There is something very special about Christ followers meeting together, especially when we meet together to worship God.
That is what happened on this first Pentecost: ‘They were all together in one place’ (v1).
And the Spirit comes.
This was the Spirit who Jesus promised his disciples that he would send. He is the Spirit of God the Father and he is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It was a unique event: it is THE fulfilling of the promise that Jesus would give his Spirit. It is THE day when a group of people who had seen the risen Jesus and who worshipped him were transformed from being individuals who were fans of Jesus into being the body of Christ. And all subsequent men and women, when we become Christians, are added into this body. This is when it began. This really is the birth-day of the Church.
It was a unique, one off, event. The Spirit has come, the body of Christ has been formed.
But the Spirit of God still comes. He comes on individuals to make us part of the ‘cake’ of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the great joiner. He comes to join people together, to join them to Jesus and to join them to each other in Jesus. So the Holy Spirit is like glue; he is like egg in a cake; he is the conductor of the choir; he is – and probably this is more appropriate – like the welder’s blowtorch. We are like pieces of metal: we are hard and we clash against each other. But the Spirit takes us and he points his fire at us, he burns away all the rubbish and he melts us so that we can be united with others in love.
But although this is a one-off event, I think that there are several things that we can say – from this passage – that do happen because the Spirit has come
1. Wonders happen:
On this occasion there is a wind (reminding us of the breath of God at the very beginning when God created the world. What is happening here is a new creation).
And tongues of fire appear, and the disciples start speaking in tongues.
Now these are not the tongues spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12 – because here the disciples, although they didn’t know these foreign languages, speak in foreign languages that others, who do know those languages, are able to understand. And those people were astonished.
Wonders, as a rule, are not ‘evidences’ for God.
If a person refuses to believe, they can always explain away even the most astonishing of miracles.
Here the mockers say that the disciples are drunk.
But wonders are a ‘sign’ of what the Holy Spirit is doing or is about to do.
It is like Jesus turning water into wine.
You can try it at home, but – sadly - it probably won’t work.
Why? Because Jesus did it when he did it, at the beginning of his ministry, for a purpose, as a sign: to show that he had come to take the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary.
So, for instance, someone coming back from the dead is astonishing, but they will die again. But often, when people are raised from the dead – and there are current stories of this happening in North India in Orissa (my own cousin knows someone who was dead but is now alive) - it is a sign of a greater miracle that God is doing in a particular place: taking people who have been spiritually dead and giving them new birth and making them eternally alive.
And there are signs of wonderful healings – when God is bringing deeper healing: signs of people seeing (older lady who hosted our small group in Cambridge; Derek in Holloway) Signs of hearing (Steve Cox and All Souls, Hackney).
So, coming back to our passage, the fact here that the disciples began to speak other languages is significant. They were a sign, not that Christians would always be able to speak in other tongues which other people would understand, but that now that the Spirit had come, and now that the church had been born, the good news of the gospel would be taken to every nation.
The very nature of wonders is that we can’t control them.
They are bigger than us. They belong to the Spirit.
BUT because we cannot control them we must not limit God, or say that they do not happen.
And we need to be willing to pray, because if we don’t pray, we won’t see any answers to prayer! It is not rocket science!
There was Dave in Ipswich who had never prayed out loud. And one day in his small group he did pray out loud, for the first time – a really felt prayer for the orphanages in Romania. He asked God to do something. Dave was a plumber, and that next week his boss came to him and said, ‘Dave we’ve had an appeal from an orphanage in Romania. They need some plumbing work done. Would you go?’
And when you pray – look for answers; and remember the answers.
I was talking about this with Alison and I couldn’t think of any really specific or dramatic answers to prayer recently. I mean a few years ago there was the case of £500,000 which just turned up when we needed it! But I have a simple prayer diary in which I jot down answers to prayer – and I looked through that and, for starters, I had completely forgotten two very specific healings that happened in 2012.
I would love to see more of that. And although I recognise that wonders are what God does and not what we do, I sometimes think that perhaps I am just a bit too comfortable and playing it a bit too safe: so often it is when we move to the edge that the wonders happen – well basically they have to happen if we are going to survive. And as Christians we should never be comfortable with who we are. God wants to grow us to become bigger people, more full of faith and more full of love.
And you know when you have made it – when you are prepared to be crucified because you love your enemy, because you long for your enemy to become your friend in Jesus, and because you have a total trust in God.
The work of the Spirit here is to touch the hearts and minds of men and women so that we begin to take God seriously. Think of Saul on the road to Damascus. He was a God-hater, who was touched by the Spirit; he became a new person with a new name, Paul, and he became a serious Christ-follower. He experienced immense suffering, and in the end was executed, but he also saw God do astonishing things through him.
And when we take the Holy Spirit seriously, life will get rough, and wonderful things will happen.
2. Because the Spirit has been given, God is praised
‘We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God’
There are so many things for which we can praise God:
Praise him for creation, for life, for friendship and love, for joy, for the abundance of the good things in life.
Praise him for wonderful things
Praise him for Jesus: for his birth, for what he did, for his death and resurrection, for forgiveness and his giving of the Spirit.
Praise him for what he has done for us: rescuing us from death and making us alive to him; for his love, his presence with us, the answered prayers, the unanswered prayers, his promises
There is a big emphasis in this passage on prophecy (Acts 2:17-18). Because the Spirit has come, people will prophesy. Perhaps when we think of prophesying we think of great prophets - but this talks about all people. But notice here how prophecy and visions and dreams are connected. Prophecy begins when we see this creation with God eyes; when we see other people with God eyes. And prophecy is when we tell it as it is.
And yes, on this occasion the praise was utterly spontaneous.
And there are times when it will be spontaneous.
But because the Spirit has come, God is praised – even if we don’t feel like doing so.
That is one of the main reasons we come to church: yes, to learn; yes to ask for God’s help; yes to be encouraged and to serve others.
But fundamentally we are not a learning community but a praising community: we have come to declare the wonders of God.
And it makes little difference to God whether we praise him with words set to music or with words that are simply spoken. It makes little difference to God if that music is classical or contemporary, choral or band led. What does matter is that we DO praise Him - today, maybe, as an act of obedience, but tomorrow as an act of joy.
And I would urge you in those 15 minutes that each of us put aside for God every day, to put aside some time to simply praise God. I know that it is hard – so use the words of a psalm or a prayer or a song or hymn. Or simply stop after the first phrase of the Lord’s prayer: ‘Our Father in heaven hallowed (honoured/praised) be your name’.
And if we learn to praise God, to speak of his amazing deeds with each other, and on our own, then it will be easier for us to take the risk when the Spirit prompts us to proclaim his praises to others.
Because the Spirit has been given, God's is praised.
3. Because the Spirit has been given, the offer of salvation is proclaimed.
Acts 2 begins with the coming of the Spirit. It concludes by speaking of salvation.
Acts 2:21: ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’
Acts 2:40: Peter, at the end of his speech, urges the people, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation’
On this occasion 3000 people responded to Peter’s sermon and were added to the number of those ‘who were being saved’. (Acts 2:47)
Because the Spirit has come, the offer of salvation is proclaimed to all people.
It is the invitation to call out to God, to put your trust in Jesus, to receive the gift of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.
At one level, when a person calls out to Jesus, you are saved: you have become a child of God
At another level you are still, in the words of Acts 2:47, being saved: There is so much that we still need to be set free from: from the fears which paralyse us, the habits which destroy us, and from this world-fuelled body which is decaying.
We will ultimately be saved when we are raised on that day with a spirit-fuelled body, when we see Jesus face to face and we are transformed into his complete likeness.
But because the Spirit has been given, the offer of salvation will be made to all people.
That is why the fifth aim of our vision statement is ‘to introduce people to Jesus’. We want to join in with what God is doing. It is why Alpha courses and Exploring Christianity courses are so important. It is why we need to be equipped to be able to simply ‘gossip’ the gospel.
It is also why events such as we are going to be having with Fane Conant in 3 weeks time are so important. And perhaps one of the ways that we can step out of our comfort zone is to take a risk and invite someone along to the buffet supper, to the concert or to church. And who knows? We might see wonderful things.
Because the Spirit has been given we can share in that work of declaring the good news to all people so that, when they recognise their need, they can call on the name of the Lord.
So the Spirit was given at the first Pentecost.
It was a unique event: the church was born
But because the Spirit has been given -
Wonders will happen
God's name will be praised
And the offer of salvation is made to all people.
The question for us is whether we are prepared to join in with the work of the Spirit