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Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The Spiritual Power We Need Today - Pentecost 2022

I’ve been looking forward to Pentecost Sunday for many months.  The Story of Pentecost comes from Acts chapter 2.  Jews celebrate a harvest festival seven weeks and one day (50 days) after Passover.  In Jesus’ day, this religious festival drew thousands of people from all over the world to the Temple in Jerusalem for a time of celebration and religious devotion.  Pentecost is also the 50th Day after Easter.  For Christians, it commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to fill Jesus’ followers and marks the official birth of the Christian Church.  Let’s read the story.

Acts 2:1-3
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 

Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 

This traditional picture of Christian saints from antiquity often shows a halo around their head (like the example of saint Thomas pictured here).  This halo was an artistic representation of the Holy Spirit's radiance shining around the believer.  It hails back to this Pentecost story from Acts 2.  It might seem out of place for us to picture Christians today with halos around their heads.  However, it would not be off base.  All believers of Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:4-13
And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12 They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

13 But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”

What is the Holy Spirit?
The Scripture says is verse 4, “Everyone Present was filled with the Holy Spirit…”

People might ask:  "What is the Holy Spirit?"  However, the Holy Spirit is not a What, but a Who.  The Holy Spirit is not a thing but a person.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God.  In Christianity, we believe there is One God, revealed in Three Persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  It is easy enough for us to think of Jesus (the God the Son) as a person because Jesus lived on earth in a body.  We might also be able to think of God the Father as a person, because God often spoke to people in the Bible (and speaking is something a person does).  Unfortunately, God the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, is harder for many peole to think of as a person.  But the Holy Spirit is a person too.  This is a mystery of the Trinitarian God is too complex to tackle in this blog.  However, lets start with the concept of the Holy Spirit as being a personhood of God.  

The Holy Spirit is God's Spirit.

The Holy Spirit of God descended upon and filled the Christians at Pentecost.

Furthermore, every Christian who believes in Jesus Christ and follows Him as Lord is filled with the same Holy Spirit.  So, Christians today are the same in this respect as the Christians we read about in Acts.  We all have access to the wisdom, guidance, and power of God's Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit empowers Christians to be witnesses for Christ.  What evidence of of the Holy Spirit’s power do we see in the believers in Acts 2:4?  The Holy Spirit empowered them to speak in other languages. 

Why did the Holy Spirit empower Christians in Acts 2 to speak in other languages?  Was it just a fancy parlor trick to show off?  No.  It had an important purpose.  The Holy Spirit empowered Christians in Acts 2 to speak other languages because there were people in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival from all over the world—people who spoke all these different languages.  God wanted these Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to share the Good News about Jesus Christ in their languages.  This was the miraculous power of God.

Now, if you've ever tried to communicate with someone who doesn't speak the same language, you know how difficult it can be.  Even if you now a few words of their language and they know some of yours, you end up using broken language and playing a game of charades to try to get them to understand.  It's exhausting.  And even if they understand your language as a second language, they may not truly hear the full heart of your message--especially if you are talking about something as deep and heartfelt as spirituality.  That's why God wanted the people gathered from all over the world in Jerusalem for Pentecost 2,000 years ago to hear the Good News that Jesus came to save the world from sin in their own native tongue.  He wanted them to here the story with their heart as well as their heads.

Speaking in Tongues
Some denominations make a whole thing out of speaking in tongues.  It is often even a regulars element of weekly worship for many Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God.  It may seem weird if you've never heard someone speak in tongues in church.  It sounds like gibberish, but it relies on a tradition that sprang up early in the New Testament.

There are two different kinds of speaking in tongues that we read about in the New Testament.  The first is what we read about in Acts 2.  It is where the Holy Spirit supernaturally enabled some Christians to speak in other earthly languages they had never known before for the purpose of communicating with people who needed to understand.

God Empowers You!
There is also another form of speaking in tongues in the New Testament--speaking in heavenly or angelic languages (a language that is not understood or spoken by people on earth).  Paul refers to this kind of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14.  He says that sometimes the Holy Spirit enables people to speak in tongues like this and that the same Holy Spirit will enable another person to supernaturally interpret the language so the rest of the church may be edified by it.  That is why it is customary for denominations today who practice the gift of speaking in tongues during worship will also include an interpreter who will translate what has been spoken in tongues.

I would add that there is another sense in which God's Holy Spirit can enable Christians today to speak in tongues.  God empowers you to speak to the people in your sphere of influence.  You see there are people in our world who only you can reach.  Because of the relationship you've formed with them--whether they are your friends, your relatives, your neighbors, your coworkers--they will listen to what you have to say about Jesus.  They won't listen to me--even though I am a preacher.  They don't know me.  They don't attend my church.  They may not even be a Christian and don't care what a Christian preacher says.  However, they know and trust you.  They will listen and understand what you say.

Furthermore, there are many different professions that have their own way of speaking.  Teachers have their own lingo.  So do medical professionals and construction workers and many other professions.  So if you are a teach or nurse or construction worker, etc., you know the language that may reach people in those professions.  You can speak to their hearts in ways a preacher like me may not be able to.  God has empowered you by His Holy Spirit to be a witness for Christ.

God’s Holy Spirit empowers every Christian to be a faithful witness.  You may not feel able.  You may think, "I'm not a speaker.  I'm too shy.  It's too uncomfortable to talk about my faith."  Or you may worry you might not know the Bible well enough or have concerns that you won't know the answers to people's spiritual questions.  

You know, you sound a lot like other people in the Bible who were reluctant to answer God's call.  I think about Moses when God told Moses to go tell the Egyptian Pharaoh to let the Hebrew slaves go free.  Moses complained, "I'm not a good speaker.  My tongue get's twisted.  I think You've chosen the wrong guy."

God's response to Moses is much the same as it is for us today.  He says, "Who formed the tongue in your mouth and taught it how to speak?"  If God can empower Moses speak to Pharaoh and David to defeat Goliath and Peter to preach at Pentecost, God can certainly empower you to speak about your faith to your friends, your family, or your coworkers.

God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips those He calls. 
God doesn’t need you to be able.  He just needs you to be available.
God can enable anyone to serve.  He can even make a dumb man speak. 
In one place in the Bible, God even made a donkey speak.
He can surely empower you to be His witness & to make a difference in this world for His glory!
The real question is:  Are you available?

Apathy in Our World
There's a serious problem with apathy in post-COVID America.  People just don't want to work.  How many o fyou work for a business that just can't find enough people to work?  Every restaurant and business in town has help wanted signs up in the window.  And even though employers are raising wages to new record levels, they still can't find enough labor.

And churches are struggling too.  Not only is there trouble hiring staff, we can't find enough volunteers either.  In my own local congregation, it's like pulling teeth sometimes to get people to volunteer in the nursery, or teach Sunday school, or serve dinner on Wednesday nights.  And the harsh truth is, the Church's influence will either grow or shrink based on the number and faithfulness of the volunteers we can recruit to serve.  And right  now, my church's ability to minister to people in need is shrinking because we do not have the volunteers we desperately need.

The world needs Jesus now more than ever.  Turn on your TV and what do you see?  Crazy people walking into schools and shooting innocent children and their teachers, shooting up hospitals, doctors, nurses...  It doesn't matter what gun laws you try to pass or what new politician you elect to office, this is not the real answer.  The world needs Jesus and Christians are called to share Jesus with the world.

This is no time for Christians to apathetically stay home and be silent. 
This is no time for us to shirk our responsibilities to serve wholeheartedly.  
This is no time to forget the greatest commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.  And to love our neighbor as yourself.
The world needs Jesus NOW more than ever. 
Kids need Jesus NOW more than ever. 
Youth need Jesus NOW more than ever. 
Adults need Jesus NOW more than ever.
And Romans 10:14 says, “How can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”
Will you be the person who tells people about Jesus by what you say and what you do?

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