Gareth Janus (the Revd Gareth Edwards) led a Pentecost Service on Sunday. He preached on ‘The Power of the Spirit’. A rough transcipt follows:
Sadly many people today have low opinions of the church. Many people look down on the church today as an organization of religious organizers who sit quietly in church acting like they are enjoying a boring religious exercise. Some look at churches today as outdated organizations, products of by-gone days. Some see the church as an organization of hypocrites who offer nothing relevant to a world that is desperately needing answers to their dilemmas.
Please note that the church was never intended to be considered a sterile, irrelevant organization: it was intended to be a Spirit powered, flaming family of believers that was so changed from their former worldly actions that the world wanted what they had. Hear me, I said they had something the world wanted. As the Jews stood around witnessing this spectacle of God empowering the disciples in His Holy Spirit, they referred to them as having a drunken party.
You and I may look at this as worldly criticism, but I guess, from what I know of the world, people love a party. From what I know of the world, people generally love to be intoxicated. Yes, they were perhaps laughing, but I don’t see it as simply a group of pious religious people looking down their long noses at these having a good time. If anything, people generally were probably wondering how they could get a hold of the same brew the Church was feasting on!
The second chapter of Acts marks the birth-day of the church. No not the annual celebration we call “birthday” but the actual birth of the church. A time in history that had been prophesied about for years in Biblical history and had been looked forward to by the Lord. A day in which His presence would no longer merely be witnessed in a building made with human hands, but in living temples fashioned by the masterful hand of an omnipotent and holy God. On this day the Holy Spirit moved from the Heavenlies into every willing vessel that was offered unto Him.
The time we are hearing about is called the Day of Pentecost. This was during the time known to the Jews as the Passover Season. A season of fifty days began with the Passover Feast and continued through the Day of Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost is a time of bringing in the harvest and the beginning of the Offering of First Fruits to the Lord. I believe it is very significant that the birth of the Church began on the Day of Pentecost which denotes harvest. Not only was the day later to known as the birth of the Church and the outpouring of God’s blessed Holy Spirit upon His children, but it is also known as the beginning of the harvest of the Kingdom of God.
It was during this time that Jews, who had been dispersed into surrounding nations, returned in an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to seek the Lord and to sacrifice. The city which normally housed around 150,000 people now had perhaps over one million occupants. They were everywhere.
Early in the morning the disciples were all together in one house, sitting, perhaps praying and worshipping together. When suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house. Tongues of fire appeared and separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them experienced the power and the majesty of God. The promised Holy Spirit filled each one and they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Hundreds of those of all nations who had come for the holy feast of Pentecost had heard the noises and had crowded around the house to see what was going on. As they came closer they could each understand praises being spoken of God in their own language. The words coming from the mouths of these untrained peasants who had received the Holy Spirit were testimonies of God’s wonder and miraculous works. They were words of praise to the Lord. When I have heard this story before I’ve always thought “Wow! What a wonderful miracle!”. Whether it is a miracle of speech or a miracle of hearing the bible text doesn’t make it clear, but it is a wonderful demonstration of the power of God. Then I looked at the list of all those present at the event:
‘Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.’
These god-fearing people have one thing in common: each is from part of the powerful and far-reaching Roman Empire. Each nation under the Roman Empire held many things in common: One of these was a common language – Greek (the language the New Testament was written in). As such, all the disciples would have had to do when they came out of the house was to speak in Greek and EVERYONE would have understood them. Was the miracle then a pointless one?
Not so. The thing about language is that it is very personal. Ministering in Wales, I know how the Welsh language is important for so many people. The language has to do with personal identity, cultural identity, their character, at the very centre of a person’s being. Even though everyone can speak English, governments, businesses and organisations find it important that when publishing official documents and information sheets to also do copies in Welsh. Living in the Isle of Man for many years, I also saw how important the Manx Gaelic was for many people. So when the Spirit-filled disciples (untrained peasants) spoke in the language of each ethnic group gathered in Jerusalem at that time, they were speaking directly and personally to each individual – and that had a powerful effect on them. The Gospel is personal. It has relevance for all people – each unique individual.
Note the response of the Jewish crowd as they heard the disciples speaking in tongues:
‘When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans?’
They were “Utterly amazed”. Friends, when the world sees us filled with the power of God. They will stand in amazement when they see us filled with His power and walking in close relationship with Him. The greatest amazement perhaps will be found within our own hearts when we consider how a holy and all powerful God would come to live within us. When the first tabernacle was built by Moses the fire came from Heaven and consumed the offering that was being given to God and this fire was kept burning in the Tabernacle continually. The same thing happened when Solomon’s temple was constructed. But this event declares to the entire Jewish population that God no longer simply manifest His presence in a building, but in each individual who will offer their lives to Him as a dwelling place.
In John 14:15-17, Jesus says to the disciples:
‘If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor 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.’
The passage suggests that the Holy Spirit is with those who have given their lives unto the Lord. The disciples Jesus was speaking with had (other than Judas) given their lives to the Lord Jesus, without question. The Holy Spirit was obviously with them as they were sent out in pairs ministering under the power of the Lord. They healed people and were able to cast out evil spirits.
But here, Jesus declares there is more for you after He leaves. He says that He will pray that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to live “in” them, not just to be with them. I don’t want to get into a debate about the ‘baptizing of the Holy Spirit’. A lot of hurt has been caused in the Christian community by ill-advised zeal concerning this doctrine. All I know is this: In Christ, there are no second-class Christians! But it has always been fitting on this special Sunday that as Christians remember that wondrous Pentecost event, we remember the promises of Jesus and seek a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Some godly men and women will argue against it, but I believe that the power of the Holy Spirit did not end with the apostolic era, but has continued throughout the centuries, witnessing, guiding and empowering the Church. I have seen many different responses to the Holy Spirit in power in peoples lives. Some have spoken in tongues, some have fell to the floor under God’s holy power, some got so excited they ran around the room, some cried while others shouted for joy. But mainly, and most profoundly, it is simply a sensing of God’s holy presence, not even necessarily a strongly emotional experience. Prayer becomes more vital. A sense of compassion towards others becomes more acute.
My friends, when we receive the Holy Spirit, the world will notice. Maybe in a dramatic way as the crowds at the Festival of Pentecost experienced. Or maybe day by day as we involve ourselves in and serve a needy world, people will see the quality of our love and say “I want what she’s been drinking!”. They will see something different in our lives and they will want what we have.
Pentecost reminds us that we do not have to minister under our own power, but under the mighty power of an omnipotent God. The Holy Spirit is with each of us today; whether we are living for the Lord or not. To those who have not yet decided to follow Christ, He is reaching out and letting you know there is a wonderful life prepared for you as you allow Him to take charge of your lives. To you who have committed your lives to the Lord, the Holy Spirit is now drawing you into a place where you may say to Him, “Lord, I open my life to you today. Please let me receive your Holy Spirit. Transform me and my world.”
The Gospel of Luke at the eleventh chapter tells us that God gives good things to those who ask. The reading tells us that he will “give” the Holy Spirit to those that “ask” Him. The question I want to leave you with is: Will you ask Him? …Will you ask him today?