Unique Assembly - Pentecost
The giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples
It was the day of Pentecost. It was the time of the year when all good Jews would take part in a glorious time of celebration. Pentecost had been in existence for centuries and was a time when all Jews would come before God making their offerings of Thanksgiving for the wheat harvest of the year.
The word Pentecost comes from the root word for fifty and literally is fifty days after Passover. Sometimes it is referred to as the feast of weeks or the week of weeks, because seven weeks is 49 days and the next day is Pentecost.
This celebration came to a climax fifty days after the Passover when the Jews celebrated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt at the Exodus. Now people from all over the known world would journey to Jerusalem to take part in this great harvest celebration.
Let us allow ourselves to become a part of the festivities.
About us we can see children running up and down the street playing and shouting as they go along.
A couple of boys are cutting in and out of the crowd as they play tag.
Merchants are lining the streets, trying to peddle their goods. We can hear them call, "Get your lambs; buy your bullocks for the great sacrifice of thanksgiving. Get your fresh vegetables, fruits and grains at a good price." "Sir? Sir? Wouldn’t this colourful fabric make a beautiful shawl for your wife?" The whole hustle and bustle of commercial enterprise was there.
We see women walking behind their husbands carrying their grain sacrifices on their head. We marvel at both their strength and grace. Various carnival activities from all around the world are going on about us. Perhaps what is most amazing is to hear all the different languages of the people who have travelled many miles to make their sacrifices.
Down at the Temple, long lines of people are waiting to offer their gifts to God. Off to the side we see an old man with a long grey beard, and a scroll in hand. He is telling the story of how Moses went up into the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments on the Day of Pentecost many centuries prior.
Then we hear the reading of the Law: Thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour; and the list goes on.
As all these exciting events are taking place we wonder how anyone could miss out on a happening such as this.
It is then that we recall that not everyone is celebrating. Down the street, a short distance, a small group of followers of Jesus have gathered in an upper room. They are waiting as Jesus had commanded them. We know that something glorious is about to happen.
Let us look in on this small gathering. We can tell that there is something unique about this group.
In Acts 1:14 we read: All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.
It had been ten days since Jesus had ascended into heaven. Jesus had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come.
For those ten days they spent their time in prayer.
Can you imagine spending ten straight days in doing nothing but praying?
Some of those gathered had been with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and could not remain awake a few hours. Jesus has to continually awaken them. Yet this group was uniquely assembled in prayer. They wanted so much to be at one with Jesus, that they were willing to spend the time in continuous prayer.
Then we find that this group was unique in that scripture says they were all assembled in one place. Can you imagine what it would be like to come to church one Sunday and discover that every church member and adherent was present?
This says something powerful about this group. These words go beyond just faithful church attendance. It demonstrates that these people needed each other. They needed the love and support that the other believers could give.
The text goes on to say that not only were they gathered in one place, they were gathered in unity. That reminds me, I may have asked you this before, but do you know what kind of car these apostles drove? It was a Honda. I thought you folks knew your Bible! The KJV version says they were all assembled in one accord!
Just think of the lack of unity outside of that room. Most of the people in town were there for religious reasons, yet they hardly agreed about anything.
The Sadducees were fighting with the Pharisees over resurrection.
The religious lawyers were fighting over the meaning of the law and on and on we could go.
Outside that room people were in disagreement about everything. There was a lack of harmony. Yet the Bible emphasizes the fact that this small group were gathered in unity.
What was the basis of their harmony? They were different in many ways. What enabled them to lay aside their differences and become one? We can identify at least five reasons:
- They loved Jesus;
- They loved each other;
- They had a desire to share the story of Jesus;
- They were willing to give every thing they had for the gospel, including their lives;
- They longed to see Jesus again.
And when I hear of churches where there are difficulties because of bickering and backbiting it is because they have forgotten the main things and started dwelling on the non-essentials!
Outside that small upper room, life went on as usual. But inside, something beautiful took place.
Unknown to the rest of the world an event was about to occur that would change the course of history. As these believers were gathered in one place, in one accord, praying, the Bible says that there was suddenly a sound, like the blowing of a violent wind from heaven 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 as they began to speak in other languages.
Acts 2:4 reads, "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit."
Notice the exciting effects the Holy Spirit had on their lives. Yes some of them began to speak in other languages but something more important happened.
Their lives were changed forever.
When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they received a power that could come only from God.
Peter is a perfect example of what can happen to a person when they yield their life to the Holy Spirit.
Remember Peter? It was Peter who was always losing his temper. It was Peter who once cut off the ear of a man. It was Peter who swore up and down that he would never deny Jesus. Yet in a moment of fear he denied Jesus three times.
But when the Holy Spirit came upon Peter, this person who was once afraid and followed Jesus at a distance, took the lead and went out of the small room with courage and boldly preached Jesus, dead, buried, resurrected and coming again. His life was changed forever because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
We sometimes forget that Peter was not alone on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is not just for the leader. He is for all believers. On the day of Pentecost, 119 other disciples’ lives were changed. They gained strength and began to witness, many of them in other languages.
We need another Pentecost. Instead of being afraid of this third person of the Trinity we need to give ourselves over to him and allow ourselves to be used. The early church saw the outpouring of the Spirit as they were gathered in unity and prayer. Until we leave our differences at the door and focus on the main things, we will be powerless.
Is there someone in this church, or anyone anywhere that you cannot pray for? Is there someone you will not speak to? As Christians we have the Holy Spirit but when we have unconfessed sin in our life we shackle the Holy Spirit and render ourselves impotent.
For the disciples they discovered, through that Pentecost experience, that the Holy Spirit is God living among them and in them and it had a profound effect at once on their powers as witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus. They felt it; they knew it and it was obvious to all who encountered them.
This is possible for us in the church. We too are able to experience the living God now his grace, his love, his power, his forgiveness BECAUSE of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the interpreter of God to us, the communicator, the revealer, the one by whom we can hear God addressing us today. It is by the Holy Spirit that Jesus is not only the Jesus of history, the man who walked in Galilee and Judea two thousand years ago, but the CHRIST of experience now, making an impact on the twenty-first century.
The Holy Spirit makes the Church’s ministry possible and your witness and my witness too.
There would only be a minimum result from preaching and teaching, however eloquent the speaker, without the co-operating presence of the Holy Spirit.
There would be little from the breaking of Bread and the outpouring of wine in communion without that Spirit, and virtually no communion with God.
So in Baptism.
The Holy Spirit is God at work; it is the power, the transforming power of God in action. Don’t try and define the Spirit more precisely. Look for its presence. Where the Spirit of God reigns there is freedom, joy and peace.
When the crowd came and saw the 120 do you remember what their reaction was? “They are drunk, that’s all!” I expect it’s been a while since anyone mistook our salvation for intoxication. From these 120 men and women who were filled with the Holy Spirit the world was changed. I wonder what he could do with us?
The disciples may well have spoken in different languages that day but the miracle wasn’t the different languages the miracle was that they were courageous enough to speak in any language - and they all spoke the same message… and those filled with his Spirit all speak the same language of love. May God grant us the grace to receive it and let it have free reign in our lives that whatever we say and do may speak of his love and concern for all.