GOD REDEEMS 3,000 SOULS — A LESSON FROM JERUSALEM’S SOUTHERN STEPS
There are steps in Jerusalem that used to lead to the Temple at the top of Mt. Zion. Thirty-one of them are still there. A wall blocks the remainder. You can visit them today. In Jesus’ day, the steps led all the way up to the main level of the Temple Mount. Everyone walked up these steps. Likely Jesus did. Often.
Many believe on these very steps, the Church was born. It is where the New Testament church received its power.
1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
5-11 There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?
Parthians, Medes, and Elamites;
Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene;
Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;
Even Cretans and Arabs!
“They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”
12 Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?”
13 Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”
Let’s pause and ask as they did, “What is going on here?”
It’s the day of Pentecost. Recall, three times everyone in The Land comes up to Jerusalem. What are those holidays? Let’s review: Passover, which celebrates God’s deliverance of the bondage of Jewish people from Egypt and the sin it represents. Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, is a joyous celebration of the people of God living in tents in the wilderness. About halfway between these two holidays is Pentecost, Shavuot. Many around the world will celebrate this holiday this weekend.
Pentecost celebrates when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of God. The whole city celebrated the giving of the Torah. The Law. It is highly respected and joyfully commemorated.
So, there were disciples together in a room, some suggest it was the Upper Room, where just a few weeks earlier they had celebrated Passover, “the Last Supper,” with Jesus. And the Holy Spirit came on them. But then, look at verse 6: “When they heard this noise, a crowd gathered.” Where might a large crowd of lots of different people, from every region, speaking every native tongue, gather? At that time there was a large open area at the base of the steps to the Temple. Think of thousands of people at the Mall in Washington, DC or Times Square in NYC. The Spirit was moving like a wildfire. And the people were confused. It was a crazy scene!
And it was into this cacophony of noise that Peter runs up to somewhere near the top of the steps to address the gathered throng. The Temple is behind him. The City of David in front of him. And the Mount of Olives is across the Kidron Valley. His voice booms like a siren through a bustling city.
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!
The time reference is very specific. How does he know it’s 9 o’clock? The Shofar has likely just called the people to prayer. He continues, quoting from the Old Testament prophet Joel, chapter 2:
16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Peter then goes on to preach about who Jesus was, a descendent of King David, and that He was put to death on a cross, died, and was raised to life again to fulfill the Scriptures. This is Peter. Remember him? The one who denied he even knew Jesus during the arrest and trial. This is Peter who began to sink in the waters of Lake Kinneret. Yet, this is Peter who courageously confessed that Jesus was the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi. This is Peter whom Jesus commissioned along the sea of Galilee by asking him if the disciple loved Him three times? John 21:15-17: “Then feed my sheep.” This is Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit! This is Peter boldly preaching, with new courage and without fear of arrest, on the steps of the Temple, during a sacred hour for prayer and sacrifices.
Verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Three thousand people were baptized that day! Where were they baptized? Did they go back up to the Sea of Galilee or to the Jordan River? No. They were baptized in the 48 Mikvehs all around the base of the steps — the ruins of which you can see today. A Mikveh is similar to a “dunking” baptistry in many churches today. Yet, it has a wall to divide the “unclean” steps going down from the “clean” steps coming up. And, it flows with ‘living‘ water through it. It is not a sistern or a pool. Water flows like a stream.
Again, what were they celebrating when all this happened? Christians might think of Pentecost being the day the Holy Spirit came. And that is true. But, remember, the Jews were celebrating Torah. They were celebrating what happened when God gave Moses the Law some 1500 years earlier.
But, do you remember what happened that day? Let’s back up and take a look.
Let’s go to Exodus 32, verses 1-10:
After the people saw that Moses had been on the mountain for a long time, they went to Aaron and said, “Make us an image of a god who will lead and protect us. Moses brought us out of Egypt, but nobody knows what has happened to him.”
2 Aaron told them, “Bring me the gold earrings that your wives and sons and daughters are wearing.” 3 Everybody took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron, 4 then he melted them and made an idol in the shape of a young bull.
All the people said to one another, “This is the god who brought us out of Egypt!”
5 When Aaron saw what was happening, he built an altar in front of the idol and said, “Tomorrow we will celebrate in honor of the Lord.” 6 The people got up early the next morning and killed some animals to be used for sacrifices and others to be eaten. Then everyone ate and drank so much that they began to carry on like wild people.
7 The Lord said to Moses:
Hurry back down! Those people you led out of Egypt are acting like fools. 8 They have already stopped obeying me and have made themselves an idol in the shape of a young bull. They have bowed down to it, offered sacrifices, and said that it is the god who brought them out of Egypt. 9 Moses, I have seen how stubborn these people are, 10 and I’m angry enough to destroy them, so don’t try to stop me. But I will make your descendants into a great nation.
Oh no! God is angry! So is Moses. Skip to Verse 19.
19 As Moses got closer to the camp, he saw the idol, and he also saw the people dancing around. This made him so angry that he threw down the stones and broke them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.
Then to Verses 25-28.
25 Moses knew that the people were out of control and that it was Aaron’s fault. And now they had made fools of themselves in front of their enemies. 26 So Moses stood at the gate of the camp and shouted, “Everyone who is on the Lord’s side come over here!”
Then the men of the Levi tribe gathered around Moses, 27 and he said to them, “The Lord God of Israel commands you to strap on your swords and go through the camp, killing your relatives, your friends, and your neighbors.”
28 The men of the Levi tribe followed his orders, and that day they killed about three thousand men.
Would you look at that? The Lord was so angry that He had 3,000 people slaughtered on the original day of Pentecost, the giving of the Law. The Law of judgment and disobedience leads to death.
On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, celebrated on those steps in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit comes and gives life. And 3,000 were baptized on that day! God redeemed those caught in His judgment, on the first Day of Pentecost!
What do we learn from these two true stories? What questions come to mind in looking at our own lives? Do we spend time making idols and worry about celebrating the Law? And breaking the Law? Or, are we open to the moving of the Holy Spirit and the life He brings? And what about the Temple? We no longer have a temple. We no longer have to offer sacrifices because Jesus did both!
Here’s a word from Peter again… 1 Peter 2:4-5:
Come to Jesus. He is the living stone the people have rejected, but which God has chosen and highly honored.
Jesus is the living temple. God changes His address. He is no longer living in a box in the Holy of Holies at the top of the steps in Jerusalem! John says Jesus is the Tabernacle among us. Revelation 21:3: God’s home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. And as Jesus lives in us through His Holy Spirit, He is the living temple living in us!
Are we ready and able to be a Holy Spirit, New Covenant, Jesus people? Or are we an Old Covenant, law-loving, people? Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the Law. He didn’t give us the Holy Spirit just to give us a new tongue. The Holy Spirit gives us a boldness to share the Gospel. He brings comfort. He is our advocate. He reminds us of the Truth. He seals us as belonging to God. He allows us to bear eternal fruit. Through Him we can love and offer grace and celebrate God with joy!
Paul says: The Law leads to death. But the Spirit brings Life! (2 Corinthians 3:6). May we celebrate the Life of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost season.
(c) 2022. Rich Ronald.
Devotional posts now at RichRonald.com.
Website Design and Social Media Marketing now at RichlySpeaking.com.