Our Pentecostal Mission in the Holy Spirit

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Take some time to read Joel 2:28–32; Acts 1:8; 2:1–41; 28:30–31.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”—Acts 2:1–8

Core Truth: The Holy Spirit empowers God’s people to carry the good news of the gospel to all people.

The book of Acts demonstrates the empowering role of the Holy Spirit in the advancement of the gospel. It opens with the risen Jesus preparing his disciples for the post-resurrection mission. Jesus’ words are powerful: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8).

The Church and Genesis 3–11

With the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s people reengage the Genesis 3–11 world—the biblical story from Abraham (Gen. 12), through the life and ministry of Jesus centered on Israel as God’s new missional people. Now post- resurrection, God sends this new humanity into all of the world. To follow Jesus is to go.
Acts 1:8 begins God’s mission locally where Jesus served—Jerusalem and the wider land of biblical Israel. But now there is a movement toward the rest of the world. The gospel reached its initial fulfillment in the land of Israel. Now it must spread to the nations. The biblical story line reconnects with God’s universal mission to all creation. God had originally intended for creation to be filled with image-bearing women and men who reflected his character (Gen. 1:26–31). In the power of the Spirit, God’s new humanity—the church— embodies this mission.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit

The Spirit is the driver of God’s mission in the world. After Jesus’ resurrection, God sends the Spirit to unleash his people to serve as witnesses to the good news of the kingdom. The empowerment of the Spirit is the key difference between the Old and New Testament people of God. The church is a people of the Spirit.

Acts 2 narrates the Spirit’s dramatic arrival on the Day of Pentecost. Devout Jews, as well as Jewish converts from all over the world, gather in Jerusalem. On the morning of Pentecost, Jesus’ followers gather in prayer. Suddenly the Holy Spirit arrives on them in the form of tongues of fire. The Spirit enables each Christ-follower (perhaps as many as one hundred twenty; cf. 1:15) to speak one of the native languages of those visiting Jerusalem. This reality reverses the confusion of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9) and shows that the gospel was for all languages and ethnic groups. God wants to reach and speak into every human culture. Peter announces to the crowd that this miracle of speech is the fulfillment of the prophecy from Joel 2:28–32. God’s future age of the Spirit has now come. Peter’s Spirit-empowered preaching adds three thousand new believers.

The Holy Spirit and the Growth of God’s People

In Acts, each advance of the gospel is marked by new baptisms of the Spirit. In the Old Testament, only select individuals were filled with the Spirit, but in the New Testament, all of God’s people receive the Spirit. Acts records the apostles performing miracles and preaching in the power of the Spirit. Whenever the gospel reaches a new area, the Spirit fills the believers there.

The Spirit propels the gospel forward. In Acts 3, Peter heals a lame man and boldly proclaims the gospel in Solomon’s portico. After Peter and John are arrested in Acts 4, the Spirit fills Peter (4:8) and enables him to share a powerful word before the council.

In Acts 7–8, the church comes under intense persecution. Ironically, the persecution serves to advance the gospel by pushing it out of Jerusalem into surrounding regions. Persecution does not mark the end of witness, but is often a conduit for increasing the effectiveness of Christian witness. The perse- cution in Jerusalem causes Jesus’ followers to scatter and the gospel arrives in new places. It comes first to Samaria (7:4–25) under the work of Philip. When reports of the conversions of Samaritans arrive back at Jerusalem, the apostles send out Peter and John to investigate and resource the new community of faith. When they arrive, they pray for the Spirit to come upon the new believers in Samaria (7:15–17) and it does. The Spirit’s arrival marks the gospel’s coming. The same happens when the gospel impacts Gentiles in Caesaria (10:44–48). This outpouring of the Spirit marks God’s acceptance of new believers into the kingdom regardless of whether they are Jew (Acts 2), Samaritan (Acts 7), or Gentile (Acts 10). This is a further fulfillment of Joel’s vision of the Spirit being poured out on “all flesh” (Joel 2:28). The gift of the Spirit is for all God’s people.

The Spirit is the guiding force in the gospel’s advance from Jerusalem in Acts 1 to Rome in Acts 28. It provides guidance for God’s people. In Acts 8:26–40, the Spirit prompts Philip (8:29) to engage an Ethiopian eunuch in a conversation that leads to conversion. The Spirit fills Saul (Paul) in 9:17 after the risen Jesus meets him on the road to Damascus (9:1–9). The Spirit transforms Paul from a persecutor of the church to a leading apostle.

Rome and Beyond

Acts 13–28 narrates the movement of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. Acts 13:1–4 credits the Spirit with the advance of the gospel. The Holy Spirit commissions and sends out Paul (Saul) and Barnabas to preach the gospel in these new lands. Paul and Barnabas ultimately separate (Acts 15:36–41) but Paul continues his missional work. Under the guidance of the Spirit (16:6–10), Paul leaves Asia for Macedonia and Greece. The gospel continues to move forward until Acts ends in chapter 28 with Paul preaching about Jesus in Rome itself. The story ends abruptly. The implication is clear. Since there is no Acts 29, we are left to dream under the Spirit’s influence about the chapters that the Spirit will write with our lives.

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Dr. Brian Russell is Dean of the School of Urban Ministries and Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is also a consultant and speaker on the missional interpretation of Scripture and creating a missional ethos in communities of faith.

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