Part of my role as a pastor is to prepare and deliver sermon most weeks. They are a bit unique in that they are part lecture and part "how will it change us" challenge. I've decided to post some of my manuscripts on the blog to see if there is much interest. They are a little long but I hope you find them worthwile. The first one is from last Sunday. Your thoughts and reflections are most welcome.
Shepparton Baptist Church
Date: 4th June 2017
Title: The freedom of the Holy Spirit
Bible reading: Acts 2:1-21
Acts 2:1-21New International Version (NIV)
The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
2 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.
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 their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontusand 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?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
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 people 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.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Introduction to sermon
If I were to name the three top topics that divide christians, one of them would have to be the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. The others would most likely be the end times and the other could well be how literal we take the Bible.
Today we get to take a look at pentecost. My first thought when I read through our bible reading today was “I wonder who I will upset with my message this week”. In many ways, this passage doesn't give us the luxury of full agreement. Church splits and creation of denominations have hinged on this passage. So, let me say up front today. I apologise if I upset you today and I’d be happy to chat with you about it during the week but this is the direction that I feel led to take.
Now that the disclaimer is done, let’s get stuck in.
We find our passage for today following the ascension of Jesus with a couple of promises. One promise in Chapter 1 verses 7 & 8 is that they will be witnesses of Jesus when the Holy Spirit arrives to all the ends of the earth. What a great promise. They are also given a promise of how Jesus will return to them in verse 11. With those promises of the power of the Holy Spirit and that Jesus will return, they choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Matthias was added to the 12 that day.
If we were to continue on reading from verse 21 of chapter 2 we see the rest of what Peter had to say to the God fearing Jews from all over the known world about Jesus. The result is that 3000 were added to their number that day. Many people call this the beginning of the christian church.
If we bring ourselves back to the chapter 2 verses 1-21 though, we find an amazing account of what happens when the fulfilment of the first promise of Jesus happens. The Holy Spirit arrives. He doesn’t arrive the way Jesus did. In a quiet nondescript way. No, the Holy Spirit comes and makes a pretty decent entry! Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the house. The disciples not only heard something amazing, they also saw something amazing. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each one. They heard, they saw and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. Not only were they filled but they were enabled. That made me stop for a second and think…how often are we filled and enabled by the Holy Spirit but we resist the enabling? How often are we prompted to do something but decide not to? A sobering thought.
What were the disciples enable to do? Well, this is where people can get their back up. As soon as we talk about speaking in tongues…things get a little tense. Perhaps at another time, we will get to look at other passages in 1 Corinthians and other passages that talk about tongues. Even that can upset people who believe that these gifts are no longer given! It’s a minefield of theology!
The essential experience though is that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and it’s the Holy Spirit that empowers them to speak another language. In this passage, the languages are earthly languages. This empowerment was for a specific reason. It was so that the God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven could understand what was being said. It caught their attention. How could a bunch of Galileans be doing that? What did it mean? Naturally there are always sceptical people around and they made fun of them by suggesting that they were drunk. Which in itself is a funny thing. Have you ever heard a drunk person speak another language from a country that wasn’t part of their heritage? Me either.
When I first became a Christian and I read this passage and heard about all the discussion regarding tongues. I prayed that I would speak in tongues but I wanted my gift of tongues to be in French. Let’s just say that was about as successful as praying for God to come and clean my house.
So we have twelve Galileans all speaking languages that they didn't know but others understood. And it seems that it fell to Peter to speak to the growing crowd about what was happening. Mind you, Peter didn’t stand up on his own. No, the rest of the disciples stood with him. Have you ever heard a sermon being preached with 11 other people standing along side the preacher in support? Maybe I should have tried that today?
Peter immediately point them to prophetic words from Joel. I think it’s important to read it again. Read verses 17-21.
In the last days (end times again? I wonder)… I will pour out my spirit on all people. With more detail. Verses 17 & 18 are all about prophecy. Visions and dreams were considered to be prophetic as well.
We then come to the part of Joel’s prophecy that relates to the end times (again!). The only hint we get in terms of chronology is the word before. Signs and wonders will happen before the return of Jesus.
We then receive the assurance of salvation if we call on the name of the Lord.
Wow! No wonder the pentecostal churches are so into this passage! Miracles, prophecy, signs and wonders.
There are a few things I need to say about this though. Let’s start with prophecy.
For me, prophecy has received a very bad rap from people because it has been abused. There are enough people who claim to be prophets who are little more than a christian version of a fortune teller. They claim to have received a word from God that this or that will happen to you in the future. I don’t disagree that this can happen. But it’s not all the prophecy is. There are also people who have had a prophecy spoken about them that didn’t come true. Unfortunately, it seems that some people who claim to be prophets are just covering their tail when they talk about the person lack of faith. Now…having been a bit negative, let me say that prophecy is vital for the church. All churches and not just pentecostal churches. Verses 17 & 18 tell us that everyone will be able to prophecy. Similar to evangelism. We are all able and called to to evangelise. There are those who have a calling to specific ministry in those areas but we are all able to be prophetic.
My understanding of prophecy is that there are two basic types of prophecy. One is to forth tell and the other is to fore tell.
Forth tell is speaking about what is actually taking place and pointing out the consequences. This is generally spoken to a group as opposed to individuals. For example, if a church was being dishonest with it’s dealing with money. A person may be led by the spirit to tell the church that if it continues down that path, the church will falter and eventually fail. That’s forth telling.
Fore telling is when God asks someone to speak of something that will happen. Some might call it a vision from God. I have a vision for what this church is able to be. That’s prophetic. The document I presented about the vision of the church is prophetic. Does that mean I am a prophet? I don’t think so. But I am able to be prophetic. Is the vision I have completely right… I don’t know. Part of a community discerning God’s will is that we need to test prophecy. I have many filters that can affect my vision. So do you but together we can get a clear picture of the future. That’s foretelling.
I would also say that miracle, signs and wonders have not stopped. They are here with us until the return of Jesus. Miracles happen every day. Signs and wonders, not so much. We have to wonder why they are not so much. Is it again a resistance to what the Holy Spirit is doing because of past abuse of these words? Perhaps.
But, you know, I don’t think this passage is all about what we can or can’t do. It’s not about whether speaking in tongues is about a human or another language. It’s not about end times (phew) and it’s not even about us being able to prophesy.
This passage is all about the Holy Spirit. The one who was promised to us by Jesus. Jesus had a triumphal entry with palm leaves. The Holy Spirit had a triumphal entry with sounds and visions. The Holy Spirit came and shook the world. Starting with 12 people.
If I were to summarise what the Holy Spirit did in our passage today, I would say that he proved that there are no barriers in this world for him. There is nothing that can get in the way of the Holy Spirit.
Our understanding is that the Father cannot abide sin yet the Holy Spirit is neck deep in it all the time. I was called by the Holy Spirit when I was still a sinner and the same most likely goes for you. The Holy Spirit still talks to me now even when I am sinning. The Holy Spirit perfects the way that we can connect with God despite our flaws.
This passage shows us that there is nothing that will stop the Holy Spirit do his work. He made 12 Galileans speak in other languages. He fulfilled the prophecy of Joel. Joel’s prophecy leaves no one out. It includes us all. Some may want to argue that woman are not mentioned other than servants. Let me ask you a question. How old to you have to be to stop being a daughter? Every single person in this room, in this town, country, world all have access to the Holy Spirit.
When we are faced with trouble. The trouble won’t put off the Holy Spirit.
When we are stuck in sin. That sin won’t put off the Holy Spirit.
When we feel lost. The Holy Spirit already knows where we are and is right there with us.
When all we can see is darkness and misery. The Holy Spirit isn’t afraid of the dark or put off by misery.
Whatever it is that you face. The Holy Spirit is available to you, for you, and in you.
Our role in all of this is to listen and obey. I know I seem to be going on about the same thing at the moment. But that’s our part. The Holy Spirit is active in everyone’s life, disciple of Jesus or not. It’s not until we call upon the Lord that we recognise it. But once we do…woohoo. Let’s get going! If we listen and are obedient we will see miracles happen. We will see signs and wonders. We will prophecy. And yes, we may even speak in tongues.
It’s easy for me to make general comments about how this affects us in our lives. It might even sounds good but it isn’t always helpful. So, let’s take a very brief look at how we can specifically listen to the Holy Spirit and do what we are being asked to do.
Do you recognise when God (or Jesus or the Holy Spirit) speaks to you? If you find it hard, it takes practice. I’ve been relearning to write cursive writing again. For many years, I was told how messy it was and I stopped writing like that. Well, I decided that I had it in me to write cursive again. I have to tell you, it was pretty messy at the start. But it’s getting better? Why? Practice! Talk to Go and listen for answers. The more you do it, the more you get to know that voice. The more you get to know that voice, the more ready you are to act on that voice.
So let’s start small. How about we all ask the Holy Spirit to prompt us to do one thing we wouldn’t normally do. It will be different for each of us. The important part is that you are listening out for the Holy Spirit to ask us to do something. Warning: There are lots of voices around. Test this voice against what you know of God. If the voice tells you to go and steal a car…it’s not God. If it tells you to go and take some milk and bread to a stranger…that could well be the Holy Spirit.
How does that sound? Just one thing this week. Then it’s between you and God how you develop it. The idea is that you are training yourself to listen and obey. For there is no other way.
Why do it? To learn that there are no barriers for the Holy Spirit to be at work and that we can participate in the most incredible miracles, signs and wonders that you can imagine.