Over the period between Easter and Pentecost we’ve been working our way through a series looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Bible and the Church Today. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the ways in which God has empowered and enabled and equipped the church to bear witness to Christ in the world. We started our journey with Jesus commissioning his disciples after the resurrection, recorded at the end of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of Acts, where he promises they will receive power from on high to be Jesus witnesses. We moved on to see the spirit being given so we can Show Christ like love in service (Roman 12). So we would lack in nothing for every good deed and be built up into maturity in the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4). We saw that these manifestations of the Holy Spirit are the ways God speaks and moves through us in a diversity of ways and that we are the body of Christ, where everyone belongs and has a part to play (1 Corinthians 12). Last week we saw how we should use the gifts God has given us with a Christ centred vision, and for the common good (In 1 Peter 4). We are finishing today by looking at God keeping his promise and sending his Holy Spirit on that first group of believers gathered together in Jerusalem, making them and us ‘God’s Spirited people’.
Stainglass windows in the chapel at
One of the visual motifs that has been running through this series is stain glass art… The wonderful image that has been on the screen during our service today comes from the chapel down at Mountainside Lutheran Church: These two wonderful panels speaking of the water of life and the fire of the Holy Spirit, and inclusion into the people of God through baptism in water and by the Holy Spirit. Thanks to pastor Joe Kummerow for letting me use it. During this series we’ve used the idea of stained glass to talk of different pieces of glass, in a diverse shape and colour being fitted together to form a picture and that picture coming alive as the light shines through it, just as God draws us together and as we belong to each other in love and find the part God has called us to play, and as the spirit brings all that together and makes it alive that we show Christ to the world.
But we started with a piece of stain glass art at St John’s in Rotorua, that represented the gifts of the Holy Spirit the sun was supposed to shine through the upper windows and through the glass triangles and down on to the congregation, symbolising that the Gifts the Holy Spirit were for everyone, not just what was happening up the front. The problem as that the sun never shone through on a sufficient angle for that to happen. There was a disconnect between them and the congregation, which I felt was symbolic for a lot of us of a disconnect between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and our own lives. What I want to do today is use Acts 2 as a way of addressing a lot of the issues around that disconnect. If you go on to websites you’ll often see a FAQ page or frequently asked questions page and I want to provide us with that today.
Let’s have a quick look at Acts 2 first. It is the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit as promised and the start of the mission of the church as witnesses to Jesus. Basically it is split into three parts. the first details the events that took place as the spirit came upon those first believers gathered together. It outlines what happened and peoples response. The central part of the narrative is Peter’s sermon where he explains what is happening and preaches about Jesus. The third section of the narrative is the peoples response, about three thousand were saved and then a concluding description of how this new community, God’s Spirited people, lived together being lead and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The first frequently asked question is ‘Do all Christians need to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit for every one or just the certain chosen few?
While we’ve been addressing that throughout this series, it is good to look at it again. The answer is yes it is for everyone. Look at the flow of things in Acts 2 it starts by says all the believers were gathered together (About 120), all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, in this case all of them spoke in tongues. When the crowd gathers it is the apostles, Peter and the elven that stand up to speak, that is the gift that they have been given, so they use it. They have been training for this moment with Jesus, the narrative ends with people living in a way that reflects the Holy Spirit’s presence in their midst, in all of them with the love they have for each other.
The other important answer to this question comes from the passage that Peter quotes from the prophet Joel , that he says is being fulfilled that day. That God would put out his spirit on all people, and it is a comprehensive list… men and women, regardless of socio-economic status ‘on your men servants and women servants as well, all would speak God’s word or prophesy… and regardless of age… young would see visions and old would dream dreams, and you can choose for yourself which category you are in.
WE are all to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. As Paul says ‘ he anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’ 2 Corinthians 1:22
The second FAQ is ‘was it just for the people then, just to get the church kick started you know and it’s not for us today. I mean we have the New Testament?’… when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit the church is split along those lies, those who believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit were for then and there but they’ve stopped now and those who believe that it is for all people at all times.
Focusing on what we have read to us today, Peter finishes his sermon by saying that those who repent and believe in Jesus will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That it is a promise for you and your children and for all who are far off- for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ Some have seen this as saying it’s for the first couple of generations of Christians, which is a literal interpretation, but it is more likely a way of talking about it being for all generations to come. For all who God shall call.
People who talk of the gifts not being for today often point to the second half of 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul talks of tongues ceasing and prophecy ending… when the perfect comes. They see that as meaning the New Testament scriptures. It is hard to write back into Paul in one of the earliest letters which is included in the New Testament canon that he would see a time when we had such a collection. He was writing to a church that had people who believed that the kingdom of God had come in its entirety and they were like heavenly spiritual beings and he has to remind them that this is not the case; they are to look forward to a greater fulfillment when Christ returns.
The fullness of the Holy Spirit, its presence and the gifts are for us today.
Another FAQ is … when you talk about the Holy Spirit we are bit worried you mean all the weird and wonderful stuff that seems to go along with it at ‘those churches’. do we have to become like them?
In Acts 2 there are very real manifestations that go along with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The wind, the tongues of fire everyone speaking in languages of all the nations gathered on that day. This was an important event an epoch changing event. The wind and the fire are symbols of the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament, the speaking in a language that all could understand was a sign that this was God pouring out his spirit so that the people of God could and would witness to all the nations of the world, this was the revolution of God grace for all, so it was appropriate. We do tend to forget that the focus of the narrative is on what happened to God’s people and we see they had boldness to preach about Jesus. The majority of this passage is about peter explaining the scriptures and pointing people to Christ. The other thing is that it ends with a summary of the life of God’s Spirited people in Jerusalem. The signs of the presence and moving of God’s holy Spirit are not really all the weird and wonderful stuff, but people repenting and turning to God, a hunger for God’s word, an increase in a dedication to worship and prayer, unity and love; shown in generosity and hospitality, a genuine and practical concern for the poor, a renewed passion for people to come to know Christ, and yes that God does move in signs and wonders.
I think we’ve just gotten to a point where we are not used to God being God in our midst… in the most recent edition of the voice of martyrs magazine, one Syrian pastor who has stayed on the front lines, talks of the church being full, and many Muslims coming to faith 80-90% of them because they have had a vision or a dream… one man asked to become a Christian after a dream where he was drowning in a river and a man came along and hauled him out, he wanted to become a Christian because he just knew it was Jesus, another who is now a pastor ‘ saw a vision of all the prophets coming out before him, Moses and then Jesus and he waited for Mohammad to come but he didn’t . So he asked a man standing next to him is there anymore and was told no Jesus is the last one.’ We also don’t get our head round miracles but the Syrian pastor amidst tails of suffering and sorrow talks of a viscous unseasonal hail storm coming as they prayed just at the time terrorist had advertised they were going to attack the city he was in, it broke up the mob of 3000 and even the secular Syrian media reported ‘God fought on our side’. My Mum, who was about seventy at the time, shared a vision she had in church one day, she was in vast fields of the most beautiful wild flowers, and she saw a man in the middle of them, that she just knew was Jesus, and he looked at her and said, ‘I know all these by name’. Affirmation that we are all known. Can I say that the most common thing I experience when I pray for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit is an overwhelming sense of God’s peace and love, which I think is the most amazing and awesome thing… God presences himself with his people.
Ok lets move on our next FAQ is ‘Is being filled with the Holy Spirit a one off experience that you need to be prayed for to receive or is it an ongoing day to day relationship?”
In Acts chapter 2 it is a new experience a new encounter with God. We don’t know what the experience of the three thousand who came to faith that day. There are others like that in Acts, when the gentiles receive the spirit in acts 10, and throughout history as well times when God has met people and poured out his Holy Spirit in a new and fresh way, the Pentecostal movement, look back to the Azuza street revival in 1906 as the place where the renewal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit happened for them. You could look at the welsh revivial… there have been times of great revival and outpouring of the spirit in our own Presbyterian Church as well. In fact one church historian talks of the Presbyterian Church being born in the fires of revival. However We receive the Holy Spirit when we become followers of Jesus Christ. It is what brings transformation God comes and dwells within us. Paul talks of walking with the Holy Spirit, an ongoing day to day encounter with God through the Holy Spirit as the way in which the Christ-like fruit of the Holy Spirit are produced in us. Even when he says ‘be filled with the Holy Spirit , in the Greek it is in a tense which means be filled and keep on being filled by the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps it’s best to leave the last word on that to Jesus. We are so used to his words on Prayer ‘ask and it will be given, knock and it will be opened, seek and you will find’ that we forget that it finishes in Luke’s gospel by saying ’How much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’. When we pray for people to be filled with the Holy Spirit be it in our own prayer life or in a meeting or gathering, it is God’s good grace to give it to us. In fact when we pray for that it is not the manifestations that happen that are the important thing But that we can trust God keeps his promise.
So I think the answer is yes, it can be an experience and it is an on going relationship, ask and you will receive. Keep on asking and receiving…
Lastly ‘How may I be filled with the Holy Spirit?’
The answer is that if you love Jesus Christ then Ask and you will receive. AS we’ve looked at the scriptures the amazing thing about the New Testament is that because of what Christ has done for us , God wants to live in us, God wants to fill us with his presence by the Holy Spirit, it’s simply a matter of asking him and believing that he will do what he has promised. God will give us a fresh touch of his love, empower us to witness for him, fill us so much with his presence and reveal his word to us that it will flow out of us. WE will be so filled with God’s love and presence and joy that our vision of what is and what should be will be shaped by that, our dreams filled and directed by Christ. Our actions and reactions become more and more Christ-like, and Christ’s vision of the Kingdom of God will be our vision.
We are going to finish now by doing just that asking God to fill us afresh with his spirit.