Introduction: In this sermon on Pentecost, John A. Huffman, Jr. uses the story of Pentecost from Acts 2 to explain the power that comes to The Church through the Holy Spirit. By receiving God’s power, the church is able to pursue and fulfill God’s plans for it. Begin planning to preach on Pentecost with this outline and sermon illustrations on the Holy Spirit.
Let me ask you a question. Give it serious consideration before you present your answer. The question is this: If we had to forego the celebration of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter or Pentecost, which one would seem the least crucial?
Take your time.
Most of us, myself included, would have a tough time picturing a year with no Christmas, no Holy Thursday/Good Friday or no Easter. Many Christians, because of the congregational and cultural emphasis of the first three, would probably say, “Well, if I must choose, I can do without Pentecost.”
Absolutely not! The bottom line of what I’m trying to say from the Bible today is that without Pentecost the other three would not be celebrated at all!
There could not have been a Good Friday without the advent of Christ’s coming which we celebrate at Christmas. Good Friday would have been a meaningless martyrdom without the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ which we celebrate at Easter. But it is Pentecost that enables the gift of faith by which you and I can know that the birth, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are for us! Jesus was not finished when He rose from the dead and ascended to be glorified. He came back to give the greatest gift of all — the gift of His own Spirit to live in us.
It is with the excitement of this reality that we focus today on Pentecost, with our theme from Acts 2 being “Receiving God’s Power.”
You’ve heard me preach for 20 years. You know I’m not one given to the homiletical practice of alliteration, starting each of my sermon points with the same letter. However, it makes sense for today. Let’s look at five aspects of receiving God’s power in: the promise of Pentecost, the posture of Pentecost, the picture of Pentecost, the preaching of Pentecost and the practice of Pentecost.
First, let’s look at the promise of Pentecost in receiving God’s power.
The promise is quite straightforward. Jesus gave it in His last words to the disciples when He declared, “‘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'” (Acts 1:8).
That’s the obvious promise. But there were earlier promises of the Spirit of God coming in Pentecostal power. Hundreds of years before, the prophet Joel quoted God as saying:
“Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will My people be shamed. And afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, 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 dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:27-32).
In case you question such reaching back into the Old Testament to find such a future promise, I refer to no lesser authority than the Apostle Peter who in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:16-21 quotes this prophesy of Joel verbatim.
You and I who have repented of sin and put our trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation are promised God’s Pentecostal power. This is not a divine energy that is restricted to some movements and denominations that go by the label charismatic or Pentecostal. How sad it is if we relegate to others that divine energy that God wills for all of us.
Second, let’s look at the posture of Pentecost in receiving God’s power.
The biblical record tells us that this is a posture of a people who are ready to receive God’s power. Acts 1:14 tells us, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” Acts 2:1 declares, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” There is no substitute for Christian community!
Every few months I read the results of polls that declare that a high percentage of Americans are professing believers in Jesus Christ. Add to that the number of people who claim to have a “deep spirituality,” and you will find that an overwhelming percentage of our fellow citizens see themselves as the people of God. Why then is there not a greater impact on our society and world?
I am convinced that there is a neglecting of this biblical profile of what is the posture of a people who are open to receive the fullness of the power of God’s Spirit and to continue to receive the fullness of that power. This posture has at least four aspects to it.
One aspect is that of being together in one place. You can’t go it alone in the Christian life. You need your brothers and sisters. So many people who claim spirituality are pursuing it on a Lone Ranger basis.
A second aspect is the necessity of being in a spirit of prayer. We need times alone in prayer. We need times together in prayer. We need to open our hearts to God, allowing God to capture our attention. Some of us are so busy running around doing things that we haven’t taken the time to listen, to be open, to receive that divine power and energy that God wants to give us through His Spirit.
A third aspect is to be taking seriously what the Scriptures have to say. I’m fascinated at the fact that during these days between the ascension of Jesus and Pentecost this group of 120 close followers of Jesus heard the Scriptures taught. Peter expounded the Old Testament teachings to them. It’s a posture of receptivity to God’s teachings.
And a fourth aspect is that they were waiting expectantly for God to act. Is there that dimension of waiting in your life? We live in a culture of instant gratification. If something goes wrong in our life we automatically tend to blame God, forgetting that God can use those things that are so puzzling to us to actually get our attention.
I listened to a tape of Elisabeth Elliot, a contemporary writer, who has faced a lot of tragedy in her life. She describes her first year on the mission field in Ecuador. She faced three major blows to her faith. The informant who was helping her with the native language was murdered. All of her language materials, everything that went into the writing of a language that had never been written down before, were stolen. And the station on which her fiance, Jim Elliot, had been working went down the river in a flood. Now decades later, as one who has had many more tragedies, including the murder by Aucas tribesmen of her husband Jim, the death of her second husband and many other trials, she has a track record of waiting upon God. In that same taped message, she declares: “When I was 12 years old, I told the Lord that I wanted Him to work out His will in my life at any cost. When He set about doing that, I was amazed. I didn’t think it was going to be that way. We never do. The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse; but in the end, it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger. What is your desire?”
Is yours a posture of being together on a regular basis with other believers? Is yours a posture of prayer? Is yours a posture of having the Bible open before you in personal, daily meditation and in corporate teaching environments? Is yours a posture of waiting upon God, trusting Him to, in His time, fulfill His promises in a way that you do not get overly self-impressed with the victories of your life and overly discouraged at what appear to be the losses and tragedies that come your way?
Let me assure you that if you are not in this kind of posture you will find other postures that will quench the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life.
There are all kinds of weird spirituality mesmerizing contemporary men and women in our culture. Tuesday’s Orange County Register has a fascinating article describing persons who are hiring experts to check the energy balance of their homes and offices. People hunger for power. Deep within our hearts there is a need for energy and the right energy balance. This article describes a “feng shui” practitioner who, for a hundred dollars an hour, will stroll through your home and tell you what to add and take away to bring the energy into balance. This priest comes into your home or office and arranges items, moves doors, puts up mirrors and all sorts of other manipulations to achieve “good chi.” It’s an endeavor to attract good spirits and repel evil spirits.
I received a letter this week from one of our St. Andrew’s community who is an architect. She wrote about university classes that are being taught on feng shui. She has had clients that have wanted her to do this to venues she was designing. She writes about a friend of hers who worked in an office that was feng shui’d by a priest whose claim to fame was that he had feng shui’d the White House for President Clinton. The posture of receiving God’s power is not through such pagan exercises as feng shui, astrology, palm reading and fortune-telling. It’s by gathering with brothers and sisters in Christ in the spirit of prayer, with a Bible that is open and a heart that is waiting and receptive to God’s guidance.
Third, let’s look at the picture of Pentecost with a people receiving God’s power.
There were three great Jewish festivals to which every male Jew who lived within 20 miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to come. They were Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. The name Pentecost means “the fiftieth.” And another name for Pentecost was “The Feast of Weeks.” It was so-called because it fell on the fiftieth day, after a week of weeks — 7 weeks, each having 7 days, after Passover. Passover fell in the middle of April. Therefore, Pentecost fell at the beginning of June. By that time traveling conditions were at their best. The rainy season was over. Some scholars say that there may very well have been more people in Jerusalem at Pentecost than there were during Passover.
The Feast had two main significances. One, it had a historical significance in that it commemorated the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Two, it had an agricultural significance in that at Passover the first omer of barley of the crop was offered to God, and at Pentecost two loaves were offered in gratitude for the completed and in-gathered harvest. No work was to be done on that day. It was a festive holiday occasion and the streets were filled with people.
Luke paints the picture for us in Acts 2:2-13. Let me read some of his words. “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sifting. 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” (Acts 2:2-4).
Luke goes on to describe how there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation who heard the sound and came and gathered in bewilderment, each hearing disciples speak in their own languages. Some, deeply perplexed, wanted to know, “What does this mean?” Others made fun of the disciples declaring, “They have had too much wine.”
The Hebrew word for spirit and wind is ruach. The wind had been an emblem of the Spirit for the Hebrew people throughout the generations. This wind of God was present at the creation. It was this wind of which Ezekiel spoke of in the valley of dry bones in which a dejected, defeated people would be brought back to life (Ezekiel 37). Jesus used the image of the wind for the Spirit when He was describing to Nicodemus what it is to be born-again by the Spirit (John 3). In the Upper Room, the wind was blowing, rushing with an irresistible force. Perhaps Nicodemus was among those who heard and saw this undeniable evidence of the wind. New thought, new energy, new vitality, new creativity, new emotion came to life by this in-filling of the Holy Spirit. God was bringing to life His people, individually and corporately. He was birthing His church.
Not only was wind part of the picture. Also tongues of fire were part of the picture. The text says, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:2). The fire of the Holy Spirit purges, burns away the chaff, all that debilitates and prevents you and me from becoming what God created you and me to become. Not only is the chaff burned away. The Holy Spirit refines us, as does the melting process that burns off the dross bringing out the pure metal. The Bible talks about the “refiner’s fire” that purges us and enables us to live with the warmth of God’s Spirit emanating from our lives. This fire of the Holy Spirit helps us to love others, being a people who are more giving, more consistent in our Christian lives, more forgiving of others.
There is a third picture here. It is that of speaking in tongues. Some would distinguish between tongues being the kind of ecstatic utterance that is not really an intelligible language except wherein it is interpreted by someone who has the gift of understanding that otherwise unintelligible language. A second understanding of tongues is literally the capacity to communicate with people in ways that go beyond human understanding. Gathered in Jerusalem were men and women from many different nations, speaking many different languages. Here were these Galileans, not very sophisticated people, who were conveying the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ways intelligible, understandable to others.
How can I get across this picture of Pentecost? How does the wind, fire, tongues apply to us today?
The best way I can summarize it is in trying to paint a picture of those times in life when a person outdoes himself. Take the young football player who in the last two minutes of the game, with the score against his team, runs faster than his legs have ever carried him before, farther than he ever dreamed of running and scores the winning touchdown. When he comes out of the game, the coach says to him, “I didn’t know you had it in you.” If he is honest, his reply would be, “I didn’t. I was picked up and carried by something outside of myself.” That’s the picture of what happens to you and me when we are open to the fullness, the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing His wind to propel us, His fire to purify us and His endowment of communication capabilities to help us convey the objectivity of His truth and our experience of our relationship with Him to others.
The danger of organized Christianity today is that it can become powerless! There is nothing more boring than empty theological words. There is nothing more enervating, life-sapping, than dry institutional religion that simply becomes a head trip and a business. Jesus did not come to found a new religion called Christianity. Jesus said, ‘”I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”‘ (John 10:10).
Fourth, let’s look at the preaching of Pentecost of a people receiving God’s power.
We hear a lot of talk today in political circles about staying on message.” It’s important that we, as followers of Jesus, have a Pentecostal power that enables us to stay on message.
There are four types of preaching, all of which are very important. Each of these should be part of the normal fare of biblical preaching.
One is kerugma. This literally means the herald’s announcement. It is a clear, plain statement of the facts of the Christian message about which there can be no argument and no denial. Second is what is called didache. This literally means teaching. It explains the meanings and significance of the facts which have been proclaimed. Third, there is what is called paraklesis, which means exhortation. This is that call to men and women of the duties, obligations which are to be the ethical outcroppings of lives which have been touched by the kerugma and didache. Fourth, there is what is called homilia, which means the treatment of any subject or department of life in the light of the Christian message.
Every church, if it’s faithful to Jesus Christ and the scriptures, has in its life all four kinds of preaching and teaching. In fact, I personally believe that every sermon, even though it may be concentrating in one area in particular, should have a little bit of each of the other. For example, as we’re teaching through the Book of Acts, this would be considered didache. At the same time, as we’re learning about the early church, there will be the ongoing, recurrent theme of the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, calling men and women to repentance. We will see an ethical exhortation to apply this in one’s daily life. And we will see that there is no area of life that is not impacted by the Gospel. Ours in a holistic faith, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ involves every area of our life.
Acts 2:14-41 is the record of a sermon that Peter preached on that day of Pentecost. His main thrust was kerugma. It would be as if Billy Graham was standing up and preaching on the theme “Four Steps to Peace with God” or Bill Bright of Campus Crusade was standing up and declaring “The Four Spiritual Laws.”
Peter gets up and addresses the crowd, declaring that these men and women are not drunk. It’s only nine in the morning. What’s happening before your eyes, he is saying, is the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel and others predicted. Then he zeros in on the person and work of Jesus Christ. He declares,
“Men of Israel, 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 set purpose 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.” (Acts 2:22-24)
Then Peter quotes from David who in the Old Testament prophesied the resurrection of Jesus. The promised Messiah had come. The atoning work had been accomplished. Peter declares, ‘”Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ”‘ (Acts 2:36).
This preaching is kerugmatic. This preaching is Christ-centered. This preaching is biblically based, quoting the authoritative Scriptures. That’s very important, that preaching be biblically based.
My father was doing doctoral work at Harvard University when Billy Graham came to New England back in 1949 and 1950. Huge crowds came to hear Billy Graham preach. Night after night, he filled Mechanics Hall. Then he filled the Boston Garden. Then some 50,000 people gathered on the Boston Commons. Then Graham went all over New England. Huge crowds came to hear him preach.
My father recalls how his professors, many who did not believe in Jesus Christ but were academicians of religion, church history and theology, noted that Billy Graham said, “The Bible says.” Some suspicioned that he didn’t really believe this. That was his escape clause. The fact was, Billy Graham was simply preaching Jesus Christ as the Scriptures declared Jesus Christ. By the Holy Spirit of God, people were coming to faith.
This kind of preaching is evocative of a response. Some of the people who heard Peter that day of Pentecost were, according to Luke, “cut to the heart,” and they said to Peter and the other apostles, “‘Brothers, what shall we do?”‘ (Acts 2:37). 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”‘ (Acts 2:38-39). Peter continued to preach, warning them of the corruptness of this generation.
What was the result of this preaching? Luke writes, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).
That is kerugmatic preaching that had with it strands of teaching, exhortation, and application to all of life.
Fifth, let’s look at the practice of Pentecost of a people who have received God’s power
Luke shows us four specific practices of a living, Holy-Spirit-filled church. Luke records, as history, the practice in these words ofActs 2:42-47: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Four practices stand out. One, it was a learning church. There were 3,120 people devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They took the didache seriously. This was not some mystical experience that caused them to neglect theology. The fullness of the Holy Spirit is not anti-intellectualism. Today we do not have the apostles, but we do have the apostles’ teachings. We have the prophetic teachings of the Old Testament, which the early church had, and we have the apostles’ teaching as recorded and preserved for us by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. A Spirit-filled church is a biblical church, committed to the Word of God.
Two, it was a caring church. They were involved in the practice of fellowship. They came together in intimate groupings. They saw everything they had was God’s, given to them to use. They shared with each other, as common, all that they had. Some sold their possessions and goods. Not all did because it tells us later that they met in each other’s homes. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was the sin of hypocrisy and lying which came out of covetousness. The church is not a Marxist organization. You and I have to decide how we deal with what God has given to us in a way that serves the greater good of the kingdom of God. We’re called to be concerned about the poor, both within the church and outside of the church. We’re called to have a sense of global concern, aware that one-fifth to one-sixth of the world lives below the poverty level.
Third, it was a worshiping church. These early believers met together regularly to break bread and pray together. Their worship was formal in the Temple. And their worship was informal, meeting in their individual homes. Their worship was both joyful and dignified, celebrative and reverent.
And fourth, it was an evangelizing church. The teaching that nourished the believers was balanced by a continuing emphasis on the kerugma that called others to repentance and faith. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Evangelism is central to our work. You and I are called to share our faith individually and corporately.
Let me conclude with the same question with which I opened this message. If we had to forego the celebration of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, or Pentecost, which one would seem least crucial? As essential as is Christmas, as is Good Friday, as is Easter, these three would not be celebrated at all if it were not for Pentecost. Just as in incarnation God came in human form, and in the crucifixion God died for the sins of the world, and in the resurrection God triumphed over sin and death, even so in Pentecost God empowers you and me and His church universal to live to His glory and to do His work until He comes again.
Will you join me in praying this prayer? “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me, empowering me and us to be and do all you dream of us being and doing!”