Week Commencing Sunday 31st May

‘God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.’ Romans 5:5

 

Today is Whit Sunday. We remember Pentecost when the early church was baptised with the Holy Spirit.

 

 

Hymn.

 

O God of burning cleansing flame
Send the fire
Your blood-bought gift today we claim
Send the fire today
Look down and see this waiting host
And send the promised Holy Ghost
We need another Pentecost
Send the fire today
Send the fire today
 

God of Elijah hear our cry
Send the fire
And make us fit to live or die
Send the fire today
To burn up every trace of sin
To bring the light and glory in
The revolution now begin
Send the fire today
Send the fire today
 

It's fire we want for fire we plead
Send the fire
The fire will meet our every need
Send the fire today
For strength to always do what's right
For grace to conquer in the fight
For power to walk the world in white
Send the fire today
Send the fire today
 

To make our weak hearts strong and brave
Send the fire
To live a dying world to save
Send the fire today
Oh see us on Your altar lay
We give our lives to You today
So crown the offering now we pray
Send the fire today
Send the fire today
Send the fire today

 

William Booth, adapted Lex Loizides.

 

 

 

 

Reading. Acts 2:1-21

 

Sermon. ‘Pentecost’

 

Pentecost is a historical fact. It comes in line with other facts about Jesus and his ministry. We remember Pentecost as we remember Christ’s birth, his miracles, his death on the cross, his resurrection and ascension. Acts 2 describes something literal. Luke was a historian. In his Gospel-Luke’s Gospel- he wanted to give an accurate account of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Now in the book of Acts, he writes a further account of the continuing action and activity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

What we read of here in Acts 2 is the early church baptised with the Holy Spirit.

 

This had been prophesied in the Gospels. John the Baptist had spoken of it: “I baptise you with water” he said “but among you stands one you do not know” (John 1:26) He was referring to Jesus, as he was in John 1 verse 33 “ the man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptise with the Holy Spirit”. Acts 1:4 reports how the Lord had told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit.

 

What happened? We read that suddenly there was a sound “like the blowing of a violent wind” (2) It came from heaven and filled the whole house. Flames like fire settled on each head. Wind and flames.

 

The wind probably symbolises power. Jesus had promised them this in Acts 1:8 for witness. It does appear that the main function of the baptism with the Spirit is to enable God’s people to witness in such a manner that people are arrested and attracted by it. That power is God’s presence within them, God baptising- literally drenching them with his presence- that generates the power in their lives.

 

In his book “Joy Unspeakable” Martin Lloyd Jones cites one of DL Moody’s letters:

‘I began to cry as never before, for a greater blessing from God. I kept on crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit…I can only say, God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.”

 

Moody saw many become Christians during periods of Revival in America, in this Country and in other places. The wind symbolises power.

 

The flames represent purity. This would fulfil John the Baptist’s earlier words in Luke 3:16 “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire” The context there is one of purity; a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the language of refining in Luke 3:17. Jesus explained the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).

 

Certainly when I read of accounts of powerful workings of the Holy Spirit in times of Revival I’m struck by the sense of God’s holiness. How men and women are humbled by the Spirit on account of their sin, before they experience the joy of the Spirit that comes with assurance.

 

Duncan Campbell writing about the effect of revival on the Isle of Lewis (1949-52) states: “Deep conviction of sin has laid upon the people and many have found the Saviour- as many as 20 in 1 meeting. Men who were never near a meeting were suddenly arrested by the Spirit of God and had to give up work and give themselves to seeking after God. Places of worship are crowded and meetings continue until the small hours of the morning… the agony of godless men whose consciences awoke was terrible to see. Men have been found walking the roads at night in distress of soul; others have been found during the day praying among the rocks….Whole districts have been completely changed. Social evils have been swept away as by a flood. A wonderful sense of God seems to pervade the whole district.”(‘Revival in the Hebrides’)

 

Warner writes “In an age of moral relativism, when everyone considers it an absolute right to live according to their own values, it will be a sure and certain sign of the work of the Holy Spirit when many begin to come under the real conviction of sin. What is more, there is nothing more deeply unfashionable in the Church than to speak of judgement and hell. Nothing less than the Spirit of God will be able to bring our decadent society such a life-changing recognition of the seriousness of sin and the urgent need for heartfelt repentance” (Rob Warner. ‘Know the Spirit’)

 

Flames of fire that represent the Spirit’s purifying work.

 

So then, what does Pentecost signify?  (‘What does this mean?’ 12)

 

What Luke describes in verses 1-13, Peter goes on to explain.

 

First, the crowds are seeing the dawning of the New Age. The believers declaring God’s wonders in foreign languages (4, 8-11) is, Peter says, the fulfilment of Joel’s prophesy from the Old Testament. Joel had prophesied that the Spirit would be poured out in the last days. Peter explains that what the crowds are seeing is Joel’s prophesy coming true. As they see the believers prophesying- declaring God’s wonders- they are actually seeing the arrival of “the last days” prophesied by Joel.

 

Pentecost, then, marks the beginning of this period of time known as the last days. These last days stretch from Pentecost through to when Christ returns “the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord” (20). Now it is within that period of time- the last days- that all have opportunity to call on the Lord and be saved (21). We are in the last days today. We live in that period after Pentecost and before the second coming. Sometimes “the last days” is called the Messianic Age or the New Age.

 

So then the New Age has begun. Ever since Pentecost all who hear the Gospel and respond to it; all who repent and are baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. They too will receive the gift of the Spirit. This is the challenge Peter gives to the crowd at Pentecost, verse 38 “Repent and be baptised every one of you…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” This is a promise for the crowd who hear, their descendants and for all who are “afar off”- that includes people like you and me- all who put their faith in Christ:

 

When I was 16, the minister of the church where I attended (Woodside Baptist Church, Croydon) took a group of us to a ‘Good News’ family camp that summer. I had no expectation about it at the time. But the camp services made an impression on me. There was fervent praise of God and a palpable expectation that He was at work in people’s lives. There were people (in leadership but also from within the congregation) who gave ‘words of prophesy’1 by the Holy Spirit, answered by others whose needs had been identified by these words (personally unknown to the speakers) and finding freedom in healing, assurance of forgiveness and reconciliation with others. Although impressed, I felt I personally couldn’t enter into it all, but wanted to. During the week I spoke with 2 of the camp leaders about it, and they suggested I pray to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. They asked if I had anything I need to get right with God. I remember at the time admitting an obsession with listening to records! They then prayed for me on the basis of Jesus’ teaching to receive the Holy Spirit “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened.” If earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” ( Luke 11:13b). I have not experienced anything like it before or since. I was physically drenched in the presence of God.  But most importantly, beyond the manifestations of that encounter, was its life changing nature. From that point I had a hunger for the Bible, a book that started coming alive for me, coupled with a strong desire to pray. The discovery about biblical meditation, especially the Parable of the Vine (described in last week’s update- 24th May), came soon after and established devotional patterns for future years. I was baptised in water that same year and returned to school- the Sixth Form- happy to talk with others about Christ. Within two years I knew God had called me to be a Christian Minister in the future.

 

(11 Corinthians 12:10; 14:25. See also Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p1049-1061.)

 

The Lord baptises with His Spirit at the beginning of and throughout the Messianic Age- even for those “afar off” like you and me.

 

Further, this blessing is potentially for all. In the Old Testament the Spirit came upon just a few individuals. But now the blessing is bestowed “on all people” (17b) The Spirit will come upon your own sons and daughters, young and old, servants, men and women (17, 18). These verses indicate that there are no social distinctions when it comes to the reception of the Holy Spirit. No one is excluded on the basis of sex, age or rank.

 

Neither are there national distinctions. The crowd was made up of God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven (5) and converts to Judaism (11). Luke spends some time here listing the variety of countries represented there. This fact speaks of the generosity of God. He will baptise with the Spirit universally. He does not do this against a person’s will. There are conditions as verses 38 and 39 indicate. There should be repentance and faith in Christ. There should be seeking and praying, a thirsting for more of God’s presence. But the blessing is universal in the sense that it is available now to people of every tribe and nation.

 

The fact that there are no social distinctions or national distinctions speaks of the Lord’s intent to establish a unified Church. A new unity believers have through the Spirit. A unity transcending race, nationalistic and denominational barriers. No revival has stayed within a single denomination; neither old nor new church structures. When the Spirit of God is in revival flood, he breaks the banks of restrictive human organisations. Party spirit is exposed and set aside.

 

Peter goes on to show the gift of the Spirit is poured out by Christ himself (22-36) He speaks here so much of Jesus that it is clear the promise of the Spirit is rooted in Jesus ministry. Christ, he says, was accredited to us in signs and miracles (22) He was crucified but God raised Him from the dead (24). The disciples were witnesses of the fact. Jesus ascended- exalted to the right hand of the Father. Jesus pours out the Spirit which is what they see and hear (33).

 

So it is Christ you must go to to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. You do not seek the gift for the experience of it. You cannot pay money for it as Simon the magician tried to do (Acts 8:9-24) Jesus is the baptiser. The Holy Spirit is self- effacing. His job is to bring Christ and us together:

 

‘When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximise its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you dee it properly. This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Saviour… The Spirit, we might say, is the matchmaker, the celestial marriage broker, whose role is to bring us and Christ together and ensure that we stay together.” (Jim Packer ‘Keep in step with the Spirit’).

 

The activity of the Holy Spirit would be essential for all that Christ had called his disciples to be and to do. Christian life and ministry would be impossible without the empowering of the Holy Spirit- whether for purity, witness or unity. And the 3000 crowd who watched and came to believe needed the gift of the Spirit for the same reason. And so today we can never just look back at Pentecost as just a historical event. It has significance for us today too. Just as it has for all believers who live in the last days.

 

The 3000 who came to Christ that day were new believers, at the beginning of their Christian lives, and they needed to be baptised with the Spirit to go on and live the Christian life. Have you come to a saving knowledge of Christ? Have you repented of your sins and put your faith in Him? Christ is alive, ascended, ready to pour out His Spirit on you. Don’t delay, receive of the promise and He will fill you to overflowing.

 

But there is another way of looking at Pentecost. Not so much focusing on the 3000 new believers, but to see the Spirit fall on the disciples: the existing believers, and see Pentecost as a model of empowering for the Church. Dr Martin Lloyd Jones traces other examples of the Spirit falling on the Church through Acts- including these same disciples (Acts 4:31) The Church needs to be continually empowered by the Spirit. He describes how the Church throughout history starts off well, empowered by the Spirit but then loses her power and becomes ineffective. The Church becomes worldly, imbibing the surrounding thought forms of the culture. The Church becomes institutionalised. But then he says, you read of people who become dissatisfied with this, and like the first disciples they pray and persist in prayer seeking God for another outpouring of His Spirit, and wait on His timing. Suddenly the Spirit falls on the assembled company. And you have revival.

 

“The Christian church would have been dead and finished centuries ago and many times over were it not for revivals. This is the true meaning of “Revival”. It is God pouring out His Spirit on an assembled church or company, or many churches or countries even, at a time. What He did at the beginning he has done again. When the life has gone he has sent it again; when the power has vanished he sends it again. That has been the history of the Christian church from the first Century until today” (M. Lloyd Jones ‘Joy unspeakable’).

 

Revival is happening throughout the world:

The Washington Post reports ‘While Christianity may be on the decline in the United States, the world is becoming more religious not less…The centre of Christianity has shifted from Europe to the global South. A century ago, 80% of Christians lived in North America and Europe, compared with just 40% today. In 1980 more Christians were found in the global South than the North for the first time in 1,000 years.

Today the Christian community in Latin America and Africa alone, accounts for 1 billion people. Over the past 100 years, Christians grew from less than 10 % of Africa’s population to its nearly 500 million today. One out of 4 Christians in the world presently is in Africa…estimated to grow to 40% by 2030.

Asia is also experiencing growth as world Christianity’s centre has moved not only south, but also east. In the last Century, Christianity grew at twice the rate of the population in that continent. Asia’s Christian population of 350 million is projected to grow to 460 million by 2025. The global religious wildcard is China. Even today demographers estimate that more Christian believers are found worshipping in China on any given Sunday than in the United States (May 20th 2015 ‘Think Christianity is dying? No, Christianity is shifting dramatically’)

 

Korea is a great example of revival. In 1900 there were only 50,000 Christians in Korea. In spite of communist persecution, revival broke out in Pyonyang in 1907. By 1990 there were 12 million Christians in South Korea. Over 20 churches are planted every day. Every morning at 5.00am about one million South Korean Christians pray for their country and for revival to spread throughout Asia and the rest of the world.

 

I put it to you that this is what we need to pray for ourselves, our church and our country.

……………………………………………………………….

 

Hymn.

 

 

The Spirit of the Lord
Is on me now,
Poured out like oil over me,
For the Lord has called
And anointed me
To preach good news to the poor.
To bind the broken heart,
To free the captive soul,
Open blind eyes,
Make broken people whole.
And I know this is the hour
Of His favour and His power,
And His Spirit is upon me now.

 

(Graham Kendrick from ‘What Grace’ 2002. See You Tube)

 

A Prayer for Revival. 
Forgive us lord where we your people have grieved your Holy Spirit. Where your church has become institutionalised and worldly, merely aping the thought forms and activity of the culture. By your Holy Spirit come to us afresh, purge every evil and wrong doing, flood the dry ground of our hearts with the living waters of your Spirit. Renew our first love for You. That we may be full of courage and devotion as those first believers were, and gladly declare Your Name and ways.

Father God. We live in such an age where people wander aimlessly to find something to give them meaning and life. What they seek they do not find, because they are not finding it in the true source of life itself-You. Father, today we come to you to ardently asking for a revival of souls in this age.

We thank You for the work of revival you are carrying out through many parts of the world, but we pray for fresh visitations of your Spirit in our country. We are grieved at how many in their pride have turned from You and your ways to idols of their own hearts and minds, and pursued self- will at all costs. We see the degeneration that results. Have mercy Lord. Convict many that they may turn from the anguish and alienation of sin to the joy and assurance of knowing You live in them by the Holy Spirit.

Father, You say in Matthew 7 to come and ask You as our Father for what we desire. Lord, we desire for our friends, families, and neighbours to be open and to seek and find the truth of the authentic source of life- You. We pray Your Holy Spirit be poured out onto the people You have made. We pray you would speak into the people You crafted with Your hands. Father, You say in Psalm 139 that You crafted each and every person in the hidden place in the palm of Your hand, and so we pray that truth will be brought to light in each and every person You have crafted. It is only by Your Spirit that truth can be truly known (John 15:26) and so we implore this day for such revival of souls, of nations, and of hearts.  Amen 

A prayer to receive the Holy Spirit (This is also a lyric, you might wish to sing)

Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me; Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me: break me, melt me, mould me, fill me- Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. (Daniel Iverson).

A prayer about coronavirus.

We continue to pray for all who are engaged in the care of those who are suffering from COVID-19, and for the families of all bereaved by this virus. We also remember the families of NHS & Care Staff who have died in serving others. We pray for those whose employment has been lost or is threatened by this outbreak. And we pray for those who live on their own. We think of parents and children coping with lockdown. We also pray for teachers at school with children eligible for schooling. We pray for our Government and a God-given wisdom in their decision making.                 

Hymn.

 

 

1 O Breath of life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and pow'r;
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.

 

2 O Wind of God, come bend us, break us,
till humbly we confess our need;
then in your tenderness remake us,
revive, restore, for this we plead.

 

3 O Breath of love, come breathe within us,

renewing thought and will and heart;
come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us,
revive your church in ev'ry part.

 

4 O Heart of Christ, once broken for us,
'tis there we find our strength and rest;
our broken, contrite hearts now solace,
and let your waiting church be blest.

 

5 Revive us, Lord! Is zeal abating 
while harvest fields are vast and white?
Revive us, Lord, the world is waiting,
equip your church to spread the light.

  Bessie Porter Head

 

 


 

 

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened.” If earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13b).

 

Doxology

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work among us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations for ever and ever. Amen