EMPOWERED BY THE SPIRIT
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Empowered by the Spirit
I was visiting with my aunt in Jamaica a few years ago. We were having ice cream outside and really playing “getting-to-know-you” as it had been a few decades since I last saw her. She asked about what I do and then started asking about our church. When I told her we were a Baptist church, she lowered her voice and asked me Do you believe in the Holy Spirit? I laughed but it was a fair question because some churches might appear to be more into the stuff of the Holy Spirit than others right?
It seems that different denominations will often focus on a different aspect of the Trinity. For many mainline churches, the focus is on God the Father. For more charismatic churches the focus is on the Holy Spirit, and for evangelical churches, the focus is on Jesus. It’s good to have a robust theology of the Trinity and that’s part of the reason I’m excited that we’re looking at the book of Acts over the next few months.
Another reason I’m excited is that God is building his church. We’re hearing stories among our Baptist churches in the city about churches growing beyond their capacity. We have a church in Thornhill welcoming new immigrants by the dozens. We have a church plant in Scarborough that is producing real change in its neighbourhood. And we have a program that started here in Ontario last year to mentor young women in ministry that is producing some powerful kingdom leaders. These are only a few examples but they are all pointing to one thing – the Spirit of God is moving. The question for us is not what can we do to make the Spirit move here, but rather, how can we participate in the work of the Spirit?
Our text this morning shows us what happened when the Spirit arrived at Pentecost. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he didn’t really leave his disciples. Jesus goes up and the Holy Spirit comes down and a new era is ushered in. Up until this time, the Spirit had been active in history, but it was always given to one person – a king, a prophet, a leader, and only temporarily. Now the Spirit is not just for the ordained, but for the ordinary too. We see that God chooses to build the church through men and women, young and old, even those of a lowly station can get in on this.
Now if we look back to chapter one we see that the disciples have added Matthias to replace Judas and they are continuing to pray together with some women and Mary the mother of Jesus. This group of followers of Jesus numbers about 120 people. They have all gathered together in one place on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was a festival celebrating the wheat harvest. It was also known as the festival of First Fruits and was associated with the renewal of the covenant of Moses. The covenant that said:
Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:6
As these believers are meeting, they hear a sound like the rush of a violent wind and tongues of fire fall down and rest on each of them. The Holy Spirit has arrived! As a result, the believers begin to speak in other languages. It’s not really clear from the text where they were but somehow Jews from every nation who are in Jerusalem, perhaps for the Festival, hear a commotion and they come to see what is going on. As they approach the believers, they are amazed because they see a bunch of Galileans, speaking in different languages and they are speaking about God’s deeds of power. What does this mean they ask, and they conclude that these Galilean believers must be drunk. Here we see that miracles in themselves are not enough to attest to who God is, there needs to be an explanation.
The first gift of the Spirit is proclamation.
Sometimes we can get caught up in the whole speaking in tongues phenomenon. Some people will even tell you that you don’t have the Holy Spirit in you if you don’t speak in tongues. The miracle here isn’t that were speaking in different languages. Though that is miraculous, it also made sense since Luke felt it necessary to point out that their audience was made up of people from 14 different nations. The miracle here is the proclamation of God’s deeds of power. We see further proof of this in Peter. Remember where we left Peter? After Jesus was arrested and taken away, a servant girl confronts Peter and he denies Jesus. I don’t know him, he says. One author points out that Acts 2 parallels the creation account in Genesis. In Genesis, the Spirit of God breathed life into dust and created a human being. In Acts 2, the Spirit has breathed life into a cowardly disciple and created a man with bold speech. The Spirit has enabled Peter to proclaim the power and the goodness of God. The result of this proclamation is that it evokes questions, bewilderment and scorn.
The Second Gift of the Spirit is Unity
The second gift of the Spirit is seen in the creation of a community; a community that displays the character of Christ to the world. A community that is prophesying, speaking the gospel in language that can be understood by all, healing wounds and doing miracles. A community that is united. This is the church. None of this happens because of a new program or a great preacher or worship set that is just on point, it happens by the empowerment of the Spirit. And it happens because the work that Jesus began in his earthly ministry, is meant to be continued on by the Spirit-empowered church. The church is called to transform earth with the power of heaven and the Spirit is the sheer energy of heaven itself.
As Peter is preaching his sermon, he brings up an old prophecy that Joel spoke long ago. A Prophecy that describes the Day of the Lord. Joel 2 says
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
whom the Lord calls.
Something we learn from Peter here is that miracles require a careful explanation from God. While Christ would often refrain from explanations because people weren’t ready to hear, the Spirit has enabled us to proclaim and the hearers to hear. As Christians we have to embrace a certain amount of mystery, but in proclaiming God’s powerful deeds, we are to take the time and explain what God is doing and why he is doing it. We are told at the end of Peter’s sermon that the entire crowd knew with certainty that God has made Jesus, Lord and Messiah.
I’m aware that this can all sound very scary. The idea of standing up in a crowd, among friends even and talking about God can be intimidating. The good news is that this proclamation power doesn’t come from us. It comes from the Holy Spirit. Our part is to ask for the Spirit. We read in Luke 11:13 that God longs to give us his Spirit. He longs to give us his Spirit. This Spirit who comforts, counsels and convicts. This Spirit who breathes life and courage into our being. We need to pray for the Spirit and then trust that God will do what he says He will do and give us the Spirit.
It won’t necessarily look like it did in this passage with a lot of noise and hoopla. It may, and it there may be people who are wondering why you’re acting that way and have you been drinking. But it might be quiet and still. It might be a gentle nudge. We don’t know how it happens because the Spirit moves as God wills and we never want to be the ones who set limits for God.
But as we ask and receive will see that proclamation happening in new ways that we never expected it to happen. And we will see our community unified by the Spirit.
Again and Again
Something that should be noted about this outpouring of the Spirit is that it’s a repeatable event. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m asking you to pray for the Holy Spirit because I don’t think the Spirit is here or that I don’t think you have the Spirit in you. Of course God’s Spirit has been and is moving among us. That’s evidenced by the fact this church exists. It’s evidenced by the fact that we’re making a difference here in this community, in Lawrence Heights, at Horizons for Youth. In the almost four years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen the Spirit moving in many of you. We see in the Bible and throughout history that the Spirit of God is poured out on different people in different places. And until all of creation is redeemed, the Spirit will continue to work through the church. So I’m not trying to suggest that the Spirit is absent.
But I do sense that God is doing something new. I wonder if you sense it too. I sense that God is calling us to wait and pray because change is coming and growth is coming and new opportunities for ministry are coming, some of those opportunities are already here
We’re talking about supernatural power this morning but let’s bring it down to earth for a moment. What does it look like to have the Spirit within us. We know from Galatians 5 that the Spirit in us produces Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self-Control. These are the qualities that we should be seeing in ourselves. But when I think of what it means to have the Holy Spirit, I think about dance. I think about people who are compelled to dance. I’m not talking about professional dancers but about ordinary people you encounter on the street who are dancing inexplicably. You can’t hear their music or the beat but sure enough, there they are dancing away. If you’ve ever driven to Horizons on a Saturday morning, you’ve probably seen the dancing woman on Caledonia Road.
I experienced this the other day when I was driving. I planned out enough time to get where I needed to go and sure enough, part of my route was closed off due to construction. I had to backtrack and wait in traffic and I was growing more and more frustrated. I pulled up to a red light and there was this man, a crossing guard, and he was dancing. He was high-fiving kids and waving his STOP sign everywhere. I laughed out loud. It was amazing. He was doing his job but he was also changing his surroundings; bringing joy where there has been frustration and anger.
That’s what the Spirit does in us. God with us has become God in us and with that comes access to the power that resurrected Christ from the dead and joy and inexplicable dancing or speaking or whatever way you communicate. And people see that and just like in Acts 2, they ask questions and say what is this all about and then we get to tell them what it’s all about – JESUS!!
I was reminded a couple of weeks ago at that Baptist Women’s conference that we are all chosen. God has chosen us to be his royal priesthood. But we are not chosen simply so we can sit back and feel good about ourselves. We are chosen so that by the power of the Spirit, we can bring light into the darkness and healing to the broken and freedom for the captives.
NT Wright says that being saved doesn’t just mean going to heaven when you die. It means knowing God’s rescuing power, the power revealed in Jesus, which anticipates in the present, God’s final and great act of deliverance. We can all think of places, people and areas in our own lives that need deliverance. We can think of areas that need resurrection power. Let’s pray that God would send his Spirit to work among us.