Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

Ground Zero

Preached by Ben Bechtel

If you remember last week, Benjamin preached from the beginning of Acts 2 about the events that happened among Jesus’ followers on the Jewish festival day of Pentecost. The promised Spirit descends and the followers of Jesus start speaking in other languages, languages which they did not know previously, about the mighty acts of God in the Messiah Jesus. And all who were there understood this in their own language. As we come to our text this morning, we hear the beginning of the response to these events.

Acts 2:12-21

12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.  15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.  16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, 
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, 
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 
    and your young men shall see visions, 
    and your old men shall dream dreams; 
18 even on my male servants and female servants 
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above 
    and signs on the earth below, 
    blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness 
    and the moon to blood, 
    before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ 

The date is September 11, 2001. At 8:46 am there is an explosion between floors 93-99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Instantly, everyone in New York City and many people are thrown into confusion. If you were on the ground that morning in Manhattan at this time amidst the smoke and the cutting squeal of fire sirens you may have heard frightened conversations like this, “Was that a plane that just flew into those towers? What happened to the pilot? Was this a tragic accident, suicide, or something even worse?” If you and I were there that morning, we would have been filled with confusion. However, at 9:03, once another plane hit the South Tower, it would have become as crystal clear to us as it was to the president’s aid who whispered in his ear that morning in an elementary school, “Mr. President, America is under attack.” 

This clarity about the events would have prompted everyone into action. The president instantly had one thousand thoughts and considerations buzzing through his mind, members of the FAA worked to ground all planes in the air, and the passengers aboard United flight 93, upon hearing the news, heroically worked together to crash their plane in a field in Western Pennsylvania that was headed for the White House. In a moment, with the crashing of the second plane, the meaning of the events became clear and people were drawn into action. 

This is precisely what happens with the events of Pentecost. The people present see fire, they hear a loud rushing wind, and they hear and understand the followers of Jesus speaking about God’s mighty deeds in their own language. Everyone present is perplexed at these events and doesn’t know what to make of them. Peter’s sermon, like the crashing of that second plane, will make crystal clear for them, and for us, the meaning of these confusing events. Not only will Peter tell us what these events mean, but his words will draw us into the events of Pentecost and propel us to respond accordingly.  

1. The Experience of Pentecost (vv. 12-16) 

If you look back up at verse 12, you’ll notice an interesting detail. It says that “all were amazed and perplexed.” Every single person who was in the crowd that day was stunned and confused by these events that happened. We wouldn’t know what in the world to do either! Some, in their confusion, respond with genuine inquiry while others respond with what Benjamin called last week a class clown deflection. They scoffed at what had just happened.  

There are really only two ways to react in life when an event doesn’t make sense to us and is confusing. We can either genuinely ask what is going and seek to help or we can suppose we already know what is going on and pick it apart. I’m well acquainted with this in my experience planning games for youth group. Almost every week there is an item or two, like a pool noodle and a kick ball, laying on the table. These items are part of our game but it’s ambiguous what this game will be. Some students when they see the items will ask excitedly, “what game are we playing?!” while others will say, “oh, this is going to be a boring game, isn’t it?”  

The latter group, who supposes that they know what is going on, responds like those mocking people at Pentecost. They supposed in their pride they knew what these events meant: these guys were drunks! But Peter points out the truth to these men who thought they knew what was going on (vv. 15-16): 

15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.  16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel… 

Peter says, “actually, these guys aren’t drunk because it’s only 9 am, which during Pentecost because of the rituals of the festival meant that they wouldn’t have even eaten breakfast yet.[1] Really, they’re too busy out here fulfilling Old Testament prophecy.” These mocking people are actually the ones that have lost their sobriety. They are too drunk in their own pride to see straight. They suppose what is going on to be the folly of man, but it is actually a display of the power and wisdom of God! Just like these people, our prideful posture often leaves us spiritually drunk so that we miss what God is doing among us. As God moves in our life and in the life of our church, may we not be so self-important to diagnose as a work of man what is actually the work of God.

2. The Explanation of Pentecost (vv. 17-20) 

What has transpired, Peter says, is not to be chalked up to some sloppy drunks wandering the streets of Jerusalem but rather it is the fulfillment of God’s ancient promise through his prophet Joel. Peter then moves to quote from the end of Joel 2, which is the rest of our text this morning. Let’s read verses 17-18 again: 

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, 
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, 
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 
    and your young men shall see visions, 
    and your old men shall dream dreams; 
18 even on my male servants and female servants 
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 

Knowing where you are in a large story is crucial for correctly understanding that story. For instance, if you were to, like my wife and I may have done a few weeks ago, watch the newest Spiderman movie without watching Avengers: Endgame first, you would be very confused about several main things that happen in the storyline. That is because the Marvel universe has been telling one large story over the course of one million movies. You have to know where you are in the larger story of the Marvel universe to understand the events of whatever Marvel movie you are watching. 

In the same way, I’ve heard a pastor say before that one of the most important things we can ask ourselves as Christians is, “what time is it?” The time in the story of God’s redemption in which we live is crucial to the way we understand our place and role in this story. According to this passage, the time in which we all are living is “the last days.” Some of you may think this sounds crazy. Some of you may think this is exactly right. But I’d venture to guess that most of us don’t have in mind what this passage has in mind when it speaks of the last days.  

In the Old Testament, the last days were a time that the people of God were looking forward to with great expectation, where God would give his Spirit in fullness, bring justice to the world and salvation to his people. The last days meant God’s final judgment and salvation. The Spirit, whose presence was not experienced in any full or complete way in the Old Testament, would then be dumped in buckets upon the people of God, beginning this promised age of new creation. What Peter is saying by quoting this prophecy in Joel to explain the events of Pentecost is that the last days have broken into the present with the resurrection of Jesus and the pouring out of God’s Spirit. Just like God breathed into Adam and made him a living creature (Gen. 2:7), Jesus, after receiving the Spirit himself in his resurrection breathes the Spirit on the church beginning his work of new creation, of making all things new. As verses 19-20 of Acts 2 tell us, there is still judgment and a final “Last Day” to come. However, what they all witnessed at Pentecost is the beginning of the last days, a time that continues up until the present. The last days are not just coming in the future; they began at Pentecost and continue into the present. 

 This has two implications for us as the church that I see in this passage: 

a. In the Last Days Everyone is a Prophet  

In the Old Testament, a prophet was a special office that a person was called into.[2] Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, etc. are all prophets of the Old Testament men who were called by God to know him deeply and proclaim his word to both his own people and the world. This intimate knowledge of God and proclamation of his word was only able to be done by these official prophets. However, passages like Joel 2 and others (Jer. 31:34) look forward with hope towards the day when all God’s people will know him this intimately and proclaim his works with boldness. The last days would be a time when all the people of God would receive his Spirit to prophesy, to tell of the mighty works of God.    

This is precisely what Acts 2 records for us. The Spirit is showered upon the church, and all of the followers of Jesus begin telling of the wondrous work of God accomplished in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. They receive the Spirit and begin proclaiming the gospel in power. Church, this kind of prophecy is our experience today too! In a way not available to Old Testament saints, we can know God intimately as he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus by his Spirit in his Word and we can proclaim these gospel truths to one another and to the world.  

Our Sunday morning service is a last days miracle! For us to all be gathered together and not just have a pastor “prophesy” to us by opening up the Bible but for all of us to be able to prophesy to each other about the gospel because we all know God is amazing. One way we do this is through our corporate singing (Col. 3:16): 

16 Let  the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 

It is not just our teaching or our interpersonal encouragement that is prophetic. Our songs are prophetic, in that they are the way the Spirit uses us to testify to one another about the good news of Jesus. And as we do this, God’s word is burrowed deeper and deeper into our hearts and minds by his Spirit. Let’s sing, and participate in Sunday school, and join in small groups, and speak to one another as prophets who intimately know God and can’t shut up about the goodness of his gospel. Let this also spill outside the walls of this church into our neighborhoods, gyms, workplaces, and homes as we proclaim the gospel to those who don’t know Jesus as those who deeply know and love Jesus by his Spirit’s fellowship. 

b. In the Last Days Everyone is a Prophet 

This second implication is intricately related to the first. Notice the types of people Acts 2:17-18 says will receive the Spirit. It’s not just the official prophets, priests, and kings of the Old Testament times. It’s not just the important people, the smart people, the white collar and upper middle class people, or the “religious” people who get the Spirit. Every single one of God’s people gets the Spirit in the last days. Young and old, rich and poor, man and woman, all alike get to partake in knowing God intimately and participate in his mission in the church.  

Let’s return to those mockers at the beginning of the passage. They thought they had these guys figured out. They were just some lower-class people who couldn’t have known those foreign languages and were drunk. Their pride kept them from realizing the radical equality of the gospel. The gift of the Spirit is not just given to Jews but to all flesh. Jesus opens wide the doors of his church to all different types of people and says that each one has a part to play in the church. As a pastor, I am just as much a necessary part of this body as the person who became a Christian last Sunday. The gospel doesn’t put some people on a pedestal while others stand on the ground. It simultaneously lowers the proud and raises up the humble so that we all are on the same playing field, acknowledging our need for God’s Spirit.  

As we hear this, we have to ask ourselves if the umbrella of the gospel we believe is truly this expansive. Does the gospel we believe in functionally exclude any group of people based on class, race, gender, or age? Do we profess to believe that anyone can be saved and yet actually believe that some are too culturally different, or too rich, or too much of Democrat, or too much of a Republican to be a part of God’s missionary people? The umbrella of the gospel is wide enough to catch anyone who humbly confesses their need for Jesus.   

How is it that we see our need for Jesus? How is it that we can be humbled before God rather than dismissing God’s plans and God’s people who are not like us with a mocking jest? We are all prone to proudly proclaim that those who are like us are the only ones whom God could save. 

3. The Exhortation of Pentecost (v. 21) 

This portion of Joel ends with a promise to us that helps us answer this (v. 21): 

21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ 

The day of Pentecost is the promised day in which all people from all nations will begin to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  

Who is this Lord being spoken of here? The word LORD is the word for Yahweh, the personal name of the God of Israel. The Old Testament saints would have clearly understood this to be Yahweh their God. However, if you read on in his sermon, Peter takes this Old Testament reference to Israel’s God and applies it to Jesus. This promise from the Old Testament was actually about calling upon the name of Jesus. Calling upon the name of Jesus is a declaration of our need in Jesus. You see, the Day of the Lord that is coming, the final day of judgment spoken of in verses 19-20, is a day that ought to make all people tremble. It’s a day in which all who proudly mocked the ways of God and the people of God will receive their judgment from God. It’s a day that ought to make all who have scorned, despised, rejected, and sinned against God cry out for mercy.  

However, those events spoken of in verses 19-20 also occurred at a moment in the past. As Jesus Christ hung on the cross the sun went dark in the middle of the day and the moon, likely blocking the sun, turned blood red. This was the case because on the cross Jesus Christ was experiencing the terrible judgment of the Day of the Lord, the wrath of God for the sin of all those who would believe in him. The cross is the place where we see our need for God because it is there, we simultaneously see the horror of our own sin and the punishment that it deserves and the beauty of the Lord Jesus who underwent the judgment of the Day of the Lord for us. Now if we trust him our day of judgment is in the past and all that awaits us on that final day is the fulfillment of the salvation God has begun in us already by his Spirit! The cross helps us recognize that whether we are rich or poor, black or white, male or female, Jew or Gentile we all desperately need a savior. Once we know our need before God and receive his grace, the only response to others that makes sense is not a religious stiff arm or a mocking jest but a loving embrace. The gospel should cause us to get low before God and others by recognizing that we are utterly helpless without the grace of God. 

So church, call on the name of the Lord today! Humble yourself before the one who took the judgment of God in your place and call upon his mercy. And then from that low place, the ground zero of our salvation, turn and prophesy of the grace of God in Christ to those both in this church and those without. Today is the day of salvation. Let us have the sobriety to humble ourselves and join in what God’s Spirit is doing in our midst.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 38-39.

[2] This paragraph was heavily influenced by Tony Merida, Exalting Jesus in Acts (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2017) 27-28. 

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