From Every Nation Under Heaven

Every May, liturgical calendars point Christians to Pentecost Sunday. In recent years, evangelical churches have begun to see the value of marking a special Sunday to revel in the good news of God’s coming upon His people in power through the Holy Spirit.

We are right to celebrate Pentecost. Without the sending of the Spirit of God, we would have no church withstanding the gates of hell for 2,000-plus years. This indwelling presence of God in His people was the fulfillment of a promise repeated throughout the Old Testament and in Jesus’ earthly ministry.

 

The prophets spoke of a time when God would breathe out His Spirit upon His people, endowing them with new spiritual life (Num. 11:29; Isa. 32:15; Ezek. 36:27). In the book of Acts, Peter explicitly says this outpouring they witnessed was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Holy Spirit upon His people (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17-21). In the gospel narratives, John the Baptist picked up on the Old Testament prophecies, declaring his baptism to be merely a picture of a greater cleansing— baptism of the indwelling Spirit of God (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). This new day was also a theme of Jesus’ ministry. In His final words to the disciples in the upper room, Jesus promised the coming of God’s Spirit (John 14:16). And after His resurrection, Jesus again prophesied the descent of the Spirit (Acts 1:8) and instructed His disciples to wait for it (Luke 24:49).

Sadly, too many Christians read the Acts 2 narrative only to confirm their convictions on second-tier matters, such as the sign gifts, and miss the main thrust of what God is doing with His people.

Pentecost, a Jewish feast of firstfruits, bursts with the theme of new creation. The same Spirit that is said to have hovered over the waters at creation (Gen. 1:2), the same breath of God that gave life to humankind is now giving new life to His people through the regenerating wind of the Spirit of God. This is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision to bring life the dry spiritual bones (Ezek. 37:1-28; see also Eph. 2:1) and a confirmation of Jesus’ own post-resurrection promise (John 20:22).

That day 2,000 years ago marked the beginning of the Christian church. It reminds us that the body of Christ is built not by our clever machinations but through the power of the Holy Spirit, filling ordinary men and women who proclaim the life-saving gospel message.

But as we celebrate Pentecost, we shouldn’t miss another important theme, a subtext that will help us experience the fullness of the moment. Luke is careful to write that present at the gathering in Acts 2 were “men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).

Sin distorted the image of God in humankind, pitting brother against brother, dividing by race and class. But the promise of Pentecost is that the gospel reverses this curse, undoing the confusion of the Tower of Babel and drawing people into the body of Christ from every race, tribe, and tongue. If you listen closely to Jesus’ words in the Great Commission, you’ll see that the gospel is not simply restricted to the people of Israel, but would go out to all nations (Matt. 28:16). This was always God’s intention, but it would be the church through which this worldwide, race-transcending gospel would be broadcast (Acts 2, Romans 4, Galatians 3 and 4, Ephesians 2 and 4). In Revelation, we see the final consummation of God’s gathering of all peoples. It’s not that Christians shouldn’t acknowledge ethnicity; rather, we can recognize it as a gift from God and catalyst for worship.

Our failure—particularly in the mostly white evangelical church—to fully recognize and celebrate the “all nations” part of the Great Commission and the Pentecost narrative may help explain why the church still struggles with racial reconciliation. Speaking of the American church, Alan Cross, author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, says, “Perhaps if we had understood Pentecost better and the implications of the gospel, we would have been historic champions of Civil Rights instead of opponents.”

Luke’s account of Pentecost and John’s vision of the kingdom remind us that diversity is a vivid sign of the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power in the church. David Prince and Ruben Cabrera write: “A local church is an already visible outpost of the kingdom of Christ. A local church provides a vertical display of gospel reconciliation (God-to-man) but also a display of horizontal gospel reconciliation (man-to-man) … The Bible calls us to celebrate our ethnic identity and heritage, not as ultimate, but as a providential marker of the expanse of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”

There are many obstacles, of course, to a racially diverse congregation. We likely won’t see this fully achieved until we gather for worship around the Lamb’s throne in eternity. Until then, we should both celebrate the diversity of Acts 2 and pray for the Spirit to do in our congregations what we saw Him do at Pentecost.

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29 But Moses said to him, Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD'S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!"

15 Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fertile field, And the fertile field is considered as a forest.

27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

28 It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions.

29 Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

30 I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire and columns of smoke.

31 The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.

32 And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the LORD has said, Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.

17 AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,' God says, `THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; 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 BONDSLAVES, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I WILL IN THOSE DAYS POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT And they shall prophesy.

19 AND I WILL GRANT WONDERS IN THE SKY ABOVE AND SIGNS ON THE EARTH BELOW, BLOOD, AND FIRE, AND VAPOR OF SMOKE.

20 THE SUN WILL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS DAY OF THE LORD SHALL COME.

21 AND IT SHALL BE THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.'

11 As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

16 John answered and said to them all, As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

6 Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

49 And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones.

2 He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.

3 He said to me, Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, O Lord GOD, You know."

4 Again He said to me, Prophesy over these bones and say to them, `O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.'

5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, `Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.

6 I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD.'"

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

8 And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.

9 Then He said to me, Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, `Thus says the Lord GOD, Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life."'"

10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

11 Then He said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, `Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.'

12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, `Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.

13 Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.

14 I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it," declares the LORD.'"

15 The word of the LORD came again to me saying,

16 And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, `For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions'; then take another stick and write on it, `For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.'

17 Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand.

18 When the sons of your people speak to you saying, `Will you not declare to us what you mean by these?'

19 say to them, `Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand."'

20 The sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes.

21 Say to them, `Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land;

22 and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.

23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.

24 My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.

25 They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons' sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever.

26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.

27 My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.

28 And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever."'"

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,

22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.

5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.

16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.

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