God Ignites the Church
January 29, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
2 Acts 2:1-41
After all the prophesies of the Old Testament and stories of the New Testament, God actually ignites His Church with the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1-41.
- The event: On Pentecost (Jewish holiday of harvest and giving of the 10 commandments), God chose to begin His Church with the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). With the roar of wind, flames of fire rested on the disciples, and they began speaking in languages of other countries than their own (Acts 2:5-13). The crowd might have come for the sound of the wind or the sight of the fire, but they stayed for the hearing of their mother language, their heart language.
- The Explanation: Peter explains this event by pointing out how this all was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy in Joel 2:28-32, Psalms 16:9-11 and 110:1.
- The Effect of Peter’s Sermon: Many in the crowd “were cut to the heart” as they realized they had just “crucified [their] Lord and Messiah” and asked “What shall we do?”. Peter told them to “repent and be baptized” and 3000 did become believers of the Gospel (Acts 2:36-41).
- Applications: In Acts 2, we see our amazing God launching His Church (creating a people for Himself with an invitation to all the world to be saved). Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we now have an accessible God who lives inside all Christians to guide, transform, and empower us to go out and speak His heart language to others. Our part is to yield our will, listen, and obey the Holy Spirit as He shows us, so that we and those around us will know there is a God who loves, values, and welcomes all of us who turn to Him.
- Why would some folks call the Holy Spirit “the forgotten God”?
- Has the Holy Spirit been meaningful in your Christian life…in the past, the present?
- What are some roles of the Holy Spirit in our lives? (Further reference: Romans 8:26; John 14:16,17,25,26; John 15:26, 27; John 16:1-15; I Cor. 12:1-7, II Cor. 3:17,18).
- If our job is to “repent” as Christians, what exactly does this mean, and how often?
- What is it about the Holy Spirit that caused the disciples to start spreading the Gospel to all the world? Would it do the same to us?
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and 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. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
– Acts 2:1-41
Today we want to continue our study of Acts by looking at the story of the launch of the church. This is it! This is the first church! Not only the first local church, but the beginning of God’s special creation – his special institution – his special way of relating to man on earth: The Church – Capital “C.” We’re on holy ground with the passage that Elisabeth read to us.
Today we will do two things:
- Tell you the story of what happened on that Day of Pentecost. It’s a long and kind of confusing passage. There are several ways to put it together in your mind, so I thought I would just tell you, as best I understand it, what happened on that day (because it really happened!)
- Talk for a few minutes about what the story of this first Church has to do with us and with our church as we prepare for launch.
We’re going to start with the story: Luke tells us the story of the launch of the first church in three parts: Three movements that I call
- The Event
- The Explanation
- The Effect
The first part is the Event. The Event happens during a Feast in Jerusalem called “Pentecost.” Pentecost was a festival that happened at Jerusalem every year. It was one of the three great Jewish Festivals that every Jewish male was obligated to travel to Jerusalem and celebrate each year. It was a big deal. The festival of Pentecost really served two purposes for the Jewish people:
- It was a celebration of the harvest. It happened just as the barley harvest was finishing and the wheat harvest was beginning. It was a joyous time. You would see wagons loaded down with baskets of the first fruits of barley and wheat – of oats and lentils – maybe some olives and figs – and the wagons, and even the oxen, would be festooned with flowers! If you kind of think Octoberfest meets the Rose Parade, you’ll probably have the right idea! Except for the Lederhosen. It was, first of all, a celebration of the Harvest.
- Pentecost was a remembrance of the day when God first gave the 10 Commandments to Israel. The word “Pentecost” means “fifty,” Because Jewish scholars had studied the chronology of Exodus and concluded that 50 days after Passover was the exact day that God had descended on Mt. Sinai in fire and smoke – and had given the 10 commandments – the beginning of the Law – to Moses. Pentecost was a day when Israel commemorated that beginning of the Law. It was called Israel’s “Marriage Day,” because it was the day when the covenant with Yahweh began.
It was Pentecost, but THIS was a special Pentecost because the Disciples were gathered in anticipation of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait and that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, so all 120 of the followers of Jesus had gathered – maybe in the courtyard – or maybe in the upper room of the house where they were staying in Jerusalem.
No one knew what it was going to be like when the Holy Spirit came:
- Would there be cosmic events like the Old Testament prophets talked about?
- Would he descend in the form of a dove – like he did with Jesus?
- Would they even know when the Holy Spirit had come?
No one knew. What they did know, was that they didn’t want to miss it. So they gathered – and they prayed – and they waited – for days.
While they were gathered in that room on the Sunday morning of Pentecost – waiting and praying – several surprising things suddenly happened:
- There was a sound. Luke says it was like a mighty rushing wind – not a gentle breeze – but a powerful roar. Has anyone here ever been through a tornado? If you’re from tornado country, you know that everyone who has been through a tornado says the same thing: It sounded like a freight train. It’s mighty. It’s sobering. It’s powerful. Luke doesn’t say they felt any wind, but the roar of wind is what they heard.
- The second thing is what they saw: What they saw was not wind or a gentle dove but, rather, they saw fire. Fire had always been a marker of God’s presence. Fire was the way he appeared to Abraham, passing as a smoking fire amidst his sacrifice. It was the way he appeared to Moses – in the burning bush. It was the way he appeared to Israel – centuries before when he gave the Law. Now they saw fire come from the heavens into the place where they were gathered. But it didn’t stay in the heavens or disappear. Instead, this fire divided. It divided into 120 separate tongues of flame. Each individual flame moved around the room until it came to rest over one of the head of the 120 believers that were gathered there that day.
- Then – as that tongue of flame descended into them and disappeared – the third thing happened: They began to speak. Not all at once, but here and there throughout the gathering. As God’s Spirit moved in them, they began not to babble but to speak languages that they did not know in any way. One brother who had never been to Persia began to praise God in perfect Farsi. A sister who couldn’t show you Libya on a map started to talk about God’s Messiah in Tebu – the language of that country. People began to speak all over the room – in Syriac – in Phrygean – in Akkadian – .in Latin. They were all praising God in languages that they didn’t know, as the Spirit enabled them to do it. They were shocked at what God’s Spirit was doing in their midst. But if they were shocked, e neighbors were astounded.
Luke tells us that staying in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost was a giant crowd of Ethnic Jews. This crowd – Luke tells us – came from every nation known to exist in the Roman Empire. They were from Everywhere! Luke lists some sample nations in the passage. They go all the way from modern day Iran and Iraq in the East – to Turkey and Syria in the North – to Saudi Arabia in the South – to Libya in Africa, and Italy in Europe in the West. These people were from all over the known world. Every nation that Jews had scattered to in the Diaspora was represented. They were all in Jerusalem that day to celebrate the Harvest and the giving of the Law.
Luke tells us that a sizeable group of people from this massive crowd ran to the house that the disciples were gathered in. Luke says they came because they heard the sound. Surely, he means the roar of the wind. They must have wondered what on earth had happened in that house and if everyone was OK. They came for the wind, but they stayed because of what they heard next. When they came to the door to see if everything was OK , they heard people speaking. It wasn’t the speaking Aramaic or Greek, the common languages that everyone could communicate in. Rather, what they heard was their own language – their mother tongue – their heart language – the language of the far-away land of their birth. They would hear a lot of what sounded like gibberish, as most of the disciples spoke other languages that they didn’t know. But every so often, some would speak up and praise God quite clearly in their own language. Soon the group of Jesus followers exited the house they had been praying in and began speaking to the crowd in the street, praising God in their various languages.
This shocked the crowd, because they knew from the accents that these Jesus-follower-neighbors had when they had spoken with them in Greek or Aramaic that they were Galileans. Galileans weren’t necessarily bad people. They were mostly farmers and fishermen. They had a reputation for being country bumpkins. Shocked is a pretty mild word for what this international crowd felt on that day. In fact, Luke actually uses the term “bewildered” – the same word used to describe the confusion at the Tower of Babel, if you know that Old Testament story. It would be like hearing Gomer Pile speak polished French. One writer said it would be like hearing the cast of Duck Dynasty break out into perfect Mandarin! So the crowd was bewildered – astonished – shocked.
That was the event. Now secondly, Luke gives us –
As is frequently the case when the gospel is proclaimed or God does something big, the reaction of the crowd was intense and divided. Some heard this, recognized it for the miracle that it was, and asked “What does this mean?” Was this just a display of spiritual power? Did it mean that God was calling the Jews to return to their homeland for the restoration of Israel? What did this actually mean? Others mocked the disciples and simply said “They’ve had too much wine.” Rather than focusing on the message that God had for them by the speaker that was in their language, they focused on the gibberish they couldn’t understand and explained it in terms of drunkenness. There was a divided response, so Peter decided to explain to the crowd what they were actually witnessing.
He explains by means of a sermon – the first one in the book of Acts. I won’t go into a lot of detail about Peter’s Sermon, other than to say that we know he was a good preacher because he starts with a joke. He has three points. All good preachers have three points!
Seriously, he starts by saying “These guys and gals aren’t drunk – it’s 9 o’clock in the morning – the bars aren’t open yet. This was the first bar joke (Amnesiac – “So , do I come here often? Dyslexic: Bra”). Then he gives a sermon that revolves around three prophecies that were starting to be fulfilled as they spoke:
- The first is a prophecy that they were seeing that very day. The Old Testament prophet Joel had said that a time would come when men and women would speak by the power of God’s Spirit – and when that happened – you needed to know that the age or epoch or season had turned and that it was time to call on the name of the Lord to be saved.
- The second prophecy was one from Psalms 16 where David predicted that the Messiah would be raised from the dead, and Peter points out to the crowd that this recently happened with Jesus.
- The last prophecy was one that really got their attention. It was from Psalms 110. It talked about a time when God the Father would say to the Messiah “Come sit at my right hand, while I turn your enemies into ottomans.” Seriously, he said “While you sit here – I am going to turn your enemies into a footstool for your feet. And those who have resisted you are either going to repent or they are going to be judged.” That got their attention, because this crowd was part of the larger crowed that rejected and crucified Jesus only 50 days before. Now Peter told them Jesus had ascended and was at God’s right hand, while God was deciding who would be saved and who would be destroyed.
So that was the explanation: What they were seeing wasn’t drunkenness. It was the fulfillment of prophecy. Now the last thing Luke gives us is:
The effect of Peter’s sermon was powerful. The crowd recognized the miracle that they had just witnessed. They recognized that it was the fulfillment of prophecy, and they recognized their guilt.
They asked Peter if there was anything they could do to be saved. Peter told them to repent – turn from their wicked ways – accept Jesus as their Messiah – and be baptized. And they did. Through the power of the Holy Spirit they did. On that one day – the 1st day of the Church’s existence – 3,000 people were added to the church.
So that’s the story of how God ignited the church – of how it was launched. Now, what does that story have to do with you and me? How does it relate to our church and our everyday lives? Well, there are a million places we could go here – this is so rich in imagery – in theology – in application.
I just want to give you three things that God does here – three things that he does for us – three things that show what an amazing God he really is. I hope these lead us to worship in our hearts.
I want to talk about how this moment – this story – should impact the way we live our lives as individuals, and as a church. So three things God does here:
1. God launches his Church!
On the day that Israel celebrated the beginning of their religion – on the day that they celebrated the harvest, the ingathering that God had given them, – God launches his church. He started a new thing. This is actually what all of this – this Bible story – has been leading up to. It’s been about this – God creating a people for himself. That’s what the four gospels are all about. All the miracles that Jesus did – all the teaching – was a display of his authority and truthfulness, so that we could listen to his invitation to repent and be saved. His death on the cross – his resurrection – his gift of the Holy Spirit – they all lay the groundwork for him to build a people for himself – and that people is the Church. Even the Old Testament – with all its images and prophecies – was really leading up to this moment where the church is created.
The disciples don’t even know it yet, but God is about to demolish the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. He’s about to remove class distinctions and make rituals obsolete. So that everybody on earth – regardless of their gender – regardless of their ethnicity – regardless of their class – regardless even of the things that they have done – no matter what they have done – no matter what you’ve done – has the opportunity to call on the name of Jesus and be saved.
God is creating a new people for himself. Even the delay in judgment is about that. It’s been 2,000 years since Peter said “Jesus is at God’s right hand, waiting for him to turn his enemies into a footstool” We hear that and we think “OK, why hasn’t he done it then?” Scripture tells us that through the church, God has opened the way for the Gentiles to come to him and be saved. Paul tells us that Israel is going to be hardened – they are going to resist Jesus – until the full number of Gentiles have come into the church – until every last one that God has called will come to him. Then Israel is going to recognize Jesus and repent. And God is going to judge. But it’s his mercy in creating a new people for himself that includes Gentiles and sinners like you and me that has caused God to delay judgment. Listen, on the day that Israel called their “marriage day” to the Lord God created what he would call the Bride of his Son Jesus – the Church. God launches his Church
2. God launches his church with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
On the birthday of the Church God gives the church the best birthday gift ever – the Holy Spirit.
You have the Holy Spirit living inside of you, and we have the Holy Spirit operating amidst us. Do you have any idea how significant that is? I don’t think most of us do. I was reading a book this week, and the author made an interesting comment: He said most of us think of the Holy Spirit about the way we think of like our pituitary gland. We’re like it’s in there – somewhere – it does something. If I really wanted to know about it, I could look it up on the internet. Basically we think “The Bible told me that the Holy Spirit’s in there – and that if I don’t mess with him, he won’t mess with me!” I thought “That’s true” – don’t we tend to think that way? I know I did, for years. The Holy Spirit just wasn’t very important to me. That’s not the way that Jesus sees things at all. In John chapter 16, Jesus is having a conversation with his disciples about the Holy Spirit, who he calls “the helper.” Look at what he says:
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. – John 16:7
Do you understand what he just said? He just said they would be better off with the Holy Spirit inside them than they would be with Jesus beside them. Now let me ask you a question: What kind of nonsense is that? Does Jesus really mean that? Does he really mean that it’s better to have this pituitary gland presence in me, than it would be to have Jesus right here by my side? If I had to pick between the two – hmm – because I’ve got some questions for Jesus – right? Does he really mean this? Yes, he does! The passage shows us why it’s better! Think with me for a minute. What happens in the story when the Holy Spirit arrives? What do they see? Fire. And then what does the fire do? It divides. It divides and it comes to rest on each and every one of the 120 disciples. Then what happens? Each and every one of them begin to do ministry as the Holy Spirit gives them utterance. Each and every one of them begin to do ministry, because each and every one of them have the Holy Spirit inside them.
That’s why the Spirit’s presence is better for us than Jesus. If Jesus was physically here on earth like he was with the disciples, he wouldn’t be beside you to answer all your questions. Why not? Because there was only one of Him. But last time I checked there were about 2.2 billion Christians on this planet! 2.2 billion of us who would like to ask Jesus a few questions! So you would only get, like, 2 nanoseconds with him.
The Holy Spirit means that God is inside us and always accessible to us any time we need him. He can give us the guidance and enablement to do ministry like we never could without him. Here’s something else – don’t miss the imagery here: In the Old Testament, God often appeared to his people as fire.
- When he gave Israel the Law, he appeared as smoke and fire.
- When he led Israel, he appeared as a pillar of fire.
- When he appeared in the temple, it was as a burning light.
- When he first appeared to Moses – the very first time God spoke to him – what did he appear as? A burning bush – a bush of unconsuming fire.
You always went to the one location of the fire to hear God speak: Moses went to the mountain. Israel followed the pillar of fire. You had to go to the temple to worship. What did Moses do at the burning bush? He went to it and took off his shoes because it was holy ground and God spoke.
Notice the reverse is happening here in Acts: The fire is coming to them. It’s dividing, and it’s coming to each of them. God’s holy presence is in them. They are now the temple of the Lord, where his burning presence lives. They now have the pillar of flame inside them to guide them.
They now have God’s presence to help them see right from wrong. Each of them becomes a tiny burning bush – a holy place where God’s presence dwells – and they immediately go out and begin to speak God’s word. That God is no longer saying “Come to Mt. Sinai – come to the temple – come to hear Jesus.” He’s now sending his presence to his people and saying “Go” and sending them to others.
It’s not just them. It’s you. You have the same Holy Spirit in you that the disciples did in them. If you will yield to the Holy Spirit – if you will invite him to be active in your life – and seek his counsel – and listen to him – and obey – not play around – not make excuses – not compare his plan with your plan to see which will be most comfortable – if you will truly yield to the Holy Spirit – he will give you victory over sin – he will guide you – and he will empower you. He will take you places you never thought you could go – and some you never wanted to go to – but he will empower you.
Obbie Clemmons says so, if you heard her testimony last week! Obbie knows what she’s talking about. I have received more letters and phone calls from that dear lady – at just the right time.
I remember one day last year – it was the roughest day of ministry we’ve ever had – Kelley spent the morning crying while I was at work – she cancelled her lunch plans with Obbie – and no one had a clue what we were going through. About 10:00 am while I was in the thick of things at work, Obbie calls Kelley and says “I’m coming over for a cup of tea.” Never been to my house before. Not exactly invited – just comes over. Waltzes into my kitchen – drinks her tea – makes small talk with Kelley for about 30 minutes – and then turns to her out of the blue – and says “And now I think it’s time that we prayed for John.” They have a Holy Spirit prayer meeting, right then and there. My last words to Kelley as I had left the house that morning were “I really need God to somehow tell me that everything is going to be OK.” After the prayer – Obbie started to leave – and called Kelley over to the car – and hugged her, and while she was doing that, she whispered in her ear “You tell John I said that everything is going to be OK.” Just the right words – just when we needed them most.
Listen: Don’t you want God’s presence to be active in your life like that? Well, you have the same Holy Spirit in you – we have the same Holy Spirit in our Church – that Obbie has in her – that the disciples have in them. And if we yield to him, he will empower us.
3. God Speaks our language
This is so important for us to see: God speaks our heart language here. Notice what God is doing in this passage. He’s not just communicating – he’s accommodating – he’s welcoming – he’s coming to others. In this story, the real issue isn’t just communication. Most of the people in this crowd would probably have spoken one of the two common languages: Greek or Aramaic. That’s how they could communicate with the disciples. That’s how Peter could preach to them all at once.
So the point isn’t just that God is communicating with them. He could have done that already. Rather, the point is that God is communicating with them in their heart language. He is accommodating them. He is adjusting to their heart at their need.
This God, who has already reached out to Israel and revealed himself to them through the Law, – this God, who has already sent his Son to live among us as a visible representation of how he calls us to live – this God, who had given the life of his Son so that we could be saved, – is now making one more adjustment. He is sending his people out, speaking the heart language of those he is calling to himself. He is saying to them “Come as you are – there’s no language to learn – no barriers – you’re welcome.” God did that for us. That’s what we are called to do to others.
When I thought about that this week, my heart went to one place and that is our hospitality ministry. This ministry that is headed up by Jim & Joanne Salisbury and Mike & Ruth Ann Lanio where we work at greeting our guests – and making them comfortable – and establishing a relationship with them. As we work toward launch and define more and more the kind of church that we want to be, that ministry is so important because it reflects this piece of God’s heart. The part that says “Come as you are – you’re welcome.”
We want each and every visitor here at Perry Creek Church to know that there is a God who values them deeply – that welcomes them – that speaks their heart language – and that invites them to come as they are.
Many of you have volunteered for that ministry already. I think they have 37 people in their rotation! So that’s great! I know that they are going to have a short time of training next Sunday at 9:30am. They are going to watch a video, and talk briefly about how to get really good at welcoming our visitors.
We are thankful for the Salisbury and Lanios’ work and for their team! I know it’s their heart for us to know that hospitality is everyone’s ministry here at Perry Creek Church. We should all be willing to accommodate – to welcome – to make the first move in letting people know that they matter to God. And the passage shows us why that’s important: It was Pentecost. If you read the Old Testament carefully, you will see that in the end, the first Pentecost – where God gave the Law to Moses – resulted in the death of 3,000 people. Moses came down from the mountain and before they even had the rest of the law, they disobeyed and 3,000 of them died. But on this Pentecost – the Pentecost where the church was born – Luke tells us that 3,000 people came alive. 3,000 people found the God who started his church – with the power of the Holy Spirit – and spoke their heart language – to call them to life.