Back in Millennium year the Methodist Church began their international conference with these words.
“It is a time to open up to the mind-blowing, heart-warming, life-changing power of God.
The power of God can invade the body, inflate the mind, swell the soul, lift the Spirit and make us more than we ever imagined. It’ll make you young when you’re old, and it’ll make you live even when you die. The power and presence of the Spirit will disturb, delight, deliver and lift.
When God sends forth the Spirit, “the whole face of the earth is renewed.”
When God sends forth the Spirit chaos is changed into creation, the Red Sea opens up to a highway of freedom.
When God sends forth the Spirit: A young woman says “Yes”. Jesus is born and life is never the same.
When God sends forth the Spirit amazing things happen:
barriers are broken, communities are formed, opposites are reconciled, unity is established,
disease is cured, addiction is broken, cities are renewed, races are reconciled,
hope is established, people are blessed, and church happens.
Today the Spirit of God is present and church IS going to happen!
So be ready, get ready…God is up to something…
On one occasion when Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, this is what He said to them.
Luke 24 46 … “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
We saw last week that Jesus also made other promises about the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1 Acts 1:4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. , 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 1 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
These were the promises Jesus made to His disciples before His ascension. And today we read how those promises were fulfilled on the Jewish Day of Pentecost, six weeks after Jesus rose from the dead.
Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
I want to say two things about the events of Pentecost which may appear to contradict each other. Let me say them straight away and then explain them. The first thing is that the events on that day were totally unique in history and completely unrepeatable. But the second thing is that Luke wants us to understand that those events were at the same time a pattern for all believers. At very least the events of Pentecost show us what MIGHT happen in the lives of any ordinary believers in the days and the centuries to follow.
Yes of course these events were historically unique. On that day the Holy Spirit came upon Christ’s disciples in ways that had never happened to them before, or indeed to anybody before in history. This was the fulfilment of God’s promise of power from on high, power to be witnesses for Jesus.
Joshua had been “filled with the spirit of wisdom.” John the Baptist had been “filled with the Holy Spirit” from his birth and his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah are also described as being “filled with the Holy Spirit”. But this is the first time we read about the action of disciples being “filled with the Spirit” as a specific event. And it was accompanied by some very dramatic phenomena – the mighty wind and tongues of fire. And then an amazing experience – they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
This “speaking in tongues” was not just for the disciples’ benefit.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
A mighty wind, tongues of fire and the disciples praising God in other recognisable human languages they had never learned! All signs from God of the arrival of power from on high, power to be witnesses for Jesus. Unique historical events to mark the birth of the church. At the same time in a few minutes I am going to say that Luke sees all this as a pattern for the experience of at least some other Christians when they too will receive the Holy Spirit. But before that we need to understand a bit more about the nature and character of this power from high and the Holy Spirit as the disciples received Him.
Acts 2 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
There are many different prophecies about the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Peter could have talked about the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 or the New Heart in Ezekiel 36. Instead Peter points to a relatively obscure passage in Joel chapter 2 and says THIS is what the Holy Spirit given to Christ’s disciples is going to be like. The Spirit who inspired the Old Testament prophets and gave them God’s messages to deliver. The Spirit Who inspires dreams and visions. The “Spirit who gives Inspired Speech” which includes inspiring the disciples to praise God in recognisable human languages they had never learned.
The arrival of the Holy Spirit in fulfilment of Joel 2 is Peter’s proof that Jesus is risen and exalted and is now giving the promised Holy Spirit to the church.
Acts 2 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
Power to be witnesses for Jesus. “The Spirit who gives inspired speech.” Jesus had already promised that kind of power to his disciples.
Mark 13 9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit will help the disciples to preach the gospel. And in John’s Gospel we read how Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, the Comforter, the Helper, to his disciples.
John 14 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. … 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
1526 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
16 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
SO Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come and help and comfort His disciples by revealing God’s messages to them and enabling them to preach the gospel with power. The same Holy Spirit who had inspired individual prophets through the ages would be given to ALL disciples giving them power to be God’s messengers. Power to be witnesses for Jesus.
But you might be wondering why I am so insistent that the life transforming Holy Spirit Who came upon the eleven apostles and their companions with such power on the Day of Pentecost is for ALL believers. Why do I think that Luke writing Acts sees these events as a pattern for all Christians? The answer is simple – because the apostle Peter says so!
Acts 2 36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
The gospel Peter preaches is that Jesus is risen from the dead and this proves that Jesus is Lord. The proper response to that gospel, Peter says, is to repent and be baptized. And God promises to forgive the sins of everybody who does repent and is baptized. But more than that – God promises to give the same gift of the Holy Spirit to all who repent and believe, the same power from on high, the same power to be witnesses for Jesus.
Five centuries before Christ, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said something very profound. “If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out, and difficult”. Expect the unexpected! If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it. Acts 2 teaches us that when it comes to the Holy Spirit we should definitely expect the unexpected! In the weeks to come we will see this promise being fulfilled time and again in the Early Church. In Acts 4 when they prayed for boldness to preach the gospel and everybody there was filled with the Spirit, even those who had been filled with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Then we will read in Acts 8 with the first Christians in Samaria. And we would find the same with Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 and 11 in Caesarea and with Paul and the disciples in Ephesus. Throughout Acts time and again Christians experience the Holy Spirit in dramatic ways and very often with the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. The birth of the church in Acts 2 was an historic and unique event but countless Christians throughout the centuries and even some here today have received the Holy Spirit in dramatic ways. From the first Pentecostals a century ago, to charismatic renewal in mainstream churches in 1960s-1970s, from John Wimber and signs and wonders in 1980s to what they called the Toronto Blessing in 1990s, ordinary Christians in ordinary churches have been surprised by the coming of the Holy Spirit. And many but by no means all of the Christians who have been touched by the Holy Spirit have also found themselves speaking in tongues. Expect the unexpected!
Let me repeat some inspiring words of Samuel Chadwick which I quoted last week.
“To the church, Pentecost brought light, power, joy. There came to each illumination of mind, assurance of heart, intensity of love, fullness of power, exuberance of joy. No one needed to ask if they had received the Holy Ghost. Fire is self-evident. So is power!”
Expect the unexpected! Power from on high. Power to be witnesses for Jesus. This is God’s promise for you and for me!
Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”