This is a copy of my ‘sermon’ preached at our Virtual Service at Emmanuel, Billericay, on Sunday 31 May 2020. The Bible Reading is Acts 2:1-21. If you didn’t get a chance to watch this when it was released, you should be able to catch up at Emmanuel YouTube or Facebook.
Pentecost is one of those Christian Festivals that we talk about as if it were normal, but, in retrospect, it is anything but normal. I suppose the same can be said for most Christian Festivals: a child born to a virgin at Christmas, a man comes back from the dead at Easter, Ascending to heaven in a cloud and so the list goes on … Pentecost ranks up there with them all!
However, what took place on the Day of Pentecost wasn’t a coincidence. The age of the Holy Spirit had been promised by the prophets, as well as Jesus (John 15 and Acts 1). The Holy Spirit fell when the disciples, were in ‘lockdown’ in the upper room. There were 120 of them gathered together – disciples, Jesus’ family and the women (1:14-15) – ten days after Jesus had ascended to the Father. They were praying with expectancy and waiting with anticipation. They believed the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8 when he said: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Praying with expectancy and waiting with anticipation is so important because it is this, which prepares us for the gift of the Holy Spirit and it is this, which allows us to be open to what the Spirit brings.
I wonder, what has been your anticipation since Ascension day? What has been your expectancy as you’ve prayed through Thy Kingdom Come these past ten days? I want to speak about the ‘5 P’s of Pentecost’ this morning (I couldn’t think of another title!): Presence, Praise, Purpose, Proclamation and People!
Vs2: Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Wind is one of the symbols of the presence of God in the Bible. The Hebrew word Ruach can be translated as breath or wind or Spirit.
It was the wind of the Spirit that blew on the surface of the water at creation (Genesis 1:2). It was the wind of the Spirit that held back the Red Sea so that the Israelites could escape their enemies (Exodus 14:21).
As Jesus said in John 3:8: The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is invisible, inaudible, intangible and yet every Christian is aware of his work and we can see the result of his handiwork – the fruit of the Spirit Paul writes about in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In vs3 we read that what appeared to be fire descended on their heads. Fire, of course, is a powerful Biblical symbol of God’s holiness and it also speaks of the Holy Spirit’s activity within individuals, purging, refining and testing.
Pentecost was a significant event for the Jews. It was the middle of the three annual Harvest festivals and it also celebrated the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai. And this is why Jerusalem was filled, vs5, with: God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.
It’s interesting to note that the believers were praising God, and not preaching the Gospel (that came afterwards). We know those who mocked the disciples accused them of being drunk, they weren’t drunk but filled with another kind of Spirit, and spoke in languages that the thousands of pilgrims from across the world in Jerusalem could understand. Luke names at least fifteen nationalities who were able to hear the praises of God in their own language, vs9-11.
If Christmas marks the birth of Jesus and Easter marks the day when Jesus was raised from the dead, Pentecost marks the birth of the church and the day when that message about Jesus began to make its way to people and places all over the world. Pentecost gave those first disciples a:
When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, it changed them from an immobilised and fearful group of followers, to one of having a dynamic edge to their lives they’d never experienced before – just as Jesus said they would. The Holy Spirit gives ordinary people an extraordinary purpose.
- The Holy Spirit comes to inspire us: When we are tired and deflated, we find our faith revitalised and refreshed. When we are feeling sluggish, we find ourselves empowered with renewed vigour. When we are hesitant and timid, we find ourselves carried along by a momentum that owes everything to God’s leading and guiding and nothing to ourselves.
- The Holy Spirit comes to ignite in us the passion of God: And comes to cleanse and purge whatever is dead and dry in our lives. We find ourselves – as those first disciples did – ablaze with a passion for living and inflamed afresh with God’s love for the world around us.
- The Holy Spirit comes to illuminate Jesus: J.I. Packer, in his book ‘Keep in Step with the Spirit’ writes about the ‘floodlight’ ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s purpose is to say, ‘look at Jesus’ just as a floodlight points to the object it is highlighting.
Those early disciples might simply have enjoyed a wonderful spiritual refreshing! They could have huddled together and invited others to ‘come and share with them’ – but they didn’t. Instead, they shared their experiences of a life changed by Jesus, as Christians continue to do today, so that others may know that same life enhancing experience for themselves.
The Holy Spirit was given so the disciples could be first-hand witnesses of what Jesus had said and done. It was the Holy Spirit which initiated Peter’s first sermon! This same Peter who, 53 days earlier, had denied Jesus three times. Something happened to Peter during that time and that was the Holy Spirit, affirming his faith, touching his heart and changing his life.
Peter spoke in the everyday language of Aramaic (15) and that’s because he was speaking, primarily, to a Jewish audience. Peter preached his sermon to Jews (vs14&22) on a Jewish holy day, about the resurrection of a Jewish Messiah in the centre of the Jewish faith, Jerusalem. And through his sermon, Peter explains the Jesus they knew, vs22, his life, death and resurrection using the scriptures, history, and their own life’s experiences. And whilst some mocked them and accused them of being drunk, there were some who believed. In vs41 we read that about 3,000 were baptised into the church. 3000 Jewish believers; not Gentiles, visitors, or foreigners – that would come later in Acts 10 with Peter and Cornelius.
The Holy Spirit enabled and guided the ministry of the disciples and empowered them to fulfil the commission Jesus had given them. A new era has been ushered in. It’s an era of grace and salvation, of mission and evangelism.
The coming of the Holy Spirit on the church was the beginning of God doing a new thing in the lives of His disciples: giving ordinary people an extraordinary purpose. V17-18: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.”
The Holy Spirit is for every one of us, with no exceptions. Sons and daughters, young and old, men and women, slave and free.
Bishop Jill Duff, speaking at ‘Spring Harvest at Home’ this year said:
If you are seeing visions, please do not apologise. You are being given them for a reason. Act on them. Don’t keep them to yourself. You are like the spiritual GCHQ, like troops who have those special night vision goggles to spy out the terrain ahead. We need your intel. You are not ambitious if you have dreams from God. I think there are people who have had dreams from God that seem so big that you have put them to one side. They can’t possibly happen. No… He is the One who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. Dreams from God are always far beyond us. I am praying that He will wake up our dreams today.
Throughout history the Christian church has been jolted out of complacency into spiritual revival, sometimes because of a traumatic event, sometimes because someone recognised the voice and leading of God.
One such revival began in 1904 when a young Welshman named Evan Roberts had been praying for 13 years for the Holy Spirit to control his life. He often awoke at 1:00 am and prayed until 5:00 am. That was the beginning of the Welsh Revival which swept the rest of Britain, Scandinavia, Europe, North America, the mission fields of India and the Orient, Africa, and Latin America.
By all accounts, the Welsh Revival drastically changed churches, homes, and even the workplace. People fell on their knees on the street in repentance. Coal miners wrote out Bible verses and fastened them on the doors of the coal mines. Blasphemy stopped. The horses in the mines became confused when the miners stopped kicking and cursing them. The Times newspaper observed at the time:
The whole population had been suddenly stirred by a common impulse. Even football matches were postponed … quarrels between trade-union workmen and non-unionists had been made up. Many hardened sinners were converted.
Apparently, there have over 60 revivals in the past 250 years. A few which spring to mind include the:
- Great Awakening and Jonathan Edwards.
- Evangelical Revival and John Wesley and George Whitefield.
- Manchurian Revival and James Hudson-Taylor.
- Prayer Meeting Revival in New York and Jeremy Lanphier.
- Sunderland Revival (1900’s) led by an Anglican priest, Alexander Boddy (which started the):
- Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, led by William J. Seymour (the beginnings of the Pentecostal Movement).
- Hebridean Revival and Duncan Campbell.
- Argentinian Revival and Carlos Annacondia.
- Sunderland Revival (1980’s) and Ken Gott.
- Toronto Blessing and John Arnott.
- Brownsville Revival and Steve Hill.
And then we add evangelists such as Charles Finney, Luis Palau, John Wimber, Reinhard Bonnke, the Billy Graham crusades of the 1950’s and 1980’s …
God has always been at work in our nation and in our world. And He has always used people in his dynamic mission of ‘declaring the wonders of God’ in whatever strategic position he places them.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is not just a gift to the Church, it’s a gift to the world. And the use of different languages was given to let the people know that the Good News of the Kingdom of God was for everyone.
God pours out his Spirit on all peoples. The rich and the ragged, the scholars and the unschooled, the whites and the blacks. Gone are age and gender barriers. Gone are the social barriers, educational barriers, and racial barriers.
What would it look like for Jesus to breathe on our nation today? What if we had people ‘on fire’ with the Spirit in every sphere of influence in our society? In our families, our churches, in our schools and universities, in the media, in business, in law, in government, in entertainment and sport – so people could hear the wonders of God in their own language? What might this look like? We’ve all got plenty of time to think about that and pray about it haven’t we?
The Holy Spirit is for every one of us, with no exceptions. I believe we must allow the Holy Spirit to touch our hearts and minds in a way, that perhaps, we haven’t given him space, or allowed him to do, in the past – especially if we want to be the person God is calling us to be.
How we need the presence and purpose of the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith and shape us into the people God desires us to be.
To invite the Holy Spirit, then, is not simply to hope for a gentle nudge from time to time, a quiet sense that things are going to be all right after all, though that (thank God!) is often how the Spirit’s presence is known.
It is to take the risk of having all that wild, untameable energy sweep through us. The resulting transformation can be dramatic, something which Christians of many years’ standing can easily forget.
The Church might currently be in lockdown, but the Holy Spirit isn’t! He wasn’t for those first disciples and he isn’t for us today.
Holy Spirit, I admit that I need more of you in my life.
Holy Spirit, I admit that I have not always obeyed your voice
Please forgive me and lift me into your light.
Ever-gracious Holy Spirit come down in your perfect power.
May you flow through my life and take possession of all that I am:
Release your presence, purpose, praise and proclamation into my heart
And enable me to be the person you have called me to be.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
This isn’t a great video, and the hair and the clothes haven’t stood the test of time very well, however, this video was filmed in Brownsville, Pensacola, Florida, where I spent a couple of weeks at their Revival Meetings in the summer of 1998. The wonderfully named Lindell Cooley is the singer! You can read more about my visit here