Sunday 9 June 2019

Pentecost Sunday, the day the Church celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit to the believers in Jerusalem, which was effectively the birth of the Christian Church.

The Apostles had been told to stay in Jerusalem and wait.  Jesus pointed out they would have to wait for God to give them the gift that had always been promised when they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit.  All they could do was pray, which we later read they did.

Imagine how the apostles felt as they waited. For three years they had been following the most unique person in all history. They had witnessed miracles and heard wonderful teaching from the greatest of teachers. They had suffered the sorrow of seeing Him die but had rejoiced by His resurrection.

He had told them to go to Jerusalem and to wait.  But would they be able to cope without Him by their side.  

Eventually after ten days the day dawned at Pentecost. On that day God came down in power and changed the lives of them and so many others.  The Church was born and carried on the life of Christ and we see it was empowered to do so by the work of the Holy Spirit.

We have now no need however to wait for the Holy Spirit, it is freely available to all who choose to follow Jesus and make Him Lord of our lives. We receive the Holy Spirit when our faith comes alive, but there may be a period before we have the power of the Spirit.  If God makes us wait there must be a reason, so giving us time to meditate and seek His will for us. Just as the Apostles had to realise their dependence on Jesus, so we Christians need to realise we too need His power. 

Peter gave his famous sermon which resulted in many people believing and asking ‘what shall we do?’  Peter replied, ‘repent and be baptised 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.

This was the real purpose of baptism, confession of faith, repentance for past sins, and accepting Christ as Saviour; not the situation we have today where people come for baptism without knowing really why, and make promises they have no intention of keeping.  I personally do not do baptism services as it upsets me to see the Church being abused.  I do however long to attend a service where the preacher gives a sermon in simple terms to explain to those assembled the meaning of what is taking place, and indicating the seriousness of what is said and done.

In the Bible we find a confession of faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit happen together. Nowhere in the Bible is there a separation.   I believe this means that within Churches we need to have a deeper understanding of baptism and confirmation.  Whilst I have often preached on baptism, I have never been at a service when this has been preached upon by others.  In fact I have never been in a congregation where the preacher gives an explanation of what baptism should mean.  We allow false promises to be made with impunity.

Three thousand people responded to Peter’s call and we are told they ‘devoted’ themselves to the teaching of the Apostles who were of course taught by our Lord Himself.  They were not coerced, they went freely.  God has graciously provided these teachings for our learning; they are called the New Testament.

One sentence closes this chapter, ‘and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved’.  This tells us that it is the Lord who builds His Church.
God comes to us in different ways as we seek to serve Jesus.  There is the infilling of the Spirit, which is for all believers. 

For some people there is indeed a dramatic experience such as Paul had on the Damascus Road, whilst for others there is a growing in grace. 

Charles and John Wesley, who are in our minds at this time, experienced the Holy Spirit in special ways, too. Both were ordained into the Church and ministered as such for some years, yet both had deep spiritual experiences which changed their lives in May 1738, and went on to do greater things as a result.  Charles wrote his most loved and famous hymns afterwards. Charles experienced a "strange palpitation of heart," and just a few days later John felt his heart "strangely warmed." From that time on, the Wesleys were used powerfully by God to spread the news of salvation.

We may take as an analogy two situations from life.  A man and woman may meet at a social occasion and such is the chemistry between them they fall in immediate love and marry soon after, which may or may not last.  Another couple may meet, find they enjoy being with each other, and gradually become totally dependent upon each other and spend the rest of their life together.  (They may even have a diamond wedding)

Thousands attended the great Billy Graham Crusades in the 1960s/80s and were immediately affected by the atmosphere of massed choirs leading joyous praise with so many people, and hearing the preaching of the most successful preacher in all Church history.  They rushed forward to the altar call, committing their lives to the Lord, but on returning to their local parish Church found 1662 Matins with chants of canticles and indifferent preaching were disillusioned. Others just grow in grace to love the Lord. We each come as the Lord calls us, but should know when there was that moment we understood what the gospel was all about. For me, it was being at a Pentecostal meeting in Mombasa in Kenya when also I first heard one of the lovely hymns you are about to sing. 

When Pentecost came it was a transforming happening when God took over and filled all gathered with His power.  God came down in power and the lives of all present were for ever changed.  Our lives will be changed when we have that same power.
 In the light of falling attendances in the Churches it may be asked ‘why doesn’t the Lord add to the Church now?’   The answer is that He does, in Africa, South Korea, China (the country with the most Christians) and South America.  In those countries the Churches are not dismantling the Bible and are keeping to the teaching of the Apostles, whereas in the West in a lot of places, the Bible is being re-interpreted and adapted to satisfy society, and to avoid criticising lifestyles which are contrary to biblical teaching. We are meant to be people of the Word, not people of the WorLd.  One might reverently say there is an L of a difference.

In the absence of any charismatic figure on the national Church scene, each local Church is called upon to so make an impact.  Christian Research has just provided the results of a survey which showed people preferred Vicars to preach sermons of biblical exposition of between 20/30 minutes, and to stop trying to be comedians.

Jesus told the Apostles they were to be His witnesses and that duty has now been passed down to His Church and all its members.  The Church can be His witness by faithful preaching of Scripture, as all its Ministers vow to do at their ordination, and offer people a credible and united teaching.  Individual members can do so by their manner of living, reflecting the image of Christ rather than the ungracious kind we too often see.


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