Most of the individuals in the gathered crowd had come to Jerusalem from elsewhere in order to keep the Feast of Pentecost, which was one of the three annual feasts that each Jew was commanded to attend. No doubt they had come with the intention of worshipping the God who had done great things for their forefathers at the Exodus. Their worship would have been limited to what God had done historically for Israel in the Exodus from Egypt and in the Restoration from Babylon. Now they heard a group of their fellow Jews praising God for additional wonderful activities by him (v. 11), the amazing works of God performed in his Son, Jesus Christ.
Luke does not say what these people heard. Instead he records their reaction to those who had received the Holy Spirit. Regarding some, there was great curiosity; others concluded that they were drunk. This connection suggests that their speech must have been very excited and exuberant. The people observed that the disciples were under the control of another power, and Luke tells us who he was – the Holy Spirit. Each of the disciples was filled with the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? From this incident, we can easily deduce that it means to be so under his influence that others will see the effects in the lives of believers in Jesus. These effects will depend on the particular situation in which believers find themselves. On this occasion, the disciples were experiencing the arrival of the Spirit. Obviously some observers thought the behaviour of the disciples was similar to a drunk person who has lost control of himself. Clearly the onlookers did not think the disciples were like those who drink to drown their sorrows. Instead they were like those who drink because they wish to celebrate a triumph, and such singing is accompanied by joy. The disciples were praising God with a passion, with intensity and delight. It is interesting that Paul, in Ephesians 4:18-19, links the filling of the Spirit with praise: ‘And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.’
It is not surprising that the believers were expressing joyful praise: their sins had been forgiven, they knew that Jesus had ascended, the fulfilment of his promise to send the Holy Spirit was confirmation that he had reached the throne of God, and they realised that the Father had kept his promise to reward his Son for his work on earth by giving to him, for the benefit of his church, the Holy Spirit.
Yet it is important to notice that these supernatural activities did not enlighten the observers nor did they convert the onlookers. Sometimes we imagine that if God were to perform unusual signs then people would bow down and worship him. Often such a response does not occur. The benefit that the unusual phenomena caused was a desire to hear more about it. Instead of using the signs to bring conversion, Jesus used the sermon of his servant, Peter. And we will think about the sermon tomorrow.