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The Spirit of God in Daily Living: In Our Worship

June 12, 2011
Sermon:  The Spirit of God in Daily Life:  In Our Worship
Text:  Acts 2

 

Today during our sermon series The Spirit of God in Daily Life, we come to the event known as Pentecost, which came fifty days after the Passover.  It was the day Jewish people celebrated Moses’ receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, the day to celebrate the covenant that God made with His people in the wilderness.  The three major festivals of Judaism – Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles – all drew large crowds.  Perhaps it was the Feast of Pentecost that drew the largest crowd.  People were there literally from all over the world as we shall see in the Scripture. 

In Christianity, Pentecost has become known as Whitsunday.  I am not sure why, but it may be to avoid confusion with Jewish Pentecost.  For us, it marks fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus and ten days after he ascended to heaven.  It was a great event, the equal of which has never been seen since.  It is an occasion to ponder much about our faith, great Christian truths, especially those that surround Pentecost.

I would like for you to turn in your Bibles to Acts 2.  Please leave your Bible open as we will follow this chapter closely throughout the message today.

 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.

The Day of Pentecost marks the birthday of the church.  On that day, the Spirit of God came with great power, demonstrated by wind and fire – two forces that certainly have much power, as we have seen in the national news in the last few weeks.  Both wind and fire are very useful when under control.  Out of control, they can be very frightening.

What if we showed up for church one Sunday morning and experienced what these people did?  How would we respond to an outbreak like this with wind, tongues of fire resting on each head, and people speaking in other languages?  My guess is that many of us would get up and go home.  We would call the fire marshal and say, “Those people over at Morningside have gone slam crazy!  The things going on over there are nothing like what I am accustomed to in a Baptist church.”  If an outbreak of the Holy Spirit like this occurred here in this church, most of us would not be overwhelmed with amazement and joy that finally God’s Spirit had been poured out upon us.  Instead, most of us would be scared to death.  In fact, we would say, “Please do not let anything like this happen at Morningside.  Let it happen over there at the Pentecostal church but not here.”

It is important to note that the Scripture is not claiming that Holy Spirit came into existence at this time.  If you read Genesis1:2, you see that the Holy Spirit was with God from the very beginning, moving over the face of the deep and bringing order out of chaos.  The Holy Spirit moved in the church and in the life of the church, empowering it on the Day of Pentecost.  Acts 1:15 tells us that Luke estimated that the early church had about 120 members.  On this one day, the number of Christians multiplied about 300 times, making the number exceed 3000.

Simon Peter would say that this increase was the result of the movement of God’s Spirit, not his preaching at all.  God decided to jumpstart the church, to really get it moving by pouring out His Spirit in an unusual way.  The first thirteen chapters of the book of Acts contain more than forty references to the Holy Spirit.  Some have called this book the Acts of the Holy Spirit.  Some have even called it the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.  For the early church, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus – all one in the same – guided them, gave them courage, and empowered them to do the work God had for them to do.  It was always considered a mark of Christian leadership, obedient leadership.

In his sermon “A Dangerous Pentecost,” Halford Luccock says that Lorenzo De’Medici, the Patron of the Arts in Florence, Italy, was proud of the spectacles he staged to depict scenes from biblical accounts.  He had depicted scenes of the Advent and the resurrection.  He decided to produce a spectacular rendition of this Day of Pentecost so that the people of Florence could understand exactly what happened.  He went a little too far, using actual fire to represent the descent of the tongues of flames on the apostles.  The fragile set caught on fire, and before many horrified members, the church burned to the ground.  The moral is clear:  pray for God’s Spirit to come with power, but do not try to manufacture it or fake it.  Doing so can be disastrous.

Verse 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, 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?”

Scholars debate the very first miracle recorded in Acts – a miracle of hearing.  Was this a miracle of glossolalia, speaking and understanding ecstatic utterances?  Was it a miracle of xenologia, speaking and understanding foreign languages that were well known but not spoken by these Galileans?  This miracle was an absolute reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel, where languages were confused and people were scattered.  Regardless of the label, the point is that people were brought together, with everybody understanding what God was doing.  They could comprehend the message of Simon Peter.  The miracle, at least in part, was that this fisherman from Galilee expounded on the Scriptures in such a way that many could understand and respond.

Consider Verse 13: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’”  We see two reactions to the power of God.  Some people marveled.  Others scoffed.  Acts 28:24 records the same reaction to Paul’s preaching in Rome.  Some were convinced by his words.  Others would not believe.  It is always that way when the gospel is presented.  Some believe and are amazed.  Others scoff and do not believe.

Peter spoke to the crowd, offering a simple, clear sermon:  Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy; Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one exalted by God.  God confirmed this message with His Holy Spirit.  Listen as I read some verses from the sermon of Peter.

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:

He gives us a lengthy quote from the sermon of Joel and then continues in Verse 22:

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

Both Peter and the Apostle Paul expressed the same central message of all Christian preaching:  Jesus Christ and his crucifixion.  The cross is central to the message.  The resurrection follows the cross as evidence of a true victory over sin and death.

Peter went on to quote David from Psalm 16 and then continued his sermon.  In my mind’s eye, Peter was preaching somewhere near the Joppa Gate.  I can almost see him turning his hand and pointing to the tomb of David, saying,

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 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. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’

 As Peter pointed to the tomb of David, he drew a contrast between the death and burial of David and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”  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?”

Verse 37 is one of the most amazing verses in this chapter.  “What shall we do to be saved?”  Biblical preaching is convicting.  These people were convicted, not by Peter’s clever preaching but by the presence of the God’s Holy Spirit.

Verse 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.”

Dr. J. Edwin Orr’s sermon “The First Word of the Gospel” has remained an important part of my thinking about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Dr. Orr said that the first word of the gospel is repentance, metanoia.  Consider the Gospel accounts.  John the Baptist preached the baptism of repentance.  The very first words of Jesus were a call to repentance.  Here Peter called people to repentance.  What does the word metanoia mean?  It means to turn around.  In military terms, it means to do an about-face.  You are headed in one direction, but you turn around and head in the opposite direction.  It is not just a change in direction; it is also a change of mind and a change of heart.

Verse 40: With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

You cannot schedule that kind of baptismal service at 8:30 on Easter Sunday morning.  You pretty much need a day and a half or two days and probably several preachers in the water to baptize 3000 converts.

Donald MacLeod, a great Scottish preacher, delivered a sermon in 1973 at Riverside Church in New York.  During that sermon, MacLeod quoted the Swiss theologian Heinrich Kraemer, who said that every Christian needs two conversions:  one to Christ and one to the world.  That was a novel idea to me.  I paid attention.

Two conversions?  On that Day of Pentecost, a part of what happened in worship was that approximately 3000 people were converted to Christ.  These people were gathered from all the known countries of the world, from every country under heaven, the book of Acts says.  Romans from Italy, Greeks, Arabs, and people from Libya, of all places, were called to repentance.  They responded.  Certainly our hearts, too, must be turned to Christ.

On this day, the hearts of these early Christians mentioned in Acts 1 – 120 people – had already been converted to Christ.   When the Holy Spirit moved, they were converted toward the world.  Now, they began to realize for the first time that God’s mission for them went far beyond Jerusalem.  Jesus had said, “Begin in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and go to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Matthew 28:19-20).  I doubt they truly understood what “the uttermost parts of the earth” really meant until the Day of Pentecost.  As we mature in faith, our hearts are turned to the world that God loved so much that He sent Jesus.

What are the results of this experience?

Verse 42: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Their experience did not just end at sundown.  It continued.  The book of Acts tells us that it continued and continued and continued throughout the early church.  They were filled with signs and wonders, they shared economic responsibility, they worshipped together in the temple every day, they shared meals, they had generous hearts, they praised God, and they attracted others.

John MacArthur, in his book Charismatic Chaos, said that power can be used in at least two ways.  It can either be unleashed all at once, or it can be harnessed and used for a long, long time.  He gives a wonderful example:  “Give me a ten-gallon can of gasoline and one match.  I can show you its power released all at once by dropping a match into that can.  I can also show you the power in a ten-gallon can of gasoline if the gas is put in a highly efficient automobile.  A good, safe driver can take that automobile 350 miles on ten gallons of gasoline.”  The Holy Spirit has a similar power.

On this occasion, the power was explosive.

Tongues of fire and strong wind may scare us to death, but the work of the Holy Spirit in the church is usually evident in the way described at the end of the chapter.  The enduring power of the Holy Spirit continues to sustain the church day after day after day.  We are, after all, in this for the long haul.  The power of God’s Spirit is released every single day.  Jesus promised his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit: “I am going to pray and ask God to send you another one, a Comforter” (John 14:16).  The Holy Spirit is not just a promise to that one church at that one time.  The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ promise to us, as well.

I want you to hold still just for a minute.  Get really still.  Are you aware that the Spirit of God is here right now?  Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.  If you have never accepted Christ Jesus as your Savior, could I invite you to repent?  Acknowledge him as your Savior, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  If you have already done that, God’s Spirit will continue to work in your life.  You know how God is leading.  We invite you to respond.

 

Kirk H. Neely
© June 2011
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