Sermon notes 05-23-21         “Send Your Holy Spirit … So That”            Pastor David King

Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (ESV)

 I’ve been reading a prayer this week leading up to Pentecost Sunday, that begins with these words: “Almighty God, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may perfectly love you and faithfully follow you today and always.”  Let me repeat just that middle part: “Send your Holy Spirit upon us, so that….”  Today is a day for pondering the limitless implications of those words, as we commemorate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came with great power on the first Christians.

Christians consider that powerful visitation of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to be the birthday of the Christian Church.  I want to speak with you this morning about that day, about the meaning of Pentecost, and about the role of the Holy Spirit on that first day of Pentecost as well as in the world and in our lives today.

We should probably begin by acknowledging that we do not claim that the day of Pentecost was the first time the Holy Spirit was active in the world.  If we go back to the second verse in the entire Bible, Genesis 1:2, we read that “the Spirit of God (i.e., the Holy Spirit) was hovering over the face of the waters.”  That tells us that from the very beginning, the Holy Spirit was active in the world.  There are numerous other references to the Holy Spirit in the Bible prior to the day of Pentecost.  I’ll mention just one other reference; it’s the one that gives us the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  It comes from the story of the baptism of Jesus, where in all four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Holy Spirit is said to descend on Jesus in bodily form, “like a dove.” So we see that the Holy Spirit had been there all along, from Genesis all the way up through the Gospels … yet something very special happened in Acts chapter 2.

Vance had the task this morning of reading the passage of Scripture (which he did superbly, by the way) that is known as the liturgist’s nightmare, with all those difficult names of nationalities of persons who had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost.  A moment ago, I referred to the gathering on that day described in Acts chapter 2 as the “first day of Pentecost,” but it can only be called the first one if we are thinking in terms of the Christian church.  Pentecost, however, was a Jewish harvest festival long before it was ever a Christian holy day.  The list of nations that Vance read for us included places where Jewish communities existed throughout the first-century Roman world.

The reason these devout Jews were in Jerusalem on that day was not because they expected for the Holy Spirit to come and give birth to the Christian church.  They were there to celebrate the ancient annual harvest festival of Pentecost that attracted Jews from all over the known world.

Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after the Passover, and that is where its name comes from.  Pentecost literally means “50th.”  In the Church we celebrate Pentecost on the 50th day from Easter.  In the ancient way of reckoning the number of days, the first day was always included in the counting.  So if you count Easter Sunday as day one, Easter Monday as day two, and so on, today would be day 50, the day of Pentecost.

Now, we know that some Christian churches today refer to themselves as “Pentecostal” churches, and we understand of course that those churches are not claiming any particular connection with the number 50.  They rather claim the name Pentecostal because they connect themselves with what happened on that day described in Acts chapter 2, when the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of “divided tongues as of fire” and rested on all those who were in the house.  A key term in that phrase is as of fire, meaning that what appeared and rested on them was probably not literal flames, but it looked enough like flames for “tongues as of fire” to be the closest and best description that could be given.

Whatever it was that rested on those present in that house on that day, it enabled them to speak in other tongues.  If you go to worship at a Pentecostal church today, you will likely find people speaking in tongues.  While speaking in tongues is mysterious to Christians who don’t identify as Pentecostal, the main thing for us to know is that the word “tongues” in this passage can also be translated “languages.”  On the day of Pentecost, those who were present understood the tongues or languages being spoken.  They said, “we hear them telling in our own tongues (or in our own languages) the mighty works of God.”  The miracle that took place on the day of Pentecost was not that people were able to speak in languages that had never before been spoken.  The miracle of Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit empowered Christians to bear witness, in words that could be understood, to the good news of what God had done through Christ.

Pentecost signifies the gift of the Spirit coming to people in a new and more powerful way.  This gift was the fulfillment of what had been promised, by the Old Testament prophet Joel, who Peter quoted in our Scripture passage, and by Jesus himself, who had told his chosen apostles on the day of his Ascension into heaven that the Holy Spirit would come upon them in not many days, to give them power to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.  It was precisely ten days later when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost.  We who are here at this end of the earth called Surf City, NC are beneficiaries and recipients of the witness that the Holy Spirit empowered on that day.  In fact, every Christian who has ever lived has been a beneficiary and recipient of the witness empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This means more than the fact that we have all been able to receive the Gospel through the witness of others who were empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It means that every baptized Christian has also received the gift of the Spirit ourselves, empowering us to be witnesses, to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ, sometimes in the words that we speak, but more importantly in the way that we live our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.

At Faith Harbor, we do not have the word “Pentecostal” in the name of our church, but friends, we are nonetheless a Pentecostal church, if we understand that to mean a church empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.  In fact, if we are not Pentecostal, we are not able to bear witness, and we cannot even rightly call ourselves Christian, because there is no Christian church without Pentecost and the power of the Holy Spirit.

I want to come back to the prayer I started with: “Almighty God, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may perfectly love you and faithfully follow you today and always.”  “Send your Holy Spirit upon us, so that….”  It has occurred to me that following those words “so that” we might plug in anything and everything that has to do with being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Send forth your Holy Spirit so that we may be more like Jesus; send forth your Holy Spirit so that he will help us be obedient; send forth your Holy Spirit so that he will help us to pray; send forth your Holy Spirit so that he might help us to understand the Bible; send forth your Holy Spirit so that we might have even the desire to pray and to be obedient and read our Bibles and to be Christlike; send forth your Holy Spirit so that he might help us to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ; send forth your Holy Spirit so that he might help us bear the spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; send forth your Holy Spirit so that we may have the divine authority needed to carry out the work God has called us to do.

The truth is that there is nothing we can do as followers of Jesus Christ apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the negative way of putting it.  The good news, and the positive way to put it is to say, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit empowering us with everything we need to be followers of Jesus Christ and to bear witness to him.  Brothers and sisters, we are a Pentecostal Church, because we are the Church of the Holy Spirit.  Thanks be to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who gives us everything we need to live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.  May we always be receptive to his leading.  Let us pray.

Almighty God, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may perfectly love you and faithfully follow you today and always.  In the name and Spirit of Christ we pray. Amen.