Filled with the Holy Spirit

Reading: Acts 2.1-21

Sometimes we look at the news and think, "Why do we watch it? Are these the only news-worthy things that happened today? Are these the most important events? What will we think of them in ten years' time?" Perhaps you have thought the same. Our filtered version of life in this world is determined for us by news-editors who have their own interests - and try to discern (or create) ours!

One of the members of our first parish was a cameraman at the local television station. That was in the earlier days of TV and staffing levels meant that often the cameraman was also the reporter. I got talking to him about it one day when he came to film a church event. The process was quite simple. First he had to take the shots that would look good on the (black-and-white!) screen. Then he had to write up a story to go with the shots he had taken. I am not suggesting that it is always done that way, but perhaps that helps us understand why there is such a difference between the stories that are featured in the different media.

Our perception of value changes. Someone told me the other day that their grandfather had burnt some old sulkies. His descendants were thinking that what he regarded as worthless might have been worth something after all. With the passage of time, junk can become treasure, and treasure junk.

Priceless Treasure!

On Easter Sunday, I shared with you this anonymous piece about the One Solitary Life: "He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness. He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and leader of mankind's progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the kings that ever reigned have not affected the life of man as much as that One Solitary Life."

He is described here as "is the central figure of the human race and leader of mankind's progress". But the people of that day didn't think so. The news media wouldn't have reported him in such terms - if they had thought him worthy of reporting at all.

There were just a few who "had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Lk 24.21). These learned that he was alive, that he had conquered death. Thomas could confess him as "My Lord and my God" (Jn 20.28). Not only were their lives, attitudes and thinking changed because of their association with him (that has happened to the disciples of other teachers), but all of life and all of history would be changed because of who he was and what he had done.

At this stage no one else knew, no one else had grasped it. A task was given to them - an impossible task. "Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples," he had told them. "Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Mt. 28.19-20a). He said that "in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Lk. 24.47-48).

Rather a tall order for this group that had run away at the sign of opposition - or in the attempt to follow, had denied any connection with him! He was depending on them to get the message out, to tell the world his true identity and mission.

His physical resurrection appearances were about to stop. But he gave them an important promise. To grasp it fully, we have to read both Matthew and Luke. Matthew records him saying, "I will be with you always, to the end of the age" (28.20b). In Luke we have the promise, "I myself will send upon you what my Father has promised. But you must wait in the city until the power from above comes down upon you" (24.49). In John 14 we have the same twin truth put this way, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you for ever. He is the Spirit who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is (or will be) in you. When I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you" (vv. 16-18).

Jesus would no longer be physically present. He would, however, still be with them - through the Holy Spirit. And with the coming of the Holy Spirit, he would indwell them. To continue with vv. 19-20, "In a little while the world will see me no more, but you will see me; and because I live, you also will live. When that day comes, you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you." Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, they would become his Body, equipped and empowered to be his witnesses in the world - and to pass on the torch down through the ages to a congregation of his people met here today in Buderim!

On the Day of Pentecost...

Those promises were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. That was when the gathered disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak "as the Spirit enabled them" in languages that the gathering crowd could understand. That was the time when the mission of Jesus continued through his apostles. Luke begins Acts with a statement that in his first book (the gospel) "I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven" (Acts 1.1-2a NIV). The mission of Jesus was to continue through his apostles by the enabling power of the Spirit.

The message that the crowd heard was "the great things that God has done" (2.11). To explain what was happening, Peter quoted from the Old Testament prophet Joel about a promised out-pouring of God's Spirit "in the last days" (Joel 2.18-32) -ending with the words, "And then, whoever calls out to the Lord for help will be saved" (Acts 2.21).

The message was about Jesus - this Jesus who had lived among them, this Jesus whom they had crucified. "God has raised this very Jesus from death, and we are all witnesses to this fact. He has been raised to the right-hand side of God, his Father, and has received from him the Holy Spirit, as he had promised. What you now see and hear is his gift that he has poured out on us" (vv. 32-33). What the crowd needed to know was that Jesus was not just another human being with whom they had dealt as they thought fit - "All the people of Israel, then, are to know for sure that this Jesus, whom you crucified, is the one that God has made Lord and Messiah!" (v. 36)

The people were deeply troubled by what they heard. If Jesus was "Lord and Messiah", if Jesus was now alive again, what were they to do (v. 37)?

The answer was simple and direct - "Each one of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God's gift, the Holy Spirit. For God's promise was made to you and your children, and to all who are far away - all whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (vv. 38-39).

The history-turning event wasn't Pentecost! It was the coming, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Pentecost was one of the results of what God had done in Jesus. It was the beginning-point for believers in experiencing the fulness of God and in becoming Christ's witnesses in the world.

"Whoever calls out to the Lord for help will be saved." That message is for now. It is the beginning-point of faith - the personal "history-turning event" in the life of the individual. If you have not received that message yet, it is for you. Repent of your sins, believe that Jesus died for you - and you will be forgiven and will begin to know the reality of God within your life by his Holy Spirit. If you have received this message, then share it with others! That is what Pentecost is about, and it is what the Christian life is about too!

"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit." Their relationship with the Lord was no longer external. He was now their life, their motivation, their power. They were his Body, equipped and ready to do his will. We are to be continually being filled with the Holy Spirit, as Paul reminds us (Eph. 5.18).

Once more it is the day of Pentecost, and we face the impossible task of bringing the transforming grace of God to a needy but unbelieving world. Come, Lord Jesus! Here we are, gathered together in your name with a common desire to do your will! Fill us again with your Holy Spirit!

(c) Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, Pentecost Sunday, 31st May 1998
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, (c) American Bible Society, 1992.
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