and for those who are on the way to perdition: to the latter it is a deadly fume that kills, to the former a vital fragrance that brings life" (2 Cor. 2:14-16, N.E.B.). Little wonder that after making this awesome statement Paul asks the question, "Who is equal to such a calling?"
What happened in the hearts of the hearers on that morning of Pentecost was the result of the preaching of a man who had himself experienced the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. Only about two months before, this man had openly denied his Lord three times in the court of the high priest's palace. Now fearless, confident, and fully committed to Christ, "Peter stood up with the eleven," lifted up his voice, and with pure language and irrefutable logic, addressed the powers that be in Jerusalem. What the Holy Spirit said through Peter separated the listeners right and left. That sermon was undeniably filled with words of judgment and of grace. It was a prophetic message graciously offering hope and salvation. "And it shall come to pass, that who soever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21).
Sharing the Guilt of the Crucifixion
Peter was addressing the very people who were guilty of contributing to the crucifix ion of "Jesus of Nazareth, a man singled out by God and made known to you through miracles . . . which God worked" (verse 22, N.E.B.) among them. Now they hear, and are convinced, that this Man is not dead, a captive in the grave, but alive. "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear" (verses 32, 33).
As Peter addressed the people, he employed tender, heart-touching language. The message he had for them would cut deep, and must be presented with great skill. As his mind moved along in the sermon, Peter introduced the successive steps of his speech with salutations: "Ye men of Judaea" (verse 14), "Ye men of Israel" (verse 22), "Men and brethren" (verse 29), and finally, "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (verse 36). Many who heard this message listened attentively. What they heard frightened them, cutting deep into their hearts. The Holy Spirit drove home the convicting message. It suddenly dawned upon the people that they shared the guilt of the crucifixion. Who doesn't?
The hearers at Pentecost were ordinary men and women who had been aroused into crying: "Crucify him, crucify him," not then realizing what they were doing. For that reason Jesus prayed the Father to forgive them, for they did not know what they were doing. But they were not the only ones sharing the guilt of the death of the Son of God. Every sinner from Adam to now shares that guilt, for Jesus took upon Himself the sin and the sorrow and guilt of the whole world. The message that Peter preached at Pentecost is still the good news of hope and salvation for sinners.
As the awful consciousness of guilt cut its way into the hearts of those who heard him, they were frightened. Conviction was so overwhelming that they, as though grasping for a straw, cried out: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (verse 37). They sensed that the death sentence was hanging over them. They turned to Peter and the other apostles for some reassurance, hoping that all wasn't lost. Perhaps it was not too late, the apostles would have the answer! They wished above all that they had not been among those who had consented to the crucifixion of Jesus, but that fact could not be changed. Now their greatest desire was to belong to those who were followers of the Lord Jesus. Now they had "ears to hear." The miracle of hearing had already taken place in their thinking. They were ready to receive the word of the Lord that was available to them through the apostles.
Peter was quick to give the hoped-for reply. The message of mercy he had for them was brief and forthright: "Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (verses 38, 39).
"Repent." For the third time the invitation to repent was given. First John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, sounded the call: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). Then Jesus followed with the same message (chap. 4:17). Now Peter sounds the call to repentance. By this time it was crystal clear that the repentance called for by these voices was something different from the agonizing self-efforts and useless bustle that had been substituted by religionists for true repentance. Now it was admitted that God was at work, that His mighty acts, as high lighted at Pentecost, meant something new and different. The kingdom of heaven had moved forward step by step, and was moving ahead with another mighty thrust. Jesus was now "Lord and Christ," and in His name repentant sinners were to be baptized for the remission of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit. It was now or never.
Preaching With a New Dimension
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). In the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the preaching of the kingdom of God took on a new dimension. Those who thought they had silenced the Lord Jesus by crucifying Him were forced to accept the fact that He had risen from the dead and the gift of the Holy Spirit had been bestowed upon the church in the name of Jesus Christ. The enemies of God were powerless in their efforts to prevent the preaching of the resurrection and forgiveness of sin in His name. The fact that on this one day .three thousand souls received the word of the gospel gladly and were added to the believers was over whelming evidence of the presence of a divine power attending the apostles that was greater than all the opposition that had set itself against the works of God. Those added to the believers in the name of the risen Saviour now enjoyed the peace and security that Jesus had promised to all who belong to the family of God.
Added to the Family of God
They now experienced a taste of the result of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and remembered the words of Jesus: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you" (John 14:27). They felt the security that Jesus had promised to those who would hear His voice and follow Him when He said, "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. . . . And no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hands" (chap. 10:28, 29). They knew that they belonged to the family of God because they actually experienced the peace and security that accompany that relationship. From that day to the present time every newborn member of the family of God enjoys the same sense of belonging to the church, which is the body of Christ.
Thus the Christian church was born on that morning of Pentecost. The one hundred and twenty who had been meeting together time after time, expecting, waiting for the promise, were suddenly surprised to hear directly above them a sound like that of a mighty wind, and to see separate flames of fire rest upon each one individually. The Holy Spirit is often likened to wind and fire in Scripture. Now the Temple area resounded with and was lighted up by power from on high. The place was already thronged with the annual visitors on the day of Pentecost. The demonstration of wind and fire was accompanied with the miracle of tongues. Those who had "ears to hear" suddenly understood in their own respective languages what the apostles were saying.
Preaching With Results
Wind, fire, languages, and earnest listeners suddenly prepared the stage for the preaching of that mighty sermon by Peter. The day had arrived for the fulfillment of prophecy and for the message of the hour. The result was far beyond all expectation. Not only were three thousand new believers "added unto them," but on the very first day of its life under the endowment of the Holy Spirit the church broke through its national boundaries and the gospel burst forth into "every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). The triumphal forward march of the gospel to all the world was set in motion, destined never to be thwarted in its growth and expansion. New life, irresistible power, and constant outreach unto the uttermost part of the earth have characterized Spirit-filled preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and will continue to do so until the good news of salvation has been heralded to all the world and the end will come.
Preaching, powered by the Holy Spirit, began at Pentecost. It has thus continued throughout the centuries wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit has found the right kind of preachers. "Peter standing up with the eleven" is warrant for every preacher of the gospel to sound the message of salvation with Pentecostal power. The primary condition for Spirit-powered preaching of the Word of God today must be met by the preacher himself as it was by Peter. Thank God, Peter as a man was ready to be used by the Holy Spirit when the day of Pentecost came and the preaching of the gospel was to enter upon its new dimension.
Today in the final hour of the gospel dispensation, as in the days of the apostles, the world is ready for the gospel ministers to stand up unitedly with complete confidence in God and the message of salvation and fearlessly, wisely preach the Word of God. The power of the Holy Spirit will certainly accompany such preachers and such preaching. The results will be far above our highest expectations. Oh, how urgently the world and church need such preaching today!
* The texts credited to N.E.B. are from The New English Bible, New Testament. The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961. Used by permission.