For better or worse the Holy Spirit is often equated just with the Pentecostal movement. It is the biggest movement in the Christianity in the past century... Don’t get me wrong I’m just stating a fact not putting them down… I mean some of my best friends are Pentecostals. Ajith Fernando sees that the great contribution of this Pentecostal and charismatic (that’s those who stayed in mainline denominations) movement… “is to give back to the church the importance of a subjective experience of Christ through the Holy Spirit, both in one’s personal life and in corporate worship.” In our reformed tradition we have a tendency to focus on the transcendence of God which lead to an austerity in worship and the Pentecostal emphasis on the immanence of God balances that out. However Fernando also sees one of the results of the rise of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements has been that it has caused two extremes, … on the one hand “Charasmania”… an over emphases on the importance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in particular tongues and on the other hand “charasphobia”… those who have been put of the Holy Spirit because of all the emphasis on those weird gifts. It’s been hard to actually maintain a solid and biblical understanding of the Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church between these two extremes… to go beyond wrestling with the manifestations of the spirit to fully understand the manifesto of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That’s why for the past few years between Easter and Pentecost we’ve focused on what the scriptures have to say about the Holy Spirit.
Last year we looked at what Jesus had to say about the HolySpirit in John’s gospel. We saw that the spirit was the means by which we would know God’s presence with and in us, because the Spirit is God. That Christ would come and dwell with us by the Spirit. That the Spirit would lead us into all truth: remind us of Jesus words and help us to fully understand who Jesus is. In all that the Spirit would give us peace and wholeness that the world cannot take away because the world did not give it. We saw the wonderful metaphor Jesus used for the Holy Spirit …Paraclete, the trusted friend who draws near, comes alongside and provides advice, a councillor and comforter, someone to lead us and guide us.
This year we’ve been focusing on the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. We’ve seen that the emphasis for Acts is how the Promised coming of the Holy Spirit enables the church to fulfil the mission given to us by Jesus, as Luke puts it, to be witnesses to the risen Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. We’ve focused on that in this series because that is what Acts focuses on, we actually need the whole of scripture to know the whole of the breadth and depth, the totality of what God is doing by his Spirit in and through us.
Well in the church calendar it’s Pentecost Sunday… from the Jewish festival of Pentecost… Pentecost gets its name from being celebrated 50 days after Passover. It was the festival to celebrate the end of the barley harvest and acknowledge the start of the wheat harvest. It also was a time when the Jews celebrated the giving of law through Moses at Mt Sinai. For the Christian church Pentecost is when we remember the sending of the Holy Spirit on those first believers and on us. We’ve already looked at this event in this series and what I want to focus on today is ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” and what that means for us today.
To get that point we need to some preliminaries…The passage in Acts 2 that we had read out to us today follows the pattern of a gospel miracle story, it was written by the same person who wrote Luke. We have the setting for the miracle, in Jerusalem at Pentecost, then we have a description of the event itself… The sound like the rushing wind and tongues of fire coming upon the believers, who were gathered together, and we are told that all the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages. They started praising God and telling of the mighty things God had done. People gather and react in one of two ways… they are amazed and want to know what it means or they write it off as a bunch of yokels drunk on wine and gibbering. Then we have the miracle explained for us, remember in scriptures miracles are not unexplained supernatural phenomena they are signs that point us to God. So Peter explains what is happening and what it means, he links it back to the scriptures and shows how what is happened is about the death resurrection and exaltation of Jesus and invites people to respond to that. Then we have the narrative of what happened as a result of the sign, we see people come to believe in Christ and because of the Spirit’s presence and we see the believers living out their faith.
Our focus is that they were” All filled with the Holy Spirit”… The first thing I want to say is that this is not about the believers so much as about God. This is a narrative about God keeping his promise. That God would come and dwell with and in his people in a new way. Peter in his sermon uses a quote from the prophet Joel to show this was God’s intent… ‘in the last days I will pour out my spirit on all people”. Peter will go to explain that with the coming of Jesus that this new messianic age had been bought into existence, the kingdom of God was inaugurated the last days had come. Isaiah 44:3 which peter alludes to at the end of his sermon says I will pour out my spirit on you and your descendants. Ezekiel 36:26- 27 says “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. “ …God was doing what he had promised.
Jesus had said God would send his spirit on those who believed. They were to wait in Jerusalem till it happened. In Peter’s sermon which focuses on Christ we see that it is because of Christ we have been put right with God and he is able to come and dwell within us. Fire in the Old Testament is often connected to God’s Judgement and cleansing and in this case we see that the tongues of fire come and settle on each believer, they are judged to be in Christ, forgiven welcomed in. We are able to be filled by the Spirit because of the very promise and action and grace of God.
Secondly it was all of them who were filled with the spirit. In the Old Testament there is a sense that God dwells with his people by his Spirit, we have the cloud and fiery pillar in the exodus. The tabernacle and then the temple, Ezekiel has that wonderful special effects filled vision during the exile of God’s presence moving from Jerusalem and going with the exiles. But it’s in a very general way and it only speaks of specific people being filed with the Spirit of God usually for specific tasks: For leadership, prophecy, the first people who are recorded as being filled with the spirit are Bezalel and Oholiab who were filled with the spirit to design and build the tabernacle.
The fire now touched everyone Now God dwells within everyone and Peter reiterates this by refereeing to the prophecy in Joel. In three parallels it says that God will pour out his spirit on all people and is very clear to express that across the barriers of gender, age, and social status. Men and women, and both will prophecy, God will dwell and empower and enable men and women.. There is no age barrier, Old and Young will see vision and have dreams. David Strickland our minister in Titirangi, was from Pennsylvania, and I remember him telling the story of how revival came to a part of that State through the children playing church and the spirit coming with manifestations like in Acts 2, and they rushed off to tell their older brothers and sisters what had happened and it happened again and finally the parents caught on as their children shared it with them. Age is not a barrier. Then we see it was even to be on the servants and salves as well, again both male and female. The poor and powerless. In fact one of the criticisms of Christianity early on was that it was just a religion for women and salves… yup praise God it is. Even the believers themselves were being written off as just a bunch of Galileans, but God chose and often choses to start new things and do great things through folk who are not at the centre of the power and status of their times. The church in the west has tried for too long to do what it is called to do from the centre of power rather than realising it’s by the Spirit and often from the edge that God moves.
And we really do need to talk about the “and they all spoke in tongues”… because for many people that is sort of the sticking point… it’s the charasmania or charasphobia bit right? Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at the occasions in Acts where it talks of people being filled with the Holy Spirit and in three of them it mentions tongues as well. But here as in other parts of the acts it seems to be in terms of the idea of it being a prophetic act. In Acts 2 the sign is that all the gospel was for all people, more time is spent in Acts 2 giving us a rundown of all the people who were there and heard the mighty acts of God being spoken in their own tongues that in telling us about the event itself. The sign was that the believers were being enabled to be witnesses to the ends of the earth, and in terms Jews from the Roman world we have them listed from east to west. The Good News of redemption in Jesus Christ was for them, and as we see as we go further through Acts it was not only for the Jews from those places but also for the gentiles as well, and of course as we sit here in twenty first century new Zealand we know it was for the whole world.… the tongues was a sign of that wonderful grace not of believers being filled with the Spirit.
The idea that speaking in tongues is the sign of being baptised in the Spirit, does not actually stand up to scrutiny either in scripture, where the one Spirit gives gifts the church for the common good. As I said before the first people who were said to be filled with the spirit in exodus didn’t speak in tongues, unless like me interior design for you is a whole different language, or again like me the instructions for raising tents seem to equally be written in a different language. In scripture even Acts 2 evidence of the presences of the Spirit is in the way the people lived and loved each other. Nor does it hold up experientially, I know people who are amazing saints who you just feel God’s presence oozing from who don’t or didn’t speak in tongues. However I agree with Ajith Fernando we should be open to all that God has for us. I actually find it a helpful Gift from God in my Christian walk. (here is a link to my testimony about Speaking in tongues as part of another message... Speaking in tongues the problem gift)
There is something quite amazing about the fact that the Jews in Jerusalem heard it in their own language as well. You might expect that it would be easier to speak in Greek or Aramaic the dominant common language of the day. But everyone heard their own native birth language being used what I call their heart language, Christianity was not to be a colonising conquering faith, the faith of empire (sadly that has been what has happened in history) but rather to speak good news and new life into every culture. The new people of God are not designed to be a homogeneous unit but filled with the great diversity of the tapestry of humanity together in Christ, all filed with the same spirit. There is a real challenge for us in our increasingly multicultural world on how we are to live that out and we need the spirits presence to do it.
They were all filled with the Spirit… we shouldn’t be surprised by that because they and we are all invited to know God personally in Christ, God presences himself in a new way with his people, with and in each one of us drawing us together as community. ..We shouldn’t be surprised because it’s not just leaders and people for special tasks like in the Old Testament …because we are all called and commissioned to witness to the hope we have in the death resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit It is for you and you and you… and your children and your children’s children.