We only have Luke’s description of the day of Pentecost to go by. It is hard to identify with what must have been the exuberant and overwhelming spirit of those early days in the church after Pentecost! If his description is at all accurate, Luke describes an explosive situation. The fellowship of those who believed in Jesus Christ mushroomed almost instantly. But the number of believers, added to the church, 3000, is only part of the story. There is an explosion of faith. The excitement is palpable. Many signs and wonders done by the apostles, astonish the believers, an unstinting spirit of generosity sprang up spontaneously in the church generally, they meet daily for prayer of joy for it, they fellowshipped and broke bread together, while continually going from house to house enjoying one another and celebrating their salvation; and all the time they are conducting themselves toward one another with honest sincerity and integrity! The effect was so powerful that the people in Jerusalem regarded these enthusiastic believers with favor, and God was adding to the church daily as people got saved. In one day, after one sermon, the church literally exploded with faith, power and fellowship!

In our day the church quietly smolders. We expect and count on modest gains, and even accept moderate decline as the normal price for doing business in the kingdom of God. Our concept of God’s power and the gospel is weak and anemic. We have no real conviction that powerful, life-changing faith can explode in the context of our church or in our cities and communities. We don’t expect it, and we are not looking for it to occur! What gave rise to such explosive faith on the day of Pentecost? What exactly was it that ignited the powder keg of spiritual passion and fervor? To answer these questions we must look closely at the passage where Luke describes the exploding church.

On The Day of Pentecost

We look at the Day of Pentecost as obvious. There are no surprises any more. To us in the fact that the 120 were baptized in the Holy Spirit, is old hat and we hardly bat an eye at them speaking in tongues. We don’t even react to the mighty rushing wind, or the cloven tongues of fire, these physical manifestations, which after all must have been visible or perceptible to everyone present, since Luke records the eyewitness accounts of them! Somehow we have missed the facts that surround the baptism of the apostles and Jesus other disciples in the Holy Spirit, and we have assumed that it was as routine as some of the more enthusiastic examples our own Pentecostal services. But in reality this event was cataclysmically explosive!

Roger Stronstad makes the case for Luke using the term ‘house’ in the usual Hebraic idiomatic way for the temple of God (Stronstad, 121). In other words, as the temple teemed with life and worshippers, the 120 had gathered in a particular location on the temple mount to pray (Acts 2:1)(their custom was to meet under Solomon’s Porch (Acts 3:11; 5:12)), when the powerful phenomena of visitation spontaneously broke loose (Acts 2:1-4)! There was a mighty wind, and visible tongues of fire on the 120, who spoke in tongues, many in languages recognized by other worshippers, Jews from other provinces in the empire (Acts 2:7-8a, 8-11)! This was an explosive event, no matter how you look at it. It was not a controlled, even the typical passionate worship service of a Pentecostal church! It was a radical, loud, eye and ear catching, exciting, frightening and confusing occurrence (Acts 2:12)! The people looking on were shocked, overcome and scrambling for explanations as to what was happening (Acts 2:13). The temple shook, and it must have felt like the end of time had come, as they heard Galileans speaking in languages they had not learned (Acts 2:7b, 11b). When Peter stood up to give the explanation, he began by affirming that this was a breakthrough of God’s power, and what was more it was a breakthrough of God’s power in fulfillment of the promise he had made to pour out his Spirit at the end of time (Acts 2:14-21; cf. Joel 2:28-29). Peter claimed that kingdom of God had just radically broken into their world and was shaking it to the very foundations! What’s more he claimed that the shaking of their world had its true origins in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whom they had crucified themselves, but whom God had raised from the dead, and it is he who was responsible for this manifestation of the power of God, and outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2:29-36).

The 120 had become definitive heirs of the ministry and mission of Jesus, not to mention the power to carry it out (Stronstad, Roger. Spirit, Scripture and Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective. (Baguio City, Philippines: Asia Pacific Theological Press, 1995), 119). The dramatic signs were entirely appropriate to mark the pivotal moment when the promise of God to send his Holy Spirit in the last days had come to fulfillment (Joel 2:28) (Stronstad, 119). In other words, the dynamic events, and demonstrative power was commensurate with the significance of what God was doing, and the eschatological moment having to do with the advancement of his redemptive program. This was a significant moment in the historical enactment of the purposes of God, in fulfillment of promises he had made, and it was entirely appropriate that such a moment be marked with extraordinary power and drama! And indeed it was, wind, fire and tongues! The disciples of Jesus had not taken on the same relationship to the Spirit that Jesus himself had, to become “Spirit baptized, Spirit empowered, Spirit filled and Spirit led” (Stronstad, 120). This was life changing. It was totally revolutionary at every level of their personality and experience of God. There was not just an outward explosion of the church, but an inward and personal explosion of spiritual power and experience of the presence of God in each individual’s life.

Classical Pentecostals claim continuity with the disciples and their experience of the Holy Spirit on that first Day of Pentecost. But that is often as far as it goes. The explosive power of Pentecost has quieted down considerably, and the personal passion and power that seemed to have gripped the hearts and lives of the individual believers has become little more than a persistent, albeit subdue faith in God and the principles of his Word. It seems that the out of control passion and radical exercise of the Holy Spirit’s power that propelled the early church forward is part of our theology, our history, but not our experience. After Pentecost the passion, power and enthusiasm of the early church turn Jerusalem upside down over night. Today we are content with a slow and persistent effort securing modest gains and small victories. The explosion had becomes a smoldering hearth of barely glowing embers. Is that all we are to expect before the glorious and powerful return of Jesus Christ for his church?

Jesus had been with his disciples for about 40 days and now it had been 10 days since his ascension. They had been instructed to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit on them, and to remain at Jerusalem until that had occurred. It would only be after that they were to become powerful witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. It is hard for us to realize, they had no idea what it was they were to expect. There was no background, no theology, no tradition. When it came it would be an entirely new experience without any precedence, except Jesus own Spirit baptism at the Jordan. Stronstad remarks that since Peter stated that the time was 9 am when they had received the Holy Spirit, and the day of Pentecost had begun the night before at dusk, it was closer to the end of the day than the beginning when the Spirit fell on them (Stronstad, 120)! Whether or not they were expecting this day to be different from the previous, or if there was a sense of anticipation, we cannot know. In any event, the day was in danger of passing without incident at the moment the Spirit broke through while they were praying. It was sudden, unexpected, powerful and explosive. Everyone was taken by surprise, as evidenced by the stir they caused in the city by their exuberance and excitement. There was a moment for spiritual break-through, and Jesus expected his disciples to be faithful in anticipating and seeking God for it. They were not to give up or turn away from their expectation or spirit of prayer in connection with realizing the promise Jesus had made. Someone had to stay the course for the breakthrough to come.

What if in the common run of the mill church program, we have lost this sense of anticipation. What if we should not be simply doing church, but seriously anticipating an explosive visitation of God. What if we should be seriously seeking for it, anticipating it and preparing ourselves for it! Somehow we have settled for doing the business of church, without the dramatic power of the kingdom of God. No one is seeking, expecting, anticipating. We have settled in for the duration.

After the Day of Pentecost

The radical power of God did not end with the spontaneous breakthrough on the Day of Pentecost. The church fell into radical fellowship, involving teaching, generosity, celebration, honesty and sincerity in relationships and powerful signs and wonders. The 3,000 saved as a result of peter sermon were soon wrapped up in the love and fellowship of the believers, with needs being met, encouragement given and received, and a hunger for a deeper understanding of the doctrine and truth about Jesus. The explosion of the Spirit’s power had resulted in an explosion of faith! Faith, joy and power had gone viral all over the church. The whole city had been ripped apart over night by a literal cyclone of spiritual power and radical faith in Jesus Christ (Act 4:16-17; 5:27-28). It was spreading like wildfire and the religious authorities were powerless to stop it.

Nothing like that is happening in America. Pockets of revival are occurring for sure. Many churches are thriving, some phenomenally, but it is very rare to find the church so empowered that whole communities have been impacted by the power of God. Everyone in Wilmington is not talking about our church! For many of us FAITH FIZZLES with anemic power, FAITH FUMES and ruminates in some damp, quiet, forgotten corner of our lives, FAITH FLICKERS like a weak candle-flame on a drafty window sill, teetering on being extinguished. Something is terribly, fundamentally and deeply wrong with our faith and our relationship to God. It has lost its explosive power, its explosive passion, and lack the conviction of a dramatic encounter with the Holy Spirit. WE can only ask if there is hope for a reversal. Only God knows if the bones lying dry and scattered about the valley floor can live again. One thing is certain, however, whatever coming together of those bones happens, whatever flesh and sinews finally develop on them, it will a mighty act of the divine Spirit of God for them to live.

The result of the Spirit’s outpouring was most evident in the radical life of the church. Viral faith had produced radical fellowship, generosity and joy. Their fellowship, as implied by the Greek word, koinonia, signifies close relationships. This is confirmed by attitudes of extreme generosity whereby by they would sell their property to meet one another’s needs and the constant sharing of meals from house to house. They became attached to the habit of prayer, going to the temple daily and praying together. In Acts 4, their praying precipitated a second visitation of God that shook the temple mount and resulted in a “second Pentecost” (Acts 4:13). This is not normal human behavior. It was the result of faith gone wild.

The apostles and disciples of Jesus had gathered in a single place ‎(epi to auto), or together in a place large enough for 120 people (Acts 2:1) (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers). The size of the group and the accessibility to them of the 3,000 converts tends to support the idea that they may have been on the temple mount or very near it. We do know that the early church tended to meet daily in the temple at Solomon’s Colonnade (Acts 3:1, 11; 5:12). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit comes suddenly toward the end of the festival day. There is no way for the apostles to predict the dramatic manner in which the gift of the Spirit is conferred. In every way there is an explosive manifestation of the presence of God. But after the event, things do not settle down. They continue in an explosive manner as miracles occur and thousands are saved at time. Confrontation with the religious authorities results in a further demonstration of God power, when the temple is shaken again. Further boldness follows, and the church and apostles continue to preach and do miracles. Faith is not shut down by the persecution it simply increases. Faith in Jesus Christ has literally gone viral in Jerusalem.

Luke gives us a number of reports on the progress of the church in Acts, this is the first (Gangel, K. O. (1998). Vol. 5: Acts. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers). The church has literally burst onto the scene, and exploded into the city, after the relatively tranquil meetings in the upper room and in the temple. After Pentecost, the apostles are doing miracles, signs and wonders, and Luke uses the same description of their activity as he does of the activity of Jesus (Acts 2:22) (Gangel, K. O. (1998). Vol. 5: Acts. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers). He attempts to show that the church is carrying forward the mission of Christ in his absence, in the same power of the Holy Spirit. The mission continues. The kingdom of God is continuing its breakthrough into the world, marked by the eschatological gift of the Spirit, confirming the critical historical juncture of the moment. These are the last days!

The healthy activity in the fellowship of believers is balanced by the growth of the church. People are being added daily to the church as they are being saved (Burton, E. D. W. (1898). Syntax of the moods and tenses in New Testament Greek (3rd ed.). Edinburg: T&T Clark). The vibrancy and dynamism should not be overlooked. Faith is being exercised daily, as evidenced by the daily growth of the church, because people are added to the fellowship as they are saved. It is literally explosive!

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