Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Power of Pentecost

This was originally a sermon given at Anchorage City Church on Pentecost Sunday May 31, 2009. You can hear it online here and see a PowerPoint presentation (as a PDF) here.

Let's first of all anchor this firmly in John's Gospel, starting with John 14:15.
"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." Read entire section (John 14:15-27)
Jesus and His 12 disciples are in the Upper Room where they are eating the Passover meal together. This is their last night together, although the disciples don't know this.

As faithful Jews, these 13 men are celebrating an important Jewish holiday this evening. The point of this feast is to remember how the LORD miraculously "passed over" the people of Israel more than 1,200 years earlier.

The Back Story to Passover

The back story to this is that the Israelites had been in Egypt for hundreds of years. At that point they were slaves, they had cried out to God, and God sent Moses to free them. After many chances to let them go, Pharaoh still wasn't willing to give up the Israelite slaves. This one last plague would change his mind.

God told Moses that he was going to kill all the first-born children in Egypt....but He told Moses a way to save the children of Israel. He told Moses that He would "pass over" their houses if the Israelites would dab on their door frames the blood of a lamb without defect. And it happened just like the LORD said, and Pharaoh let the Israelites go.

Pharaoh changed his mind again not long after and went out after them with his chariots. But the Lord saved Israel yet again when He opened a path through the Red Sea....which then closed in over the pursuing Egyptians. God then led them through the desert with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and He provided for all their needs. Seven weeks after Passover, God gave them the Ten Commandments and the Law on Mount Sinai. This was His first covenant.

Now, as we go through this story today, remember this: seven weeks from Passover to the Law and the Covenant.

You can read the whole story in the book of Exodus. The powerful Exodus story was surely in the hearts of Jesus and His disciples, but I'll bet they were even more focused on what Jesus was telling them.

Although they did not understand the connection right away, Jesus was about to tie together the first Passover and this Passover. More on this in a minute.

Now let's get back to what Jesus was saying to them. Jesus said he would send "another Counselor to be with you forever". He said the Counselor would teach all things and remind them what He had told them.

The word John actually wrote in his Gospel is the Greek word "Paraclete." This can be translated counselor, or one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate. You'll see these words in various English versions of the Bible and they all convey the meaning of paraclete.

After the last supper, Jesus took his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The religious leaders of the Jews finally caught Him in that private place and within hours had convinced the Roman governor to crucify him.

Connecting the Dots Between Passovers

That's when Jesus connected the dots between the first Passover and this Passover in a majestic fulfillment of prophecy. He submitted to a bloody death on a cross as the sinless lamb of God as a sacrifice to atone for your sins and mine.

Let's take a look at Isaiah 53:5-7. Notice that this prophecy was given 800 years before the event. It is one of many, many Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Jesus:
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
So, this is the Passover Connection: By the blood of Jesus, the perfect lamb of God, we who believe in Him and follow after Him are spared from eternal death, much like the children of Israel were spared during the first Passover. Jesus blood, and His body, which we remember every time we take communion are what has made possible eternal life with God. Jesus tied together the first and Passover and the fulfillment of it in his last Passover in AD 33.

The blood of lambs without defect on wooden door frames saved the lives of the children of the Israelis in Egypt. The blood of Jesus shed on the wooden cross saves lives from spiritual death and eternal separation from God.

The Power of Pentecost Revealed in the Book of Acts

I told you all that to tell you this. To really understand Pentecost it helps if we first understand Passover.

Let me set the stage for what is about to happen. Picture yourself in a room in Jerusalem with dozens of other disciples. It is now 7 weeks past the Passover season.

You have witnessed Jesus' agonizing crucifixion, and amazingly, you have also seen him alive, complete with the nail scars on his body.

About a week ago, Jesus gave his final instructions to you and the other disciples. Acts 1:8 records some of those words: "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." You probably still don't know what that means. After this you saw him ascend to Heaven, and you have not seen him since.

That was a week ago, and now it is the day of Pentecost or Shavuot [shah-VUE-oat] in Hebrew. Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Law by God on Mount Sinai. Shavuot is still celebrated among faithful Jews around the world as a memorial of covenant renewal, and it comes seven weeks after Passover.

But now it's early on Pentecost morning and something amazing is about to happen. Let's listen to what the Book of Acts says what happened next:
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?
After the onlookers made fun of them and said "they have had too much wine" the Apostle Peter stood and addressed the crowd. At the end of his message, "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."

It's easy to focus our attention on the sound of a violent wind. It’s easy to focus our attention on the tongues of fire and the filling of the disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit and the speaking in tongues that they never learned. God got their attention of the disciples and thousands more besides. It has our attention even today. But maybe the greatest significance of that day was that 3,000 were added to their number.

God had given the disciples power to do the works of Christ, and full of the Holy Spirit they had done it and the Church mushroomed from 120 to 3000 in a single day. What a lesson in evangelism!

In the excitement of that day, maybe the significance of the day itself was lost on the 120. But I'll bet that it wasn't long after that they began to see what God had done.

Remember that Pentecost is a Jewish feast of covenant renewal. The first covenant was given from Mt. Sinai. Legends passed on by Jewish rabbis say that one divine voice proclaimed the law from Sinai in 70 languages. The new covenant was confirmed by many voices speaking in many languages under the power of God.

Watch the timing: 50 days after the first Passover, God gave the Law, the first covenant, on Mount Sinai. 50 days after Jesus' resurrection, God ushered in the New Covenant with a demonstration of power and the Holy Spirit came on all the believers.

The Power of Pentecost Today

On this last day of May in 2009, nearly twenty centuries have passed since the Holy Spirit fell with fire on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. The question for us is this: is Pentecost relevant today and if so what does it mean to us right now? As I have studied and meditated on Pentecost, I have come to see several important meanings relevant to us today.

Perhaps most importantly, Pentecost is a reminder of the great harvest of souls that is our mission and privilege to help bring in. Jesus said in John 4:35 & 36 "Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together."

The harvest that Jesus is talking about is the souls of the people that He loves, and he loves us all. Not coincidentally, Pentecost to the Jews of first century Israel was also a harvest festival.

The Birth of the Church

The events on that day in AD 33 mark the birth of the Church. That might make it seem like today is a birthday celebration or an anniversary; or maybe a kind of ecclesiastical Fourth of July. But I would say to us that the birth of the Church is much more significant than any of those.

The Church is not an organization, although local churches are organized. It is not a social network, although social networks are important within and between local churches. It is not a political organization, although the Church must be interested in the political process. We are not a benevolent society, although Jesus told us to care for the poor. Neither is the church a building. In fact, the church would continue to exist even if all the buildings we use around the world were destroyed at exactly the same instant.

The Church is more than Anchorage City Church or any other local church. It is more than any denomination or apostolic network of churches. It is more than the Catholic Church or the Orthodox church. It is more than mainline churches or Pentecostal or Charismatic or liturgical churches.

The Church is made up every Christ follower. The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2 that we are "living stones" being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood." The New Testament word in Greek, ecclesia, which we translate as "Church" means the "called out ones." Clearly we come together in local churches and we work to extend God's kingdom from our local churches, but still, the Church is made up of called out followers of Christ.

The Church is the Body of Christ. It is the visible representation of the invisible power of Jesus. The Church is God's plan for connecting men and women to himself for eternity through the sacrifice of Jesus.

I have heard it said that without the Holy Spirit, the church is only an organization; liturgy only magic, authority only dominance and mission only propaganda. But we do have the Holy Spirit, and we do as God intends when we walk in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

Another part of the Power of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit is now part of the life of every follower of Jesus. In the Old Covenant, the spirit seems to have been given at specific times for specific purposes

At Mount Sinai, 50 days after the first Passover, God wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone and established His First Covenant. Centuries later, In Jerusalem, when the Holy Spirit fell on Jesus' disciples 50 days after that Passover, God wrote His law on the hearts and minds of the disciples as a seal of the New Covenant. This was foretold by the Prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-33
31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD,
"when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to [a] them, [b] "
declares the LORD.
33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Has the LORD put His law in your mind and written it on your heart? If you have committed your life to Jesus, then you have the Holy Spirit. If you want the paraclete, the Holy Spirit, in your life, the first step is to turn away from sin and ask Jesus to come into your life. Romans 10:9 says "if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believes in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Ephesians 1:13 says "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."

When we make those steps of repentance, confession and belief, the Holy Spirit will come into our lives and be a paraclete to us….he will be a counselor…. comforter…. advocate.

There is also a place where you and I can be filled and fully possessed by the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, when people were filled with the Holy Spirit they were able to do the works of Christ with boldness and power. It was a definite and distinct experience which took them to a higher level in the Spirit. This Holy Spirit filling is just as available to us 21st century believers as it was to those in the first century.

As wonderful as the experience may be, what is really important is what comes from it. We know a person is filled with the Holy Spirit when we see someone who is led by the Spirit and obedient to Him. We see someone who honors God with his life, rather than seeking after his own desires. We see someone who is looking for what the Holy Spirit is doing, and joining up with that. We see the fruit of the spirit the Apostle Paul wrote about in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These things don’t come from humanity, but from God.

Frank Bartleman wrote that "Pentecost opens a possibility to walk where the flesh no longer sets the agenda…….Walking in the Spirit is walking in the way of the cross with Holy Spirit leading."
If you are a believer, you have the Holy Spirit. And if you are a believer you can also ask God to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled is not a one time experience, because we leak.

Sin is what separates us from God and sin is what causes the leaks in our filling. Obedience to God and holiness is what brings us close to Him, and that is what maintains a life of being filled with the Holy Spirit. A life led by the Spirit is a life of relationship with God. Just like a relationship with a spouse or a friend, a spirit-led life happens when it involves time alone with God.


Let me finish by saying something personal. While I still far from perfect, and I still sin from time to time, I know the Holy Spirit is in me because I have heard Him speak to me audibly on several occasions and very often in my inner man. The Holy Spirit is a great comfort to me. I am deeply grateful that the Lord made the Power of Pentecost a reality in my life when I opened my heart to Christ.

I'd like to ask you to take a moment to consider how you should respond to this message. For some of you, I know that Jesus has been calling you to take a step of faith towards Him. Jesus says, I stand at the door and knock, and maybe He is knocking at the door of your heart wanting to transform your life into something better than you could possibly imagine. If that is you, you can open the door to your heart today.

Maybe you are already a Christ follower, but you want to be filled with the Holy Spirit more than you have ever known. You can ask the Lord for that on your own, or ask another believer to pray with you to be filled.

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