And unexpectedly there came from heaven a sound as violent wind coming and it filled the house where they were sitting (Acts 2:2)
We speak about Pentecost as the church’s birthday. On that first Christian Pentecost God’s Holy Spirit came down and brought the church into being.
The resurrection had happened and was made known. But the mission Jesus had spoken about had yet to begin. The disciples were told to wait for power before going out in the name of the Lord.
On that day mighty acts were manifested in dramatic form as the Spirit came as fire and wind and enabled the disciples to speak in other tongues. They became the church, with power to worship, and power to tell the world of Jesus and how he changes and transforms lives. And the church does the same today.
When the Spirit comes he brings holy power, and if we are receptive to him we can experience it.
He brings a spirit of praise and worship, he moves our hearts to long for more and to long that others come to Jesus. The mighty Wind of God is blowing through the worldwide church again.
What happened that day was unexpected but not unprepared for. The disciples were gathered together in one place, the remaining eleven and some others including Mary the mother of Jesus. The Spirit as they were waiting prayerfully in unity, in obedience to the command they had received from Jesus to wait until they received power from on high.
By their faith and prayer they were connected to the source of life, to God, and his power flowed into them.
Think of electricity. Electricity flows and brings power, that is sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Electric currents can have an impact on the atmosphere around them, which is why people don’t like to live under electricity pylons. When lightning strikes a current passes through the air looking for a route to each the earth. It is powerful even dangerous; yesterday thunder and lightning brought a power cut.
Our homes are powered by electricity. We connect to it through the grid, even if we have solar panels.
When we fit a battery to a clock or radio and switch it on electrons flow from negative to positive, and the current flows the other way. Electricity is our basic form of power. The Holy Spirit is a person and not a force but his power flows into us as we connect to the power supply of God.
One word for an electrician is a sparkie. I remember once when we were moving into what became our family home in Edinburgh the electric system was antiquated and with a child’s curiosity I turned on an electric fire and sparks flew out into the room. When the Spirit came at Pentecost he was visible as a flame. There’s a hymn that begins, ‘like fireworks in the night the Holy Spirit came’. There was a mighty rushing wind or the sound of that, as flames of tongues that rested on the disciples. These were the physical manifestations of a spiritual presence. The disciples began praising God in tongues they did not speak; but they were speaking in languages that had meaning to those who did know them. They were not speaking meaningless babble but uttering words from God.
Today the Spirit inspires meaningful praise and prayer. At times he prompts people to sing and speak in tongues like this, and often this leads on to flowing words of praise to God in words which we do understand.
I am grateful to people who years ago introduced me to these things, including people in Wholeness through Christ.
Pentecost isn’t something totally apart from the other bits of the Jesus event. It is one result of the cross and resurrection, where Jesus enabled the coming of the Spirit. Above all the Spirit connects us to Jesus. He brings about faith in the Saviour.
When the Spirit falls or comes down upon people, he brings them to repentance and a holy desire and hunger for the things of God. How today we need just that again.
We are at the 70th anniversary of the start of the revival in the Hebrides where beginning from Barvas in Lewis began three years in which vast numbers filled churches and were convicted of their sin and found the Saviour. The revival fires burned brightly and powerfully for three years. Many souls were added: it was like another Pentecost.
Before the Lewis revival, two elderly sisters had prayed faithfully for God to revive their island. Their key texts were: ‘Wilt thou not revive us again’ from the psalmist and from Isaiah, ‘I will pour out water on him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground’.
Revivals like that in Lewis had happened in Scotland from time to time from the 1740s. I believe that God will give these things again if we seek him with fervently.
In the south of Turkey there are fires, flames that never go out, because they are fed by a seeping source of methane gas that comes up from the rocks. When our hearts and minds and churches are fed with God’s Word regularly the fire of the Spirit will not go out because there is a source feeding it.
Even if it may seem that the flame of God’s fire has gone out, the wind of the Spirit has not ceased. We must pray that the flames will be fanned and will burn brightly again. May our prayer be, Lord revive your church again.
On that Pentecost day Peter stood up and gave the first Christian sermon. He quoted Joel, a prophecy from Scripture that was being fulfilled. God’s Spirit was being poured out upon young and old. Each of us and any of us can be led by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, equipped by the Spirit, and inspired by the Spirit to say things that are of the Lord. Your daughters will prophecy, young men will see visions and old men will dream dreams.
We can perhaps learn from the Quakers that anyone can get up and share something in church they feel led to by the Spirit of God. I would be so pleased if today people would say, I have something from the Lord to share to the church.
I have seen this happen in the Church of Scotland; in the congregation of the church we were married in.
Pentecost is about the mighty power of God. It is also about proclamation of the gospel to the whole world.
On that first Pentecost Day the whole world was present representatively. The day of Pentecost was one of the major festivals in the Jewish calendar. Jewish males were expected to make their way to Jerusalem and to present themselves before the Lord whose presence was felt and recognised there. That is why Jews from all over were in Jerusalem, on that day, from the countries where Jews had settled.
One of the great features of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is the representation of delegates and representatives from across the world. In May this year some of them told of their situations. One lunchtime I sat next to a minister from Kenya who told me that the Presbyterian Church there is expanding because of more people coming to faith. In the debate on World Mission matters a bishop from Pakistan, Rt Rev Alwyn Samuel spoke about the situation of Christians in his country under the threat of persecution: many of them experience poverty but it is the sword of Shariah law that is their greatest threat. The whole assembly stood in silence in solidarity with persecuted Christians worldwide.
The Jewish Pentecost took places 50 days or seven weeks from Passover. That is why it is called the Feast of Weeks in the Bible. It was primarily a harvest festival, a dedication of the first-fruits of the harvest. Our Pentecost is 50 days after our Christian Passover, Easter. We continue the harvest idea but in a deeper sense. There is a harvest of souls.
Jesus Christ rose as the firstborn of the new creation. The first Christian Pentecost ended with a harvest of souls, when Peter preached about three thousand people received Jesus.
The purpose of the church is still that; to tell people about Jesus. In a post-colonial world the church still needs to.
The message is still that we need a Saviour. Jesus can meet our every need to be right with God to know God and to live with God forever in the kingdom of heaven.
So the church has its great commission, and should not forget it. The message of Jesus needs to be shared, in many ways, including individually. The world of websites and social media allows for so many opportunities to say who were and what we are about. The gospel can be spoken, posted, tweeted and retweeted. Perhaps you could write something for the website, your testimony, and give a word to share.
Equally our acts of witness are seen in the acts of kindness and care for others that people see in us and I know that your faith is evidenced in that.
Another word that strikes me from all this is plenitude. Many souls were added. The gospel passage today is about Jesus giving the Spirit: as an abundant well, a source, rivers of living water flowing out of the hearts of men and women.
Earlier in the gospel Jesus had said that ‘whosoever drinketh of the water that I will give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into eternal life’.
A well of water is always a valued resource in countries where reservoirs and piped water are not readily available. Scotland has some famous wells which brought a supply of fresh, healthy water sometimes with healing properties. One not all that far away is Clootie Well in Munlochy.
When Jesus said these things the Spirit had not been given for Jesus had not yet been glorified. His cross and resurrection bring the gift of the Spirit. The bring the gift of the Spirit of Jesus, an ever-flowing stream of divine grace able to refresh and renew and meet our need.
God’s mercies are in plentiful supply. Jesus made that plain.
‘Whosoever drinketh of the water that I will give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into eternal life’.
These whosoever passages are so valuable: God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life; whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of God also confess before the angels of God; and as Peter in that first Christian Pentecost said, whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Indeed there is an abundance of divine grace and power. If we recognise that Jesus is Lord and Saviour and call upon him, we will receive his saving and renewing power. The Spirit will become in us an indwelling source of grace.
The power and love of God are given in abundance for our spiritual and physical healing. May our openness and longing for God be genuine and genuinely expressed: and may our prayer be ‘Come Lord, and revive us again’.
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