Day of Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 1:8 Sermon
May 15, 2005
GOD’S POWER IS HERE
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
126 "Come, Oh Come Thou Quickening Spirit"
130 "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine"
129 "Spirit Of God, Descend Upon My Heart"
338 "Eternal Father Strong To Save"
TEXT: “(Jesus said) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
There’s a television commercial that was frequently aired within the last couple of years. The commercial starts out with a scene where a man is in the kitchen, lying on his back, and working under the kitchen sink. The man’s son, who I would guess is about 8 years old, is standing there watching. Then the dad says to his son, “Would you go and get me the pipe wrench with the red handle from my work bench?”
“Sure dad,” the kid replies. And then it shows the kid going out the back door of the house into the night. There’s a bit of dramatic music in the background. There’s a rustle in the trees and an owl hooting, and the kid jerks a bit. It’s kind of spooky.
But in spite of his fear, he resolutely heads for the barn to get his dad’s pipe wrench. He slowly opens the big door into the dark abyss of the barn. But then the kid turns on the light switch, the light comes on, the work bench area is all lit up, and the kid breathes a sigh of relief.
The commercial ends with the announcer saying, “Always there when you need us.” The ad is, of course for NPPD--the Nebraska Public Power District.
Power—that’s what the electric light company provides for us. Power is generated from a number of locations; then it is fed onto high tension lines—those great big trellis-like structures we see dotting the landscape (sometimes nicknamed “jungle gyms”). From there it is fed into a substation grid, where transformers drop the voltage and the power gets divided up and fed out into the community. Those lines from the substation are on a pole close to your house. Then you’d see a transformer on that pole which takes that high voltage and drops it to normal household current, and it gets fed into your home and the homes of your neighbors.
As you stop and think what those power lines we see are operating, it fairly boggles the mind. In my house, this sermon is being written on my computer, which operates on electricity. The light on my desk is electric. My refrigerators and deep freeze contained the food I just had. My clothes are clean because of my washing machine and dryer, both of which operate on electricity. I know that I rely a lot upon the electricity in my home.
But I also know that same power is used elsewhere. Just south of where I live is Lincoln General Hospital. In their ICU, I would imagine that there are a number of people on life support which is operated by electricity. The lighting and monitors in the operating room are crucial during surgery. The hospital relies heavily upon electricity, and they even have their own back-up generating system should the external power fail.
And then, just a little further south of me is the Nebraska State Penitentiary, and the electric chair. With just one throw of a switch, that same power which feeds my house and the hospital, now is used to end someone’s life.
In our text for today, Jesus says the words: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”
This reading is the chapter just before the Epistle lesson for today, which is the account of Pentecost. This is the promise that Jesus makes, and are the final words he speaks before he ascends into heaven. Ten days later, this promise is fulfilled.
Jesus emphasizes the word “power” here. When the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit would take place, the disciples would receive power. I believe that using electricity to illustrate this might help us understand the concept of what Pentecost means, and how the Holy Spirit operates.
To start with, one of the primary functions of the Holy Spirit is conversion. Paul, in I Corinthians 12, 3 puts it very bluntly: “…no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” That’s more than just mouthing words too; to say it, believe it, and accept it takes the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, there would be no Christians, no salvation, no church, no hope, nothing at all. Without electrical power, we could stand and flip a light switch all day and never get the light to come on.
In our Epistle lesson for today from Acts 2, we have the beginning portion of what is known as “Peter’s Pentecost Sermon.” Peter was preaching a very strong message to some very intense critics. The Jews gathered there accused the disciples of being drunk and babbling. They couldn’t understand those languages they were speaking.
But Peter sets them straight, and points out that this fulfills Joel’s prophecy. And then in the section immediately following our Epistle, Peter continues in Acts 2, 23: “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” And then in verses 37-39 he continues: “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.”
Think about it for a minute. Those cold-hearted, stubborn Jews were cut to the heart when Peter pointed out their sin. These were people who couldn’t be budged with a stick of dynamite. And yet, something happened, something so dramatic, something so powerful—almost like a light coming on and shining in their souls.
The Holy Spirit was at work through Peter’s message. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that touched, and subsequently melted the ice-cold hearts of those Jews. As stubborn and obstinate as they were, they were no match for the pure power of God. The Holy Spirit was so powerful, that the Bible tells us that about 3,000 people came to faith. That’s quite a day’s work!
Another good example of the Holy Spirit’s miraculous power can be seen in the lives of the disciples themselves. If we look at our Gospel lesson for today, John 20 verse 19 says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews…”
Here were these same disciples, hidden behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jews! And now we add the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to their lives, and what happens? These same Jews who once terrified the disciples are now the people Peter is addressing in his sermon! These are the people who were cut to the very core of their hearts!
The Holy Spirit did something miraculous here. He took a bunch of cowardly men, and turned them into the greatest, most fearless witnesses of the Gospel that have ever existed. They had been given the power that Jesus had promised them before he ascended into heaven. And now they had the task before them of building the Christian Church.
Pentecost was never intended to be a “once only” event. Certainly the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost in the manner it happened was a unique event. It is known as the “birthday of the Christian Church.” But the work of the Holy Spirit continues on today just as it did so long ago. The coming of the Holy Spirit is a daily event in the lives of Christians, and in the life of the Christian Church.
For many of us, our Pentecost came when we were baptized as children. By the application of water connected with God’s Word, we received the Holy Spirit just as God had promised. Even as infants, we were given a personal saving faith in Jesus our Saviour through the power of the Holy Spirit. The power to create faith in even the smallest child is one of God’s greatest miracles.
I find it sad when people claim there are two baptisms—a water baptism, and a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately when people believe that there are two baptisms, they wind up feeling frustrated because they haven’t received some sort of special sign of a separate Spirit baptism. The Bible clearly teaches that there is only one baptism, and that the water and Holy Spirit baptism are one in the same.
For a lot of other people who came to faith later in life, the Holy Spirit was at work here too. Through the Bible, God’s living Word, we find the Holy Spirit at work. As God’s Word is being preached and taught, we can see the results of the Holy Spirit’s power. Faith isn’t a result of some preacher’s eloquence, or some teacher’s syllabus. It is the pure power of God at work through His Word. Man dare not take credit for God’s work.
In a similar sense, you often hear people claim that they made a decision to be a Christian, like it was something they themselves set their mind to do. But again, this is an example of man taking the credit that belongs to God. The Holy Spirit alone is responsible for bringing people to faith.
When the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, several things happen. First of all, we become conscious of our own sinfulness. Our pride and selfishness are laid bare, and we see just how imperfect we are. We can see how sin has dictated our actions time and time again. We can see how our lives have been on a course of destruction. We can see where we are in desperate need of God’s help and forgiveness.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit shows us Jesus, and gives us faith to believe in him as our Saviour. We can see just how much God loves us and wants us to be a part of his kingdom. God lets us know that nothing we can do—no acts of kindness or mercy will ever be enough to meet his standards; we need the righteousness of Christ to do that. And through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we have that. Our record is clean, and we stand fully forgiven before God our righteous judge.
And finally, the Holy Spirit continues as the motivating force in our lives. The Holy Spirit continues to work in our hearts through God’s Word. We come to church to hear and learn from that Word, to speak to God in prayer, and to praise him for all that he has done. The Holy Spirit continues to provide hope and comfort in our lives, and give us strength day by day. The Holy Spirit also leads us to want to do God-pleasing things with our lives, so that we live for him, and not just for ourselves.
It’s the Holy Spirit that gathers us together as a Christian Church. Christians in kindred spirit gather together for worship, learning, prayer, praise, and works of service. Christians remember the Sabbath Day by doing this very thing. Worship becomes an important function of life, like gathering at the table for a smorgasbord. God richly blesses the lives of his children through each other.
At the beginning of my sermon, I mentioned that the electric power that is in my home and that is keeping people alive in the hospital, is the same power that is used to put people to death in the electric chair. The same power is used for two entirely different purposes.
This illustrates a warning for us as well. In Matthew 10, 28 Jesus says: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
The one who can destroy both soul and body in hell is, of course God. Naturally God doesn’t want this to happen. But for those who reject God, for those who reject his saving love in Jesus, for those who dam up the Holy Spirit’s pipeline in their lives, then a fearful judgment is all that remains. If this happens, it is because of a person’s choice to reject God and accept the consequences, and not because God is some sort of a sadistic monster just waiting to torture somebody.
Suffice it to say, that everybody, and I DO mean everybody, will experience God’s power in one way or another—whether it be through the Holy Spirit during one’s lifetime, or after death on the Day of Judgment.
The power of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a very positive thing however; and with that power active, we never need to fear God’s wrath on the Day of Judgment.
When I was studying for this sermon, one author listed some very positive attributes of the Holy Spirit. Allow me to share this with you:
The Holy Spirit is like a breath that blows away the dust and makes everything clean.
He is like refreshing cool water to a parched throat.
He is like a cleansing bush fire that burns away all the thick undergrowth so that something new can rise out of the ashes.
He is like a potter who starts with an odd-shaped lump and moulds and shapes it into something beautiful.
He is like a renovator who uses what is already there and strengthens, refreshes, and revitalizes what’s there.
He is like a loving spouse whispering into an ear reassurance of love and support.
He is like a parent guiding and helping a confused child.
He is like a tour guide who points us in the right direction to see things that we would otherwise have missed.
He is that gentle tap on the shoulder that makes us realize, “Hey, that’s me that needs a new beginning and new direction.”
He is that fierce shaking that wakes us up, and reminds us that there is more to life than earning money, and relentlessly pushing ourselves until we are tired, stressed, and depressed.
That is what the Holy Spirit does—he revitalizes, renews, refreshes, empowers, creates, he reminds, he guides, and he comforts the church—those in the church, and those whom he touches outside the church.
I compared the power of God the Holy Spirit with the electric power that basically operates our country. It’s always there, silently doing its work. We can’t see it or smell it, but its there just the same. It is so ubiquitous that we often forget its there. We turn on a light switch, or the television, or the computer without realizing what we’re doing. The use of electricity is something that has become so automatic for us.
Much the same can be said about the Holy Spirit. He is an integral part of our lives as Christians. He gives us power, and strengthens our faith. Through him, our lives become reflections of God’s will and purpose. And we also know God’s purpose for mankind—to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; because he has told us in I Timothy 2, 4 that he “wants all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.”
On that first Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit empowered those disciples to speak the truth boldly. He also gave them the gift of tongues, or speaking in other languages so they could communicate the Gospel throughout the world.
Today, the Bible has been translated into every known language throughout the world. The Gospel is being communicated like never before. The Holy Spirit’s power is going forth and being carried out in every culture.
The Holy Spirit has worked, and is working in our lives as well. The Holy Spirit wants to work in children, parents, single people, the elderly, you name it. He wants to work in you, and in all of us to be a church that is living, renewed, refreshed, and revitalized to do his work. He wants us to be a church, ready with the gospel, so that all people will come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour, and therefore live in the warmth of God’s presence both now and in eternity.
The power of the Holy Spirit is, like the NPPD commercial says, “Always there when you need him.”