Dan Behrens, Co Pastor EFC
ACTS 2:1-15 — Declaring the wonders of God
There is perhaps no other passage in the New Testament that receives as much attention as Acts 2:1-15. And rightfully so; these verses describe the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost—“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). Jesus predicted the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church, describing it as both the “promise of my Father” and “the gift of my Father (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4). In the power of this promised gift, Jesus’ followers (Christians) would live, abide, and minister in the world until his return. And while there is much more to say concerning the empowerment of the Spirit and Spirit-filled/led living, the focus of this piece is to look at one of the most amazing observations of this Acts 2 passage which seems so readily overlooked—“we hear them declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11).
ACTS 2:1-15 — Scripture Passage
v1) When the day of Pentecost came, the believers were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. v5) Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. And when this sound rang out, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking his own language. Astounded and amazed, they asked, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? How is it then that each of us hears them in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism; Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongue!” v11) Astounded and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Still, others mocked them and said, “These men are drunk!” But then Peter stood up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and addressed the crowd: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen carefully to my words. These men are not drunk as you suppose. It is only the third hour of the day! No, what you see and hear (what you are witnessing) is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
Quick Recap — What leads up to Acts 2.
1. What Jesus began to do. The author of Acts (the gospel writer Luke) first acknowledges “all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up into heaven” (Acts 1:1). And what is important to note, right out of the gate, is the subtle directive of Jesus to his church that we will continue to minister as he did while he was still in the world. The gospels describe how Jesus began to minister the work and will of his Father in and around Palestine. Acts describes how from Jerusalem in Judea to the ends of the earth, the church (the body of Christ) will now continue that ministry—to witness God in the world.
2. But wait! Before we do anything in Jesus’ name, we must wait. Before we continue the ministry Jesus began while he was here in the flesh, we must first “wait for the gift of the Father… for you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:4, 1:8). What is equally important to note, right out of the gate, is the emphatic reminder that we do not minister the witness of Christ apart from the Holy Spirit. Jesus ministered the kingdom in the favor of his Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit. As followers of Jesus (Christians), we too minister in the favor of the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. Now what? Now we witness Jesus. We witness Jesus in that we image him. We witness Jesus in that we reflect him. We witness Jesus in that we testify of our experience of him. “You are witnesses of these things” Jesus says, “and you will be My witnesses” (Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8). What this looks like at Pentecost the moment the Holy Spirit is poured out is often overlooked, buried under a tangle of debate about manifestation. Manifestations of the Spirit’s work among the church deserves careful study and good discussion, but perhaps not before we seriously undertake Jesus’ initial identifier: you are witness of me. We witness Jesus! We expose him so-to-speak. We image Jesus by our conduct. We reflect Jesus in our character. We testify of Jesus as our hope of life because He indeed lives! We declare his wonders on the earth.
ACTS 2:11 — Witness and the wonders of God
As I said previous, the focus here is to look at one of the most amazing observations of the Acts 2 passage and briefly examine how it speaks so clearly to the issue of Christian witness. Quite simply, the scripture says: “we hear them declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11). These words are not only clear but emphatic. They are stated clearly because they were so clearly witnessed. Something happened. Those who gathered saw something. Those who gathered heard something.
A sign that we belong to Christ is that we declare the wonders of God. A sign that the righteousness of Christ has been established in our life, that the Spirit of God dwells in us, is we proclaim the wonders of God. The evidence of a baptism in the Holy Spirit or Spirit-filled/led life is that we testify to the wonders of God. Of anything else we know of Luke as author, historian, co-laborer of Paul, is that he is a meticulous note-taker. He seems to be showing us that of anything else that happened on the day of Pentecost, worship, praise, thanksgiving, declaration is an immediate response to the Spirit being poured out, an immediate response to our yielding to the Spirit’s lead.
If this is true, then it follows that Christians will talk less and less about what’s wrong with the world and more and more about reconciling power of the resurrected Jesus. It follows that Christians will talk less and less about the difficulties of life and more and more about wonderful, mighty, enduring works of God! A sign of our Christian witness is we declare the wonders of God.
ACTS 2:11 — Tongues and so much displaced emphasis
When I say there is perhaps no other passage in the New Testament that receives as much attention as Acts 2:1-15, I am here referring to endless debates over the baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer—“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). I am not here implying that such debate is senseless or fruitless; these scriptures are rich and provide a basis for doctrinal position. But I do suggest there is much displaced emphasis on disciples of Jesus speaking in tongues (vs) the message their tongue brings to bear. That is to say, the method of delivery over the content of their witness.
Here is where we get lost in the weeds. Opposing schools of thought over-emphasize exactly how speaking in tongues was and is expressed. Differing camps over-emphasize what exactly the gift of tongues means for the Church’s ability to witness Christ effectively. Sadly, faith-filled churches and even whole denominations over-emphasize who aligns with who on what side of this issue.
On the contrary, the real emphasis here is the content of our witness. What is the content of our witness? Is it the resurrected Christ? Is it the fruit of the Spirit? Is it our testimony of the greatness of God? Speaking in tongues is certainly a gift. A miraculous gift in fact. I can only imagine the sign and the wonder it was for those gathered around our Lord’s apostles on the day of Pentecost. But gifts and miracles, signs and wonders do not transform human hearts. The Spirit of God does. Only He can. That is the point.
ACTS 2:11 — Your testimony of the wonders of God
The content of our witness is key! What is the content of our witness? Is it the resurrected Christ? Is it the fruit of the Spirit? Is it our testimony of the greatness of God, the wonders of God, the mighty works of God? Is there worship in our conduct, praise on our lips, thanksgiving in our hearts? What are we witnesses of in this ministry Jesus began so long ago?
The term witness (martyra, gk.) used by Luke over and over again in the book of Acts directly implies first-hand testimony in the legal sense, the kind of implication applied by someone investigating a significant incident. Whatever did happen regarding the historical Jesus, surely someone must’ve seen or heard something. Over and over again, Luke calls to the figurative witness stand eye-witness testimony of the greatest miracle in all the earth: “that the Christ would suffer and be killed, and then rise from the dead on the third day, that in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations” (Luke 24:47).
For those who declared this wonder of God throughout the first-century world, something really had happened. They had seen it. They had heard it. What they had seen and heard was nothing short of all they had ever hoped. Every one of them hoped to the very end, declaring the wonders of God in their own tongue.
We too are witnesses! We image God on earth. We reflect Christ in relationship. We reveal life in the Spirit through genuine love and enduring hope. Each one of us has a story to tell, a first-hand account of the goodness of God. Do not hide your light under a bush. Declare the wonders of God with your testimony. Something’s happened in you; give it away and see what happens!
*[for martyra, gk. see also Luke 24:46, Acts 1:21, Acts 2:31, Acts 3:13, Acts 5:29, Acts 13:29]