27 May 2012
Unless otherwise noted all scripture is quoted from the New Living Translation.
Happy Birthday! Some people would describe Pentecost as the birthday of the church. I’ve had birthday cakes and kids singing happy birthday to get that point across. Pentecost is the birthday of the church. And in some ways that is correct.
But in other ways it’s perhaps missing the point.
I know that there are weaknesses with my new analogy but I’m inclined to think of the Old Testament era as the gestation of the church.
Then with the birth of Jesus is the birth of the church. For the church is really just the extension of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Pentecost then, in my half-baked analogy, becomes the debutante ball or the Festa de Quince Años -- the coming out -- the grand presentation of the church to the world.
And it does come out in a grand way.
After Jesus has ascended to heaven the disciples are hanging out together in Jerusalem -- waiting to see what’s going to happen next.
And it was during Pentecost -- 50 days after the feast of Passover. Pentecost is also known as the Feast or Weeks -- or Shavuot commemorating the anniversary of the day that God gave the Torah -- the Law to the Israelites assembled at Mount Sinai.
So Jews from around world are in Jerusalem for the festivities. Some had probably come for Passover and had stayed -- waiting to return to places like Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the Libya until after Pentecost.
Others had made a pilgrimage into Jerusalem for that feast itself.
The streets are crowded -- lots and lots of people wandering up and down the walkways -- buying food -- eating snow cones and kosher cotton candy on the street -- visiting the Temple -- schmoozing with old friends and relatives.
That’s the context.
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Acts 2:2 --
Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.Sometimes I wonder what all of that looked like, felt like, sounded like. Were the flaming tongues hot? Was the rushing wind warm or cold? Did it stir up the dust? Were people chasing their blowing hats? When the apostles spoke in other languages did they still have a Galilean accent?
Think Tower of Babel in reverse.
It must have been a holy buzz -- but at the same time a confusing disconcerting chaotic happening. I’m not big on loud unruly crowds. I would have probably protected my ears.
5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.And thousands did. Acts 2:41 says --
7 They were completely amazed. ‘How can this be?’ they exclaimed. ‘These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! 9 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!’ 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. ‘What can this mean?’ they asked each other.
13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, ‘They’re just drunk, that’s all!’
14 Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this.15 These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. 16 No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel...
Then Peter, standing there with the other eleven apostles, proceeds to tell the story of Jesus -- how he was the rejected Messiah -- crucified, buried -- but raised from the dead on the day.”
Acts 2:32 -- “God raised Jesus from the dead, and (Note this phrase) we are all witnesses of this. 33 Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today...”
2:37 Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” 40 Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, (see, long-winded preaching is biblical) strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”
“Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.”This was a grand debutante ball.
And I’m inclined to believe that this is what Jesus was talking about in John 15:26-27 when he promised:
26 “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. 27 And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.Just preceding this, Jesus has explained in John 15 the importance of staying connected to him -- like branches to a vine. But then he goes on to say that he will be rejected and that most people will sever themselves from the vine. Yet, in spite of the rejection he says, “I’m going to send you an Advocate...”
Now some of your translations will render this word as “counselor” or “companion” or “helper” -- all of which are good translations of the word paraklaytos -- or more commonly ”paraclete.”
This is a word borrowed from the legal profession to describe someone who comes alongside you to act on your behalf. So the NLT “Advocate” is also an outstanding rendering.
An advocate is someone who comes alongside to empower another by speaking or acting on their behalf.
When I took Don to the hospital in February there were not any family members around so he signed papers naming me as his medical power of attorney. That is, I became his advocate acting on his behalf whenever medical decision needed to be made. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Some of you have done this on an even grander scale.
For example, maybe you’ve become a legal guardian for a child whose parents and family are no longer in the picture. You made decisions for that child so that they received the care they needed.
Our good friend, we’ll call her Sharon, in California is always looking for ministry opportunities. She heard about the need for guardians in the court system. Sometimes the courts will determine that someone -- even an adult or maybe a teen -- perhaps someone with mental illness or a social handicap -- needs some extra help in dealing with personal responsibilities -- like keeping their finances straight. So the court determines that the person is incapable of functioning on their own and will assign a guardian to help them. Sharon is one of those volunteer guardians.
These are all practical illustrations of a paraclete in action. And Jesus says to his followers that he is going to send a “paraclete” -- a helper -- an advocate -- a guardian to assist them in carrying out the mission he is entrusting to them.
In verse 26 he names him the “Spirit of truth.” -- “He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.”
He is dispatched by Jesus but sent from the Father -- to assist in the testimony. So he is an advocate for Jesus, speaking on his behalf -- but he is sent to assist the apostles -- the church.
And he is the Holy Spirit -- whose power was poured out on the Apostles and the church at Pentecost -- enabling the Apostles to proclaim the message of Jesus.
So you can see that John 15:26 is a very Trinitarian passage. Jesus the Son is speaking, “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me.”
Notice, how this flows into vs. 27 -- “And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.”
The Apostles -- the Disciples -- (the Apostles and the Disciples are the same guys here -- but the word apostle emphasizes being sent and the word disciple emphasizes following.) are to testify about Jesus because they’ve been working alongside Jesus from the beginning of his ministry.
They have seen and experienced it all. And the implication is that the Advocate -- the Holy Spirit -- enables the Apostles to carry out the witness.
And that is exactly what happens in Acts 2. The Spirit comes with wind, fire, and a miracle of languages -- and the Apostles stand together in front of a crowd of thousands -- giving testimony to what they have seen and heard.
And the church goes public. It is debuted as the messenger of Jesus.
And I want to suggest that we -- when we’re healthy -- are still locked into the same Pentecost pattern -- the pattern presented by Jesus in John 15. The Advocate comes -- and the apostolic message of Christ, his kingdom agenda, his rejection, his resurrection, his place at the right hand of God the Father -- and the call to repentance and baptism into the life of Christ -- is declared.
We have the same exact call.
No, it’s not always going to look like Pentecost. The Spirit is dynamic and doesn’t franchise identical experiences.
- Yes, sometimes there may be tongues of fire bouncing around. I haven’t seen it but hey, I’m not going to grab a fire extinguisher.
- Sometimes there might be some wind blowing.
- Sometimes there might be preachers preaching in languages they don’t know -- Egyptian, Italian Arabic, Mesopotamian...
- Sometimes there will be healing and deliverance.
- Sometimes there might signs and wonders.
- Sometimes dreams -- as are happening a lot these days in India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan...
- But sometimes not.
The Spirit is dynamic so he is not going to be performing the same routine in exactly the same way each time. It’s not a Las Vegas show.
And as soon as we think that we come up with a formula for the work of the Holy Spirit -- he’ll do something different -- if for no other reason than to keep us humble.
But no matter what it looks like -- whether a still and small voice experience or a rushing wind encore -- the Holy Spirit is always going to be in the middle of it -- for he is the advocate that charges the moment and enables the witness.
The other side of the promise is the apostolic witness -- the message of the apostles -- “And you must also testify about me because you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.”
Our modern testimony is deeply rooted in the testimony of those who were with Jesus -- the disciples -- the apostles -- that which was recorded in scripture.
Yes, the Spirit is still doing something new -- but at the same time it is always old. For our message is the same old apostolic witness of the good news of Jesus -- nothing less -- and nothing more. We have nothing more to add -- no supplemental revelation -- no new stories discovered on golden plates -- or stuff like that.
When the New Testament was finally codified -- that is when the church came to an agreement on which writings should be included in the New Testament -- and that occurred in the late 4th century -- at least the formal process -- which only ratified what was already the practice...
When that happened one of the major criteria for inclusion in the canon (official scripture) was apostolicity. That is, did the writing have a connection to the apostles?
It was written by an apostle (e.g. Matthew) or maybe it was written by one of the apostles’ assistants (like Mark).
Or maybe it was just recognized as legitimate by the apostles (e.g. Luke). The apostles were the primary witnesses of the gospel so the teachings of the church needed to be connected to them.
And we’re still committed to the message of the apostles. It’s actually a dual emphasis -- the Spirit enables our witness and the witness itself is the apostolic message.
Here’s the Key Point this morning:
We are all about the message of Jesus because we are Spirit-charged and our message is apostolic in content.
The modern Pentecostal movement started on January 1st 1901 in Topeka, Kansas. Modern pentecostalism emphasizes a baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues.
While I’m not a Pentecostal in this sense I’ve always gotten along pretty well with the Pentecostals. Some of my best friends are Pentecostals. I've had many Pentecostal friends at seminary and among the local ministerial associations. And while some of what they teach strikes me as off target -- but not terminally so, they get a lot of things right -- including the emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit -- the Advocate.
And I would argue that we’re all called to be Pentecostals -- not in the sense that there is a special baptism of the Holy Spirit where you get the gift of tongues but in an even more classical sense.
That is, we all rely on the Spirit of truth who was poured out on the church on Pentecost. And because we are all a part of the church which received the blessing of the Spirit, we are all involved in the Spirit-energized witnesses of the Apostolic message.
It’s all about Jesus -- who he is and what he did -- what he is doing.
So I want to challenge you with this question -- Are you Pentecostal enough? Are you relying on the Spirit to super-charge your witness of Jesus?
Sometimes we look at witnessing as a painful but necessary obligation. However, I want to suggest that when we’re actively courting the presence of the Spirit in our lives it is less about obligation and more about responding to the opportunities that God drops in front of us.
When I walk into Starbucks I ask, God, what are you doing in here this afternoon that you want me to be a part of? Is there someone in here who needs to talk? Is there someone in here who needs to hear about Jesus.
I go in, order my iced passion tea, sit down, start to read student assignments on the computer -- keeping an eye open for what’s going on around me.
I talk to the people walking by. Most of the time nothing rolls. I feel like I’m with the pre-Pentecostal apostles waiting for something to happen.
But then there are times when people I’ve said “hi” to in the past will stop to chat -- and ask questions --
- the Hindu man from India trying to figure out what he’s doing with his life --
- the two Ethiopian guys (I think they’re cousins) who are trying to find work...
- the 20-something Hispanic man still dressed up after a job interview -- feeling nervous -- and looking for a blessing of some sort.
I’m hopeful that someday Pentecost will break loose at Starbucks and that these friends will eventually be among the baptized -- those who themselves are eager to share in the apostolic and pentecostal witness.
But it’s not just Starbucks. This is our approach to the Spirit-energized life -- no matter where we are -- home, work, school -- we’re living witnesses.
We are all about the message of Jesus because we are Spirit-charged and our message is apostolic in content.
So... Happy... Pentecost!