Monday, June 13, 2011

PENTECOST 2011


TEXT :  Acts 2: 1- 41 
DATE PREACHED  : The Lord's Day , 12th June 2011

Over the last few years  I have  become   increasingly  aware of the significance  of  momentous  events and interventions of God in history , particularly  the   birth , baptism,  the death , the crucifixion , the resurrection , the ascension  of Christ   and  the   coming  of the Holy Spirit  at Pentecost – 50  days after  the Resurrection of Christ .   Now these great events at the may be  compressed  into  a period of  about  35 years.   I  now   have an increased appreciation   for the Christian calendar and the holy days   which are associated with it .  When you think  about this  , these  are  “spiritual earthquake events” . They are spiritual Tsunami’s  which have changed our world forever !  
Isn’t it strange  then  that   the average  evangelical church member   in our country  has  little  appreciation  for these events ? Our teachers  and preachers  have failed to   help our people  to appreciate and  remember  these  important memorials  of the  acts of God in history  .  They  are now associated with ’long weekends’  and  with time to get away.  We speak about Christmas and Easter holidays .
We in Namibia  are  one of the few privileged nations in the world  to still have Ascension day  as a memorial day  , and so we as a church have   had a  time of worship on that day . Now today , 10 days  later,   we remember the next significant event  on the church calendar : Pentecost  - the  coming of the  Holy Spirit !

You will remember that  after His  resurrection  the Lord Jesus had instructed the disciples  not to  leave  Jerusalem   but to wait for the promise of the Father … the Holy Spirit !  What  precisely was the promise ?  “ But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you , and you will be  my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth .” ( Acts 1:8) . Let us be reminded that the next major event will be the Decension   (or 2nd coming)  of our Lord Jesus Christ .  The angels  who were present at Christ’s ascension  told the disciples , “ This Jesus , who was taken  up from you into heaven , will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven .”   ( Acts 1:11)

And now in Acts  2 :1 we  read  , “ When the day of Pentecost  arrived[1]”  . It was that day  of which  Jesus,   and the prophets before Him  e.g. Joel  2:28-32  and   John the Baptist - Lk 3:16  had spoken .  John the Baptist's prophesied  that Christ would  baptize  His disciples with the Spirit and with Fire . Fire is a  symbol of   both cleansing and judgment .That day ( which we remember today)   had now  finally and fully arrived .
I think that  it is important that we  speak about the significance of this event . Unfortunately,  ‘Pentecost’  had become a source of major confusion and  division for Christians in the 20th  century .  A major grouping  of Christians in this world , the ‘Pentecostals’  have taken their  name from this major event. The name  ‘Pentecost’   is taken  from the Greek word for "50",  because this feast occurred fifty days after  the  Passover.  Let us consider  the  historical  event a little closer . Pentecost, in Jewish  circles   was known  as  the Feast of the Firstfruits,  ( or Feast of weeks ) , marking the completion of the barley harvest  . 
It was therefore  a fitting time for the Holy Spirit to come at  this time  to gather  in the  first fruits  from the nations gathered presently  in Jerusalem  for this  feast .  It would be the start  of a missionary movement  which would bring  in a   great world wide harvest  of believers  and  thus  a people  for God’s own glory   !

The Manifestation  :   
The disciples  who have been commanded by Christ to wait   until the Father  had given  them the promise of the Holy Spirit ,  were  together in  prayerful unity. (Acts 2:1). Suddenly  He is there !  There is  sound ( a rushing wind)  and  sight  ( divided tongues of fire) .   The words for wind and spirit are the same in the Greek  language – Pneuma   . The wind is the Spirit . He is the third person  of the Trinity . His appearance  is like the wind – universal and invisible , but  undeniably present and  powerful . 

The Effect :
(i) Those on whom the  tongues of fire rested  “ were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak  in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance “  ( 2:3,4)  .  "Filled with the Spirit" is the same  as being  “baptized with the Spirit”  ( cf. 1:5)  . The  tongues are clear  and discernible  human languages .   The miracle is that they are able  to speak another  language   without having previously learned it .
(ii) The sound  of the  mighty rushing wind and speaking  of  these many languages attracts a crowd  in Jerusalem .  Jews from every nation  were  gathered here providentially for  the Feast .  A list of  various people groups  is given  in vv 9-11  . The list contains nations east and west, north and south of Judea and is clearly meant to indicate the people from all the known world were there, hearing the message in their own vernacular languages. As they  are  hearing this   they are  at  first bewildered   and then  astonished that each person is able to  hear  the declaration of God's mighty works  in his or her native language .
(iii)  "What does this mean?"    is the  logical question  to this  .  Some  simply assume  that  these  people  are  drunk !   Obviously  there were many people in the crowd who knew none of the languages spoken; it would have sounded like gibberish to them. 

The Explanation :
In vv 14- 21   Peter  explains to  the crowd  that what they were  seeing here  was actually  the fulfillment of prophecy.  In support  he   cites  Joel  2:28-32 .  This is a prophecy of the eventual vindication of the people of God in the world and Peter clearly sees Pentecost as  the  next decisive step toward that  final  great day of the Lord  (v.20)

So far for the  text . Now what  does all this have to say too us ?  What is the message – what is  the significance of Pentecost  for  us  today ?

1. Pentecost  is another confirmation  that God  has acted and is acting   in this world .  God is  always at work . God , yet again, takes the initiative  in this world . Yet again …  In the beginning God  !  Why do we need to hear this ?  Because our  major tendency   is to look  at a God centered event  like this  and  turn it into a man centered event . Think about it . What have  all these   debates in recent  years   about Pentecost  and tongues and  baptism in the Spirit produced , if not a horrible division  in the church of God ?  In our current exposition of 1 Corinthians  and as we are  now getting  to Chapters 12 – 14 ,  we shall see  that  the  work and the gifts  of the Holy Spirit in the Corinthian church  have  been turned  into  man manipulated fiasco  ! The gifts from the Spirit   became abused   for self centered ends   rather  than  used for the glory of God .
Pentecost , like everything else  begins with the act of God  and is sustained by the acts of God .  Therefore  our  faith does not so much concern what we are to do,  as to  recognize and see  what God has already done for us in the world.  Let us then  learn  to focus  on what God is  doing first , before we throw ourselves into endless  man centered activity that does nothing  but to clutter our lives and leave us exhausted  !

2.  Pentecost  is a  powerful  reminder  that  God has acted in this world is  by sending His Son into this world to redeem a people for Himself .   The person  of Jesus  Christ is the main point of Peter's Pentecost sermon. ( see v. 22ff)  .The  climactic  event  is  Christ's exaltation (vv. 33-36).  It is this  story about Jesus and His saving work  that   needed  to be told (Acts 1:8)   .  It was for this reason that the disciples needed  power for witnessing .  So Pentecost  is the  amplified  testimony  of the Holy Spirit working in and  through  people , testifying to  the Lord Jesus  Christ . The  power  of  Peter’s  preaching (3,000 converted by that single message (v. 41) showed that the Holy Spirit  was here to accelerate the work of God in the world  now  .   Pentecost is not primarily about the Holy Spirit . It is  about  Jesus! (John 16:13,14) . That is, after all, what we would expect, for Jesus said that the Spirit would speak not about himself but about the Lord  Jesus Christ.

3.Pentecost  is the inauguration of the church's gospel witness to the  whole world. The effect of the Spirit's coming would be that they would be His witnesses to the end of the earth.  This happened  when  the people   from the nations  present in Jerusalem  at the Feast/ Pentecost  heard the gospel in their own language and were converted  and in turn took this gospel out into the world .

4. Pentecost has   led to the formation  of the church ( the ekklesia ) in the world . Those that are converted  through the gospel witness  join the  church .  The   true church  is the  assembly of   God’s  saved people  from  among the Jews and the gentiles .  ( Eph 3:1-11)   The church , indwelt by the Spirit of God  is God’ s plan , God’s missionary movement  to  bring this gospel  about Jesus  to  the nations . He  inspires and drives the church to do the work  in the world .

It is all God’s  wonderful work ! Which is why I want   to  spend   my last  words   on  getting  a false idea  out of us  concerning Pentecost .
5.  Pentecost is not a franchise – not a monopoly of the Holy Spirit .  Many  have spent endless  time  trying to get  hold  of  the Spirit’s power  and to monopolize Him, like  Simon Magus  - Acts  8:19 . We have somehow been led to believe  that  living  in the days of the outpoured Spirit   brings  for us  an  intensification of spiritual experience, some deepening of spiritual insight, some heightening of spiritual power.
The Pentecostals  have   for this reason  taught  a second work of the Holy Spirit – or a so called ‘ baptism in  the Spirit ‘   of which the evidence is  speaking in tongues . This, they claim , propels a Christian  into a new realm of spiritual experience . But we have  been  around long enough now  to see and say that Pentecostals  have  not  been able to convince  the rest of us  that  they are  indeed moving on a higher spiritual plane .  Though they do undoubtedly have godly men and women among them , they do not have a monopoly  on the Holy Spirit .

It is because  this kind of thinking  that  we  also have thought wrongly about the  spirituality  of the OT saints . We somehow think that we are better  than they . Yes , we do have more revelation  than the OT saints , since Jesus  has come to open our understanding  about many things  , but no – we do not necessarily  possess  more spiritual power .
The  plain observation  is  that the  church in the NT is not  better than the assembly of the OT saints. It has the same sins, faces the same danger of apostasy and of grieving the Holy Spirit; it is not obvious that Christian history shows an  improved spiritual standard  to  the days of Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, or Jeremiah.  We note  that  Peter will struggle with cowardice after Pentecost as before; Ananias and Sapphira will deceive and  false doctrine will trouble the church in Corinth , Galatia  and  throughout  history  !  
I am afraid  that many   explanations  and theories of superior sanctification  and  accelerated holiness  as a result of  a second experience  of the Holy Spirit   have confused Christians  and have drawn us away  from  focusing on God’s work in the world .

So, what was Pentecost?
It is , what Peter  said in  his sermon . It was the promised  fulfillment  of the word of God  which He had spoken in the beginning to Abraham : “ You will be a father of many nations” ( Gen 12:1-3).  But it could not  have happened without the Lamb of God .  Pentecost  was  a great sign miracle authenticating the birth , death , resurrection  and  exaltation of Jesus Christ. People were freed to speak  about the mighty acts of God . 
It was  an equipping and empowering of the  church for its work of bearing witness to  the Lord  Jesus Christ in the world . (Acts 1:8) .  This  was  a work  that had never been done before .  Before  Pentecost the church was largely confined to the Jews .  Today, because of Pentecost the church spans the world.    This work continues .  The Holy Spirit  wants you and I  to  do the work of  proclaiming the mighty acts  of God in this world . You will never have to worry about   spiritual power . If you are born again , you  do God’s work  which is  to proclaim the  Lord  Jesus  Christ  and  you may be assured  that you  have  all  God’s  authority  and power with you to do this work. You speak . He does the rest . Sometimes 3000 converts in a day , sometimes one a year !  The angels rejoice when a single sinner  comes home  ! Amen



[1] sumplerousthai,   lit ‘ to fill completely  ‘ [NIV came;  KJV ‘ fully come’ ]; see also Lk 9:51)

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