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Pentecost: Power to witness

June 4, 2014

  Acts 2: 1 – 21

Birthdays. Birthdays can stir a variety of emotions in us. The whole spectrum of feelings from uncontrollable excitement to total indifference or even pain. As a child the anticipation is huge and can last for weeks. The parties, the presents, the centre of attention. As we get older, there is a sense of excitement too, of new opportunities. Being able watch more mature films, the age of consent, learning to drive, coming of age, getting the vote (that last one actually doesn’t tend to cause that much excitement!) As we get older 30, 40, 50 are milestones to be sure. But 51? It comes. And it’s gone. It may feel like every other day, especially if we’re working. And maybe we get to the point where we don’t even want to think about it! A reminder of our advancing years. A reminder of so many things.

Well today is a birthday of sorts. Commemorated in the church calendar. Pentecost – the birthday of the Church. Events from nearly 2000 years ago, when the church was born in fire and power and the world was shaken. From a group of maybe 120 believers to about 3,120. In one day. The birth of the Church in the giving of the Holy Spirit.

And I wonder if this birthday too has mixed feelings for us? It is one of the most dynamic of events in church history and we can feel the incredible events of that day, through the disciples, the passers-by and the waiting world. It reminds us that the church in the hands of God’s Holy Spirit has the most tremendous potential. Or perhaps the events seem a million miles away from our experience of church. Do we wonder why it is not that way now? Or do we conclude that this was a different time and that the role of the church is very different now?

All of us, if we are honest, can become disillusioned with the church. The thousands of denominations. The fact that, as the press like to remind us, that church attendances are falling, maybe our inability to impact the world around us with the good news of Jesus. It could be that we feel powerless. What does Pentecost say to us now?

But as we come to this passage tonight, my sense is that GOD DOESN’T CHANGE. He was mighty God 2,000 years ago, almighty from eternity past, in creation, in the work of salvation, in eternity to come. In the here and now.

Pentecost was a unique event, not to be repeated, the Holy Spirit came upon the people of God in an altogether new way. Now indwelt by the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead living in all believers. From that point on the Holy Spirit indwells all those who call on the name of the Lord and are saved.

Not long before, the disciples were devastated as Jesus told them that he was leaving them. And yet he told them that it was actually better for them that he went. What an incredible thing to say! They must have thought, “how can that possibly be true?” We may think sometimes that it would be great to be around Jesus when he walked this earth, to walk with him, listen to him, see his miracles, witness his healings, enjoy it as he put those religious leaders in their place. Just to be there. But that is GOD WITH US. Jesus tells his disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes, God with us changes to GOD IN US. Now however you feel about the sort of week you have had, Jesus says that is better!

In Acts chapter 1, the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples to wait. For they will receive divine power when God the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Power that will transform them with an ability to spread his message throughout the world.

So as we look back at this birth, I am convinced that we can learn lessons that will help us today, as we continue to be vessels of the Holy Spirit and carriers of the good news.

So as Jesus commands, the disciples wait. When we talk about the disciples we are not it seems talking about the 12 (Matthias had been brought on as a substitute in place of Judas Iscariot), but rather a group of around 120, including the women who had followed him with such devotion, and members of Jesus’ immediate family.

It was a Sunday and it was Pentecost. A festival that was celebrated by the Jews and variously known as the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Harvest, the Day of First fruits. Today was certainly going to be a day when much fruit was going to be harvested.

They were together in one place. It may have been the upper room, but more likely, given the numbers involved, it may have been somewhere in the temple precincts in Jerusalem, as Luke tells us that the disciples were continually in the temple praising God. As witnesses to the resurrection they had much to praise God for but a whole new dimension was about to open up.

It was as they gathered together to worship that God’s Holy Spirit made his move. And I believe it is true that that has not changed. It is still true that when Christians meet together there is huge potential. As Jesus’ followers we are not just another club. We do not just meet up with each other, great as that would be. We don’t just meet to talk about God and Jesus and the Bible. We meet with God, we see Jesus, through the presence of the Holy Spirit. There are so many things that we can focus on when we come to worship; the music, the surroundings, the people, the preacher. But the great focus, as the Church of England will remind its membership every Sunday is this – “THE LORD IS HERE”. It’s a big one to get our minds around. But we pray it, we sing it, we preach it. “THE LORD IS HERE. With us and in us”.

If we ever drag ourselves half-heartedly to church, feeling we’d rather be somewhere else, surely we have lost that sense that when even 2 or 3 meet in the name of Jesus “there I am in the midst”.

Luke is incapable of describing what happened. He can only attempt. The sound was like the blowing of a force 10 wind. What they saw looked like tongues of fire, but something visible that rested upon all of those present.

And that which they heard and saw was tangible evidence of something that was taking place there and then. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. And the one immediate evidence of what had happened was when they spoke. They all spoke. “In other tongues”. It must have been quite a racket. But this was far from random noise. What was going on was nothing short of miraculous and far reaching.

The story could have ended there. It has to be said that today there are so many views on the working of the Holy Spirit. On the role of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. Even of course to the point of whether all the gifts, or any of them, are still available to us. There are of course extremes in all these things and one might expect that if some churches had the opportunity to re-write the story of the day of Pentecost it would have ended at verse 4. A tremendous experience for those gathered and next week they would come back for more.

But the experience of the disciples at Pentecost was not about them. It was not for their entertainment. It was for the world. Jesus had not promised them a tremendous time of blessing. He promised that they would carry his message to the ends of the earth and that started now.

For remarkably as the Spirit came in power, the disciples did not in that moment go to the ends of the earth, but the ends of the earth came to them! It was festival time and worshippers were all around. God fearing Jews, we are told, from every nation under heaven. Visiting Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Harvest, the Feast of first fruits. And they ended up not CELEBRATING the harvest and the first fruits but BEING the harvest and first fruits.

For the sound that the disciples heard, maybe was audible to those around too. These events were true enough. But as they edged nearer, the wind became voices and the voices became words. Words that were meaningless to those who spoke, but life changing to those who heard. They met together in the temple to praise God and now they praised God in a new way which was intelligible to those around. So many nations. But the right number of languages to go round! Unbelievable! Incredible! How could this be?

Imagine that! No language training. Instant language speaking. Imagine the time saved for those going to do overseas missionary work, if it were that simple.

But the thing that always strikes me here is that the Holy Spirit worked in such a way that the wonders of God were announced in a way that all around could understand. And surely that should be what we long for as Jesus’ followers today. That the message we preach is heard loud and clear and speaks to our colleagues, neighbours and friends. Today when so many see church as irrelevant, Jesus as a teacher who said some good things, that you can believe what you like, how we need the ability to speak clearly and relevantly. As Paul said, to be “all things to all men”. Not to be like the church at Laodicea which was neither hot nor cold. That was totally irrelevant to the world and ultimately made Jesus sick.

We need to pray for that working of God’s Holy Spirit in our daily lives, in the lives of our churches, that he works in us in power and in a way that the relevance of the message of Jesus is all too evident.

From that beginning Peter, the one who denied Jesus 3 times, after saying he would never let Jesus down, stands and preaches boldly that what is happening here is real and is God. This is what has been promised through the prophets. The Holy Spirit poured out in the last days. And if the disciples then were in the last days, then how much more are we? How much more do we need the Holy Spirit who lives in us, to equip us and work through us?

God’s word is being heard. God’s Spirit will not discriminate. Old men, young men. Men and women. God moving in power through his people. And the result of that message being heard? That “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. If we long for that, that is God’s heart too. It was illustrated on the day of Pentecost, when 120 disciples suddenly had to counsel 3,000 new Christians.

GOD DOESN’T CHANGE. Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever. The Holy Spirit is still the Holy Spirit in these last days.

In parts of the world the church is growing. Reports generally will tell us of the shrinking church in the UK. What is our response to that to be? The Spirit of God who fell at Pentecost took up residence in you and me when we became followers of Jesus (With or without the spectacular manifestations of Pentecost). And now he wants to use us. Now he wants to speak through us. That has not changed. If we are not experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in our churches, surely we need to ask ourselves why.

Today the church commemorates a day after which nothing would ever be the same. A day when the victory that Jesus won at Calvary, became so real to his followers. Now they could live resurrection life. And speak for him with a power that lived in them. The power that raised Jesus from the dead. The power that lives in you. SAME POWER. As we gather together in his name, let’s seek to ‘know Christ and the power of his resurrection in our own lives, the church and in the lives of those we meet. For his glory.

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