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August 26, 2015
Sounds like a good sermon title, does it not? Well maybe because it is. In the book of Ruth, chapter 3, we find an interesting episode devoted to the decisive plans of a woman named Naomi followed by a wisely crafted plan of Boaz (carried out in chapter 4). Ruth serves as the faithful daughter-in-law seeking to serve and provide for Naomi. But what does all this have to do with God’s big plan of the ages? That may very well be answered in the age old debate of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. In this chapter the divine name YHWH is used only twice. The second time is merely utilized to seal an oath. The first time is when Boaz blesses Ruth. Nonetheless, God seems largely absent from the outworking of this narrative. Make no mistake, He ISN’T!
It isn’t my aim or burden to convince anyone to take my side on God’s sovereignty in salvation, but this issue cannot be overlooked in this passage if this episode is to have any place in divine Scripture. While most all true believers affirm God’s sovereignty in word, not all render God sovereign in their actions. It would be easy to affirm God sovereign over all things, but articulate His sovereignty differently when it comes to individual salvation, but the problem with this is that God’s sovereignty has the redemption of mankind at the very root. That is the story of Scripture: God’s executing His divine plan to redeem His creation for His Glory. So, to affirm God’s sovereignty in its most rudimentary sense is to affirm God’s sovereignty in salvation as well. There are, however, some expressions of this antinomy (sovereignty/responsibility) that do grievous harm to the gospel. On one side there is the perspective of exalting Sovereignty so far above responsibility that you end up with no reason to act at all. After all, if God’s going to do what He’s purposed to do, then we don’t need to do anything . . . right! Wrong! On the other hand, the perspective that exalts human choice and action high above God’s sovereignty often leads to man’s manipulation of the gospel for a particular outcome. In its most extreme forms it paints a picture of a compassionate yet powerless God who sits back begging for His creation to accept Him.
What does this have to do with Ruth? First, we find Naomi who recently recognized anew God’s faithfulness in her tragic circumstances (2:20), now devising a plan herself to gain Ruth “rest” (a husband, see 1:9) and to regain the inheritance of Elimelech’s portion of the land. How does that settle with God’s sovereignty? Shouldn’t she just sit back and let God do His thing in His own time? After Ruth does all that Naomi directs her to do, Boaz responds positively to both marrying Ruth and fulfilling his role as a redeemer. He then runs off quickly to carry out a plan of his own devising (narrated in chapter 4). In addition, it is important to note that Boaz, who upon first meeting Ruth proclaimed, “The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (2:12)– now takes it upon himself to be the means by which YHWH would do that very thing. All this takes place in a suspicious sort of way under the cover of darkness at the threshing floor. As some people are quick to point out, the language used to communicate this scene is language of sexual intimacy. Both the phrases “uncover his feet” and “lie down” are terms that can convey sexual intimacy. Not to mention that we are dealing with people who live in the days of the Judges when everyone is doing right according to their own eyes! The threshing floor was often a place of great sexual immorality in the pagan world. Don’t forget that the narrator has made it a point throughout the narrative to remind us that Ruth is a Moabite, from a “pagan” culture. The picture that the narrator seeks to paint is exactly what you might assume, the prime opportunity for great unfaithfulness to God’s covenant to occur. Yet the narrator is also very careful to express the character of both Ruth and Boaz. They are both presented as “hiyil,” a worthy man and worthy woman of great virtue. When their character is set on the backdrop of such sinful opportunity, it brings to the forefront their persevering commitment to the God they both proclaim!
The book of Ruth at several junctions seeks to reveal the providential hand of God working out His purposes in the lives of everyday, ordinary people. There is no doubt about that! Now we clearly see God’s divine hand working in the midst of human plans. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz clearly have a great confidence in the covenant faithfulness of the God they serve yet they act. Their actions do not in any way undermine their trust in God’s sovereignty. Their actions reveal the very opposite! Because they know they can fully trust YHWH to remain faithful to His promises, they can act full well knowing that YHWH will lead, guide, and direct His carefully orchestrated masterpiece. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps” (NASB95).
Several things emerge for you and I from a passage such as this. First, I have to remind us all that this narrative is a historical account of the faithfulness of God to carry out what he promised back in Genesis 3:15, “the seed,” which will culminate in the person of Jesus Christ. That is so, not because humans happened to make good choices but because God promised it and God would guarantee it! Second, God’s sovereignty must never be used as our excuse. Too often we do what we want or better yet how we “feel” God is leading us and then blame God as though because of this doctrine of sovereignty we can place our disappointments, failures, and down right laziness on Him. What a mockery of the glorious doctrine of sovereignty. Third, the ability to make plans and choices doesn’t give us the freedom to do anything our own way as long as it gets the job done. Just as both Ruth and Boaz display high regard for the character that God desires of us even in the midst of moral and social chaos, we too must seek to do all that we do to uphold the glorious character of YHWH!
God is sovereign and will accomplish all His holy will! That is clear throughout the Scripture. Eternity will reveal that everything that unfolds was exactly how God purposed and planned it before the foundations of the world down to every last redeemed sinner. That should fill our hearts with an empowering confidence to passionately take the gospel message of the promised seed to the ends of the earth. Our responsibility as His creatures is to act in ways that are consistent with and magnify the glory of His sovereignty. God is sovereign to will and do according to His good pleasure, we are responsible to work out our own salvation by magnifying that truth in every detail of our living as He works in us both to will and to do according to His good (Phil. 2:12–13).
August 19, 2015
“If by chance,” “if I’m lucky enough,” “if only my luck wouldn’t run out,” . . . these are the kind of expressions we often hear and use ourselves on a regular basis. But, is there really a such thing as luck? Do things just happen by coincident? If, as we often do, we search for the most mundane example of life to prove that it does, we might be inclined to think so. The Bible, however, presents quite a different perspective. Did Moses’ reed boat just happen to float by when Pharaoh’s daughter was close by? Did Midianite traders just happen to be passing by while Joseph’s brothers were contemplating his demise? Did David just happen to show up on the battle field with food when Goliath was mocking his God? Did David just get one lucky shot? The list could go on and on.
It seems to be the intentional point of the narrator of the book of Ruth in the way he seeks to unfold the story in chapter 2. Ruth seeks permission from Naomi to go out and find food to satisfy their temporal needs and the text states, “and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech” (v. 3) Then is just so happened (“Behold“) that the field’s owner, Boaz, made a managerial trip to the fields that very same day. The narrator doesn’t seek at this point to clarify the providential hand of God who directs all things to a God glorifying end. This, without a doubt, is in fact one of the great truths that the book of Ruth seeks to convey. It seems to be the narrator’s purpose to leave his audience with a question concerning this matter. The narrator’s abrupt interuption in the story in 2:1 ultimately reveals the the truth. While to Ruth it may very well seem that dumb luck is on her side, luck is not random acts that just happen to work out. Luck is the unseen, unrevealed hand of God divinely controlling life’s little details in order to move their to His intended outcome. In this case, Ruth’s luck led to her coming face to face with a man who, unlike most during the days of the judges, was willing to look to others needs rather than his own.
Life contains many circumstances that, in the moment and from the human perspective, seem to be nothing more than random occurrences that work out. Nothing, however, happens without purpose. The God of all creation is a sovereign God who takes interest in all the affairs of His people down to the very simple details of life. So whether your life seems at the moment, whether your circumstances appear to be the result of good or bad luck, coincidence, or chance; God is more imminent than you may realize. The author of life, the one who started and will finish the story, is working all things “according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:5–6). With God there is NO chance! It’s all according to divine PURPOSE!
August 10, 2015
The content of Ruth 1:15–18 is not unfamiliar to many people. This portion of text is one that you may often find read during a wedding ceremony. But, while this text does provide a nice poetic addition to a ceremony in which commitments are being made; is that really the intent of the text? As with any text, we are not seeking after merely what sounds good or what resonates with our emotions, but what God intended for His people to gain from this purposefully inspired and inscripturated text. We immediately find ourselves at a disadvantage the moment we isolate this text from the story in which it is placed and from which it derives its ultimate and intended meaning. So then, how are we to understand this great poetic declaration that Ruth makes to her mother-in-law, Naomi?
If you want to gain the fuller context of this declaration, you can read my previous posts concerning the text that both precedes and follows verses 15–18.
Upon reading verse 15, one might raise the question, "Why would Naomi encourage Ruth to return to her own Gods? Didn't Naomi really believe in the One True God? If so, wouldn't she want her own daughter-in-law to enjoy the benefits and blessings that are part of living in covenant with the God of the Hebrews? These are questions that we might raise but which the text doesn't provide an answer. The best we can do is to cast our own experience and cultural biases on to the text, something that we might want to avoid! It is obvious that Naomi recognizes the hand of God in her life. She truly believes that her current circumstance was an act of a sovereign God. She wasn't happy about it, but she nevertheless attributed her circumstance to the providence of God. Verse 15, however is not the portion of the text that we likely find ourselves fixated upon. It is,as mentioned before, the poetic declaration that is provided in verse 16–18.
In verses 16–18 Ruth make six declarations:
1) Wherever you go, I will go,
2) Wherever you lodge (stay), I will lodge,
3) Your people (will be) my people,
4) Your God (will be) my God,
5) Wherever you die I will die,
6) There I will be buried.
If we begin with the ideal that Ruth is the main character of the narrative, we might find ourselves arguing for the "be like Ruth" application. We may even recognize that Ruth was courageous to stick by Naomi's side in such difficult circumstances. After all she was a Moabite, which is stressed in the narrative on several occasions. That can't be good. And unlike her unfaithful sister-in-law, she was willing to take a risk and return to "The Land" of Judah with Naomi. These observations would not be out of the question. But again, our ultimate question is to seek how the author is using Ruth's declaration to support the greater purpose of this narrative. Ruth is not the central character. Neither is Naomi or even Boaz, who will be introduced in the next chapter. Our central character is none other than God Himself. God has purposed this short narrative story about a few obscure people who lived in the midst of a very troubling time (the time of the judges) to reveal His own glory as it is unpacked through the lives of His people. There are two features of this Hebrew text that stand out in the midst of all the assumptions that we may draw from or infer upon the text.
First, Ruth's declaration is indeed recorded in a poetic fashion even though it resides in the midst of a narrative. As is the case with most poetry, it is written in a literary style that seeks to guide the reader to the central idea. This poetic insert is no different. In the Hebrew text the six declaration are recorded in what is called a "chiasm." A chiasm is a literary device that seeks to make parallels. These parallels usually move from the outside toward the center and place the emphasis upon what stands in the middle. If we view Ruth's statement in the pattern it would look like this:
(A)Wherever you go, I will go
(B)Wherever you lodge, I will lodge
(C)You people (will be) my people
(C')You God (will be) my God
(B')Wherever you die, I will die
(A')There I will be buried
When viewed this way, we can easily see where the emphasis rests. It helps to focus our attention, not of the details that serve to set up and drive the story, but upon the point itself. At the center of this declaration, and the book of Ruth as a whole, stands God and His people. This is the central subject of the narrative that we call the book of Ruth. It is from this perspective that we must read the entire narrative in order to arrive at God's purpose for giving us this portion of Scripture in the first place.
The second feature of this text merely drives home the first. If you will notice in my recording of Ruth's six declarations, I place the verb (will be) in parenthesis. I have done so because the Hebrew text does not contain them. The text literally reads, "your people my people, your God my God." In such instances, we would typically provide the present tense of the verb 'to be.' Therefore it would read, "your people are my people, your God is my God." While it is perfectly consistent to assume the future tense of the verbs of the other statements would naturally carry over to these, it still raises the question, why the Hebrew author didn't supply them as was the case in the other statements." There is no doubt that the author seeks to place a great deal of emphasis upon this two declarations.
In light of the authors attempt to draw our attention to this central focus, we may conclude something quite different from what we often hear in relation to this text. Ruth's commitment and dedication, though it was evidence and revealed through her relationship to Naomi goes far beyond Naomi. Though we aren't given a great deal of background to understand fully Ruth's commitment, we are driven to the reality that her commitment was to God and His people! It was God who was compelling Ruth to cling to Naomi. It was God who purposed for her to return to "The Land." This conclusion is unpacked throughout the rest of the narrative of Ruth.
This isn't a story about how to find individual blessing in the midst of difficult times (though there are many text about that). This isn't a text about marriage or children or any of the other experiential things that we might want this text to speak about. It is a narrative that seeks to reveal a sovereign God's plan being worked out in the midst of the mundane circumstances of life. It is a story that reveals that regardless of the challenges that may arise to interrupt or undo the promise of God to provide a 'seed' from woman who would one day crush the head of the serpent, nothing would prevail. God stands at the center of all things. God is sovereign over all. His purposes will prevail. Scripture proves again and again that God's promises never fail . . . and they never will.
In this we are provided with great hope!
August 09, 2015
While my blog posts are typically short explanations of particular scripture, I wanted to take just a moment to post a review of a church of which I have recently become aware. For the past year we have been connected with a biblically healthy and passionate church in Winston-Salem, NC. Recently, we determined that we needed to seek elsewhere to serve (not because there was anything inherently wrong with where we were attending). The initial question that was raised was, "where will we go?" I immediately began to evaluate the reason for what at the time seemed like a hopeless question.
I have been involved with many churches over the last 20 years and have developed somewhat of a skeptical outlook on what often seems like an attempt to merely be culturally relevant in the church. I often make statements like, "there aren't many churches that are truly gospel centered," or "it seems like a lot of churches are dead or dying," and other statements such as these. So when we decided to seek another church where our gifts may be of need, we were questionable whether or not there were any others to choose from. As I evaluated this, the thought that came to mind was, "if I think that the church I am attending is the only viable church in my city, then I am pretty arrogant." As a result we began to inquire about a few churches. In the process we came across Cornerstone Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC on Thomasville Rd. I was curious about this church simply because I knew of it from years past and thought that it was a mainstream, traditional SBC church like many others that I probably wouldn't fit into. I contacted the pastor, whom I knew from years past, and began to learn about the transition that the church had gone through over the last several years.
Charlie Martin is the pastor of CBC and has been since it began in 1986. Together with Tim and Chad (Associate Pastors) they are leading a faithful ministry. Through the years Pastor Charlie has grown in his pursuit of God and His glory especially as it relates to the church. After visiting there for the last two Sundays, I have been extremely excited to see what God has been and is continuing to do in and through CBC. This morning we sat under the preaching of the Associate Pastor Tim Martin. It was the best presentation of the Word of God that I have sat under in a long time (not that I haven't sat under good preaching recently). CBC has been going through an overview series of the Old Testament and Pastor Tim was concluding it today with the book of Nehemiah. Big picture sermons can be some of the most dangerous messages to preach since they leave a lot of room to insert one's own opinion. Pastor Tim however did none of that. He faithfully unpacked the purpose of the book of Nehemiah in both its immediate context as well as providing it's overall place in the scope of the gospel story throughout Scripture. He provided a historical perspective, practical take aways, and a theological perspective. In the midst of unpacking the beauty of Nehemiah, he gave us, the audience, a good perspective of the passion of CBC and their particular distinctives as a church.
CBC is on a journey to pursue true biblical faithfulness as it relates to being a biblically healthy church. CBC is extremely gospel-centered providing both meat for the mature believer and a compelling passion for evangelism. One of the things that impressed me most in the last two weeks was the time that was taken during the intercessory prayer time to pray for churches in and around Winston-Salem as they too seek to grow in their impact for the gospel in and around the city. In other words, they have a healthy respect for other churches who are pursuing the glory of God. Sure many churches will find themselves on different levels in regards to what might be considered a healthy church, but CBC doesn't present themselves as the only viable option. A point that was extremely refreshing to me and my family.
My only regret is that their are numerous people in Winston who are desiring a church much like CBC, but who do not know that it exists. While I don't have a wide readership, I hope that this will serve as one way to make them known. CBC is not pursuing gaining membership from other churches. But, like any ministry, they would benefit from like-minded believers who are passionate about the Kingdom of God to join them in their efforts. If you are in the area and looking for a solid church, I encourage you to visit the community of believers at CBC. If you are in a solid church, maybe consider sharing this blog post for others in your sphere of influence to become aware of CBC.
Cornerstone Baptist Church Website: www.cbcws.org
CBC Core Values:
Overview of Core Values
As individual believers and as a local church we cooperate with the Spirit of God in remaining humble and focused on God’s agenda as we stay connected to our Heavenly Father through prayer. Prayer is vital for the health of the Christian and for the health of the local church. Thus, as a local church, we seek to bring all we do before the Lord in prayer submitting to His will and not our own.
The New Testament seems to indicate that the congregation should have the ultimate authority in the church. It also indicates that the church should be led by a group of pastors who are entrusted to lead the church in purity of doctrine, distinction in living, direction in vision, and accountability. This is to be coupled with deacons who serve in specific areas of ministry throughout the church.
Biblical Church Membership
We believe that membership matters. As Christians we are called to live in community with one another. Church membership involves a formal commitment to serve and invest in the life of a local body of believers.
Authentic Christian Relationships
Spiritual transformation happens only in community, not in isolation. Therefore we commit to building authentic relationships with one another. We seek to know and be known by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Biblical Corporate Worship
Since Scripture is the very Word of God, we believe it to be both inerrant and infallible; as such it serves as the only sure guide for what we teach and how we do church. Biblical corporate worship is both guided by the Word of God and composed of the Word of God. Expository preaching takes Scripture as its object and aims to clearly communicate the meaning of the text.
Believers are called to be both salt and light to the world. As Christians, we are to stand for morality and virtue. We seek to promote personal evangelism in the lives of each of our members. We commit to work together and with other believing fellowships to evangelize both our communities and to carry the gospel throughout the world.
We believe conversion is the beginning of the Christian life, not its end. The ultimate goal is transformation of the believer from sinfulness to holiness, from wickedness to godliness. Although transformation takes place only by the work of the Holy Spirit, we see the local church as an essential tool which He uses to conform God’s people to Christ’s image. We aim to cooperate with the Spirit of God in making disciples of all ages.
It is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ that saves, sustains, and secures. Therefore, we aim to center our life as a church on the gospel. It is not only the power that saves us but it is also the power that sanctifies us and helps us persevere to the end. As a gospel-centered fellowship, the glorious truths of the gospel never get old but instead consistently remind us of our identity and purpose.
August 07, 2015
From time to time we find ourselves in discouraging times of life. No matter how passionately we seek to live for the glory of God, none of us are above discouragement. Often we feel as though God has checked out for awhile or at least turned away for a moment. We “feel” alone. Our circumstances seem to weigh down on us and everything seems to go wrong. Maybe we understand that God sometimes purposes difficulties in our lives but nevertheless it just plain stinks. Why would God cause us to experience any part of life alone? That is, if in fact, He does!
In Ruth 1:19–22 Naomi seems to express an experience along these lines. She returns to Bethlehem (“the house of bread”) with no hope of attaining any bread. She declares that she should be called Mara (bitter) because “the Almighty has brought calamity upon me”. She left full (not really) and the Yahweh caused her to return empty (not really). It’s funny how in the midst of our difficulties we often express our circumstances in a way that is inconsistent with reality!
The narrator of Ruth skillfully and pointedly tells this story in a way to draw our attention to certain important details. He goes to lengths to make sure that we understand how Naomi perceives her circumstances by emphasizing them in dialogue. Then, with a subtle narrative explanation he provides us a dose of reality, “So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her . . .” Naomi was not alone, even though she felt alone! God had provided something far beyond Naomi’s hopes that would prove to fulfill all of Naomi’s hopes. Naomi left Bethlehem, not full, but empty in search of bread. God caused her to return full. The fullness that Naomi possessed in Ruth was not yet realized and Naomi had no way of knowing what God would do, but God knew! He hadn’t left Naomi to circumstances. He directed the circumstances to provide her fullness. He provided the means to bring Israel security (a King, David) in a time of moral and social turmoil (in the days when the judges were judging), and God had placed right next to Naomi the means through which God would bring hope and salvation to a hopeless and lost world.
Though our circumstances my appear bleak, though there may not seem to be any light near; God has not left us to the whim of circumstance that we might falter and fail. God is sovereignly directing all circumstances in the details of life as He walks along side of His chosen ones. He will carry out all His purposes in and through the lives of His children. His purposes are far bigger than any one of us, but they include even ordinary, everyday people like you and me. We are never alone!
August 04, 2015
I am currently teaching through the book of Ruth in our Friday morning Bible study. It is an amazing story of God’s sovereign purposes being worked out in the details of the lives of everyday, ordinary people. After all, who is this Elimelech and Naomi? If this story is merely about the lives of some obscure people trying to find food and marrying one who would come to their aid, why would God include it in the canon of Scripture at all? We are pre-programmed by the title itself to read this as a story about some woman named Ruth (who by the way, gets the least amount of air time as far as dialogue goes). But when read in light of who it is really about, it serves as an amazing revelation of the God of the universe! While there are only two specific mentions of the acts of God (1:6 – reported from a distance, and 4:13), the narrator artfully expresses the working out of God’s purposes at His divine directive. Otherwise, we are left with only a few excerpts from which to draw moral example stories (ex. 1:16–18).
God’s word was never intended to simply better us morally but to reveal Creator God to sinful man that we might be radically changed by repenting and trusting in Him. Ruth is much more than just an interesting story. It is an inspired record of a historical event purposed and planned by God, sovereignly worked out in the lives of his creation to perfectly fulfill all God’s purposes. The characters; Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, etc; serve as the vehicles of God’s divine design. Ruth becomes the means of fulfillment in the life of a destitute and hopeless woman (Naomi), of security and hope to a nation in the midst of great sin and turmoil (1:1 In the days when the judges were judging), and of salvation to a world in rebellion against their creator as she serves as the means of royal progeny (King David) and ultimately the conveyor of the seed (see Gen. 3:15), Jesus Christ.
It soon becomes evident that the gospel doesn’t begin in Matthew. Even the book of Ruth is about the salvation that God has purposed for the nations through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ! After all, does not Luke report that Jesus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, . . . interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27) to the unsuspecting travelers on the Emmaus road?
May 31, 2015
The Miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–13)
The arrival of the Promise of God (Acts 2:1–13), the Holy Spirit is communicated to us by Luke in a vivid and unusual manner. It isn’t the typical experience of any Christian today. Yet this account sets forth the coming of God’s promised Spirit in a way that captures our attention and our interests. The danger of this account is the tendency to pick from it what interests us the most and to separate it from the entire account. To view it in its entirety expresses some particular truths that we as God’s witnesses need to understand.
We must take into account that the activity of the Spirit of God upon the earth is not a new thing. God’s Spirit has been actively involved in God’s creation since the beginning. Jesus reminds us in John 3 that it is and always has been the work of the Spirit to transform dead sinners into new living creatures. Therefore, the novelty of Pentecost is not the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Neither is the novelty of Pentecost the experience of God’s people being filled with the Spirit. The Scripture records several accounts of Old Testament believers being filled with the Spirit of the Lord to carry out God’s purposes (Ex. 31:3, Micah 3:8). While the filling of the Spirit is often conveyed as the novelty of Pentecost, Scripture proves this not to be the case.
If the presence of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit are not what makes Pentecost a original experience, then what does? The vivid illustration of this event seeks to point out something unusual and new. Luke records the arrival of the Spirit in vivid and illustrative way. The believers both heard and saw this event. When the Spirit came on that day a sound was heard. This sound was like that of a violent wind. Apart from the clear manifestation this occurrence isn’t all that unusual. The Spirit of God is often expressed through the idea of wind or breath. In Ezekiel the life giving power of the Spirit is expressed by the breath of God breathing into dead, dry bones new life. Jesus also likens the Spirit to the wind blowing wherever it desires. While the collective hearing of the Spirit’s arrival is unique its connection to the wind is not. The sound like that of a violent wind may have brought to mind the life giving power of the Spirit.
The believers also saw something that day. The arrival of the Spirit appeared to them “as divided tongues as of fire” (or a flame that divided and then rested upon them). Again, their seeing this event is unique but the connection to fire is not. Fire is used to convey both positive and negative effects throughout the Scripture. It is often used to reference judgment in the negative sense. It is, however, also used to convey something positive. Fire sometimes is used to convey the presence of the Lord. Moses saw a “flaming fire out of the midst of a bush” (Ex. 3:2), the children of Israel were accompanied by a fire at night (Ex. 13:21), and the glory of the Lord appeared to them at Mt. Sinai as fire (Ex. 24:17). This appearance of fire seems to continue this symbolism to the believers who saw it that day. This was not the appearance of some angelic or heavenly representative but rather the presence of God Himself.
What is original to this event is conveyed in both a corporate and individualistic manner. The believers were all together on this particular day, waiting for the promise as Jesus had commanded them. They were not all going about their individual agendas but were corporately gathered in a common place. While God’s Spirit had, in the past, come upon or filled believers; never had it happened that each individual believer was filled all at the same time. This was unique in that God was now pouring out His Spirit, while still on an individual basis, in a corporate manner. God was creating a new unified body by commonly filling them all with His Spirit. This would no longer be merely an individual or an uncommon experience but instead, it would now be the norm for all who repented of sin and believed the gospel. God’s people would no longer be set apart by a visible outward measure, but by an invisible inward mark that would manifest itself outwardly as evidence of this new reality. Being filled with the Spirit is not to be viewed as something that merely happens corporately or individually, but both. God does manifest His Spirit in corporate gatherings, but He does so as a result of the individuals that make up that gathering as they each bear the indelible mark of the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit. And, God does manifest His Spirit within individuals, but He does so in connection with the corporate body of Christ. Everyone who experiences the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is spiritually and physically connected to the body!
Another point of uniqueness that is often conveyed through this Scripture is the occurrence of speaking in other tongues. This however must be understood in light of the further explanation of this event. In times past, God’s Spirit filled individuals for a purpose. That purpose was to carry out or proclaim the purposes of God. That is exactly the case in this account. If we cease our study of this event at verse 4, we might assume several things. Some of which would not be consistent with biblical truth. Regardless of one’s position on the tongues dilemma, this account is clear about what it seeks to convey. Each believer present that day evidenced the arrival of God’s Holy Spirit by speaking in other tongues (or dialects) as the Spirit gave them proclamation (the word translated “utterance” is only used two other times in the NT (Acts 2:14, 26:25). Each occurrence is used to express something proclaimed). The scene must have been chaotic from some perspective at least due to the response (“they are filled with new wine”). But to the observant onlooker something amazingly clear was taking place. These newly filled believers were proclaiming the mighty works of God. The same result of Spirit filled believers of the Old Testament. What is unique here, though, is that they were doing it in such a way that people of different dialects were all hearing God’s works proclaimed in their own language so that they could understand. This was a miracle of God that served a unique purpose of beginning the proclamation of the gospel to all nations. For the first time since the tower of Babel, people of all nations had something in common that they could all understand. What God did at the tower of Babel in confusing the peoples of the earth, He was now reversing. He was gathering to Himself a single people from all nations who would all understand something in common, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is God means of reuniting humanity together for a common purpose. Instead of cooperating together in order to ascend the throne of God by their own works, God was uniting a new nation with the gospel for the common purpose of worshipping the God who sits on that throne.
Since that day many have tried to recreate the miraculous events of that day. Most through seeking some unusual experience of the Holy Spirit centered on the speaking in tongues. We should seek to see these events relived over and over again. Only the focus is not the differing tongues, but the content of the proclamation in different tongues, a gospel for all people among all nations of the earth. This is the agenda that the Holy Spirit of God brought that day. Today we should carry on that agenda. We shouldn’t be preoccupied with supernatural unusual experiences but rather with the proclamation of the gospel. It isn’t the Spirit’s task to produce in us ecstatic experiences for the sake of experience but to remind us of everything that Jesus said (John 14:26) and guide us into all truth (John 16:13). If we are to carry on the events of Pentecost, then we must preoccupy ourselves with the proclamation of the gospel to all peoples of all nations!
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