THE POWERFUL SILENT PARTNER
Dear friends in Christ,
Today is Pentecost. Pente comes from the Greek word for five. There’s the Pentagon – a five sided building that houses the Department of Defense in WashingtonDC. What an impressive building that is. A pentagram is a five-pointed star. Pentecost is related to five too…five times ten, fifty. Fifty days after Easter. There were three major church celebrations in the Old Testament – Passover which was part of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Pentecost, and the Festival of Trumpets. We have three too - Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
The Pentecost of the Old and the Pentecost of the New Testaments pretty much correlate in time, but are entirely different in message. In the Old Testament, they counted out seven weeks past Passover. Passover was always on Friday. They added one day and that was Pentecost – fifty days after Passover. Pentecost was a thanksgiving day when they thanked the Lord for the early harvest. That harvest usually consisted of grain. The second harvest consisted of the harvest of fruit. Later the Jews added to Pentecost the celebration of the giving of the Ten Commandments.
During the celebration of the Old Testament festival of Pentecost, the early harvest, is when the events took place in Acts two. The Holy Spirit came to the followers of Jesus in a big way. It was no silent celebration. It is the day that marks the birth of the New Testament Church. Today it is our objective to give thanks to God for “The Powerful and Silent Partner – the Holy Spirit.” 1) He does things we can’t do; 2) He promises things only God can promise.
Ten days had passed since Jesus had disappeared into the clouds of the skies as he ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives. The disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised he would send. The wait was over. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” The numbers didn’t just include the twelve apostles. In fact, there were seventy two whom Jesus had sent out at one time. There were 120 men, not including the faithful women who had been following him.
Jesus’ promise came true. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” No, this wasn’t a cold front suddenly moving through town! It was the sound of a violent wind, but no one needed to plead it as the cause of a bad hair day. It was only the sound of violent wind. While I said the Holy Spirit is God’s silent partner, the Spirit of God was making it very clear that he wanted everyone’s attention, not just the 120, but all who had gathered together in the city of Jerusalem.
There was more. There were what seemed to be tongues of fire that came to rest on the heads of the 120 plus. Why this unusual manifestation of the Spirit? Perhaps the Lord was reminding them how he appeared to the Children of Israel as a pillar of fire by night back 1500 years before as Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Anyone who was deaf could see the manifestation of the Holy Spirit; anyone who was blind could hear that God the Spirit was present.
But there is still more. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Jews had come from all parts of the earth to Jerusalem for this festival. The 120 plus communicated with those folks in their native tongues. Think about that! Most of these followers were not considered MIT candidates. They were, in the minds of many, uneducated Galileans. They grew up far away from the sophisticated learning center of Jerusalem. Many were simple fishermen. They didn’t need PhDs. Fishermen need more brawn than brain. But it was plain to see that something, or should we say someone, was at work here - LIKE GOD!
The visitors to Jerusalem knew it. They said that they were “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” God, the Holy Spirit was at work here! He was doing things that ordinary sinful human beings can’t do.
What was the purpose? What was going on here? So many came from so many different countries to Jerusalem, speaking so many different languages! Often that divides people! A couple of years ago I went to a graduation of one of our members. One of the class speakers came from a family whose first language was not English. Right behind us was a big mouthed redneck who apparently didn’t understand the speech, not because the speaker’s accent was so heavy, but because the speaker used words that had more than three letters in them. This man started to pop off his mouth for people to hear. Different languages, different cultures and different traditions bring out sinful prejudices.
On that first Pentecost the Holy Spirit made one thing so very clear. Jesus came for everyone. God wants all people to be saved. To have prejudices and biases against people is nothing but flat out sin. The problem with people, and it starts with self, is not the language we speak or the culture that we enjoy or the traditions we might have, but the sinful heart that brings all other matter of sin out. God wants people to understand that is sin and that is why the whole world needs Jesus. He sent the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and the Holy Spirit convinces us that Jesus can only cure. That needs to be said in every language and every heart needs to be convinced of that. That’s something only the Holy Spirit can do.
We can talk about the miracles of Pentecost all we want – the wind, the tongues of fire, the speaking in different languages, but what is most incredible is what happens so silently inside us when the Holy Spirit plants the seed of faith that only God can see and only God can do.
Another item that needs to be noted! Only the Holy Spirit can promise things that only God can bring to pass. The day of Pentecost should not have been a total surprise. Our reading continues, “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” Apparently there were people around the disciples of Jesus like we had around us at the graduation. They made the ridiculous and uncalled-for accusations that the disciples were speaking in other languages because they were hitting the sauce. I am sure that college kids throughout the ages have proven quite the opposite. It doesn’t help when you have a college German test the next day to spend your time at Ken’s Tap the night before. I am sure that people who try to do so do speak a language all its own but not the one they are supposed to speak. It is amazing the lengths people will go to deny the presence and power of God when God makes it so obvious that he exists. Prime example – the theory of evolution!
There is another point that needs to be mentioned. This is Peter – but not the Peter of Caiaphas’ court where he choked three times even cursing that he was when someone said he was Jesus’ disciple. This is the Spirit-filled Peter. This is the Peter to whom the Holy Spirit had not only given courage but also the words to say. Yes, I know Jesus; I am proud to be one of his followers and let me tell you all about him. As we see this bold Peter speak up, let’s also ask the Spirit to fill us to be able to speak up with the same kind of courage.
Peter says, “No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” I hope you were listening well when he said that when this prophecy would be fulfilled, this was a signal that the last days were upon us.
The end of the world had to wait. The Lord Jesus had to come to this world. He did. He had to die. He did. He had to arise. He did. He had to ascend. He did. He had to rule the world with might and power. He has. He is ready to come again. But the Spirit also needed to come. He did. The world is ready to come to the end. “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” In the Old Testament, believers were found mostly among the nation of Israel, the nation of the promise. That was to be no longer. People were in Jerusalem that day from all parts of the earth. Because of the Holy Spirit there were three thousand converted that day alone. They went back to their countries with the good news of Jesus. That’s the way it has been ever since.
People would have God-wrought dreams and visions. The apostle John had one. It is the book of Revelation. Paul was taken into heaven, whether in the body or out of the body he didn’t know, but he heard inexpressible things. Peter saw a blanket filled with all kinds of animals, both clean and unclean according to Jewish law. God told him to kill and eat. God was telling him very clearly we don’t live under the Old Testament law anymore.
Let me use that term vision a little differently. Missionaries had a vision on how to serve people all around the world with the Gospel of Jesus. There were the apostles who went out from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth with the Holy Spirit filling them. They went to all kinds of places in the then known world. Polycarp, a disciple of John was a great defender of the faith and spread the good news. Augustine did the same. Raymon Lull went to Africa in the thirteenth century. Martin Luther took on the Roman Church in the 16th century who had dirtied the good news with the laws of men. Christian missionaries were on the North American continent in the 17th century. Richard Baxter went to all kinds of morally corrupt cities in England and the Gospel changed people in big ways. In our own church body there are missionaries who have been sent to so many countries to tell the love of Jesus. Someone even had a vision of a mission church here in Alpharetta so many years ago.
And this is the way it will be until the end of time when God says, “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” While the great day of the Lord ought to scare those who don’t give thought to its coming, he calls it a glorious day. Why? How can that be? Thanks to the Holy Spirit “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
I said the theme of this sermon is “The Powerful but Silent Partner – the Holy Spirit.” I hope you can see how the Spirit is certainly powerful. After all, he is God.
Why silent? We don’t talk so much about him. Actually, that is by design. Sinful people like to be acknowledged and patted on the back. We like our fifteen minutes of fame. Jesus once said, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” The Holy Spirit’s work is to testify about Jesus. He inspired the Bible and it testifies that Jesus is the center of all history, the Savior everyone needs. He plants faith in our hearts so we see that Jesus is our all-satisfying and all-sufficient Savior. That’s what we need; that’s what he gives. That’s why we praise him.