Sermon 24 May 2015 – ‘Standing on the promise of God’May 30, 2015
So let’s take a few minutes going back over what happened in the house with the Apostles and the events leading up to that time of Pentecost.
There is a significant event which as a Church we’re not that good on focusing upon but in actual fact, Pentecost couldn’t have happened without it. Jesus says in a number of places that His glory is not yet complete or that He is going to the Father and specifically in John 14:25 – He promises the Holy Spirit which the Father will send in Jesus name. In Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
Having made that promise Jesus ascends to Heaven to be with the Father, his Father and our Father. This is the point which we all too often over look, the process of our salvation continues with the Ascension. To leave Jesus on the Cross or in the Tomb is to stop at His death and then we only focus on the dead things, Jesus died for our sins and was buried – that’s not what God wants for us; it’s not complete; there is so much more.
To leave Jesus as the Resurrected Jesus, leaves Him here on earth as the Risen Christ but that stops before the fulfilment of the promise of the Holy Spirit. But before we can move to Pentecost, Jesus ascends to be with God the Father and then after a little while, the fulfilment of the promise of God in His gift to us of His Holy Spirit. But that only happens once Jesus, God the Son, has returned in glory to be with God the Father.
So after watching Jesus ascend (Acts 1:6-11), the Apostles do as they were instructed and return to wait in Jerusalem. They went back to that upper room and waited “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” – a time of patience, a time of wondering, a time of apprehension, a time of excitement maybe. And through this time they appointed another one, Matthias, to their number replacing Judas Iscariot so that there were again 12 Apostles.
The Festival of Pentecost or Shavuot, is the festival of the first fruits and it goes back to the time when God first called for the first fruits to be presented and so in Jerusalem, all the people were gathered – those local to Jerusalem and those dispersed had returned. Jews and proselytes – those Gentiles who were following the Jewish way of life – perhaps we might make comparison to adherents today. And so the Apostles and believers are together on the day of Pentecost when suddenly there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, filling the house and as the sound fills the room, divided tongues which look like flames of fire appeared among them and filled them with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in different languages as they were enabled by the Holy Spirit.
This is the moment when the Kingdom of Heaven breaks into human affairs, an apocalyptic event – and brings change. The Holy Spirit transforms those upon whom He rests and transforms many of those who hear the result of their own languages being spoken by uneducated Galilean men. The Apostles move from prayerfully waiting for the Spirit to being men of faith, transformed and inspired by God and Peter is shown to be one of the most obviously transformed: from the impetuous character, to one who preaches to the people, and at the end of which 3000 people came to faith and were baptised.
Many people today see this as the birthday of the Church and whilst I understand that, by my understanding of Scripture and the broad story of God covenanting with us, I can’t agree. If we see what’s happening here at Pentecost as part of the process of the covenant which God makes with His people through Jesus Christ we see
- Incarnation of God; Jesus Christ, fully divine, fully human (and for me the birth of the Church when the King and Head of the church is born)
- Betrayal, trial and denial
- Crucifixion – taking on the sins of the world
- Burial – to defeat death
- Resurrection – eternal life
- Ascension – to return to the Father in glory
- Pentecost, and then yet to come
- Jesus’ return to earth to rule and reign over us
What I believe we have here at Pentecost is a time of God’s faithfulness, love and grace in fulfilling the promise of the Holy Spirit which He made through Jesus Christ. His faithfulness because He keeps His promises:
His love because He makes the covenant with us to bring us back to him after we have strayed from Him, He provides all that is needed for the Covenant through His Son, given because He loves the world so much:
His grace because quite simply – we don’t deserve it, we can’t earn it, we can’t do anything to gain it – He just gives us His all so that those who believe will not perish but have eternal life.
There’s two things in particular we should look at here to understand what this means for us today. Firstly, the Holy Spirit brings all the believers together, He makes them one community, one family, all identified as believers by the Holy Spirit, His fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentles and self-control (Galatians 5:22) and His many gifts which are listed through the Scripture. In receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit himself, each one became part of the wider church family. As did those who believed as a result of firstly hearing their own language spoken by an uneducated Galilean and then hearing Peter’s Spirit filled preaching.
In the same way, we all become one family united by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit differently as I’ve said before. Some experience something more like the account in the verses we’re looking at this morning where there’s a dramatic and charismatic event of God interrupting into the life of the individual. Some experience that small still voice which speaks, almost whispers, into our hearts and minds. Both bring transformation; we are given according to our need and not our want and we are given by the God who calls us. We have the choice to accept or to reject: to believe or not to believe and that maps out our lives thereafter. But we also become united with our brothers and sisters in Christ; we become part of the one family, the one community and the one church. We have one Lord, one Faith, one Church.
We are called to be together by the One Spirit: the gift of the Holy Spirit is not a personal gift which we can hold on to but a mark of the community, of the family. Indeed to try to hold on to the Spirit as a personal and private gift, is a sure way of losing the unity which He brings us to in our church family. Being part of the family is not just about the main diet of worship but it is about our lives together, every second, minute, hour, day, week and year now and forever more.
Secondly, we can do nothing by ourselves: we need God’s Holy Spirit. Psalm 127: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. We can only ever manage in God’s Spirit; He leads us, guides us, inspires us, encourages us and makes all things possible. But similarly He can say No and we must take the time to work in God’s Spirit, to discern God’s will, to build up that relationship with God himself.
I wonder how many have noticed, or how many remember, the Scriptures that are in the stonework on either side of the front door of this church. On the left as you face the door is a dove with the words “By my Spirit, saith the Lord” on a scroll. That’s a reference to Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts”. They are words given to Zerubbabel who was in charge of the building of the Second Temple. This building would not happen by man’s might or power but by God’s Holy Spirit. In the same way the building of the Kingdom here in this place cannot happen by our own might or power as much as we might want to try but it can only happen through and by God’s Holy Spirit. And we can only engage that by being patient in prayer, focusing on the Father, through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is on the right hand side of the door a bible, the Word of God, with the words on a scroll, “the Word of reconciliation”. “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) – it needs to be read in the Authorised version, the version of the day. Again it’s the emphasising of the togetherness of the Word, the togetherness of the Spirit and the reconciling nature of God who wants to bring us back to Him.
Next year this building will have been the site of the public worship of God for 150 years. 150 years ago, the builders put those scriptures at the threshold of the building, something for us to see on our way in, something to remind us about on our way in and hopefully on our way out again. 150 years ago in July 1865, the foundation stone for this building was laid and on the 5th July our morning service will remember that, commemorate that and in some way we the living stones can be rededicated to His purpose and life. We can also again remember all those who have gone to glory from worshipping in this place.
In time there will be more information about celebrations for the 150th anniversary as there is a group appointed to look at how we can celebrate this great event.
The Spirit and the Word unites and reconciles us; just as the Apostles waited patiently in prayer in the upper room for the fulfilment of God’s promises, we too must we patiently in prayer, united by His Holy Spirit to be one family and reconciled to God the Father and to each other by God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit.