Pentecost Revisited – The First Gospel Message

Pentecost Revisited – The First Gospel Message

In Matthew’s Gospel chapter 28, the Lord is about to leave this world for heaven, but before doing so He gives His disciples instructions as to their future service. He said ‘Go ye therefore, and teach (or make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.’ Matt. 28:19-20. This is commonly referred to as the ‘Great Commission.’ In Acts chapter two, we see how the apostles faithfully followed all the terms of the Commission without exception. Peter spoke about repentance; remission of sins and baptism, and thereafter these new converts were instructed in the practices to be observed in a local church – the Apostle’s doctrine, the fellowship, the Breaking of Bread and the Prayers. In this article we wish to examine the wonderful happenings when the Gospel was preached for the very first time.

The Multi-National Audience

We are made aware that a multi-national group of Jewish people had travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. Acts 2:9-11. Despite the fact that these Jews had been exiled to the countries mentioned, and had adopted the languages of these nations, there remained a magnetism about Jerusalem that drew them there to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost that had been part of their God-give tradition for over a thousand years. Peter and those with him saw this as a unique opportunity to preach the Gospel to their fellow countrymen, and so to fulfill the terms of the great commission, and we will see that this was accompanied by the reversal of two previous actions of judgment that God placed on man in the past.

Reversal of the Babel’s Judgement

When the disciples began to preach the Gospel those present were amazed. They knew that these men were Galileans, yet each of them heard the message in the language of their adopted country. This was a unique miracle that accompanied the first preaching of the Gospel. To understand the true nature of the miracle we need to go back to Genesis chapter eleven where the men of that day said ‘Go to, let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven.’ Gen. 11:4. Man assumed that he could reach up to ‘heaven’ by his own efforts. However we read that God said ‘Let us go down and confound their language, that they may not understand each other’s speech.’ Gen. 11:7 The result was that this ambitious, presumptuous project – to reach up to Heaven – was abandoned.

However, when we come to Acts chapter two, God reverses the confusion of Babel to show that while man cannot reach to heaven by his own efforts, through accepting the provision that He had made through His Son, man could reach heaven. The apostle Paul endorsed this message when he wrote ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.’ Eph. 2:8-9.

PETER’S GOSPEL MESSAGE

The Divine Perspective On Calvary

When Peter stood up to deliver the first Gospel message to a Jewish audience at the dawn of the Day of Grace, he spoke to them about Calvary. He said, ‘Him, [Christ] being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.’ Acts 2:23-24.  From this statement we learn some important facts.

First, Calvary was no accident, but a predetermined plan conceived by the Godhead in a past eternity, to redeem sinful man. Calvary shows the loving heart of God toward His erring creatures.

Secondly, Calvary reveals the heart of man in all his enmity and hostility to God. Peter speaks about ‘Wicked hands which crucified and slew the Son of God.’ In saying this, Peter shows whilst they thought they had taken control and crucified the Lord, they had but been the instruments through which ‘divine counsels’ were fulfilled. He does not exonerate them from the guilt of the crucifixion of Christ, but proceeds to show that the one they crucified is the only one who could save them from their sins

PETER’S EXHORTATION

When the people heard Peter’s message they were convicted and asked ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do? Peter answered “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” ’ Acts 2:38. Let’s consider these vital steps leading to the salvation of a soul.

Repent

Repentance, of itself does not save, but it is a vital precondition to being saved. The Apostle Paul speaking to the Ephesians reminded them of the basic content of the gospel that had led to their salvation – ‘…repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Acts 20:21. Both Peter and Paul preached the need for repentance before conversion. Repentance is of course acceptance of one’s guilt, a change of heart, and turning away from one’s sins.

Remission of Sins

Sin is a universal problem, and it has introduced a moral distance between man and a Holy God, and that gulf will extend for eternal ages unless one’s sin has been forgiven. Lk. 16:19-31. The Lord Jesus said ‘…the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sin.. .’ Lk. 5:24. It is therefore incumbent upon the sinner to have his sins forgiven when ‘on earth’ because there is no opportunity to receive God’s salvation after death.

The Dramatic Response to the Message

The result of this first preaching of the Gospel was overwhelming – 3000 souls were saved. How we wish that we could return to those fruitful days.

Reversal of the Judgement Brought By The Law

We have already noted that when first Gospel message was preached, the confusion of Babel was reversed. But here again we have the reversal of another previous act of judgment. When Moses came down from Sinai with the tables of the Law, he found the people worshipping a golden calf. On that day, 3000 souls died under the judgment of God, Ex. 32:28, but in this case that exact number was saved. Truly as John reminds us ‘The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.’ John 1:17. The poet put it so eloquently when he wrote :

Let us love and sing and wonder,

Let us praise the Saviour’s name,

He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,

He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame,

He has washed us in His blood,

He has brought us nigh to God. John Newton.

THE FURTHER TERMS OF THE GREAT COMMISSION

The terms of the Great Commission meant that the conversion of souls was not an end in itself, but only a beginning. Not a terminus, but rather a starting point in the Christian life, consequently, under apostolic guidance ‘Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.’ Acts 2:41-42.

…One feels that we need to emulate the example of the apostles, and ensure that all the terms of the Commission are incorporated in our Gospel preaching. One outstanding evangelist in Scotland once said that ‘If we only preach the Gospel, this is an Omission from the Commission.’

Baptism

Baptism is not necessary to be saved, but it is the first step of obedience and public identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Rom. 6:4-5. Baptism is not to be considered as an option, but rather a commandment given by the risen Lord. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, salvation and baptism were closely linked together, and without exception, all believers were baptized immediately after they were saved. This should be the pattern to be followed in our day.

Being Added

Here we have the second step taken by these early converts. God never intended that believers should be spiritual nomads, but that they should be identified with a local assembly. This step is different from being baptized, and must be treated separately. In one’s own experience the brethren interviewed with regard to baptism, but made it clear that the question of ‘being added’ would be part of a different conversation, where responsibilities and expectations would be discussed, after which the assembly would be advised as to one’s joining the assembly. This is a most important step in the life of any new believer.

Continuing Steadfastly

Following the ‘adding’ of these new converts to the local church we read ‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.’ Acts 2:42

STEADFASTLY

This word means ‘to continue all of the time in one place / to be devoted to/ to give unremitting care to.’ In other words association with the local church is not intended to be that of a casual nature. We see this reflected in the fact that in Acts the phrase ‘with one accord’ is mentioned no less than eleven times. Scholars tell us that in the original text, this phrase is one word comprised of two Greek words – the one meaning ‘to rush along,’ the other meaning ‘together.’ It has been suggested that the word has a musical association where all the members of an orchestra must be present, and playing their part in harmony with others, the guidance of the conductor, Truly a very apt illustration of the function of the local church – all members present, and functioning harmoniously together, under the control of the Holy Spirit.

THE APOSTLE’S DOCTRINE

It is no coincidence that the ‘apostles’ doctrine’ is the first mentioned in the description of the things that the local church continued in. The reason being that the ‘apostles’ doctrine’ is the bedrock upon which all else that follows must rest. Unless there is a commonality of doctrine, there is no basis for spiritual fellowship. If we remove the ‘apostles’ doctrine,’ we might have a very happy social club, but it would not be a local church as the New Testament describes it.

THE FELLOWSHIP

The word fellowship means – an association or partnership, and is used to describe a marriage relationship. We understand therefore, that fellowship in the local church goes far deeper than a social relationship. It demands our loyalty, devotion and involvement in all of the exercises of the church. Being in fellowship is not to be understood as partaking of the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday morning, and then having no involvement thereafter. Fellowship means being always together, with a common purpose in mind.

THE BREAKING OF BREAD

One author has called the Lord’s Supper as being ‘The chief meeting of the assembly.’ Indeed this is one of the hallmarks of the brethren assemblies that distinguishes them from other evangelical denominations – the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. When people wish to describe some wonderful experience, we of often hear them say ‘It was heaven on earth.’ Surely this is what we experience when we come to remember our Lord. He has promised ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’ Matt. 18:20 One realises that this promise embraces more than the Lord’s Supper, nevertheless, it is one occasion where perhaps the Lord’s presence in our midst is most consciously felt, and when as a Holy Priesthood we worship Him.

THE PRAYERS

Throughout the Acts we note that prayer was one of the most powerful exercises of the local church.

For example, prior to the descent of the Spirit, we read concerning the early disciples ‘These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication…’ Acts 1:14. Surely there was a link between this prayer meeting, the miraculous salvation of 3,000 souls in Acts chapter two. Unfortunately, the prayer meeting has become one of the most neglected meetings in our assemblies. It is little wonder that we do not see the power of the Holy Spirit manifest in our midst, especially in the Gospel, but also in the spiritual health of our assemblies. The apostle writing to young Timothy put a great emphasis on prayer when he wrote ‘I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;’ 1 Tim. 2:1. Let’s determine to make the ‘prayer meeting’ one of the most important meetings of our assembly and to encourage all to attend and look forward to great things that could happen.

So ends the story of the first Gospel meeting in the Day of Grace. It ended with a spectacular, miraculous display of the power of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of three thousand souls, and the apostles ensuring that the terms of the Great Commission were faithfully fulfilled. May the Lord grant that we in our day will follow the example of these early pioneers in the Gospel, and see God move amongst us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

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William Burnett

William Burnett was born and raised in Scotland, and spent his entire professional life in the Oil refining industry. He was seconded to Canada by his employer in 1972, and accepted early retirement in 1994. He has been a "tentmaker," - working in business, whilst ministering among the assemblies - since his late teen years. Early retirement has enabled him to undertake a much wider sphere of itinerant ministry throughout North America, and abroad. He also sits on the board of Counsel Magazine, and contributes regularly to various publication, including Uplook, Precious Seed and the Choice Gleanings Calendar. He and his wife Beth reside in Oakville, Ontario, where they are in happy fellowship in Hopedale Assembly. They have three married sons, and eight grandchildren.