This is the last in my short series on Life in the Spirit. We’ve seen that we must be born of the Spirit as he enables faith in Jesus, that the Holy Spirit is the believers helper who convicts the world and makes Jesus real, that he helps us relate to God as his redeemed, adopted and loved children, and enables us to live free to serve God as we listen, live and keep in step with the Spirit. That it’s the Holy Spirit who gives gifts to everyone in the church to use for the good of others, to build the church and bring God glory, and that he marks us as belonging to and being under God’s protection and works in us to enable us to look, live and long for Christ’s coming again and the new creation.
This morning in Acts 2 we come to the Day of Pentecost, and we see the Holy Spirit and mission.
I wonder how that word – mission – makes you feel? When we hear the word mission we think of it as mission impossible. Do you ever look at your neighbours, at your street, all those houses and think how can I reach them with the gospel? Or your workplace, on average 1 christian to 70 workmates – it’s a mission field. Or maybe it’s your family; parents, children, who are apathetic and seem like mission impossible. Or maybe as a church it’s when we think of the area we meet in; approx. 10,000 people, at best 3% attend church, leaving 9700 who need to hear the gospel. Reaching them seems like mission impossible, you can hear the theme tune in your head as you think of it.
And then if you’re anything like me you look at yourself and think; I’m no evangelist, I don’t know enough about the Bible, I’m not eloquent or clever, I don’t have all the answers. Telling other people about Jesus seems like Mission Impossible – and unlike Ethan Hunt we don’t feel confident or trained for it.
In Acts 1:8 – Jesus says to the disciples “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
None are great evangelists, in fact it’s less than 50 days since they all scattered at Jesus arrest, since Peter denied knowing Jesus, since they huddled fearfully in an upper room with the doors locked. But he gives them this mission; to be his witnesses in Jerusalem – to the very people who killed Jesus in the city and centre of opposition, fear and failure. In Judea and Samaria – an area Jews don’t like – and to the ends of the earth – to a world full of foreigners and idol worshippers. It is Mission Impossible!
But Jesus doesn’t leave them to do it alone (8a)“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” He doesn’t leave them a how to manual, or a foolproof 7-step method, he promises them the Holy Spirit, his Spirit. And it is the Holy Spirit who will empower them to make Mission Impossible, not just Mission improbable, or even mission possible, but mission complete. And that same Spirit works in us today to the same ends.
A People Filled with the Holy Spirit
Pentecost occurs 50 days after Passover, 10 days after Jesus ascension. It was a celebration of gathering the firstfruits of the harvest, and a commemoration of the law being given. It was a day to celebrate the fulfilment of God’s promises, and on it God fulfils his promises again.
(1)The 120 are gathered waiting as Jesus said, when suddenly God acts, suddenly Jesus words and promises are fulfilled. (2-3)Luke does his best to describe these things; they are like a violent wind and like fire but they come from heaven. They are signs of God working, appearing and speaking, in Job 38 and Ezekiel 1 wind accompanies God appearing and speaking, in Exodus God’s presence is in the pillar of fire. It’s also a fulfilment of John the Baptists promise that the Messiah “will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
But there is an important difference. In Exodus 40:34-35 as God’s glory fills the tent Moses is driven out, as God’s glory fills the temple in Solomon’s day again everyone is driven out. In Acts do you see the difference? God’s Spirit comes and fills people not places, it is the disciples who are filled not the building, they are not driven out by God’s Spirit rather they are filled. Pentecost is a day of fulfilment, when God keeps his promises, when the Son sends the Spirit and it marks the coming of a new age. When God’s people are filled with the Spirit and have hearts and minds on which God writes the law, when they can know God and all because of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
And the visible sign of this is the disciples praising God in other tongues, other discernable languages.
But this poses a question – is this normal Christian experience? Does the Holy Spirit come at a date after conversion? Some argue from here and Acts 8 that there is a 2 stage filling of the Spirit.
I don’t think so and here’s why; the Apostles could not receive the Spirit when they first followed Jesus because Jesus had not ascended and sent it. Pentecost is unique. In Acts 8 something similarly unique is happening, the Samaritans believe and are baptised, but it isn’t until Peter and John arrive and pray for the new believers that they receive the Holy Spirit, why? How did Jews feel about Samaritans? Hated them. The Apostles sanction is needed as a sign that the barrier is no longer there, but Samaritans are saved and part of the church, the Holy Spirit’s coming proves that.
The normal experience is that the Holy Spirit fills the believer at conversion, look at (41) 3000 believe and are added to the church, in the rest of Acts that is normal experience. You are filled with the Spirit when you confess Jesus as Lord.
God is keeping his promises, Jesus sends his Spirit to fill his people as promised. If you are a believer this morning you have been filled with his Spirit.
A People Empowered, Enabled and Equipped for Mission.
What effects does the disciples speaking in tongues have(6,11)? It enables the disciples to praise God and draws a crowd with questions. It gains an audience for the gospel. And do you notice where the crowd comes from? All over the world , it is a glimpse of how God will make the impossible complete. But notice the crowd are amazed but baffled, the tongues themselves don’t convert them but it does lead them to question. It gets their attention and gets them thinking, like a teaser trailer for a film, or the shadowy outline of a new car yet to be released.
And Peter (14)stands empowered, equipped and enabled by the Holy Spirit to preach to the Spirit gathered and prepared crowd, to explain to them, to correct their wrong thinking about what they hear and to witness to Jesus.
Peter’s explanation goes like this; (17-21)These men aren’t drunk but God is keeping his centuries old promises, the Spirits coming proves Jesus is the Messiah(22-24). You killed him but God raised him to life and he reigns on high and has sent his Spirit as proof(25-35), Jesus is God’s promised Saviour and Lord(36).
The Holy Spirit empowers Peter and works in the hearers(37-39) bringing conviction and (41)conversion.
The Holy Spirit fills and transforms God’s people making mission impossible, possible. God empowers, enables and equips his people for the mission he gives them. Throughout Acts you see it again and again; the Spirit enables Stephen to preach the gospel to the Sanhedrin, guides Philip to the Ethiopian, works in Cornelius and his household. The Holy Spirit equips, enables and empowers God’s people to witness to their Saviour and Lord.
At breakfast on the day of Pentecost the church numbers 120 and has an impossible mission but filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit by evening it numbers 3000 and the mission has begun. 3000 believe and publicly confess that belief by being baptised, and by Acts end there are churches in Europe, Africa, and Asia who have heard, believed and been baptised, and the world is being turned upside down.
Maybe the Spirit has been convicting you of your need to trust Jesus, that he is Saviour and Lord, and that you need a saviour and want him to be your Lord. Why not do it now?
Perhaps you have trusted in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, but you’ve never been baptised and you want to take that step, to publicly profess your faith. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to believe in him as your Saviour and Lord.
How do you think of mission? Maybe you don’t. But as a believer in Jesus, if he is your Lord you take on his mission. If we have understood the gospel then we can’t be indifferent to those going to a lost eternity. To understand the gospel means to want to tell others.
Perhaps you think it’s mission impossible, and it is if we try to do it on our own, if we rely on methods or programmes. But God gives us his Spirit to equip, enable and empower. It won’t make us all up front evangelists, but it will help us as we engage in evangelism. As we live following Jesus in front of them, as we answer their questions, as we explain however falteringly the gospel, as we invite people to church. The Holy Spirit will be with us as we take risks for the sake of the lost.
Have you been on Oblivion, it’s a vertical rollercoaster that holds you over a hundred foot drop, and then drops you. You plummet down into pitch blackness, its exhilarating. Why do people ride it? It is the excitement, the buzz. But it is also because you trust the equipment will keep you safe, it’s been tried and tested.
The risks we take in evangelism are a little like riding Oblivion, the anticipation, nerves, stomach churning and adrenalin pumping are all real, but we can take the risk because we have the Holy Spirit, we are secure. What risks will you take with the gospel secure in the Holy Spirit this week?
Telling others, witnessing to Jesus as Saviour and Lord is scary, it is nerve racking, but we are not alone. God in his wisdom has given us the Spirit of his son who lives in us, he makes Mission impossible, mission certain. What risks will you take this week in sharing the gospel with those around you trusting in him who has died for you, equipped, empowered and enabled you?