Sermon: "By The Power of the Holy Spirit"

Seventh in the "Beyond These Walls" series.
Delivered June 4, 2006 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7

Theme: God is at work powerfully preparing people to hear long before we talk to them, answering our prayers, giving us power, giving us the right words, and then changing lives as they encounter Jesus Christ. God is at work because God is passionate about people hearing this news. God is passionate about the harvest.

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Sermon Text: Acts 2:1-21

Today we celebrate Pentecost. It's the birthday of the church and the reason why we consider it the birthday of the church is because the followers of Jesus Christ were assembled and they wanted to do what God had called them to do, but they weren't yet able to be all that Christ intended them to be. And it was when the Holy Spirit came upon these followers of Jesus Christ that they then had the power; the inner working inside of them to allow them to be the church that Jesus called them to be; to be light in the world, to be salt in this earth, to be ambassadors, to be people who can proclaim about Jesus Christ, to be people who can live in a way that reflects his glory in this world. All of that happened and was worked out in them because the Holy Spirit came upon the church, and it happened on a festival day, a Jewish festival called Pentecost. And that comes from the word fiftieth, because it was the fiftieth day after Passover and so they were gathered together when certain events happened that I am going to read about in Chapter 2, but the events that I am going to read about didn't happen in a vacuum.

Certain things happened before that, so before we go into Chapter 2 if you want to open up your Bibles and turn to Chapter 1 of the Book of Acts there are a few things that I want to point out there.

The first thing is, is that they were gathered in Jerusalem and praying because Jesus told them to wait for something that God would do. In Verse 4 of Chapter 1,

...Jesus says, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

So Jesus tells them that the kingdom is coming, that God is going to work in ways that they don't understand, at times they don't understand to bring his full kingdom to the earth, but their part in it is something they shouldn't step out and get into until God first did a work in their life. And so, they waited. In Verse 14 of Chapter 1 tells us that they all joined together constantly in prayer along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus and with his brothers. So they devoted themselves constantly to prayer.

Now one of the things that I think we ought to do whenever we read a passage is to try to imagine what that was really like because it is so easy to read a passage like this and think to ourselves this could only be done by these super heroes of the Old and New Testament. It does not relate to my life. So when we hear that they are constantly in prayer, the first 25 years I thought about this I was thinking that they walked in to a room, they shut that door and came out ten days later. But that is not how things work. First of all, there were men and women in the group and so certainly they did not sleep there. People went home; very possibly because of responsibilities in the family they went home or they went to get food if they weren't fasting for the whole ten days and even during their prayer meeting they took times that they actually had sort of like a business meeting.

Verses 15 to 26 of Chapter 1 they start to talk about the fact that they need to replace Judas and so they break with just praying and have a discussion and then wait upon God for some guidance to select another apostle. All of this is going on for ten days. The thing that we know for sure is that every time they would gather, they were gathering to pray and they weren't going out to do and start anything for God until God first worked inside of them. They were obeying the command of Jesus and so they devoted themselves constantly to prayer. And then the events that happened in the second chapter come about and so I would like to now read from Chapter 2, beginning at Verse 1.

"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 them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own 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."

Let's pray. God we thank you for this your word and pray that as we think about it together our eyes and our hearts would be open to what you want to teach us through the Holy Spirit, for it's in Jesus name that we pray. Amen.

It's the Pentecost festival and Jewish people from all over the known world are assembled there. People from every kind of language group and city and they are assembled there and all of a sudden something happens upon this group that is meeting for prayer. Now they might have had big ideas about what God would do, but I am almost certain that they did not expect what actually happened. So they are praying saying, "God do in us what you have promised to do. We are still waiting." And as they are praying about that and about the issues in their lives and the calling of God all of a sudden the sound like a violent wind comes and what appears to be tongues of flame come over the heads of the people that are assembled there. It's an incredible miracle. It's something way out of what they were envisioning happening and then they begin to speak in other tongues. People hear about this and although we know a lot about this passage, there are little details that we don't have a very clear idea about. Do the people come and are they still up in the room and they hear the noise coming out of the room or is it that once they started speaking they filed out and went out in to the city streets? We can't be sure, but people start to assemble and they see who these people are.

So chances are they have gotten out in to the street at this point and they hear the mighty acts of God, praises of God, the things that God has done in history. They hear it in a language they understand. Now what probably happened there is that people would draw in close hearing all of this uproar and they would get close and notice that one of these people was actually speaking in their language and then the person next to them would say, "No, I am hearing this guy over here. He is speaking in my language, but they shouldn't know our languages. These are all Galileans." There is always a chance, it's not my personal interpretation, but there is always a chance that they were speaking and when you grew close you heard all of them speaking in your language and then the person next to you is hearing all of them speak in another language. We don't know how this miracle happened in any great detail. What we do know is that it's a miracle and it's a miracle of communication done by the Holy Spirit, because no matter how this happened, the Galileans who were assembled there could not have made this happen. And I think what is important for us, the church, to recognize at this point is that the miracle that culminates this day is a miracle of communication.

The church was born declaring the wonders of God to people who had never heard the truth about Jesus Christ. Now the church could have been born a number of other different ways. It could have been born by the people who already believed in Jesus being initiated through some secret rite intodeeper understanding. There are many religions that have these sorts of secret rituals. That's not how the church was born. It could have been that the people who believed in Jesus Christ would have come and heard a great teacher and with their knowledge and understanding would have deepened and when they came to this deep understanding that would be the birth of the church. That's not what happened. What happened was they were assembled, they were praying, power came on them and they proclaimed Jesus Christ. That is the birth of the church. And so, what that means is that the climax of that day is not when there are tongues of fire over the peoples heads, but its when people came and heard the gospel in a language they understood and when Peter stood and preached out to them about Jesus Christ and thousands came to believe, that is the purpose of Pentecost, that is the climax of what God was doing.

God is passionate about communicating Jesus Christ to the world. And so we are focusing on that celebration remembering that today. Communicating Christ with life changing power is still one of the primary things that the Holy Spirit is doing with us. On the one hand the Holy Spirit is in us to conform us to Jesus Christ; to work inside of us and to transform us so that we look like Jesus, we start to become what the Bible calls a holy people, a people that learns how to act rightly, to love rightly, to handle themselves in a way that reflects the character of God. That's one thing that the Holy Spirit is doing. The other thing the Holy Spirit is doing in us is empowering us to be able to share this message about Jesus Christ with the world. So here we have the group and they are assembled and they pray. Then they receive power; then they proclaim Jesus Christ and then lives begin to change all around them. That miracle is still happening right here. When we think about the miracles that God can do through the Holy Spirit we sometimes think of the big sound and light shows; something that is spectacular and that's good to be able to expect God to do big things in this world, but we can't neglect that the foundational work of the Holy Spirit is to work in the church so that it becomes a pure people and proclaims Jesus Christ to the world. So God is doing that. The Holy Spirit is still at work through us and I want Bev to come on up and share with us how God has worked through her life.

(Bev Wolf speaking) Good afternoon. When I heard that the Franklin Graham festival was going to be hosted by Baltimore this summer I was really excited. I had a real desire to be on the infield counseling people who wanted to make a decision during the festival, but to do that I had to take the Christen Life and Witness course that was put on by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and one of the main purposes of that course is to make Christians more confident and able to share their faith with others. Well, that course has really helped me in that sense. The course met once a week for five weeks and then you had a little bit of homework afterwards. You had to review the lesson and a Bible study that reinforced the lesson and memorize some scriptures, which I was actually able to do.

The third week though they added a little bit to the homework. During the class time they handed out pamphlets that was called "Steps to Peace with God" and they gave us an assignment to go out and share the pamphlet that week with someone. Now these teachers have taught for a while so before we could even decide what friend from church we were going to get to sit down with us and pretend they weren't Christians and listen to us, they said we couldn't do that. So, then you start thinking okay who am I going to share with? God, who am I going to talk to? And I started praying that day and thinking and prayed for a day and thought and the next day I was driving in my car talking to God some more because you know there are people in my life that he has been talking to me about talking to and so I said, "God, how about so and so?" No. "Well, you have been talking to me about so and so, how about that?" No. And so by the time I got home it was really clear; there was no clarity involved. I had no idea who he wanted me to talk to.

When I got to my house I ran down to check emails and there was an email there from a lady from my WOW group, that's our Women on Wednesday Bible study that meets during the school year, and she had sent out a mass email to everybody in our small group and this lady Helen does not attend here on Sundays, but she has been coming to WOW for two years, because she was invited by a neighbor or hers, a member of ours Nancy, and she has become very comfortable at WOW and didn't want our meetings to quit for the summer. She wanted to continue meeting because she was just loving learning more about Jesus and she just didn't want it to stop. So part of her email to us read: "I really want to continue the journey that I am on. I want to learn more about our Lord. I feel like I am still getting there. I don't need a break from learning about Him. I really don't know where I stand. I have never really said that I have accepted Christ in my life and I am not sure whether I can say that yet, but I want to get there." I am not stupid; Helen was the person that I needed to share with.

So I called her up and we talked about a time that I could come down and sit down with her. So a couple of days later I got to her house and we sat down and talked for a few minutes and then I pulled out my pamphlet, Steps to Peace with God and it's got words and its got pictures and its got scriptures and we were going through the steps. When we got to the part that said, where are you, are you on the side of people with sin and rebellion and separation or are you on God's side with forgiveness and peace and abundant and eternal life? And she looked at me and she said, "I am not on Gods side. I am still over there with the people." Well, the next question I asked was, "Will you accept Jesus Christ right now?" And she looked at me and a tear went down her cheek and she said, "Yes." And so we sat there and we prayed together and then she prayed the sinner's prayer and we just hugged and rejoiced in the decision that she had made.

That is not the end of the story. Later that day, another email comes out to our entire small group and part of it read, "Today I was asked a question that I have never been asked. Will you receive Jesus Christ right now? My answer, yes I will. After this I had to say a prayer and I prayed it out loud. Imagine me, praying out loud. Today I said it, Praise God." Well in communication with Helen since that time she has related to me that both she and her husband have noticed a change in her. One part of the email says, "I have been reading the Bible every day since Monday. It's so funny that I never felt so committed before. I read it even if it means that I am still up at midnight and I know my baby will be up in a couple of hours." Part of another one reads, "Thanks again for last Monday. My husband mentioned to me yesterday that I seemed different. I know God was waiting for me to take this step. I really felt his power." Well, I am constantly amazed at how God works. He began this good work two years ago and a faithful member who invited Helen to WOW. He continued in making her comfortable at WOW and placed her in a small group that began praying for her regularly and then he moved her in to another small group where she continued to be drawn to him through his word. Then He made it clear when the right time was to ask, will you accept Jesus now? God provided the Franklin Graham festival with its Christian Life and Witness Course, a great tool for giving us the confidence and the words to share the good news with people that he puts in our path. It's exciting to see how God uses the whole community of believers here together to do his work in his time. Thank you.

Prayer, power, proclamation and sharing about Jesus and then life change, which is a new expression of God's power. God is at work and he was at work for a particular two week period, particularly in people whose names were Bev, because I got a phone call from a different Bev, Beverly Pugsley who shared with me another story that had just happened; it had just happened so she got on the phone and immediately called me. The BGE man had visited to work on her hot water heater. She liked him. He was sort of a nice guy; he had a nice disposition and all and he is getting ready to leave, going out to the truck and she realizes that she hasn't talked to him about Christ and God wanted her to do that. So she follows him out to the truck and says, "Do you know anything about Billy Graham?" The guy said, "No, I don't." So she starts talking about the Franklin Graham festival and things like that and starts to hear a little bit about his spiritual background. He was from the Catholic Church, but wasn't religious. He had not gone to church in years. His parents did not go to church. But he shared with her while they were talking that he had been praying and asking God to show him the way to get closer to you. So Bev went inside and got the same booklet that Bev Wolf used, walked out and sat on the back of the truck and shared Christ with him and right there he committed his life to Jesus Christ. She saw such a hunger in him that she went inside and got another little booklet, a followup booklet that talked about some of the basics of continuing to walk with Jesus and she sat down and for another few minutes shared that with him as well. It had nothing to do with this church. It had to do with Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit had been at work. The prayer in this case was not just Bev's, but his own and then God worked so that he could hear the truth about Jesus Christ and then a life changed.

A guy named Jeff came to this church on Easter and he doesn't come to this church normally, but he did share with me later a story about what happened to him. He went to go see, The Da Vinci Code movie and he wanted to see it so he would have things to share with other people that were seeing it and when he came out of the movie he realized that he had left his wife's cell phone in the movie theater and so he had to go back all through the crowd and had to struggle with getting back inside. Finally somebody allowed him to go back in and a woman named Michelle helped him find the cell phone. God is powerful enough to even use mistakes, because he started talking to her about the movie and he said, "Do you that there is so much in this movie that isn't true. Have you ever heard the truth about Jesus?" And she said, "No, I am not sure I have." And so he shared with her right there in the movie theater between showings of the movie and she came to faith in Jesus Christ.

God is at work. God is at work powerfully preparing lives long before we talk to them, answering our prayer, giving us power, giving us the right words and then changing lives as they encounter Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit coming intotheir lives. God is at work because God is passionate about people hearing this news. God is passionate about the harvest. I shared that the Holy Spirit came on the Sunday of the festival of Pentecost. What I didn't make clear is that Pentecost is a harvest festival, even though it happens at this time of year in that climate you can have a harvest this early. It's a harvest festival. It was called the Festival of Weeks, the Day of First Fruits where you offer the very first part of your harvest and it was also called The Feast of the Harvest. And so the Holy Spirit came on a day that celebrates harvest.

Now remember what Jesus said to the 72 that he sent out. He said this, "When Jesus was still in ministry, he sent out 72 people and he said, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers in to his harvest field." Pentecost was the fulfilling of that prayer. We right now are the fulfilling of that prayer. So what this means for us is that the church can never be a place, just a place, where people gather to worship. We want to worship. We want to worship with all of who we are. We want to do our best. We want it to be pleasing to God, but that can't be our only reason for existence. We can't just be a place where people get good teaching to deepen in their walk with God, although we do want good teachers and offer good classes and good small groups. It's a way that people constantly grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, but that is not all that we are called to be. When we assemble, we assemble as workers in the harvest; day laborers. We come together to celebrate what God has been doing. We come together to encourage one another and to learn from each other, because we are engaged in what God is doing out in the world, which is calling people to Jesus Christ, as we pray, as we care and as we share with them.

And so that's why today during this worship service, we are going to pray for people who are going out to serve Christ in all kinds of different places in the world. In the News and Views there is a list, there are people going to Alaska, Haiti, Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi, Mississippi, Illinois, darkest deepest Baltimore, Romania, Pittsburgh; we've got people who are giving of their time to specifically engage in what God is doing out here. We've got plenty of people who are also engaged in doing ministry within this church, but right now I want to pray for those who are going out. So if you are one of these people, going to be involved maybe in the Franklin Graham festival or BBS or any of these places, come on up because we want to pray for you right now. Just line up here and face this direction. Keep on coming. I want to give you a charge before we pray for you and then in a moment after I give them a charge I will have them stand up and you can kind of lay hands on the people in front of you and we will make a chain and lay hands on some of the people up here so we can all participate in this prayer.

We are praying because we recognize in the biblical passage that we just studied that is it only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can do the ministry that called has called you to. You have given of your time, you have prepared, you have taken a step to serve in some kind of way, to learn more, to share, to care, but it begins with the Holy Spirit working first inside of you. So the first thing I want to say is to pray. God has called you to pray just like these disciples were waiting upon God, pray because it's going to be God working through you. The second thing is to remember that as God works inside of you he is working out the character of Jesus Christ. You can't go without character and part of that character is that you are going to love and care for the people that God has called you to. This is high stuff. This is holy and whether you do it here with children, whether you do it with adults or halfway around the world, it is glorious to love and then you are called to share a message. God will show you the right opportunity and the right way and it won't always end up like the stories that we just shared, but you are called to share. What a message. God who created us has made a way to pull us back together. He has dealt with the breach. He has dealt with our sin and he has dealt with us and he can deal with everybody else too. What a message. So we want to pray for you. So please stand and if you want to come up the aisle or whatever, we are going to pray for these folks right now. I will lead us.

Gracious God, we thank you now for these people who have given of themselves to go and who are going to go and serve you in some way. God we are thankful for all the saints who served in this church in various ways, but right now we are focusing on those who are stepping outside the walls and God we pray that you come upon them with your Holy Spirit to work out Christ in them and so that they might pray faithfully that they might care for the people that you put them in contact with and love them and that they might share the truth about Jesus Christ with power, life changing power and so we look for their ministries to have life changing power in other people's lives and protect them, bring them back to us with great stories just as when Jesus sent out the 72, they came back with stories, we look forward to the stories of your grace and your triumph worked out in their lives. For we ask this now in Jesus name. Amen.

© 2006, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145