Let me wish you all a Happy Birthday and can I say that none of you look a day over two thousand years old. Why am I wishing you Happy Birthday? Well today is Pentecost Sunday, it is the day when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on those first disciples fifty days after Passover and Jesus death and resurrection. It has been called the birthday celebration of the Church. At its core the church is a spiritual being, yes it’s very human institution with all its foibles and faults. But it is also that we are God’s spirited people called to live in a new way, and it came into being with the coming of the Holy Spir
We’ve been working our way through Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit and last week and this week we are finishing that off by looking at the first disciple’s experience of receiving the Holy Spirit. Jesus had said that after he had gone back to the father he would send another Paraclete to be with and within his followers. The Paraclete: A trusted friend who would come alongside and advise…One like Jesus, the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity… the spirit of truththat would teach us and bring to mind all that Jesus had said… The spirit whowould witness to Jesus, convict the world of their need for God, and enable usto be witnesses as well… the breath of God, that would bring new life as Godcomes and dwells within us… now in the Pentecost story we see that become a reality.
Luke’s account of Pentecost is in three sections, the first is a narrative of what happened, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, which focuses on the physical signs that accompanied this event. The second is Peter’s speech, in which Peter explains to the crowd what is happening and why , he does that it terms of God’s promise from the Hebrew scriptures, in particular the prophecy we had read out from Joel chapter 2 and also focuses on what God has done through the life, passion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It marks the beginning of the Church being witnesses to Jesus alongside the Holy Spirit. The last section of the narrative tells of the impact of the Spirit’s presence on those first believers. Today we are going to focus on the first and last section of Acts Chapter 2, the coming of the Spirit and what a spirit filled community looks like. It’s not that the middle section isn’t important and we’ll look at it in passing, but we’ve focused a lot on what’s in there in this series already.
Out of all the Gospel writers Luke would fit best into our modern day setting. Hollywood would love him because he has written a sequel to his account of Jesus life and mission. In his introduction to what we call Acts, Luke tells his intended audience that in his first book he had written all that Jesus had begun to do and we are to see what is going to happen in the life of the church now as being what Jesus continues to do through his disciples by the Holy Spirit. Both the gospel and Acts, give an account of the Holy Spirit coming and enabling the ministry and mission of Jesus to happen. In the gospel, in Luke chapter 3, the Holy Spirit comes on Jesus at his baptism, That coming is accompanied by physical manifestations, a dove and a voice from heaven saying ‘this is my son in whom I am pleased’. Luke chapter four then starts by saying ‘Jesus filled with the Holy Spirit’ and we get an account of the beginning of his mission. In Acts we see the Holy Spirit again descend on the disciples all gathered together in one place, its accompanied by signs, a noise like a wind, tongues of fire alighting on each of the believers gathered there and those believers speaking in the different languages of the known world. And we are told that the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit. They then begin their ministry and mission.
Pentecost is a festival to celebrate the wheat harvest, but had also had religious significance placed with it as celebrating the giving of the law to Moses on Mt Sinai. In Israel’s thinking At Passover they celebrated God’s saving acts in bring Israel out of Egypt and with the coming of the law we have Israel being constituted as God’s people. So with Jesus death and resurrection being God’s saving action for us over sin and death with the coming of the spirit we have God constituting his new people, A people that would be draw together from all the different people of the world.
Fire and wind are symbols from the Old testament of theophany, times when God shows up in power: Like the fiery pillar at night with the people of Israel as they came out of Egypt and travelled through the wilderness. Like Elijah and the prophets of Baal Mt Camel, with the fire from heaven. Like Elijah encountering God at Mt Sinai, after being depressed and feeling so alone encounters God in a violent storm and then the reality of God in a small still voice.
The difference here with the fire is that in the Old Testament it is God’s presence with his people corporately and in Acts the fire lights on each individual believer. In the Old testament God was present with his people and specific leaders were said to be filled with the Holy Spirit to achieve specific tasks; like making the tabernacle, prophecy, but now every believe is filled and baptised by the Spirit. AS peter will say it is for you and your children and your children’s children.
The other difference in the Pentecost story is the phenomenon of speaking in different languages, and this is the one that Luke focuses on. We are told that the as the spirit filled the believers they were enabled to speak in languages they had not learned. That those who had come to Jerusalem from round the whole of the known world, were amazed because they heard these Galileans, thought of as uneducated local yokels, speaking in their native languages. In the scriptures such manifestations of the Spirit are called signs and the disciples speaking in these different languages is a sign of the universality of the Gospel, the scope of the mission Jesus was calling this new people to of being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Speaking in tongues is mentioned as a gift of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 and like in the church in Corinth it is a rather controversial gift. Some say this was a one off experience for the church, others have said that you have not received the Holy Spirit unless you speak in tongues. Both of which, I believe are wrong. AS you read through the New Testament you see that there are many times when it talks of God sending his spirit to fill people and it is not always accompanied by speaking in tongues. God gives the gifts that you and I need for the setting we find ourselves in. It’s more correct to say that being filled with the Holy Spirit enables us to witness to Christ and to speak God’s words and tongues is a specific manifestation of that.
I have no problem believing that the gift of tongues is for the church today because my experience of that is kid if like the Pentecost experience.
I first encountered it in a very Presbyterian way, At the Presbyterian church I grew up in, we had one of our elders say at the end of a worship time. I believe God wants me to give a message in tongues, which he gave. Another elder on the other side of the church them gave what you might call a prophetic message or a word of encouragement in English. The minister asked if the elder who had spoken in tongues though that was the interpretation. Then the wife of another elder stood up and said that she had been a teacher in Tonga for many years and although the language wasn’t Tongan she understood some of the words in the message in tongues, and they appeared where she would expect them to in the translations.
In my own experience at a healing meeting I was asked by a man to pray for him, he was going into hospital to have an operation on his veracious veins. I didn’t know what to pray so I asked if he minded if I prayed for him in tongues. He said that was fine and so I did. When I finished he turned to me and said ‘ Do you know what you’ve just done’. I was a bit worried as he was Maori and maybe I’d just done something culturally inappropriate. So is aid with trepidation “no”. Well You just prayed for me in fluent Maori and I understood every word you just said. I don’t speak Maori by the way. So I thought I’d better ask him what I had said and he replied, just in case it was simply a new recipe for watercress and pork bones. He told me I had been giving praise to God and praying against powers and principalities. I don’t know id the man was healed or not, but isn’t it God to want to speak to someone who was concerned and worried about an operation in his own mother language, letting him know that God was in control.
It happens occasionally, one time I was praying for a Cook Island man and again I didn’t know what to prayer for him only that God wanted me to pray for him in tongues, so I did. Afterwards he told me he didn’t know his own language that much but had understood enough to hear God say ‘I know you by name”. He went on to tell me that he was studying theology and where he was studying he felt he was being forced into the mould of being a beige Pakeha (Maori name for people of European ethnicity) and his Cook Island culture was being ignored. The thing that really irked him was the way that people butchered his name, so it was liberating and healing to here God say “I know you by name”.
It is easy to miss amidst the physical manifestations in the Pentecost narrative the central and important truth that the Holy Spirit came and dwelt on all who believed. We don’t always need the special affects the reality is that God gives his spirit to his people. It tells us that all who were gathered there were filled with the spirit. And as Peter explains it was a result of God’s desire to dwell with his people. A sign of the new age that Jesus life, death and resurrection has heralded.
It has been interesting that with the renewal of the charismatic and Pentecostal movement there has been a growing interest and emphasis on the manifestations of the spirit whereas Acts finishes its account of Pentecost with the manifesto of the Spirit, how the Spirit presence impacted the lives of that first church and what I feel we can see as the marks of a genuine moving of the Holy Spirit today.
Firstly it results in a renewal of worship. It tells us that the disciples were full of joy and giving thanks to God. It tells us that there was a heightened sense of awe and wonder at what God was doing.
Secondly there was genuine repentance. In response to peter’s sermon the crowd asked ‘what must we do to be saved’, they turned to God. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is a response to the movement of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had said one of the roles of the Spirit was to convict the world of their need for God.
There was a growing desire to learn more form the word of God. The first church devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. Again this is a response to the movement and presence of the Spirit of truth.
The spirit was preforming signs and wonders in and through the worshipping community.
There was a desire for Christian unity and love. The believers meet regularly and practised hospitality. They focused on breaking bread together. They held everything in common.
There was a heightened concern for the poor which resulted in compassionate action. The believers sold what they had and gave the money to those in need.
There was an increased emphasis on prayer.
There was an emphasis on evangelism, proclaiming the good news about Jesus and demonstrating that through how they lived. God was adding to their number daily those who were being saved.