Following the Christian calendar, we are approaching May 15th. That’s Pentecost Sunday, which marks that historical day many years ago when something strange happened.

That day was surprising not just because the people present anticipated the exact events of that day unfolding as they did. No, that day is also surprising because of the events that took place seven weeks prior to Pentecost. Seven weeks before Jewish and Roman political power conspired to crucify Jesus of Nazareth by falsely accusing him of inciting rebellion against Rome (cf. Lk 23:14). On that weekend, during the celebration of the Passover, Jesus was arrested, beat and whipped, publicly humiliated, and then nailed to the cross as a demonstration of power. Rome wins! Or so, that was the message that crucifixion was meant to convey.

And though the Jewish authorities were co-conspirators in this crucifixion of Jesus, many Jews still longed for God to be faithful to his covenant promise and restore the kingdom. So the death of Jesus, as one who evoked the hope that Israel’s Messiah had finally come, seemingly suggested that hope was crushed again. And crushed, nonetheless, by death on a Roman cross!

The Gospel Proclaimed

            Hope crushed… until another Jewish man named Peter spoke up in the middle of a crowd. Some of those people had just accused Peter and his companions, of drinking too much wine so early in the morning.

Rather than mumbling like a drunk, Peter began quoting scripture from the prophets Joel and David. These were familiar scriptures to the Jewish people, scriptures which evoked the promise of hope that Israel believed in. But it was Peter’s way of telling his fellow Jews that the day of salvation they have longed for has come because God has raised the Jesus, whom they crucified, from death. This meant one thing, which Peter boldly proclaimed, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (v. 36).[1]

Try imagining what it must have been like for this Jewish crowed to hear this testimony. What are they to do? What do these Jewish people do when they realized that their own hands have played a part in crucifying the very Messiah they had hoped for? Perhaps that gives some understanding of what Luke means when he tells us that those who believed were “cut to the heart” (v. 37), asking what they are going to do now.

Peter’s response to his fellow Jews seems as simple as it is well known to us. “…‘Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’” (vv. 38-39, NIV).

Repentance, Baptism, and the Mission of God

            As most Christians know, much ink has been spilled over the interpretation of Acts 2:38 and what that means for the practice of baptism, with plenty of differences remaining. I’m not writing this article to address those difference, some of which I consider important and some not so important. However, I do want to suggest that we cannot reduce the call for repentance and baptism to merely “getting saved” or “getting right with Jesus” as those ideas are popularly understood among Christianity. Though salvation is of great importance and a promised reality for those who repent and are baptized, there is so much more to consider.

Repentance and baptism belong to the larger gospel narrative in which God is fulfilling his mission of redeeming and restoring life in Jesus whom God has made Lord and Messiah. Therefore, to repent and be baptized is to become a part of this mission, surrendering our life to Jesus by placing our allegiance to him as his followers. We repent and receive this baptism as disciples, believing (faith) that the hope and salvation of the world is now a reality come in Jesus, the Lord and Messiah. In turn, we are enjoined by God into this new life as servants of this kingdom’s King. Hence, the reason we repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.[2]

This raises a challenge for us as we approach Pentecost again, a day that seems to have become a rather mundane and mostly forgetful day for many Christians. N.T. Wright observes that in a span of one-hundred years, from AD 25 to AD 125, history emerged from not a hint of any Christian movement to a movement so large and significant that a philosopher named Aristides now regarded Christians as a fourth human race among Barbarians, Greeks, and Jews.[3] The reason for the expansion of this movement must confront us and as it does, we must allow it to renew our gospel imagination if we are to live within the Pentecost story as our story and our way.

A Living Embodiment of the Gospel

            The reason for this revolutionary movement is rooted in the belief that God had indeed made Jesus the Lord and Messiah. Jesus is now the reigning King, not Caesar! In the war of all wars, it is God who has won the the victory, inaugurating the new and last age of God’s kingdom − a world without end! Historically, we know the result is a new life of fellowship and witness, such as depicted in Acts 2:42ff and beyond. In Acts, the life of this movement is characterized by both a common love for one another as they extended hospitality to each another as well as the proclamation of the gospel without any compromise between Jesus and Caesar that entertained some form of a nationalistic civil-religion.

We are called in this text to become a living embodiment of this fellowship and witness. However, this is a challenge among a society where politics, race, and socio-economic differences continuously stir division and hatred. As local fellowships, we must become intentional pursue about extending hospitality to others among our assemblies and our homes where we bear the burdens of each other. This is also a challenge where patriotism is too often assumed and expressed indiscriminately. As disciples, our allegiance is to Jesus rather than a nation and our witness must demonstrate such allegiance as people who have repented and been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Such fellowship and witness is only possible by gift of the Holy Spirit we have received, which is the other reason for this revolutionary movement. Just a cursory reading through Acts shows that the Spirit is at work powerfully animating the disciples to live as participants in this mission of God. To say this another way, this movement is not characterized by the conventional reasoning and utilitarian pragmatism that is all too common among us today.

This is why we cannot be driven by growing a bigger church, reaching the unchurched, or some other utilitarian goal that then redefines the way we live to achieve such goal.[4] It is not that a growing church reaching the unchurched is unwanted but that what the Spirit empowers us for is faithful discipleship, whether or not that results in church growth. This is not a reproduction of first-century church forms per se but a living embodiment of the gospel, our fellowship and witness, among our own local communities.

Why It Matters

      I titled this article Acts 2 and Pentecost: Our Story, Our Way because what we read is what happens when we welcome the message of the gospel without compromise to the radical claim of Jesus or the substitution of the Spirit’s power for our own human ingenuity. It will not look exactly the same since we are embodying this gospel in different social contexts but it is our participation in the mission of God. It is an ongoing surrender of ourselves to Jesus, learning to welcome this gospel again and again by living our repentance and baptism. This is what matters, what we are in business for.

May we be the living embodiment of the gospel to the glory of God the Father, Son, and Spirit!

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[1] All scripture is taken from the New International Version, 2011.

[2] See C. K. Barrett, The Acts of the Apostles: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, The International Critical Commentary, vol. 1., 2nd ed. (Edinburg: T & T Clark, 2004), 151.

[3] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 359; see also Aristides, Apology, 2, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1012.htm.

[4] Bryan Stone, Evangelism After Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), 125, rightly reminds us that “An evangelistic church is called to patience, obedience, and martyrdom rather than effectiveness, control, or success. It will have to relinquish ‘winning’ as a proper end, along with the logic of agency and causality that go with that end. It will have to relearn the truth that there is nothing we can do to bring about or extend God’s reign, so that we are left with the singular task of bearing embodied witness to that reign.”